It has been 57 years since D.O. Fagunwa, the Yoruba chief, teacher, pioneer of Yoruba-language novels and author of Nigeria’s most famous indigenous fantasy stories, passed away. D.O. Fagunwa, born Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, in 1903 in Oke-Igbo, died in a drowning incident on December 9, 1963, near Bida, Nigeria. His first novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons) published in 1938, was the first full-length novel published in the Yoruba language.
His second novel, Igbo Olodumare (The Forest of God), was published in 1949. Among his other titles include Ireke Onibudo (The Sugarcane of the Guardian, 1949), Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (Wanderings in the Forest of Elegbeje, 1954), and Adiitu Olodumare (The Secret of the Almighty, 1961). He also published some short stories and two travel books. Awarded the Margaret Wrong Prize in 1955 and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1959, Fagunwa’s works explored folklore elements of spirits, monsters, gods, magic, and witchcraft, interwoven with Christian elements and traditional Yoruba proverbs.
In a post dedicated to his father, Nigerian academic, Diipo Fagunwa celebrated the memory of his death, bringing to fore Yoruba worldview about life after death:
“The sound of Ayanagalu with his iya-ilu should wake you up beyond the horison Oreowole our master storyteller and rose giver of brilliant literature for today is your day. Indeed the ricochets of the heavenly omele with the clatter of its gold rings should ginger your memory Omo-Beylieku that today is the day of celebration that travels beyond you far into the constellations and deep into the abyss.”
Yes, today is the memorial of fifty-seven years ago when you crossed over the seven hills, Jaanrini. December 7, 1963, was the day you ferried over the seven seas with no one to stop you but the heavens to welcome you into glory. Indeed that was the day of history and the day you left for the grace beyond. Agoro-bogunbolu, on that day you left with a benediction that tarries behind you like the whale in the sea. The world misses you today Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa our doyen and perfume of Yoruba literature.”
Referring to his father’s literary reputation, Fagunwa reiterated that his literary ingenuity was immeasurable and unrivalled. He addressed him as a man who gave his all to his writings and broke the barriers of imagination to produce stories that guide readers on the best of values. He saluted the legacy he left behind and expressed that his children and clan miss him dearly. He concluded with the statement, “You lived well”.
The genius of D. O. Fagunwa indeed remains cemented in the minds of readers and scholars of Yoruba literature. Fifty-seven years after his death, the works of D. O. Fagunwa still remind us about the beauty of classical Yoruba, the unlimited ability to imagine, and the heights that indigenous creative narratives can reach even in an utterly westernized world. This rest of this tribute can be found on Diipo Fagunwa’s facebook.