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Oriki’badan

2009, author(s)-editor(s) Emmanuel Fru Doh

ORIKI’BADAN, is an entertaining, revealing, and equally didactic poem in which Doh, through an enchanting metaphorical backdrop, recaptures a memorable era-rich, diverse, challenging, yet gratifying-in the life of a distinguished institution-the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Characteristically bitter about those in power and the socio-political state of affairs on the African continent, this is a rare shot of Doh paying glaring tribute to his alma mater along with the distinguished faculty and student body that gave Ibadan its character during his days there as a student.

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ISBN 9789956558889 | 60 pages | 203 x 127 mm | 2009 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

3 Book Reviews

  • Wading through the tributaries of gratitude in Emmanuel Fru Doh’s Oriki’badan 25 November 2009 11:45, author(s)-editor(s) Niyi Osundare

    In this curious and engaging volume of poetry, Emmanuel Fru Doh entertains no doubt about the noble task he has cut out for himself: the celebration of intellectual culture, through the ‘temples’ which serve as its sites of dissemination, and the ‘priests’ who ensure this dissemination by their acts of initiation and edification. These priests are the teachers about whom the poet has this to say:

    But nobody sings of teachers: their job is “boring,” generally speaking, their paycheque... trite. Yet in their hands rests the fate of the world, the future of humankind, given the minds entrusted in their care to mould, which towards heaven they could direct, or else into the abyss plunge. I sing of all these heroes... (p.vii).

    The temple is the University of Ibadan from which the poet earned all his high academic degrees (from BA to PhD). What we have in this book, therefore, is a frequently eloquent, pervasively effusive praise for the university which made his achievement possible, the city of Ibadan in which that university is situated, and the teachers who serve as guardians of the knowledge and education temple. In a song-like semi-epic narrative, Doh details his odyssey from his native Cameroon to Nigeria where he plucked the Golden Fleece before returning home, a proud triumphant warrior. But this poet is no sole witness to his own homecoming. This narrative is populated by parents, former teachers, former classmates, Cameroonian compatriot-colleagues at the University of Ibadan, and the leading lights of African literature and literary criticism.

    A scholar of African tradition of oral literature himself, Doh justifies the style to the content in a most felicitous way by reaching for the oriki genre in his celebration of both the university and the city of Ibadan. For oriki, that sub-genre of Yoruba poetry with its copious trope of attribution and description, is about the most versatile and most practied of all Yoruba poetic types. A running mix of narration and description, history and geography, seamless rhetoric and cryptic suggestiveness, settled textuality and seamless improvisationality, breezy humour and sober sarcasm, oriki is the missing link between the song and the chant; cousin of the panegyric, helpmate of the epic.
     
    This is the sub-genre the poet has chosen, and how admirably he uses it in quite a number of places! In a boldly autobiographical vein, Doh takes us through the long and colourful track of his educational journey from the elementary level in Cameroon to the doctoral level in Nigeria. But ‘first things first’ (p.2), his charity begins, naturally, at home: from a strict, hardworking father who never missed the ‘dreaded hour’ of home coaching ‘when/He would supplement what Mrs Anoma, Mrs Tigem/And Mrs Ekema had started during the day’ (p.2). From elementary school to high schools in Buea and Mankon in Cameroon; and with the educational foundation solidly laid, it was time to venture farther afield for higher education in Nigeria. For the young wayfarer and his father, it was quite a prayerful parting:

    Njoya, your child is travelling. Go with him;
    It was you who said he would grow, grow, and grow.
    He is growing just as you predicted, so go with him
    Open his doors for him. . .
    . . . Keep him safe in all that
    He does until you bring him back to us
    In the name of our forefathers! Amen!
    Now go! (p.7)

    Thus launched on his mission, the poet commences his odyssey to Nigeria, arriving at the University of Ibadan ‘After days and nights of riding in dust’ (p.7). Astounded by the ‘vastness of this initiation camp’ (p.8), ‘this city called school’ (p.9), the poet takes in his new environment hall by hall, faculty by faculty, place by place, unit by unit; but the Faculty of Arts is to be his base, the Department of English (‘Oyinbo Grammar’) his root. It is here the poet spends ‘years, almost a decade’ (p.11), receiving the kind of superb education that has made him such a grateful alumnus. And the teachers to whom he owes this attainment get the most melodious of his laudatory chant.

    First is Ayo Banjo, ‘High Priest’ and head of ‘Oyinbo Grammar,’ ‘giant amongst giants, intimidating/In appearance, yet humble and simple before all.../...Baba Banjo was concerned about what brought one to him, /And did all in his powers to be of help’ (p.13). Next is Baba Dan Izevbaye, ‘High Priest of OyinboGrammar, ‘Calm as the sea at dusk, like a very deep lake/... A mien that belied the fiery nature of his pen/The penetrating zooming-ins of his interpretations/... A leader who had time for all./... Izevbaye, a veritable scholar, a true professor/A devoted mentor who would show the way then/Challenge to encourage...’ (pp.14-15). Baba Omo Asein was ‘like life unpredictable/... Now a smile of recognition/... Next a perplexing distant look’ (p.15), but ‘He ripped apart the African novel/And fed us the innards, urging us to grow/Into masters and mistresses. . .’ (p.16).

    Baba Amayo the linguist ‘tall, easy going and/Always willing to help. BabaAshaolu, authority on African drama. There was Chief Priest Egberike authority on Shakespeare. Then, ‘Enter Baba Isidore Okpewho, high priest and gateway/Into Orature, custodian and advocate general of Africa’s/Epics.../bridge between times... veritable authority’ who taught by example; ‘standard bearer of Africa’s/True portrait’ (p.24). (Okpewho, the renowned scholar and writer, was the supervisor of Doh’s doctoral dissertation). There were two chief priestesses in the department: Mama Chikwenye Ogunyemi, ‘principled and tough like a metal bar/. . . Only those willing to work dared near Mama/ . . . who brought out ‘the best in an initiate’ (p.25). Then, ‘Mama Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, chief priestess/Of words and songs. . ./Enchantress from the belly of Mother Africa/ (p.25); brainy and articulate.’

    The poet also pays ringing tributes to high priests from other departments in which he took his subsidiary electives: Chief Priest Mojuetan of History, High Priest Bodunrin of Philosophy, High Priest Kujore of Classics. And those ‘priests, chief priests, and high priests/In other departments. . .’ seen only from a distance - Osofisan, Soyinka, Irele - do not go without the poet’s grateful acknowledgement. Doh goes beyond the University of Ibadan, eulogising other creators, movers and shakers of African literature as we know it today: Achebe, Ngugi, Oyono, Okigbo, Armah, Okot p’Bitek, and Dennis Brutus, rhapsodising their various contributions to the cultural and social liberation of Africa.

    But the poet’s lenses are not solely aimed at the exclusive clique of high priests and their lofty kin. His song has ample stanzas for ‘advanced initiates’ like Harry Garuba and Remmy Oriaku; ‘senior initiates’ like Edred Green; and co-initiates like Joshua Cheng and Victor Fomunyam (his Cameroonian compatriots); Gboyega Kolawole, Morenike Soyinka, Kunle George, Remi Raji, Otty Agbajoh-Laoye, Oyinda Sodipo, Victoria Attat, Constance Oki, and many others engaged in the common search for knowledge and life’s meaning. The last few pages of the volume take us back to the manifestly autobiographical, detailing the poet’s journey through the MA course (‘Chamber of Inquisition’), and the doctoral programme (‘Chamber of Invocation’), and his eventual attainment of the most golden of the Golden Fleece.

    A strikingly unusual volume of poetry, Oriki’badan is both a chronicle of the poet’s educational journey and a lively narrative of the University of Ibadan in one of its loftiest periods. In an effort to tackle the problem of clichés and humdrum versification which invariably go with tasks of this nature, the poet has sought refuge in what may be called a deliberate primordialisation of events and terminologies in a manner reminiscent of Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers. The university campus is called a ‘Camp;’ the matriculation ceremony is ‘Initiation;’ the MA programme is the ‘Chamber of Inquisition,’ the PhD the ‘Chamber of Invocation;’ the teachers are high priests or chief priest depending upon whether they are professors or PhD.’s respectively; the different disciplines exist for the training of town criers, herbalists, healers, warriors, griots, jesters, farmers, hunters etc. The reader is left to figure out which departments in a modern university will be home to these professionals! Some of these designations and nomenclatures work in certain cases, though the nick-naming of the English Department as ‘Oyinbo Grammar’ sounds pretty quaint and is capable of provoking an unintended chuckle.

    In this volume, Doh takes on the roles of griot, troubadour, and raconteur. In many places, his voice is deliberate and mellifluous. Consider the following lines which refer to the poet’s preparations for the oral defence of his doctoral dissertation:

    For weeks before the final rite of passage
    Into priesthood, I rehearsed the signs of the skies,
    Of the weather changing, the names of weapons and
    Battle strategies, the names of instruments, the different
    Dances and the attendant dance steps by warriors,
    I practised the lines of songs, the names of herbs,
    The role of the performer, the role of performance,
    The trick of the crouching tiger, the yapping of the hyena
    The snarling of the lion king, the fetishes of the hunter,
    The steps of the praise singer, the attendant regalia...
    Thus sharpening my knowledge, my hide, in readiness (p.52)

    Evident here is a kind of inspired eloquence and epic detailing that command the audience’s attention: the syntax is loose, almost paratactic; the narration is unwaveringly faithful in its chronology; the diction elemental; the impulse primordial. Also noticeable is the folktale ambiance with its population of archetypal animals. This is Doh’s turf; and he relishes it and rejoices in it. 

    But, alas, not all the parts are this felicitous. Dominating this volume and inevitable to the genre of its choice (oriki) is the poetics of naming, endless attribution, hyperbole, and functional pleonasm. Even then, there are moments in which the poet seems to run away with his metaphor:

    African theatre was his meal, his palm wine.
    He ate Soyinka before sunrise, took Pepper Clark
    With the sun overhead and wiped his lips with Osofisan
    He snacked on Athol Fugard before going to sleep (p.17)

    The humorous impact here doesn’t come without a wince, even with the most figurative reading. For how many writers would want to end up on the menu of this all-devouring theatre guru?

    In many places, John Milton’s Paradise Lost breathes through Doh’s lines: ‘Of man’s encounter with the travails of life/ . . .I sing in general/. . .So help me Shiliwa’ (p.1). And the syntax of the entire volume is frequently Miltonic, if not downright Latinate in its hypotactic inversions:

    My great childhood friend and master storyteller to join (p.3)
    Fortress of hope and confidence on me he showered (p.4)
    in response, with professions and vocations I flirted (p.5)
    Watch their lips as they words of wisdom
    In you sow (p.6)
    Of strangers who pretended friends to be (p. 34)
    . . . But only a fool
    The wicked ways of another would emulate (p.35)

    On the whole, Oriki’badan is a long, fascinating poem. Beyond everything else, the beauty of this volume resides in the author’s generosity of spirit, his humane memory, and unstinting sense of gratitude. At the risk of sounding ad hominem, I would like to aver that Emmanuel Fru Doh as a person typifies these virtues. Those of us who taught him at the University of Ibadan remember him as a highly motivated, assiduous, and wonderfully decent human being; a positive and insightful student who was a joy to teach, a delight to have around. Oriki’badan is both a paean to a beloved university in one of its glorious periods as well as a challenge to that university to arrest the decay that has become its lot in recent years. 

  • Oriki’badan 27 June 2010 21:16, author(s)-editor(s) Professor Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

    With this lyrical narrative on the experiences of one acolyte in the company of others being led through a sacred grove of learning by the most accomplished high priests, Emmanuel Fru Doh reaffirms the premier place of the University of Ibadan in creative modern African writing and thought. In Doh’s hands, theory meets practice, orature meets literature, Cameroon meets Nigeria, literacy interfaces with orality, and through all this, the home of oríkì welcomes a highly accomplished practitioner as Doh renders to Ibadan a most moving panegyric while showing himself to have been an extraordinarily keen initiate. No greater sign of love and gratitude can a person accord his alma mater. We have here the best of the University of Ibadan as depicted by one of its proudest and most appreciative pupils.

    Professor Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

  • Oriki’badan 27 June 2010 21:17, author(s)-editor(s) Nelson O. Fashina, Senior Lecturer, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, (...)

    ORIKI’BADAN, is a poetic river of wisdom, thoughts, and meditative recapitulation of the poet’s epic, historic baptism of fire in the academic genius of his alma mater, the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university (a.k.a. “First and Best”) during her second glorious phase of intellectual genius of the ‘80’s when she paraded a set of the world’s best faculty. The diction is lucid and the narrative nostalgically captivating in its pictographic chronicle of events and personages, all of which challenges our sense of history, memory, and dialogical imagination!

    Nelson O. Fashina, Senior Lecturer, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.