FAGUNWA, Olorunfemi Daniel

Born 1903




Nigeria's Master Fantasist by(Obafemi Ilesanmi). In a literary career that spanned 23 years,Chief Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa successfully established himself as a central figure in the development of Nigerian literature. Indeed, he is generally regarded as the most influential novelist who has ever written in the Yoruba Language. As ProfessorAyo Bamgboseasserts,no otherwriterhas had the same impacton the Yoruba literary scene, nor the same influence on young writers as Fagunwa. Chief Fagunwa was born at Oke-Igbo, in what is now Ondo State, in 1903. He had his primary education at St.Luke's School, Oke-Igbo (1916-1924); he then taught as a pupil teacher at the same school in 1925. He was admitted to the famous St. Andrew's College,Oyo, the following year and finished there in 1929. He started his careeras a teacher at St. Andrew's Practising School where he manned the nursery section forten years(1930-1939). He also taught at St. Patrick's School, Owo (1940-1942); CMS Grammar School, Lagos (1943); Girls School, Benin-City (1944);and Igbobi College, Lagos(1945-1946). On October 1946, Fagunwa went for a course on a scholarhip from the British Council; he was in Brit ain until 1948 and when he returned to Nigeria he took up a teaching appointment at the Government Teacher Training Centre, Ibadan from 1948-1950. In 1950, Fagunwa went back to Britain with the aim ofacquiring a university degree. He could not achieve this ambition, however, because he was re called in 1955 to take up the post of education officer with the Publication Branch of the Ministry of Education in Western Nigeria. He held this position until 1959 when he left the service of the regional government to become a representative of Heinemann Educational Books Limited in Nigeria. Fagunwa's talent as a major writer came to the fore in 1936 when he submitted his first creative ef fort, a novel titled Ogboju OdeNinuIgboIrunmole to a competition organized by one Miss Plummer. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) subsequently bought the manuscript for 20 pounds and published it in 1938. The book was described as 'a didactic fantasia novel.' It became an instant success, not only in the schools in Western Nigeria, but also in homes where children read it to their non-literate parents. With the publication of this book, Fagunwa be came a cult hero. People from all walks of life began to read his books for pleasure. After the first edition of Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole was sold out, Fagunwa transferred the publishing rights to Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited which brought out a new edition of the novel in December 1950. Since then this Yoruba classic has remained .n print. Apart from this novel,Fagunwa puh'ished four other novels, namely Igbo Olodumare (11.»49); Ireke Onibudo (1949); Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje (1954) andAdiitu Olodumare (1961). 11addition to these novels, Fagunwa also co-authored four other books which include Taiwo Ati Kehinde, a primary school reader in Yoruba. One of the reasons Fagunwa's novels are ad mired is that they are steeped in the folklore of Yoruba culture. As Professor Bamgbose observes, Fagunwa pioneered the tradition of expanding the Yoruba folktales into longer and more complex stories. With this approach, the venerable author man aged to carry along the positive effects of oral tradition into modern novel writing. The result is uniquely satisfying. His novels not only appeal to schoolchildren and ordinary readers, but they also strike the right chord among academics. Among the literary scholars who have written on Fagunwa works are: Ayo Bamgbose, Wole Soyinka, Bernth Lindfors, Abiola Irele, Ulli Beier, Afolabi Olabimtan and Akinwunmi Isola. Commenting on Fagunwa, Wole Soyinka described him as "a man of letters,self-compelling genius, a literary giant, who blends lyrical grace, marvellous realism, a limitless folkloric pool, and vigorous Christian moralism into a vibrantly syncretic Yoruba cosmology". ProfessorUlli Beier has this to say about Fagunwa's stories: "The true Yoruba flavour ofFagunwa's work lies not in the material he used, but in the language and inthe manner and tone ofhis story-telling. These are elements to which the average Yoruba reader re sponds with delight; for Fagunwa has the humour, the rhetoric, the wordplay, the bizarre imagery that Yorubas like and appreciate in their language... he uses the language creatively and inventively, con stantly adding to the traditional stock ofimagery and enriching the language". These qualities, however, have not blinded his critics to some of his weaknesses as a writer. Some critics, for instance, have expressed some reservations abouthismoralizingandtheramblingplots of his novels. Miss Karin Barber is quoted as saying: "Fagunwa is solidlyconservative, upholding with eulogisticfervourtheestablishedauthoritystructure and the values that maintain it". In spite ofthis, however, Fagunwa's achievements as a writer remain unparalled and this explains why he continues to attract so many followers.Distinguished literary critic,Professor AbiolaIrele has this to say about Fagunwa's writing:"His work stands at the head of creative writing in the Yoruba language and exerts the most pervasive influence on every category of Yoruba literary expression". Some ofthe writers his novels have influenced include: Ogundele Lagbondoko, author of Ibu Olokun;J.A.Fatanmi,author ofKarimale NinuIgbo Adimola;J.A. Omoyajowo, author ofItan Odenia Omo Odeleru NinuIgboEgiri,andlatelyFagunwa's second son, Diipo who is reported to have written a sequel to his father's Adiitu Olodumare. In addition,Fagunwa's influence has spread to Nigerian literature in English. Apart from the subtle influence it has had on the works of writers like Soyinka, his influenceismoreexplicitintheworks of Amos Tutuolaand lately, Ben Okri. As a demonstration of the continued popularity and relevance of his works to the public, many of Fagunwa's novels have been translated into foreign languages.They have also been adapted for stage, television and film. In 1968, Soyinka published an English translation of Ogboju Ode under the title The Forest of A Thousand Demons. This translation has made Fagunwa available to a much wider international audience. The result is that the English translation has been re-translated to other European languages such as Italian and Russian. The Italian edition has been reprinted several times and was nominated for a major Italian prize, Premio Grinzame Cavour. The Russian edition of the novel was published in 1983 by Nauka publisher of USSR Fagunwa's forth novel, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje has also been translated to English by a Nigerian journalist, Mr. Dapo Adeniyi under the title Expedition to the Mount of Thought. Some of Fagunwa's works have also been translated into French by Dr. Abioye. Apart from the serial reading of his novels over the radio,the Duro Ladipo Theatre Group adapted Ogboju Odeinto television serial which was broad cast over NTA Ibadan in the late 1970s. The novel was also adapted for stage by the playwright Wale Ogunyemi, andthe play, Langbodo,served asNi geria'sdramaentryforFESTAC77.Histhirdnovel, Ireke Onibudo was also made into a highly successful film in the mid 1980s. His last novel, Adiitu Olodumare, was also adapted for stage and per formed round the country by the Kola Ogunmola theatre in the 1960s. In recognition of his contribution to the development of Nigerian culture,especially in the area of modern literature, Chief D.O. Fagunwa has been bestowed with many awards and honours. Among them are the Margaret Wrong Prize (1955); a chieftaincy title from Oke-Igbo(1956); and Member of British Empire - MBE(1959). In addition, a hall of residence at the University of Lagos was named after him posthumously. If Fagunwa has not done anything else,he has at least through his novels revitalized Yoruba and in deed Nigerian culture. With the translation of his works, he has brought to the fore ground the best of our culture for the benefit of humanity. For this he deserves our attention and gratitude. Chief Fagunwa had two wives; from these two marriages and a relationship outside wedlock, the writer left six children by the time he died in an accident in December 1963. A DWARF IN MEMORY by (Sam Omatseye) As a man of letters, he had it all: an abundant pen,exuberant tempo, dynamic cosmology. Yet25yearsafterhisdeath,this fountainhead of Nigerian literature re mains a dwarf in our memory. With a refreshing originality and self-propelling genius, Daniel O. Fagunwa opened the calabash of a thousand demons andreleasedthem unto our literarycanvas. Demons with our distinctive native voices rip plingwithopulentcultureandvision. If a hall of fame were instituted today and our cavalier literati be grudge the gifted demon as pace, this tragically philistine society would avertits face. For to some of us, he is not memory.The light did notexist. Itdoes not matterthat Fagunwa's medium, the Yoruba language, cordoned offother ethnicities. It only reverberates our flaw as a nation without art. For while Wole Soyinka, one ofthe demons he released, pulleddownthe language barrierbytrans lating him, a wretched nation looked theother way. Translations never wholly succeed. But Soyinka's rendering has preserved much that is nice in Fagunwa: lyrical grace; marvellous realism; a lim itless folkloric pool; a vigorous Christian moralism distilled into a vibrantly syncretic Yoruba cosmol ogy. For instance, A Forest ofa Thousand Demons, remains a paradigm of what Nigerian literature should be: probing deep into our inner chambers with an enchanting style. Even the fantastic myths wo ven around the man did not whisper far from the Yoruba area (and a great many educated Yorubas are not familiar with even a little of his writings). Thathe died ina river, his headupright, clutch ing his reading glasses. That he frequented Igbo Irunmale (a holy hill near hisbirthplace ofOke-Igbo) and livedamong gnomesand spirits. Eventhat hill which populated his imagination should serve as a formidable monument to a formidable talent. It bleaches dailyundera lonelysun.Nigerianbuilders are neglecting a vital stone. We delight in the essentially seamy. When our money bags feel compelled to ease their distended purses, they face the flimsy side of glamour. The beautypageant,the meaninglesssocial clubs andall that glitzyvanity.Not the Fagunwaarchetype. That is why our first demon is lost in the forest. Thanks that our Achebes and Soyinkas are partially appreciated. The chief demon freezes in his grave, his dreams swirling around Igbo Irunmale. (Culled from African Concord, 12 December 1988)
Gender: Male
Name of Spouse 2 wives
Father's Name
Mother's Name

5 children

Profession Novelist
Working Experience teacher at st.andrews college from 1926 to 1929. , Headmaster at St Andrew’s Practising Primary School, Oyo from 1930 to 1939
St. Luke's School 1916 to 1924, Oke-Igbo ,St. Andrew's College, Oyo,

Oloye of the Yoruba people,

1. Margaret Wrong Prize in 1955
2, member of the Order of the British Empire in 1959.

1. Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, widely considered the first novel written in the Yoruba language and one of the first to be written in any African language.
2.D. O. Fagunwa was the first Nigerian writer to employ folk philosophy in telling his stories.

9 December 1963
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