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  • Configuring Audiences in Yorùbá Novels, Print and Media Poetry
  • Rita Nnodim

Èhyin òré mi, bí òwe bí òwe ni à ń lu ìlù ògìdiigbó, ológbón ní í jó o, òmòràn ní í sì í mò ón. Ìtàn tí ng ó so yìí, ìlù ògìdììgbó ni; èmi ni eni tí yóó lu ìlù náà, èyin ni ológbón tí yóò jó o, èyin sì ni òmòràn ti yóó mò ón pèlú.

(Fágúnwà, Ògbójú Odê 1)

My friends all, like the sonorous proverb do we drum the agidigbo; it is the wise who dance to it, and the learned who understand its language. The story which follows is a veritable agidigbo; it is I who will drum it, and you the wise heads who will interpret it.

(Soyinka 7, emphasis Soyinka)

Daniel Olorunfemi Fágúnwà's popularly-read novel Ògbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè ("The brave hunter in the forest of 400 deities") begins with a narrator imagining his audience, figuring his reading audience proverbially as the dancing audience responding to the drummed words of the narrator-drummer, as the wise audience who will interpret the performance.

This article is, in a nutshell, about imagining, convening, and addressing audiences in Yorùbá literary creation. In following selected examples of early and more recent Yorùbá print and media (radio/cassette) poems as well as Yorùbá novels, the article seeks to explore the encounter between cultural practitioners (poets and writers) and their audiences through studying how audience address is constituted in literary texts. The issue of turning towards, giving shape to, and addressing audiences was particularly pertinent at those pivotal historic trajectories, when the introduction of writing, print technology and the electronic mass media enabled verbal artists to go beyond the local towards conceptualizing and addressing potentially unlimited, unknown audiences through print expression and through a new kind of mass-mediated secondary orality. Thus in the Yorùbá context, the availability of print did not engender hegemony of the written word, did not displace the oral as an obsolete mode of literary expression, but opened up ways for numerous creative forms of co-existence and interfaces of the oral and the written. The appropriation and use of writing and print technology for creative literary expression involved, according to Walter Ong, the task of setting up "a role in which absent and often unknown readers can cast themselves" (102). Verbal artists needed to figure a position for the "self" and the "other", i.e. for the poet/writer and the audiences, as well as a relation between them (Dillon 15). [End Page 154] This article seeks to explore the ways in which cultural practitioners mediate this "act of social imagination" (Dillon 15) by focusing on selected examples of novels and print/media poetry, also termed ewì, a semi-oral semi-written genre of poetic expression that oscillates between the written and the oral, as it is published in pamphlets, books and newspapers, as well as being broadcast over the radio and disseminated on cassettes. Studying how poets and novelists imagine, convene, and address their audiences not only reveals possible changes in audience address as well as emerging patterns of a rhetoric of addressivity, but also provides captivating insights into how cultural practitioners project beyond their immediate listening or reading audiences, imagining and evoking formations of people into new collectivities, such as are envisioned by concepts of ethnic affiliation and ideas on nationhood.

A number of key factors crystallize when embedding the emergence of Yorùbá print and media creation in its historic contexts: Thus, missionary activities and the implemented colonial system acted as catalysts in creating the framework within which novels and print poetry emerged.1 The institutionalization of a formal educational system along with the reduction of the Yorùbá language to writing (see Ajayi, How Yoruba Was Reduced to Writing 49–58), the standardization of the Yorùbá language and its position within the educational system (see Awóníyì) enabled the emergence of people literate in the Yorùbá language and the formation of an early educated elite.2 Print technology enabled the local production and...


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