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Hubert Ogunde: Immortalising the doyen of Nigerian theatre

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Some members of the Ogunde family at the unveil of the competition in memory of the late Hubert Ogunde.


The journey to Ososa in Ogun State, the hometown of legendary thespian, Chief Hubert Ogunde, was less than an hour. Our mission was to join the Ogunde family in celebrating an icon and professional, who played a vital role in advancing the practice of theatre arts practice in Nigeria.

Though what is know today as Nollywood could be traced to the release of the movie Living In Bondage, it’s on record that the likes of late Ogunde paved the way for what eventually became the motion picture industry in Nigeria. So, for the Ogundes, it has become a tradition to gather in their hometown every December in celebration of the doyen of theatre.

To the Ogundes, from December 26 to 30, is a very important period; everyone consisting of the surviving wives, children and grandchildren, gather at the legendary dramatist’s expansive home in Ososa, which has since been turned to a museum, for an annual reunion feast to cement the bond among them and showcase the rich culture and tradition their late father bequeathed on them. But unlike other years when it used to be all about celebration, the 2017 edition was different; the family unveiled a national competition in honour of Ogunde.

With a large, polygamous family of 17 wives and 24 children, the late patriarch must have built a solid family structure that the children are consolidating on today. In fact, since his demise in April 1990, the family has exhibited uncommon strong, unique bond among themselves. Aside the immediate and extended family members, the family, led by Chief Richard Ayodele Ogunde, the Babaoba of Ososa, also hosted visitors, including bishops and their wives in the family’s expansive home, with a visit to the palace of the traditional ruler of Ososa, Oba Toye Alatishe. In fact, on this occasion, the oba paid a surprise visit to the Ogundes for the celebration, where he paid glowing tribute to the late theatre artiste for putting the community on a global map through his works.

Present at the event were two of Ogunde’s surviving wives, Ibidun and Iyabo, his children, Chief Richard Ogunde, Mrs. Victoria Ogunde-Olorunjegbe, Mrs. Sumbo Ogunde-Bademosi, Folabi Kikilowo and Dayo Akinboye. There were also his grandchildren, Adeleke Ogunde (curator of the museum), Mrs. Toyin and Funlola Ogunde, as well as his younger sister, Mrs. Ebun Oluwo.

Meanwhile, Head of Nigerian Languages at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Dr. Olufadekemi Adagbada, was also on hand to give details of the competition, which holds this year. She is the head of the five-man panel overseeing the project, alongside Prof. Duro Adeleke, Prof. L. A. Bamidele and a representative each from the Association of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) and Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria.

The motive behind the competition, according to Adagbada, is to give a wider audience, including children, youths and non-Yoruba-speaking people, opportunity to savour and appreciate the beauty and messages of the evergreen songs and to further immortalise Ogunde. She explained that Ogunde made indelible marks in the industry and beyond, but many youths do not really know who he was.

“Many of them have not listened to or watched his works,” she said. “Yet there are many things to learn from the songs. So, we should get these operas translated into English so that they can travel across ages, tribes and continents.”The contest, according to Adagbada, will cover the operas that Ogunde produced between the 1940s and 1950s, adding that the competition is open to people from different parts of the country, as long as the person could understand Yoruba and translate it, adding, “What Ogunde started and propagated is not just for the Yoruba. You can’t box him into a corner.”

The competition, which will come in different stages, will reward the winner with a cash prize of N500,000, while the first and second runners-up will get N200,000 and N100,000, respectively.“This is just to announce the competition to the public and to also let people know the judges. As time goes on, we will give details of the competition, which will also be available on Ogunde’s official website,” the family stated.

FOR a man, who put the country on the global platform through his works, it is expected that both the states and the Federal Government should have come up with a project in his memory. Unfortunately, that has not happened. However, the Ogunde family has taken it upon themselves to preserve their father’s legacy for posterity and promote tourism through the Ogunde Museum, while still urging the government to come to their aid on the Ogunde Film Village.

The iconic project is arguably one of the richest museums in the country and beyond. From the entrance to the last room, it beams with largely exotic documents, objects and spectacles that defined the life and times of the legendary thespian. Right from Ogunde’s Mausoleum and burial site, which was built in the form of an opon ifa (the divination tablet), Ogunde’s imposing statute stands tall. On the right hand side are his mini bus and lorry, which he used for his mobile theatre show around the country.

Ogunde’s sitting room, which is modestly but inspiringly furnished, is now looking entirely different with his theatre, music and film memorabilia. These include costumes used in his plays and films, the original vinyl records, CDs, film and stage effects. Also in the sitting room are ilu agba – drum for those who can be described as the initiated – accompanied with ‘junior ones’ such as ilu akiri and ilu apere. On the walls are photographs of his wives, especially when they were young and exuded beauty like the morning rose.

According to the curator and grandson of Ogunde, Adeleke, “In the past, the elders warned that ilu agba belonged to the Osugbo. So, it was so revered that no one was even allowed to dance to its beat. It was Baba Ogunde who broke the myth.”

Also, there are the gbeu gbeu costume that Ogunde was adorned in in Yoruba Ronu, Omolokun mask used in Jaiyesinmi and the dramatist’s beaded footwear. The dining room, which once hosted guests to special dinners with the legend, is now adorned with memorable objects and photographs of Ogunde as a young actor and active members of the theatre family. It features his picture with prominent actors such as Adebayo Faleti, Lere Paimo (Eda Onileola), Kareem Adepoju (Baba Wande), Charles Olumo (Agbako) Kola Ogunmola, Duro Ladipo, Moses Adejumo (Baba Sala), Ade Afolayan (Ade Love) and others.

According to the curator, Ogunde’s bedroom remains exactly the way he left it, while his meditation room is also preserved in its original form. In some of the rooms are Ogunde’s equipment and other related materials, including his collection of celluloid films, with another one dedicated to the artistic representation of a scene each from Aiye and Jaiyesinmi. Almost all his costumes are still intact, all displayed from the car park to the rooms. Indeed, it’s a living museum.

AS husband and father, Ogunde was able to integrate his wives and children into his company and business. It is believed that he fully enjoyed the joys of family life and of seeing his children grow up under his watch.Ironically, Ogunde, who during the last count married some 17 wives and scion numerous children, never allowed separate eating wares for his children. This helped to fasten the bond of unity among them. Ogunde, after morning exercises, would attend to other morning routines and leisure. He would sit among his wives, joke and play in a bid to bring happiness to them and their children. This was the tradition the Ogundes have continued to enact till date.

Ogunde was a Nigerian actor, playwright, theatre manager, and musician who founded the first contemporary professional theatrical company in Nigeria, the African Music Research Party in 1945. He changed the name to Ogunde Theatre Party in 1947 and Ogunde Concert Party in 1950. Finally, in 1960, he changed it to Ogunde Theatre, a name which remained until his death in 1990.He has been described as “the father of Nigerian theatre, or the father of contemporary Yoruba theatre.”

In his career on stage, he wrote more than 50 plays, most of which incorporate dramatic action, dance and music, with a story reflecting the political and social realities of the period. His first production was a church-financed play called The Garden of Eden and it premiered at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, in 1944. Its success encouraged Ogunde to produce more plays, and he soon left his job with the police force for a career in the theatre.In the 1940s, he released some plays with political commentaries: The Tiger’s Empire, Strike and Hunger and Bread and Bullet. During the 1950s, he toured various Nigerian cities with his travelling troupe. In 1964, he released Yoruba Ronu, a play that generated controversy and earned him the wrath of Chief Ladoke Akintola, premier of the Western Region. Ogunde Theatre was banned in the Western Region of Nigeria for two years as a result, but the new military government of Lt. Col. F. A. Fajuyi, on February 4, 1966, revoked the ban.

In the late 1970s, Ogunde was spurred by the success of Ija Ominira and Ajani Ogun, two pioneering Yoruba feature-length films, to co-produce his first celluloid film, Aiye, in 1979. He released Jaiyesimi, Aropin N’tenia and Ayanmo, feature-length films influenced by Yoruba mysticism thereafter. Ogunde starred in Mister Johnson, the 1990 motion picture that also featured Pierce Brosnan. The movie was shot on location in Toro, near Bauchi, Nigeria.


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Hubert Ogunde
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