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Chief Isaac Delano: The memory of a great legacy

By Toyin Falola
29 December 2019   |   3:54 am
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

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 the 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 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 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 simply 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 the grammar of 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 a 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 the 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 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 the 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 an 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 people with the deep-seated convictions 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, females are given roles to play and contribute their own quota to the advancement of the societal course. With 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 in 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 literature 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 wistfully 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 beautification, 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 society’s progress. Philosophies all over the world remain in the golden position of people’s minds after they have been lived and practiced repeatedly. Through the continuous practice of this system regarding the females, the females have thus affected their society positively, historically.

One such case 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 husbands on account of their 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 society have a strong footing.

It is on this premise that the idea of a 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.


• Falola is a professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.