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Chief Isaac Delano: The memory of a great legacy – Part 1


In public conversations globally, names such as those of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, among many others, evoke a general feeling of admiration for the intellectual engagements of these characters who have made strenuous efforts to change their world and leave behind an indelible mark of intelligence that outlives centuries. Sometimes it becomes a source of wonder that the intellectual deification of these figures is reflective of privileging certain individuals because the propagators of modern education structures are Eurocentric and have minimal, if any, regard for the knowledge economy and academic productions of civilizations other than theirs. This provincial sentiment is not inherently bad in itself. For one thing, it shows that humans, given the power to determine the nature of things, are disposed to projecting their bias, making their perspective the sole basis for giving, enhancing and engaging ideas. However, what is important therefore is that Africans, or any other race for that matter, should combat any urge restraining them from telling their own stories, in their own forms. It is in the documentation of their own stories that important personalities of their own world are equally shown to the global society, telling about the near impossible tasks that certain individuals have accomplished in their own world.

In the African world, especially in the wake of European domination of the globe in every sphere, certain individuals showed an uncommon courage to challenge the superstructure through their proficient intellectual engagements that sought to parallel the achievements of those great Westerners mentioned above. Without a doubt, Chief Isaac Delano falls within this category and through the almost interminable list of his works, one begins to wonder if Delano, like Socrates and others, is just a mere mortal like everyone. He broke the Eurocentric metanarrative to enthrone the ideas of his own people: the Yoruba.

The legacy left behind by this intellectual giant leaves very many people in utter astonishment, given the limitations of resources, inadequate funding, and pervasive cultural indifference in his age, all concertedly making it difficult to thrive in the trade of academic endeavor. However, despite all odds, the indelible mark that Delano left behind, in actual fact, continues to pave ways for his increased popularity because those intellectual work set a pace that is practically difficult to submerge even by current academic warriors whose time is sufficiently suffused by helpful inventions of technological machines or materials that can easily facilitate or fast track any encumbrance.

Suffice to say then that, had Delano lived in the age when people were promoted to the position of a deity, his intellectual engagements available to be accessed through his legacy would qualify him to be considered and treated as one. It is empirically difficult to find an aspect of African, or (with particular specifics) Yoruba worldview that is untouched by the intellectual giant that Delano had attained. From African morality and their language (which also encapsulates insightful research about the grammar of the language), to marriage customs of Africans, particularly the Nigerian patterns of marriage, among many others, the great sage Isaac Delano contributes more than enough, and the following academic adventurers are banking on many of the insights provided by this special individual. Despite the relatively short window of opportunity that was given by nature to individuals like Delano, they make laudable efforts to make themselves known and continuously relevant even in contemporary discussion. This explains why they keep commanding the public attention, regarding their many works and ideas.
Isaac Delano And His Moral Legacy
Born at a time when the African culture had not undergone a severe transformational process, the sage Delano had access to African values and became a committed advocate of them. For anyone familiar with the African philosophies, it would be undeniable that Africans had a different moral focus and direction from many other people. Taking the Yoruba society here as an example, the people place value on the moral development of the younger ones because such is the foundation of their collective social philosophy found in Omolúwàbî (someone who possesses good character traits), and they would devise appropriate means by which these societal values can be introjected into the younger individuals among them. Interestingly, the Africans do not enforce this moral system by the means of coercion. Instead, they have developed many stories, proverbs, and other strategies as carriers of these stated values into the cognitive domain of these younger ones. As such, it is especially popular that Yoruba people particularly deploy oral methods to build the younger members to taste. Without fear, the ones getting such method of character development are systematically transformed into reliable adults whose primary aim is to advance the course of the society, generally.

Therefore, when Isaac Delano explains Yoruba values and moral directions in his works, it is an indirect way of intimating the public of the moral constructs of the people. Contrary to the view that Africans are a people without bankable ideas (a narrative that seeks to denigrate them beyond repair), Africans are particularly identified as a people with clear moral constructs that can be found wanting even in other worlds. Without instilling fears of punitive measures such as the ones found in capital or corporal punishment, as especially popular in the European worldview, Africans inculcate these societally accepted norms and values into the younger ones, and that habit was sustained for a very long period before the sudden invasion of the Westerners into the African space. One example of such moral legacies depicted by Delano is the place of parents and their children on the issue of decision making that affects the latter. Where the two parties are probably having contrasting views about the same idea, both have their moral right to express their opinions albeit in acceptable ways. This way, the interest of the parties involved would be keenly protected and at the same time respected.

As an example, in Lojo Ojo Un, a literary production of Isaac Delano, the two worlds of the people are contiguously contrasted, ideologically. These two worlds are the precolonial and postcolonial Yoruba worlds. The fact that the work is written during the latter world explains why Delano has represented the pristine African values as being exposed to modifications in a new order because certain practices are inconsistent with a multicultural society. Although Balogun Igbein concersn himself primarily as the decider of spousal choice for his amiable daughter, Fifake—a cultural attitude prevalent in the pristine African society—he does not appear to enforce the decision with no measure of diplomacy. Obviously, Fifake will not succumb to such imposition about issues that primarily concern her, but then she displays a high level of morals even when she is not contented with her father’s position. Likewise regarding the father; the moral expectation of him, despite his reservation, is to allow democracy, otherwise there would be chaos within his household. Thus, morality is not dished out because of age, it covers every societal member.

Isaac Delano and his sense of dynamism
It is almost impossible to believe that someone like Delano with limited access to scientific and technological innovations that are capable of changing one’s view about some aspects of living, and about our perception of life generally, has a flexible mind to entertain contending opinions about things he personally considers sacred and or special. During the formative years of Isaac Delano, there was insufficient scientific elaborations on strongly held beliefs, especially ones that have to do with human creation. Thus, as an example, Charles Darwin’s twentieth century postulation of evolution as an alternative to the hitherto held position about human beginning sparked different reactions and ruptured people’s psychology for a very long time. Coupled with the fact that there are insufficient proofs to back such a conclusion up, many people disregarded it outright, casting it into the trashcan immediately. In fact, the reason for such public rejection of the idea is that it creates psychological shock among the people who have forever held something contrary as not only their truth, but also as a frozen reality. Even among scientists of notable intelligence in their field, there were seeming contentions as to where they would pitch their tents.

However, Delano falls within the class of people who are particularly ready to change their mind if there is an availability of sufficient evidences that would reinforce their understanding. Knowing that the position offered by Darwin contradicts his religious foundations and philosophies, Delano, in one of his writings Science Vs. Christian Religion, lays bare his reservations about evolutionism and creationism.

Without necessarily allowing the discovery of the former to affect his commitment to the latter, he diplomatically assents that clearly there are certain parts of his scriptural conclusion that stand at variance with empirical analysis. Confronted with some milestones achieved through scientific engagements, it is increasingly difficult to reject postulations made by scientists who are the brains behind such pronouncements of evolution as a credible alternative to the story of human beginning. Such dynamism is therefore benchmarked through his flexibility to ideas and issues without, in the process, losing his moral, cultural and ideologic face. Clearly, Delano is a rare breed of Yoruba man, and secondly an uncommon Christian faith adherent with an open-minded stance on life generally.

Delano leaves a sweet memory for us all not only in his academic engagement.; he personified the idea of a good human. Knowing that the world is populated by individuals with stupendously double standard traits, having people like him in the historical chart of the Yoruba means we have been blessed with a rare gem. Having many stories that barely can survive scientific evaluation makes Delano take a stand that tries to bridge the gap between science and religion. Advocating for balance, he clings to the reality that the human society needs reliance on both phenomenons, that is science and religion, for the people to steer well in the journey of life. The overreliance on science as the sole dictator of human behavior will only bring about outright anarchy and thus makes it difficult to survive in the society. As such, that is structured on an understanding that religion provides the moral foundations upon which the people can build strong moral characters. Of course, science could make important and fascinating discoveries, but that doesn’t imply that it would be useful in guiding the moral directions of the people. In short, Delano leaves behind a legacy that the human mind must be open to new ideas, without losing its moral principles.

Isaac Delano and his education legacy
On the African education front, it is almost impossible to match the singular efforts of Delano, whose zeal is to ensure that Africans are truly free, especially in dishing out educational activities and focus to the younger African generations by using African curriculum and educational designs which will have great effects on the continent as a whole. A quick observation of the educational focus of the colonial era will reveal that Africans were educated to primarily suit the purposes of their enslavers and political overlords. Beyond communication purposes, not many Africans are allowed, or even encouraged, to be educated in ways that will transform their lives or their own environment. As benumbing as this reality appears, succeeding Africans after the postcolonial time did not make triumphant efforts to emancipate the African child from the shackles of linear education given to them. Largely, Africans in this era are given educational treatments that seek to advance the course of their once-upon-a-time colonial invaders. Except that revolutionaries like Delano begin to educate, or orientate Africans of the need to condition these curricula and find ways by which they will suit the purposes of Africans, the available education system did not allow for creativity.

The reason for this is especially simple. It is simple because virtually all the growing civilizations in the world today have one thing in common; developing their younger ones with local educational strategies. This is not however closing the window of opportunity to the issue of borrowing some useful ideas from another civilization to one’s own. In fact, such attitude or borrowing makes those developed with diverse strategies more profound and sound in intellect. However, by exclusively relying on foreign educational structures, it has a very grave consequence for the survival of the immediate cultural agenda which would have been infused into the educational system without struggles. This argument therefore is tilted towards the emancipation of a people through their educational system. Apart from developing their curriculum in ways that will reflect the urgencies of the people and address them, language as a medium of instruction should adequately also be worked on. Any language that is reduced to codification is capable of being used as instruments of instruction to the learners. In this regard, Delano and his team have undertaken surplus and efficient researches on ways by which this issue can be addressed.

Consolidating on the efforts of his predecessors such as Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Samuel Johnson and many others, he left an unforgettable memory in his courageous and laudable engagements to bring up books on grammar of the Yoruba. Delano perfectly understands that taking the heroic step is obviously necessary as people, that is other Africans, would follow suit after seeing the success of such embarkation. By working on Yoruba grammar and dictionaries, he is showing Africans the very way to begin their outright decolonization process, which will calculatedly yield important results in the long run. Without doubt, this form of brave assignment will come at the height of a personal cost which will include finance, time, psychological warfare (in a political environment that is obviously averse to such level of creativity, or bravery) and many other things that are unimaginable. Even though such efforts were crushed by the blatant indifference shown by the political class, it does not however quench the burning desire of Isaac Delano to see a very radical change in African educational approach.

Isaac Delano and history of Yoruba people
Amidst doing the work of an anthropologist, linguist, lexicographer and cultural activist, Delano is yet again found in the corridor of history as a subject of study, making incredible accomplishments as a successful historian. Delano the historical icon has approached history (Yoruba history) as a tool to reinvent the people in the contemporary society, by disinterring historical information to process it adequately so that it can be consumed generously by the current and subsequent learners of historical happenings. Before we can understand the magnitude of his actions and the importance of his sacrifice displayed in his academic engagement, we would have to first come to reality that when a people desist from telling their stories, they have unconsciously given external exponents to represent them in ways that appeal to them in their own writings. In this case, the resultant effect is usually devastating for the referents in the historical documentation orchestrated by their putative detractors. Thus, when we come across people trying to document the events around their own lives and people, it is underrated effort at intellectual freedom. They have clearly done that to ensure they are not victims of misrepresentation.

By writing biographies of certain historical figures in the Yoruba world, Delano has systematically combined their heroic deeds and the society’s outstanding characteristics. We have come across various stories told of unique Yoruba personalities who made commendable efforts to intensify the good works of the collective people. There are many individuals who have made serious and outstanding personal contributions to the advancement of the Yoruba world. At a time when there were multiple internecine struggles, there are individuals such as Lisabi who came to the rescue of his people by devising appropriate methods to combat the despotic rule of the Oyo dynasty. The story of the kingship of Egba, as it involves various power plays before and after the contact with the colonial powers, is equally handed down by Isaac Delano. What about the exploits of the mission in Africa, especially in the Yoruba land? There are adequate documentations that help to place in proper context the contributions (both commendable and condemnable) of the Europeans to the Yoruba society. All these stories are a pointer to the fact that Africans, prior to the coming of the Europeans and Arabs, are clearly organized people.

In what would seem ideologically impossible for someone of his religious commitment, Delano breaks the boundary of religious extremism and thus identifies with his traditional values. Yoruba people are a people with deep-seated conviction of their traditional values and mores and are not apologetic about it. They are well immersed in their cultural values and ideas, until they were cohabiting their cultural space with Euro-Arabic invaders. Their cultural immersion is displayed in the totality of their engagements where one notably sees elements of cultures in their various indulgences. Despite this obvious immersion, they are equally open to ideas and are unconcerned with religious extremism which would, as believed by many of them, bring about negative results for them in the long run. Thus, they accommodate people of dissenting religious opinions and this is reflected in their accommodating attitude shown to those dissimilar religious and cultural ideologies. All these are properly detailed by Delano the historian with a view to place within the proper perspective the Yoruba people and their worldviews. It is practically difficult to render the history of the Yoruba’s advancement in modern times without referring to Isaac Delano.

Isaac Delano and African women
Contrary to the mainstream opinions that Africans, since they are perceived as primitive, would have wrong management of their female folks, the available history reveals something different. In traditional African society, the females are given roles to play and contribute their own quota to the advancement of the societal course. With a particular attention given to the Yoruba people, females are treated specially and respected through the glistering positions they occupy in the social build-up. There are female deities among the Yoruba people, female political leaders and powerful ones who have, at one time or the other, performed warring activities after they are conscripted into the available army of the society to combat invasive forces, and conquer. Females in traditional African societies are not mere objects to be relegated into the background for reproductive contributions alone, rather, they are powerful stake holders whose presence in the society commands a level of respect and encomium for the outstanding roles they play generally. Among the Yoruba subgroups, there are variations on the ways and levels by which women can participate in social and political activities. In some cases, females become the monarchical head if the need arises.

In all the literatures documented by Isaac Delano which explain the intricate relationship between women and their male counterparts, it is evidently obvious that the readers or his audience generally are witfully encouraged to learn the ways of the society in handling the female figures, not as an object, but as contributory personnel. The level of the social regard accorded the female folks is underscored by all the appreciation, deification, celebration and beatification, which usually reverberate through the social network. The mother figure is duly respected as a reliable Orisha (local god) upon whose shoulders rest the hope of a child’s greatness. Thus, children are commonly encouraged to pay homage to their mothers as there is no one who would show them true affection apart from their mothers. This general attitude has built a mutuality where women see themselves as the deciders of the society’s progress. Philosophies all over the world remain in the golden position of people’s mind after they have been lived and practiced repeatedly. Through the continuous practice of this system of regarding the females, the females have thus affected their society positively, historically.

One of such cases is the case of Moremi in Ile-Ife, a matriarch of the ancient Ife city. When the people of Ife are entrapped by an alien invasive group, they are continuously preyed upon and had been psychologically captured by this supreme force. For many years, they are made to submit to the whims and caprices of this group and have no confidence to resist their invasion. There was no way of fighting themselves out of this entrapment because their putative enemies have more sophisticated technology to bank on. When the situation was becoming unacceptable, the bravery in Moremi was put to test by herself and she secretly accepted the role to sacrifice her own freedom for the goal of the common man. Moremi took a very brave step to spy on these invaders after scheming her own arrest to the ignorance of the visiting group. While taken as a captive under them, she intelligently studied their secret to the making of their technology, which has proven successful against the Ife people for a while. She escaped their trap and thus returned to reveal her findings to the Ife people. From then on, Ife became free because of that single act.

Isaac Delano and the teaching of nuptial philosophy
Marriage is a universal phenomenon. This status of it does not however indicate that marriage is conceived generally among people to mean the same thing. While it is legally acceptable in some civilizations that men take control of women in marital affairs, there are some areas where the females take their men into custody and could even decide on the numbers of husbands to take. Occasions like this help in educating us about the diverse perspectives from which people see things, and it further ascertains that diversity is really important in life. As a result of this dissimilar position held by people about marriage, for example, it explains why marital engagements, focus and the form of expectations people have about it vary considerably. While in some other civilizations we have monogamy, polyandry and polyamory among others, among Africans, the majority of them practiced the system of polygamy, especially the Yoruba people of West Africa. This cultural practice is properly maintained and carefully developed in such a way that their contributions to social advancement cannot be underrepresented. Without written codes to guide the people’s actions in their marriage, social values are not undermined in this precolonial marital arrangement.

African women are not considered as objects that can be purchased and excoriated or divested at will. Even in extreme circumstances where both parties are uninterested to continue with their union, there are laid down processes to follow before disrobing a nuptial contract. Among all the reasons why a man could divorce his wife, her inability to bear a child (either biologically or circumstantially) is not considered a viable one. Instead to discard her because of this known condition, it is always advisable that he gets married to another woman together with whom she can raise children who would be regarded as theirs, collectively. While on the other hand, females can be allowed to divorce their husband on the account of his impotency. Such social code is not meted on people because there is a kind of gender inequity, rather, that is a system that is considered effective for the advancement of society without losing value. Marriages to the pristine African people are an avenue to build the society through that micro-identity. It is necessary because when individuals contribute their own quota, it makes the society have a strong footing.

It is on this premise that the idea of premarital investigation is not an alien encounter among the Yoruba people. Apart from making consultations with the socially recognized bodies before their marital contracts, families of the two parties carried out intense researches about their potential in-laws to ascertain the nature of family they are imminently bonding with. It has been a growing trend of these people to carry out such findings to avoid some circumstances that can capsize their relationship in later life. In what is compacted under medical records in the contemporary world, the precolonial Yoruba society is peopled by individuals who would carry out enough findings before they dabble in the business of marriage. All these are thus properly represented by Delano in his body of works. There may be some genetic irregularities in the family of potential in-laws; the premarital findings would have helped to save the people from going blindly into such danger that would be too late to avert after consummation. Unlike modern times when such practice is minimally considered, if even practiced at all, the pristine Yoruba people have fascinating marriage philosophies.

From the foregoing, it is already apparent that the legacy of Isaac Delano has not received the deserved attention. The bulk of work that the intellectual giant has carried out speaks volumes of his cultural activism aimed to place African patterns of doing their things on the global map. It is quite difficult to find areas that are left untouched by the curious pen of Chief Delano. He dedicated a considerable amount of his time to the study and teaching of Yoruba philosophy, capping it with his advocacy for linguistic and cultural emancipation, which in the actual sense would bring about true freedom for the African people. It is unarguable that if subsequent African scholars follow his lead on this direction, the people would be freed from their total dependence on the outside world as the sole producer of their consumables; ideologies, philosophies, and also their educational focus.


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Isaac Delano
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