Book Review: Ìyá Òṣogbo, Matriarch Of Yoruba Alarinjo Travelling Theatre, Gets Her Due In Riveting Biography

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Title: Ìyá Òṣogbo: Life and Times of Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi

Pages: 235

Price: Not stated

Author: Vincent Akindele

Reviewer: Bukola Martins-Adediran

Publisher: Hinds’ Fit Communication Limited, Ibadan

 At the first, cursory glance Ìyá Òṣogbo: Life and Times of Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi may seem like any other biography to the reader. However, its structure and presentation makes this captivating book an uncommon work of art replete with unique features. It stands out in quite a number of ways: carefully and consciously written to satisfy both English and Yoruba-speaking fans of Ìyá Òṣogbo – a veritable, female pioneer thespian in the Alarinjo (travelling theatre) tradition of the Yoruba, colonial era stage in Nigeria. The Yoruba texts are presented in comprehensible terms using the Yoruba diacritics, that is, the Yoruba tone marks and sub-dots. Another unique feature is the question and answer segment part of the book, which is translated to Yoruba and tucked in the appendix.

The first sixteen chapters of this enthralling book unearth the past and the present life and of the legendary actress, Mama Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi, also known as Iya Osogbo. The seventeenth chapter, which is the last, is dedicated to tribute to the subject as contributed by her children, colleagues and contemporaries.  

Chapter one is an exposition on the Yoruba belief and culture of child christening. Titled, “What a name!” the author treats the concept of “Grace” as Iya Osogbo’s first name and her middle name, “Owoola”, and how these had a great influence on her life. He notes that it is by God’s grace that she has triumphed over several trials in her career and on the home front, including receiving with great equanimity insults and attacks from her co-wives as a sacrifice for the success and happiness of her husband and family. According to the author, it takes God’s grace that Ìyá Òṣogbo has lived long enough to be 93 years in a country where life expectancy is 55 years. Her middle name, Ọwọọla, radiates an aura which attracts fortune, fame and favour in her eventful and fruitful life.

In chapter two, the author leads the reader to the birth and ancestry of Mama Oyin-Adejobi, who was born on August 23, 1930 to the family of Pa John Okebiyi and Madam Deborah Olabisi Okebiyi at Isale Osun. She is of royal lineage in Òṣogbo, the third of her father’s children and the second of her mother’s five children. Her father was educated and he was a building contractor who had three wives with her mother as the second.

Chapter three gives the account of the excitement of the family when she started primary education at All Saints’ Anglican Primary School, Balogun Agoro, Ile-Abodua, Oluode, Osogbo, Ọṣun State in 1941 after she scaled through the hurdle of stretching her right hand over the head to touch the left ear at a time when qualification for admission into primary school was by stature, not age.  Sadly, in 1948, she was expelled for non-payment of school fees as her mother stopped paying her school fees after she was negatively influenced by her friends and used the money her mother sent for school fees to buy clothes. That was the mistake that terminated her educational pursuits.

Chapter four captures the trying times of Mama after she dropped out of school. She didn’t have a choice than to work to make ends meet. It presents her sojourn as an apprentice at Mrs. Clegg’s fashion/cloth making outfit in Òṣogbo. Chapter five details the deal of the life partnership between Pa Oyin Adéjọbí and Mama. The author considers the acceptance of the marriage proposal of Prince Adéjọbí by Mama as answering a divine call to partner with the young man to fulfill God’s purpose in his chosen career and entire life out of genuine love. This is viewed as an act of showing kindness and compassion to a specially ‘able person’. In chapter six, the reader encounters Mama Oyin- Adéjọbí as a virtuous woman who successfully combines the three, challenging roles of a wife, mother and actress.

 Chapter seven is devoted to the life and times of her husband, Late Pa Oyin Adéjọbí, whom Mama lovingly refers to as ‘Baba wa’ – our father – and possessively claims, ‘ọkọ mi’ – my husband. Pa Adéjọbí had four other wives. Chapter eight shows the reason Mama is known and addressed as Ìyá Òṣogbo while chapter nine chronicles her exploits in her acting career. Chapter ten further reveals that the making of Ìyá Òṣogbo was divinely facilitated by Oyin Adéjọbí Theatre Company which was founded by her darling husband. Chapter eleven discusses the dramatic works produced and performed by the Oyin Adéjọbí Theatre Company.

Chapter twelve showcases the songs that the Oyin Adéjọbí Theatre group appropriately used to spice up their acting profession. Chapter thirteen lists the awards Mama received from different organisations in recognition of her uniqueness, dexterity and prodigy in acting. Chapter fourteen reveals Mama as a woman guided by God’s law, while on a related note, chapter fifteen reports that at her ripe age, Mama now yearns for heaven’s attention as she has stopped starring in secular plays, videos and films. Rather, she has opted to be “acting for God” in order to gain heaven’s attention as she has had enough of the world’s attention and recognition.

  Chapter 16 aptly titled, “Face-to-face withÌyá Òṣogbo”, presents excerpts of the interview session to reader, which feels like one-on-one interaction with Mama, and chapter 17 contains tributes to her as contributed by her children and others.

 Significantly, the foreword to Ìyá Òṣogbo: Life and Times of Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi was written by a female fan of Ìyá Òṣogbo, Dr.  Ruth Ọmọtọla Ọnasanya, a lecturer at the Federal College of Agriculture,Moor Plantation, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Dr. Onasanya states, “I watched some of Oyin-Adéjọbí’s TV drama series while growing up. I remember Mama’s roles in Kóòtù Aṣípa, Orogún Adédigba, Oyin Mọmọ, Ilé Ìwòsàn and I loved to listen to the group’s songs with baba’s unique baritone voice.” Her assertion becomes a compelling attestation as she adds, “interestingly, some of the songs are carefully packaged in this book.”

The book is a good biography written in a simple and lucid language.  The author’s versatility and diverse background as a media practitioner and scholar, a playwright, a poet and a story-teller reflect all through the pages. It contains the three major literary genres:  prose, drama and poetry.  It is competently crafted in engaging prose. The poet in the author is shown in the generous use of praise poetry (oriki) in the stories of the Oyin Adejobi family and the ancient city of Òṣogbo. Also, some of the plays and songs of the Oyin Adejobi Theatre Party are skillfully put in dialogues, making it pleasantly conversational. The interview session with Ìyá Òṣogbo enables the reader to see her speak directly, giving the reader a personal interactive feel with her. The use of biblical allusions, traditional Yoruba proverbs, and idioms is elaborate in the book, with good effect.

However, Ìyá Òṣogbo: Life and Times of Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi is not indexed and some Yoruba letters are left without the diacritics of Yoruba tone marks and sub-dots. The author and publishers would do well to correct these drawbacks in the revised second edition.

 Nevertheless, Ìyá Òṣogbo: Life and Times of Grace Owoola Oyin-Adejobi is a diligently written account of the life and times of a legendary actress and matriarchal figure in Yoruba Traditional Theatre, Mama Grace Owoola alias Ìyá Òṣogbo, and her husband, the late Oyin Adejobi. It is a compulsory read for all lovers of good books, especially biographies. Students, researchers, lecturers, theatre practitioners, and song writers will find the book useful as a veritable material for scholarship and practice.

The Reviewer: Bukola Martins-Adediran

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