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Darah positions literature at the heart of civilisation



Prof. G.G Darah is regarded as something of an institution on his own as he traverses the lecture circuit throughout Nigeria delivering erudite and often stimulating and controversial guest lectures at prestigious occasions. For example, in late July, he delivered an exciting address to the yearly conference of the Nigerian Library Association in Effurun, Delta State, in which he asserted firmly that the creation of libraries originated, and was developed as a central imperative of civilised societies, in Africa.

His presumption in making this assertion was based on a catalogue of facts gleaned from historical data that he recited ex-tempore about ancient Egypt in a convincing display of esoteric knowledge. This performance by the celebrated Professor of Oral Literature and Folklore, and one-time Guardian Editorial Board Chairman, held scores of librarians spellbound for more than an hour and ended with a standing ovation. The applause was also in recognition of the fact that he announced that he had just undergone an eye operation and was unable to read. He therefore delivered his lecture without reference to notes.

While public celebrations of knowledge are appropriate venues for the display of Darah’s particular attributes his ability to turn the classroom into a forum of public discourse made him a very popular teacher in his early career. Students who experienced his regular forays into innovative pedagogy at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife and Delta State University in Abraka say that he has influenced their lives profoundly beyond their academic interests. Although his retirement from active teaching was announced a few years ago he has re-engaged with university education in various capacities throughout Nigeria and abroad. One of his most important roles in this capacity is that of a contract Professor and Academic Adviser to the University of Africa established in Governor Seriake Dickson’s hometown of Toru Orua in Bayelsa State. It was in this role that we recently witnessed one of the most stimulating examples of his ability to inspire students.

Professor Darah presented the second in a series of faculty colloquiums chaired by Professor Demola Jolayemi Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Education of the institution. The topic of his lecture was “Why Literature Always Matters; An Afrocentric Perspective”. He announced at the onset of the lecture that the subject was especially dear to him because all his life the love of literature had been a personal obsession. Once again he deployed a comprehensive list of historical facts to prove that the original impulse of literary endeavor is to be found in the African continent and specifically in Egypt.

The development of literature apart from being the basis for a special relationship between the human attribute of expressive language and the thirst for knowledge, Darah insisted, had also unified humanity by enabling different communities to learn about and explore each other’s deepest sentiments. He gave examples of memorable phrases from Shakespearean and other literary works, which some members of the audience, including both students and staff members, were able to recite in order to prove that literary influences remained extant throughout one’s life.

In his characteristic manner Darah’s presentation was dramatic and enlightening. He summarised his findings with metaphoric phraseology that captured the imagination of the audience by employing familiar images and elements of knowledge. As he developed the thematic roots of his lecture he brought in issues of religious and political presumption as aspects of the appreciation and comprehension of literary works. He eventually built an argument for the central importance of literary appreciation not merely as a subject for academic study and research but as an imperative of human existence. He encouraged the students to embark on the reading of literary works as a practice of life enhancement rather than just for passing exams and extolled literature as the repository of all aspects of human endeavor and therefore much more than an academic discipline. Once again his erudition provoked a standing ovation.

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