- What the Forest Told Me. Yoruba Hunter, Culture, and Narrative Performance by Ayo Adeduntan
by Ayo Adeduntan
Unisa Press, 2014.
150pp. ISBN 9781868887392 paper.
Ayo Adeduntan’s What the Forest Told Me focuses on narratives and poetic recitations performed by hunters in Southwestern Nigeria. The genre is popularly known as Ijala, and previous scholars like Adeboye Babalola and Bade Ajuwon have done important work on the repertoire. Babalola’s The Content and Form of Yoruba Ijala (1966) was for many years the pioneering study of the genre, and Ajuwon’s Iremoje: Funeral Dirges of Yoruba Hunters (1982) extended Babalola’s work by concentrating on Iremoje poetry—a sub-genre of Ijala performed as part of funerary rites for members of hunters’ vocational guilds.
As the author informs us, research for the book “was conducted between 2003 and 2010 with hunters from the northern part of Oyo State . . . satellite villages of Ibadan, and some parts of Osun State in Nigeria” (9). Adeduntan also recorded episodes of a popular radio show devoted to narrative performances by hunters titled Ode Akoni and a television show on the same theme called Odetedo. Both shows enable Adeduntan to give sustained consideration to contemporary manifestations of the genre. Ode Akoni debuted on BCOS radio in March 2000 and, on Adeduntan’s interpretation, was successful in part because it was able to attract commercial sponsors and include advertisement segments. By contrast, Odetedo ran for only three years—2003 to 2005—and did not succeed in attracting sponsors. In this sense, the book squarely addresses the location of traditional oral genres in a contemporary setting that is overdetermined by commercialization. Traditionally, the hunter as culture-hero has always been bound to material considerations. The mythology and prestige that surrounded the figure of the hunter was based on his social role in the replenishment of the village’s food supply. The forest that used to be the quasi-mythical setting of the hunter’s adventures—in ijala poetry as much as in Fagunwa’s or Tutuola’s narrative universe—has been demystified by the expansion of cities and roads. Transferred to a modern setting, then, the hunter’s songs and narratives have to adapt or be rendered obsolete. In five [End Page 193] chapters, Adeduntan considers multiple poetic devices that the performers draw on, the element of mythmaking that drives them, and their creative adaptation to the changing contexts of broadcast media. He stresses his informants’ ability to keep ijala popular and relevant, despite the fact that the hunter as culture-hero is a figure of the past.
On Adeduntan’s reading, in addition to the issue of sponsorship, another reason Ode Akoni achieved greater success is because it emphasized the artistry in hunters’ performances. By contrast, Odetedo ranged broadly and provided cultural information of an “educational” sort. Of course, the popular artist Alabi Ogundepo took Ijala poetry to the television screen in the 1970s. Another actor, Ojeniyi Amoo, who performed with the Duro Ladipo group and later played the lead character (Akara Ogun) in the television serialization of Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode in the 1970s offers another instance of Ijala performers adapting to audiovisual media. What is distinctive in Adeduntan’s treatment of the phenomenon is his attentiveness to the theoretical question of agency within commodification. His discussion of the commercialization of the hunter’s narratives emphasizes their agency as artists and sentient beings, precisely amid the pressure of commercialization. For him, structure does not negate the individual’s ability to enact desire or inscribe a vision of the world—however marginalized or threatened that world may have become.
In chapter five, Adeduntan recounts an experience he had while conducting research for the book on February 27, 2007. He was in the home of Lawal Oguntunde, the Balode of Saki, to interview the old hunter. Upon turning on the recorder, five men charged into the room and “demanded that the patriarch be paid some sort of honorarium before the interview commenced” (92). Adeduntan ended up paying an undisclosed amount before the men retreated and the interview was allowed to continue. Adeduntan suggests that...