Presentation And Launch Of Yoruba World Centre

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Alagba Alao Adedayo, and the Institute of African Studies, and the Yoruba Language Centre, University of Ibadan, thank you for the kind invitation to be here for the launching of the International Centre for Yoruba Arts and Culture, so fittingly located here in Ibadan. You have initiated a place that will give context and depth to our understanding of our past, our place and role in the present, and hopefully, our preparation for the future. A place that will help tell a fuller, deeper and richer story of proud, creative, and colorful people, but also of the rich tapestry of cultures, races, ethnicities, and faiths of which they are a part.


At a more reflective level, we will through this repository, and the traditions embedded in the artworks and cultural artefacts, imbibe the triumphs, challenges, inventions, and spiritual heritage of the Yoruba people. We know that well before contact with the Western world, the Yorubas had a fine artistic tradition that was rendered through sculpture and architecture using wood, bronze, stone, terracotta, and brass.


Such was the quality of the work that when Leo Frobenius, the German ethnographer came across the Ife bronze and terracotta sculpture, he was convinced that he had discovered the treasures of the mythical lost city of Atlantis. Later research proved him wrong, these were actually the works of 12-15th century AD Yoruba Craftsmen.


But beyond and yet inherent in the splendor and beauty of artworks and the genius of artists, are the histories and stories of our people; the forced relocation of Yoruba people by slave dealers to the Americas, the Caribbean, and other unspeakable degradations and atrocities of slavery, and the ways in which Yoruba culture adapted and survived in the dehumanizing humiliation, and suffering in those distant and hostile environments. Also how here at home, Yoruba culture also had to adapt to the onslaught of colonialism, in Nigeria by the British, and in Benin and Togo by the French.


In “Death and the King’s Horseman”, a classic play by Professor Wole Soyinka, we see forces at work that tried to adapt cultural practices with tragic consequences. The effort by the District Officer to prevent Eleshin Oba from doing his duty to accompany his Oba into the great beyond ended with the son of the Eleshin taking his own life instead.


The story of how the clash of cultures with colonial overlords shaped who we are today and to some extent, the incongruity of our institutions.


So culture is not just about the past, and it is neither static nor immutable, it is constantly creating and recreating. Consequently, progress is not merely determined by fidelity to tradition, but by our capacity for invention and reinvention. And this point is more relevant now than ever before as the world itself and our nation stand at crossroads.


The future of mankind is at an inflexion point with COVID-19 and climate change already disrupting life as we know it. While the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires us to adapt to technological innovation changing at lightning speed. To cope well, we must draw strength from our cultural capital – the wealth of tangible and intangible knowledge that emanates from a society’s core and enables it to cope with change.


One of the tasks of scholars, enthusiasts, and citizens interested in understanding the Yoruba heritage is to use culture as a tool for helping us discern our place in the world and to rekindle our visionary capabilities. This intent is inherent in the design and work of this Centre. It bears repeating that culture, is not just about antiquity. It is about the contemporary age and the age to come. This World Centre will therefore serve not just as a piece and place of memory, but as a place that inspires us and fires our collective imagination, even within the dynamic contexts of advances in technology, ideas, and thought.


But perhaps more importantly today, the work of this Centre should offer a base from which and sanctuary in which to reflect on how Yoruba culture can contribute to the tools of nation-building. The building of a more inclusive, fairer, and more just society – the bringing together as one people an ethnically, and religiously diverse nation. How can the rest of the nation learn, as President Buhari observed, from the way Yorubas manage within their families to accommodate diverse faiths and beliefs? And in a nation dogged by the abdication of high values especially in leadership, perhaps the Centre might take on the task of formalizing the knowledge on the concept of Omoluabi for teaching in our schools. Omoluabi, the true moral quintessence of the Yoruba race, the virtuous man or woman, the man or woman of character.


Perhaps, scholars here will distill the heart of the Omoluwabi ethos, and reveal the attributes of trustworthiness, reliability, honesty, and forthrightness for coming generations of Nigerians. Perhaps the world needs to know that the Omoluabi is one whose word to brother and stranger alike is reliable, who believes in the equality of all men regardless of race or belief, and that all deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness. One who believes that the commonwealth is not to be stolen or personalized, but it is for the good of all.


Given the range of its ambitions and the strength of its resources, I know that this Centre will locate itself in the emergent creative economy and light fresh fires of imagination, especially of our young people.


It might also be of use to formalize knowledge on how for example, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti used an admixture of the rhythms of the heartland to create a new genre of music – Afrobeat – that has since become a global phenomenon.


Today, young Nigerian artists are using local sounds to create a global popular culture. Is there something to be learned here? Additionally, the Centre should offer a destination for missions of discovery by the very many Africans in Diaspora who trace their origins to the Yoruba people and promote closer links between the Yoruba people in the homeland and their kin in the diaspora, but more importantly, provide a crucial pillar in the global attempt to build social and economic bridges between peoples of African descent everywhere in the world.


And while we are at it, you must join in the global movement to champion the return of artefacts that were plundered, looted, or illegally taken away from these shores. Indeed, the Centre should serve as a home for such returned items where the immediate provenance or circumstances in which the items were taken is unclear or not known.


Let me commend again the architects of this initiative led by Alagba Alao Adedayo, for the boldness and ambition of their enterprise. And for the enormous self-sacrifice and patriotism that this entailed. We must all seize this moment and join in this glorious civic endeavor and the time to do so is now.


Agbajo owo la f’insoya; ajeje owo kan o gberu d’ori. Be de re, a kii ri efon ta leemeji . The time is now! Aboo mi ree o! (Here I rest my case). E se pupo.


Thank you for listening.