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  • Arts of Being Yorùbá: Divination, Allegory, Tragedy, Proverb, Panegyric by Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ̀
  • Niyi Afolabi
Arts of Being Yorùbá: Divination, Allegory, Tragedy, Proverb, Panegyric BY ADÉLÉKÈ ADÉẸKỌ Indiana UP, 2017. xxv + 200 pp. ISBN 9780253026491.

The field of Yorùbá studies has indeed added to its rare bibliographical repertoire a distinguished piece of transcendental scholarship that promises to influence thought systems for many generations to come. Adéẹ̀kọ̀ locates Yorùbá identity in five open-ended genres that sum up the ultimate manifestation of Yorùbá aesthetics and creative political philosophy. Maintaining his prodigious focus on orature, myth, and history since Proverbs, Textuality, and Narrative (1998), The Slave's Rebellion: Fiction, History, Orature (2005), through Arts of Being Yorùbá (2017), the Yorùbá intergenerational intellectual comes full circle. The quintpartite tropos weaves together elements that are ordinarily not distinguishable in a typical Yorùbá performance, which includes verbal and non-verbal metaphoric acts. Being, acting, and reenacting Yorùbá are connected by multiple configurations of signs, gestures, ceremonies, invocations, and their dynamic interpretations to the degree that a rational mind can make the connections whether they are within or without the confines of Yorubaland.

Designed as a definitely classic pronouncement on Yorùbá culture, Arts of Being Yorùbá descends into the archives of divination, the living museum of proverbialization, the reversible epistemologies of Fagunwa's didactic adventures, the daring significance of female defiance against patriarchy in the face of death, and the place of praise culture in contemporary Yorùbá public performance. The corpus embodies conscious efforts to bring into conversation disparate elements that are often united in Yorùbá phenomenology. Questions raised are multiple and profound: (1) How do the Yorùbá morally self-conceptualize and self-represent especially in the context of the supremacy of oracular divination? (4), (2) What are the limits of performed texts to their seemingly contradictory semantic contexts? (36), (3) To what extent is the manipulation of divination by a diviner a violation of the writing rule, or what Adéẹ̀kọ̀ refers to as "shifts in intellectual consciousness" that predate colonial intrusion in reading and writing? (49–62), (4) How do we accept Fagunwa's male-dominated worldview without the pitfalls of gendered relations in a patriarchal society? (76), (5) How historically satisfying is the tragic demise of the female protagonist based on the Yorùbá expectations of what the author coins as "woman-being?" (95), and (6) To what degree is the panegyric, as invoked in the celebration of high-achievers in Ovation magazine, a reconditioning of the negative stereotypes of Africa? (120). Through the foregoing intellectual peregrinations across Yorùbá ethos and poetics, the author sensitively and eruditely interrogates what it means to be Yorùbá in the global sense.

Beyond the formidable case studies that the six chapters deftly expose, there is more here that betrays the author as an established Yorùbá philosopher. Taking issue with virtually every subject—from definitions to appropriations, from [End Page 212] normalizations to deviations, from being Yorùbá to being modern, from traditional speechifying to novel conceptualizations of Yorubanness—the reader is awed by the author's prodigious knowledge of Yorùbá history and culture. As Yorùbá culture is highly extoled and critiqued, so is it brought into theoretical conversations with glocal cultural theorists such as Wande Abimbola, Rowland Abiodun, Andrew Apter, Babalola Adeboye, Ayo Bamgbose, Karin Barber, Roland Barthes, William Bascom, Jacques Derrida, Margaret Drewal, Jack Goody, Barry Hallen, Samuel Johnson, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Walter Ong, Oyeronke Oyewumi, J. D. Y. Peel, Leopold Senghor, Wole Soyinka, and Olabiyi Yai, among others. One leaves this passionate cultural-critical journey with one singular hope: that the high standards of this successful legacy work can become a model for future studies in the field.

Arts of Being Yorùbá self-distinguishes not only as an invitation to the discovery of the many levels of Yorùbá identity, but also as a proposal for the infinite possibilities of its philosophical rootedness. Highly recommended as a bridging tool for the wearied souls on the continent who lament the loss of Yorùbá values, even as the...


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