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D. O. Fagunwa and his overbearing ‘helpers’: A novelist’s predicament- Part 2

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
09 June 2019   |   2:58 am
Irele insists that “it would be a grave error to dismiss his works as simple fantasies, or more seriously, as naïve childish productions” since in Fagunwa’s works one can easily see “maturity of expressions and of visions...

Irele insists that “it would be a grave error to dismiss his works as simple fantasies, or more seriously, as naïve childish productions” since in Fagunwa’s works one can easily see “maturity of expressions and of visions…which is as fully adult as the most modern novel”.

Prof Beier (1965:52), on his part, is full praises for Fagunwa’s language. According to him:
“Fagunwa is fond of rhetoric. He likes words. He likes to pile them up, say the same thing over and over again in infinite variation. He is a master of rhetoric, who can make repetitions and variations swing in a mounting rhythm, like Yoruba drums.”

Contemporary readers of Fagunwa will readily discern (although, in a lesser degree) in The Forest Of God the quest motif which they had already seen in Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drunkard. Tutuola’s hero goes in search of his dead “tapster” who supplied him excellent palm wine but who had died after falling from a palm tree, while in Fagunwa’s narrative, Olowo-aiye sets out in search of adventure, to hunt in the forest of the great spirit called Igbo Olodumare.

Due to these similarities in themes, background and even characterization, some critics have come up with suggestions about Tutuola’s indebtedness to Fagunwa. In an article for The Journal Of Commonwealth Literature (1970:58) for instance, Bernth Lindfors sums up the view of these critics by stating that Tutuola

“had stolen most of his material from Yoruba folk-tales and the Yoruba novels of Chief Daniel Orowole Fagunwa. He was a plagiarist pure and simple and not an untutored genius gleaning from his own teeming brain”.

• Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a literary scholar and journalist, is the author of the book, NIGERIA: Why Looting May Not Stop
There is no intention here to wade into this needless controversy, but it would appear that in his haste to “discover” the source of Tutuola’s material, Professor Lindfors seems to have turned a blind eye to a simple caution on source analyses supplied by R.D. Altick in his book, The Art of Literary Research (1975:95). Says Altick:

“One commonsense question should accompany all attempts to establish the direct indebtedness of one author to another on the grounds of verbal similarities; might not the resemblances be attributable to the fact that both Author A and Author B were nourished by the same culture?”

The Forest Of God has been described as a Yoruba national epic, that is, if we understand an epic as a long narrative on the life and heroic exploits of a great character. This novel serves the weird tale of a hunter, Olowo-aiye, who sets out on a hunting expedition in the dreaded forest, Igbo Olodumare, armed to the teeth with charms and weapons. He says:

“Today is the day that I go to the place where the powerful ones go, to the abode of the strange beings, to the place that is very dark in my eyes; I will leave peace behind; I shall go in to meet trouble; but difficulty is the father of treasure; good name is better than a new bride; if I endure the trials of today, I shall reap the treasure of tomorrow; if I joyfully return from Igbo Olodumare, my name shall surely endure in the world.”

Olowo-aiye engages in several fights that are so fierce he thinks he would give up. But like the epic hero he is, he emerges from all his fights very victorious. His first fight with Esu-kekere-ode, the demon that lives under the anthill, ends amicably when he reaches for his flute and plays an enticing tune on the greatness and magnanimity of the God, Almighty. This was at the Jungle of Silence.

His next encounter is with Ajediran, the exiled witch, with her elder sister. He later marries Ajediran at the palace of the king of Igbo Olodumare after he defeated Ajonnu-Iberu the vicious gnome who keeps the gate of Igbo Olodumare, in a very fierce battle that was watched by animals, weird creatures and gnomes of Igbo Olodumare.

After being lost in the “forest of God” for three years, Olowo-aiye commences his search for his home route and this brings him in contact with his dead mother who gives him a bean cake that would never finish no matter how much he ate from it. Later, he goes to the house of the kind host and master story-teller, Baba-Onirungbon-Yeuke who takes him on a visit to Death’s house.

He later sets out with some of his countrymen who join him at Baba-Onirungbon-Yeuke’s house and had to be taken prisoner in the town of the snakes by Ojola-Ibinu, the head of all the snakes in the world. They had to device a way of killing this snake-king and passing the valley of the vicious ladies before they could peacefully go home, signaling the end of the very hazardous adventure.

In this novel, though the narrative remains in the first person point of view, we have in fact three narrators. This is arranged in a linear progressive form to commence with the unidentified narrator who then encounters his old friend, Akara-ogun, the son of Olowo-aiye, born to him in his absence, after he had left for the adventure in Igbo Olodumare. It was he that now tells the story of his father’s exploits until he feels it is time to let his father’s diary speak for itself. And when this is done, he reemerges and then allows the first narrator to indulge in his valedictory speech of some didacticism and moral preachments before the book finally ends.

The Forest Of God is made up of 172 pages. It commences with a brief introduction, a literature review that chronicles the most perceptive comments made about Fagunwa’s works by scholars over the years. There are also chapters devoted to some biographical information about Fagunwa, his works, his use of the Yoruba language and his rhetoric.

The notes at the end of the novel (p. 148) offer insightful explanations on some complicated idioms or other forms of language use and provide quite a number of privileged information from the translator that aid the reader’s appreciation of the work. Some terms describing Yoruba food items, cultures, mores and customs are also made clear to the reader by the translator through the notes.

It would be futile denying the pride place Fagunwa’s pioneering effort has earned him in the African literary landscape. His work will always be studied due largely to its very historical and even cultural significance. But one may not always help nursing the feeling that his work is akin to some curative dish which people are often compelled to take as opposed to some really sumptuous delicacies which they go all out to secure and savour. The book’s strength, however, lies in its ability to raise the hope of the reader and encourage him to follow in the quest with a promise that a great discovery will come as a reward for the quite unentertaining journey. But at the end of the day, the reader is left with this deflating feeling of being duped – and by someone who had no intention of doing so.
• Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a literary scholar and journalist, is the author of the book, NIGERIA: Why Looting May Not Stop

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