Interviewed by R. Atanda Quadri
Sir, as an ambassador of culture and tradition and also a teacher of Yoruba language, can you tell us about your place of origin, culture, tradition and lifestyle of your people afterall, it is said that charity begins at home?
I am Prince Ade-Ire Abiola Arowoogun. I hail from the Arowoogun Royal Family of the Aka Arogundabi Royal Compound, Enuwa, Ile-Ife, Ife Central Local Government in the state of Osun. Ile-Ife as the Cradle of Yoruba race and the root of Yoruba culture, traditions, civilization, science, technology and indigenous civilization. The indigenous social, economic and political structure associated with the Yoruba race was conceived in Ancient Ile-Ife and the prototype was copied by all emigrants from the source.
To what extent is the reach of the cultural influence of your place of origin?
The influence is all over Yoruba groups, societies, cities, states especially in the Southwest Nigeria and countries in West Africa like Togo, Benin Republic and Congo and most especially, in the South American continent and the Caribbeans. Yoruba culture, traditions, philosophies and beliefs are still strong in my town, Ile-Ife in Osun State Nigeria. Arole OOdua, the Ooni of Ife is the spiritual and royal head of Ile-Ife and by extension, is the head-monarch of Yoruba race as a whole.
Can you provide us information about your family background and growing up years?
I was born four decades ago into the family of Oludele Akano and Omolara Arowoogun who are both from Ile-Ife. My father is the present Baale of Kinkinyiun Kingdom in Ile-Ife. I was actually born in Ibadan as at the time Ife was part of the old Oyo state. I had earlier part of my primary school education in Ibadan before my father who was a teacher was transferred back to Ile-Ife when Osun state was about to be created in 1989.
How was life at the family and community levels in those days?
I spent earliest part of my childhood in Ibadan. This was a period when the social and cultural structure of Yoruba had not largely disintegrated as we have now, as at that time, I remember if we travelled back home for Christmas and New year period. All my father’s siblings, uncles, aunties, cousins and everybody who had a tie to my Grandfather, would report in his house in our compound. Today, I marvel at how one storey building of about 8 rooms could accommodate all of us. It was a time when the family bonds were still intact. We would spend days, and even weeks together as one big family with genuine love, care and share experiences together. Everybody, especially will fall into his/her age groups so easily after my Grandfather’s celebration of his new year.
How did children like you who lived outside your place of origin integrate with the home based ones, like how foreign based footballers integrate with local ones in the national team?
(laughs) The families will fall back into their different units and/or abodes within the town. All of us, the children who were not living within the town as at then would join others and we would be going from one family to other to greet them for new year on the different days of their own celebration. All of them welcomed us with warmth, fed us and gave us gifts as at then. We could even sleep in with any of the families and no one looked for us for days because they knew we were not lost nor kidnapped. Growing up was fun.
It seems we are in the “Paradise Lost era now”. Tell us more about such family bonds that existed as at then
The family structure helped. Everyone’s children were everybody’s children. Everyone’s problems were everybody’s problems. I remember one of our uncles then who was a young adult as at then. He had lost both parents. But you would never knew. He could enter any house within the compound, eat and sleep and would be treated nice. Infact, if not for the family structure then, the uncle who is now a retired university professor wouldn’t have gotten education that has brought him so far. This structure extends to the whole town. I remember another uncle who retired as lecturer at department of accountancy, Osun state Polytechnic, Iree, the most senior Lecturer then, he was sponsored to school abroad by the whole town.
Growing up in those days was exciting.
That’s quite interesting. Can you tell us more about your education process?
I had my early education in the early 80’s at Methodist Nursery and Primary School, Elekuro Ibadan at the time when Missionaries and Churches still played important roles in education. In 1989, I moved to St. Stephens Anglican Primary School, Itaasin, Modakeke in Ife East Local Government where all subjects including mathematics with the exception of English Language was taught in Yoruba language. I am happy that was only time I understood mathematics. The school had a very high standard and to enroll in the school wasn’t easy, yet, we were taught in Yoruba.
What effects did the high standard create in the community?
I guessed other schools did the same by teaching in Yoruba language in my area then and it was the best thing to happen to us because we got real education and not the list of confusing contents children are fed today that fail to guarantee real education and intelligence. I remember I got to know “Amin Ohun” in primary four. Even some undergraduates of Yoruba language today don’t know it. It was the time our teachers were our ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’. They cared so much about everyone of us, their ‘children’. I remembered my primary five teacher stopping by my classroom window in JSS one to greet me and check if I was doing well.
That’s commendable, so how did your education go after that?
I thereafter proceeded to Modakeke High school where the values that define me today were inculcated in me. This was a school where if some skills are discovered in you, a platform, no matter how costly will be provided for you to express it. The companionship and training in this school had in no small way contributed to who I am today. I remember the school informally handed me over to my friend’s father, Lawyer Sowade because I had actually wanted to study law at first before I discovered my interest and potentials in the theatre.
So, what transpired after that?
In SS 2, I had to move to St. Peter’s African Church Grammar School in Omi-Okun, Ile-Ife. That was where my budding talents and intelligence in the arts subject were nurtured. After that, I was admitted to study MASS COOMUNICATION at Osun State Polythechnic, Iree, Osun State. Though, I had to change my course to Secretarial studies because I had E8 in Maths, it was not until my potentials had come to the fore. This was why, in 2001 when POLY THEATRE was established by the Polytechnic management as proposed by two of the MASS COMM department lecturers who had Theatre Arts background, Mr. Tai Olutayo and Mr. Oloyede, I was invited to be part of the theatre company and we staged FAREWELL TO A CANIBAL RAGE, a play written by Emeritus Professor of theatre, Femi Osofisan.
What happened after that experience?
That singular experience unlocked the creative and performance abilities in me. I discovered a passion that has been driving me since. It also provoked the deep knowledge and exposure to the Yoruba cultural values I have because of the environment where I grew up. At this juncture, I will like to emphasize on the role the radio and TV units of Osun State Broadcasting Corporation (OSBC RADIO & TV). The folksongs, folklores, folktales, cultural based programs and indigenous language films and so on.
After completion of your National Diploma, what further steps did you take that led you to your present day fields of endeavor?
After my National Diploma in Secretarial Administration from Osunpoly Iree, I went to the department of African Languages, Communication Arts and Literature, LASU for B.A. in Yoruba & Communication Arts. This course exposed me to the world of Yoruba values, language, culture, traditions and literature. When I started teaching (Yoruba language and English Literature), I had desire to study education for the desire to attain status of professionalism in all I do, and at the same time, I had strong desire to also study theatre for the same purpose.
And what did you do to attain that desired professionalism?
I saw an opportunity to combine education with theatre arts at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Otto/Ijanikin. So, instead of going for my masters after years of leaving LASU, I went for NCE in Theatre/Yoruba. This program no doubt gives me a lot of leverage and has enlarged my scope in the practice of theatre and education l consultancy service.
How will you describe education and the values it has deposited in you?
Education is life. Education in all it’s forms; informal, formal and non-formal are indispensable to humanity. Education mould minds and souls and that is one of the major medium where man learns he cannot live like other animals. Education brings about self- awareness and emancipation. As for me, the informal training I have from home, families and the societies I have found myself helped shaped me. The formal education provoked the creative and intelligent pool inside me, and helped in self-discovery and enlarged my horizon and scope.
As a teacher, what pleasant and not so pleasant experiences have you been through?
The pleasant experience as a teacher stemmed from the sense of fulfillment I always have when I see my former students doing well in life. Especially when they left secondary schools and they become successful. The unpleasant experiences I had while teaching had to do first with unreceptive and unscrupulous attitudes of some students and most especially, the very bad working condition for teachers then, especially, those of us working with private schools.
As a Yoruba teacher, you are known as a practical person, what projects relating to your field have you initiated in and school?
As a Yoruba teacher, I have initiated projects geared towards the development of the language in form of different programmes in the schools I have taught. In all those schools, I established, or strengthened and developed the cultural troupes with exposure to outside projects, performances’ and programmes. Most of the students over the years became professional practitioners.
What of outside school environments?
Outside, I have initiated different programmes that combine theatre production and lectures on the development of Yoruba language and cultural values, which has drawn the attention of a lot of professionals in the field of Yoruba language and theatre arts. With these projects, I have also helped to expose many of my students to the outside world within the field of African language, literature and theatre arts.
What lifetime values were passed on to you by your parents that still influence your lifestyle till date?
Both of my parents were teachers and so discipline was like food and water while growing up. My parents showed me the indispensability of discipline as embedded in the concept of OMOLUABI for true success and genuine achievement of dreams and aspirations. Apart from that, my father is a culturally vast person and inculcated that in me. His speeches were always spiced up with Yoruba proverbs, idioms and antics as well as ironies.
Does that imply culture and tradition had been springboards for you from childhood?
I was brought up in a culturally inclined environment and this in no small way influenced who I am today. I remember even when I was studying Secretarial Administration, a pure management course at Iree, I used to wear OFI, most important Yoruba indigenous cloth on campus. It was my father who bought the clothes for me. Today, my father is a Baale and a potential king. The touch and orientation of royal lineage also did help shape me into a culture and traditions inclined person.
What projects have you spearheaded or participated in as a theatre arts practitioner?
As a Theatre Practitioners, I have initiated different theatre projects and had produced several stage plays based on plays I wrote myself and those written by other prominent writers. I wrote, direct and produced among other plays, THE FOOLISH PRINCESS (2005) FREEDOM (2008), THE KING IS BORN (2012), ALAAFIN AFEPEJA (2015) , ORI (2018), and so on. I have in the past directed and produced works of renown writes like THE WEDLOCK OF THE GOD by Zulu Sofola, THE GODS ARE NOT TO BLAME by Ola Rotimi, WOMEN OF OWU by Femi Osofisan and so on.
Any other creative project you have been actively engage in with regard to literature and theatre?
For outside theatre projects, I was part of the TEAM NIGERIA that attempted the Guinness world record for the longest theatre performance in 2015 as Director cum actor. I was also part of the team that performed an adaptation of Ola Rotimi’s THE GODS ARE NOT TO BLAME at 2016 LAGOS THEATRE FESTIVAL. I have worked with several theatre directors and producers. My play THE MEGA was also produced at 2020 edition of LAGOS THEATRE FESTIVAL in February this year.
Which ones are the most recent activities that have reflected the playwright instincts in you?
Over the last two to three years, I have been writing plays for major projects for students of theatre department of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, as well as the Creative and Cultural Arts department of the school. They include THE DESTINY OF MAN as the 2019 INITIATION PLAY, SEKERE as the 2020 INITIATION PLAY, “IROSUN OFUN” (BASED ON THE YORUBA LEGENDARY STORY OF OLUROMBI) for the ALARINJO THEATRE PROJECTS OF 2019 class of 200 level students.
WATCH OUT FOR PART TWO OF THIS INSIGHTFUL INTERVIEW