Friday, 11 December 2015

THE HISTORY OF THE YORUBAS - A magnificent work

The simple truth is - no words suffice to describe the magnificence and radiance of this work; no praise is high enough for the extraordinary sacrifice, diligence and doggedness of the "Johnson brothers" that finally brought this masterpiece into fruition. This work is more than a labour of love, as it were. To put this into context, the world can not imagine Chinua Achebe's superb novel, Things fall apart, not ever being published; but literary history shows that it was a close-run thing! Achebe's original manuscript was more or less lost or discarded by the typists in England, and it was fortuitous indeed that the manuscript was retrieved. Tragically the original manuscript of History of the Yorubas - countless hundreds of pages - was actually lost, a harrowing, horrific fact; but the younger (Dr) Johnson embarked upon the more than daunting task of re-writing again, using copious notes left by his brother...and after many years this wonderfully detailed book was finally published. And what a book! This is more than comprehensive, tracing the history, anthropology, mores, customs, language etc of the Yoruba people who now run into tens of millions, and are spread all over the world. But of course when this book was written, the people were essentially confined to the western part of Nigeria... Yorubas were always noted for building towns and cities. And for the elaborate customs, and system of government with intricate, intelligent checks and balances. Wars alas took their toll on the society, wars which would exasperate the encroaching (British) colonisers. The Ijaiye war in particular was horrendous and embraced large parts of Yorubaland - and exceedingly tragic for Ijaiye town. All this is detailed in this work, including the rise of Ibadan in the process. And then the whites and the "maxim guns" which prodded lots of respect, and peace of sorts in Yorubaland... This work is a tour de force - written and published long before even more glories for Yorubaland under the legendary Obafemi Awolowo who presided over the first television station in Africa, the first skyscraper in west Africa at least (Cocoa House), the then iconic Liberty Stadium...but alas, we are perhaps getting ahead of ourselves here...
- O Bolaji

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