A visit to the forest of daemons: Reading D. O. Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumale

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This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Reviews Season Three

In Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumale, D. O. Fagunwa preached universal truths about human existence, values and respect for one’s parents, king and God, Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy reviews

To truly read a book is to travel outside your immediate world and migrate into the world of that book where you live with the characters, see with their eyes, sympathise with their plight and feel anxious for them yet you are unable to change the course of their fate, things would happen as they have been written. I summoned courage and followed Akara Ogun, our brave hunter hero and protagonist into the great forest of Irunmole and here I am; back to my room, sitting on my warm reading chair staring at the back cover page of D. O. Fagunwa’s book, and still feeling thrilled from the experience! It was a wonderful experience I must say.

Chief Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa is the first Yoruba novelist and his novel Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole (published as early as 1938) ranks among the first group of African novels written in indigenous languages (Yoruba), the novel can be loosely translated into English as “The Brave Hunter in a Forest of Daemons”. No discussion on the development of the African novel is complete without mentioning the significant role played by D. O. Fagunwa, especially his Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, the novel had great influence on even Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard (1952) which is regarded as the first African novel. Aside from this, Fagunwa’s novel was an instant hit when it was published for he wrote at a time when the scale of literacy was gradually rising and the public was hungry for books to feast their eyes and mind on.

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Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole is an episodic tale centering on the tripartite experiences of a picaroon (a brave hunter called Akara Ogun) in a forest filled with myriad daemons, little wonder why Wole Soyinka’s translation of the novel is titled The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. The story employs the Yoruba folktale tradition of storytelling in its narration, whereby the narrator narrates the story with visible audience and he is conscious of his audience as he narrates the story. Actually, the story is retold in the voice of one of the audience present during the actual narration of the experiences by the protagonist himself. In the beginning, the narrator shows that he understands that the tale is being read and attempts to create an ambience of actual oral narration by inviting the readers to enter into the characters and read their quoted speeches as the actual character would utter them. Here, the narrator shows that he knows that in reading a story such as this, the performance aspect, which is vital to the oral narrator, is lost to the readers.

Using a framed narrative technique helps to create little room for doubt for while one could question the actual narrator, you cannot question a narrator who claims to have been told the story by another. There is a beauty which comes with reading the novel in its original language which I doubt if any translation can equate. I wonder how some of the expressions would read out in translation (even when written by someone with a strong background knowledge of both the English and Yoruba languages as Wole Soyinka), especially the proverbs and the use of idiophones which makes certain expressions read like music – it is a pity much is often lost in translation! I should also share in this regret for here I am reviewing a Yoruba novel in English language!

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The novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, is heavily influenced by three main sources:

The first source is the Yoruba folktale tradition, this is evident not just in its style but by inculcating several folktales into the various parts of the story, especially in Akara Ogun’s third journey with six brave (akoni) hunters to Oke Langbodo in search of happiness and prosperity for their king and town.

The second source is Christian religion which shows in the protagonist adoration of the Christian God above all else, the use of Biblical stories and Christian ideology of man seeking God and salvation.

The third source is English puritan novel, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress which was a handbook for most European missionaries, who saw themselves in the light of the protagonist, Christian, contending with good and evil forces on the path towards eternal salvation. Akara Ogun’s journey into the forest of daemons also reminds us of such a journey, albeit Akara Ogun’s is a quest for fame and achievements. Towards the end, the protagonist likens his travails to that of man seeking to surmount life challenges, every human being has an Oke Langbodo in his life which he must overcome and he preaches that only persistence and determination can help one become victorious. Aside from borrowing the journey structure, Fagunwa also uses the same allegorical style of characterisation as John Bunyan by using characters whose names depict the part they play. Although, one could argue safely that the journey motif and use of allegorical characters has always been part of the Yoruba style of storytelling, most critics would agree that the coincidence in the narration of both novels is quite striking for one not to have influenced the other, especially as Langbodo comes to resemble a description of the Christian heaven.

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Fagunwa is an interesting narrator who knows how to thrill his audience, he uses his story to preach universal truths about human existence, teach values of mortality, and respect for those older and higher than one, especially one’s parents, king and God. Herein lies an important cultural function of the folktale as a veritable tool employed in the acculturation and inculcation of moral codes among the younger generations of the society.

Lastly, the variety of Yoruba employed in narration is quite simple and not as complicated as one might expect, more so considering the period it was written; any average Yoruba speaker can read and understand the novel.

Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa wrote at a time when others would have chosen to write in the English language; which was the language of the colonial masters; but he preferred to write all five of his novels in his mother tongue (Yoruba), even when he was well educated (according to the standard of his epoch) and could communicate fluently in the English language. By so doing, he has given a place of prominence to the Yoruba language, served as a cultural icon and great influence to many other Yoruba novelist who were to come after him, and has left us beautiful stories in their untainted form, as conceived by the writer. If there is any regret I have, it is still that I could not commit this review to paper in Yoruba language and I pray that Chief Fagunwa, wherever he is, would overlook this error from an impetuous child and forgive the sacrilege.

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018

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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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