Academic journal article Africa

II 'Cultural Officer' at Home and Abroad: Oloye Adebayo Ogunrinu Ogundijo, 1939-2005

Academic journal article Africa

II 'Cultural Officer' at Home and Abroad: Oloye Adebayo Ogunrinu Ogundijo, 1939-2005

Article excerpt

ON THE CAREER OF A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL TEACHER TURNED ORISA PRIEST

His friends addressed him as Oloye (Titleholder) and as Bayo. He was deeply rooted in the world-views, folk classifications of living beings, healing practices and social mores of modern urban forms of Yoruba culture. These are of course widespread cultural forms, which constantly cut across the hypothetical divide between what counts as 'popular culture' and what is classified as 'elite culture' or 'academic culture' in contemporary Yorubaland. They, and the social-networking practices and hierarchical conventions accompanying them, largely shaped Bayo's assumptions and attitudes throughout his life. At the same time, as his career demonstrates, he was a man of initiative and insight, quick to detect new paths and eager to take them.

For many years, at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, he held the position of cultural officer in the Institute of Cultural Studies, where the 'academic' and 'popular', and the 'modern' and 'traditional' dimensions of Yoruba culture intersect. In Nigeria he published books in Yoruba and English, which are compromises between different orders of conventions in the presentation of the material. (1) Also, as a deservedly trusted transcriber and translator of recordings of oral performances and interviews, and more generally as a knowledgeable source of information and elucidation, he often mediated between academic researchers--both local and foreign--and Yoruba texts and traditional specialists. I think back, with nostalgia and gratitude, to the times when I first became indebted to him for that, in Nigeria and Britain. In England he taught a course in the Yoruba language at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham and, in cooperation with Karin Barber, put together the book Yoruba Popular Theatre, jointly published by them in America. (2) In addition, both in Africa and abroad, he introduced to the cult of the Orisa a number of foreigners willing to explore new avenues of personal religious experience.

The responsibility for Bayo's upbringing was distributed within his family in a way that distanced him from the Yoruba traditional religious practices of his parents, and led to his initiation into Christianity. He was a recipient, and later a conveyor, of Christian education (he attended teacher-training courses in 1961-2 and 1966-7). Then, in the fifth decade of his life, he decided to take a Diploma course in Yoruba Studies at the University of Lagos and eventually recreated himself as an Orisa priest. He changed his last name from 'Akanbi' to 'Ogundijo'. (3)

This was in part a return to parental, and ancestral, practices remembered from earliest childhood. But it was also part of an intellectual quest belonging very much in the late twentieth century, which he pursued along the interfaces of university studies, traditional religious expertise, popular knowledge of Yoruba lore, and neotraditionalist movements. These movements, often involving active and retired academic staff, and in competition with equally university-based evangelical Christian and Muslim initiatives, have striven to retrieve Yoruba traditional religion while redefining it as a universal religion.

Bayo both apprenticed himself to traditionalists 'of the old school' and developed an interest in the new ideas behind the Yoruba Ifa Kabbalah Centre, established in 1997 by Dr Samuel Modupeola Opeola, a retired senior lecturer who had taught in the Faculty of Education of Obafemi Awolowo University. (Bayo became the Centre's first chairman.) (4) One of the missions of this centre, vigorously pursued by Bayo, was to counter the notion of African traditional religion as 'pagan' and therefore inferior. As Dr Opeola told us, Bayo gave a paper at an international inter-religious dialogue conference in Tamale, Ghana in November 2004, in which he argued that no one religion is better than another. Equal opportunity should be given to all religious groups, as indicated in the country's constitution. …

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