Literature Of The Month | Ireke Onibudo

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Ireke Onibudo is a Yoruba literature novel that chronicles the life of a man who shares the same name with the book.

In this book, Ireke is a regular man who is searching for the meaning of life like most of us. It follows his strange but enthralling journey from pauper to oba (king).

By will power, moral restraint and sheer good fortune, he triumphs over adversity to become a celebrated warlord and noble man. His story runs alongside a fable told by his dead mother.

Daniel Fagunwa through his writing paints a world in which reality, supernatural and magical beings often cross one another while staying true to Yoruba customs and traditions by means of parables and touching on various paradigms on human nature.

The book is written is such a way that our unintentional hero goes through various situations and while you enjoy his stories, there are underlying lessons about our journey through life, some of which we still struggle with today.

Some topics Fagunwa tried to touch on involved:

1.Taking advice

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In one scenario of his life, our hero falls from grace to grass and finds himself in a world where animals order him around and are responsible for if he stays alive or not. He has to battle a wild cat in order to save his life.

From there, he ends up being shipwrecked, is captured by mermaids and taken to the queen of the fishes – Arogìdìgbà who gets upset with him for refusing to marry her as he has a woman that he loves (Ifepade). She gives him three tasks to perform to be free. These tasks are: to build a house in one day, to plant yams and reap them the same day, and to fight with a fire, breathing monster – Ewure iberù . The hero performs all the tasks successfully through the help of his mother.

We also see that there was once a time when his father didn’t listen to the counsel of his mum and his life ended in shame leading him to say

Igbeyin baba mi ko da rara, aye re ko ba si tiri bee bi o ba je pe o fi eti si imoran iya mi’ loosely translated to

The end of my father was terrible, had he listened to my mother, it would not have been so for him’.

2. Polygamy

Most of the women depicted that were products of polygamous homes usually made sure that their female children didn’t fall into this same type of family in future. They would usually plead with their daughter’s suitors to make sure that they did not marry other wives. The mother of Ifepàdé said to Ìrèké Oníbùdó when he was ready to marry her daughter –

‘there is something I want to tell you before the matter commences, I don’t want you to marry another wife after my daughter, because as I am in the palace here, I know what I suffer in the hands of other co-wives… If the co-wives are smiling, there is the poison of a snake in their hearts, if you want to enjoy your life fully, you must be careful with women – warn your eyes’

Fagunwa wasn’t a fan of the Yorùbá polygamous institution. He saw it as a breeding place for wickedness, jealousy, malice keeping, hatred and unending troubles that more often than not usually affected the children. Ìrèké agreed with his soon to be mother-in-law as his father had 22 wives. Even when Ifepàdé died a few months after their marriage, he refused to marry Ifepínyà who willingly gave herself to him.

3. Marriage without consent

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The patriarchal ideology of ifomofoko (i.e. giving female children to husbands without their consent) was another issue that we saw come into play in this book. In the traditional Yorùbá society, the father can give his daughter to whomever he wanted whether she wanted him or not. So long as the ‘suitor to be’ was hardworking and morally upright, the daughter had no say and could not reject whoever she was given to. The author saw this tradition as oppressive and unjust.

Ifepàdé assured Ìrèké that her father, who was a king, had no right to give her to any chief apart from him whom she loved dearly. She stated that her father was just saying his own, and couldn’t enforce anybody to marry any man, unless the person brings him home as her love

This novel was widely read back in the day and while the author might not have agreed with some aspects of Yoruba culture at least he did teach its readers about the way things were done which is missing alot these days.

The book was so famous that it was later turned into a stage play for all to enjoy.

Fagunwa remains the most widely read Yorùbá-language author and was the first Nigerian writer to employ folk philosophy in telling his stories.

Did you get the opportunity to read Ìrèké Oníbùdó, what did you think about the book.


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