Memorable Quotes from Ola Rotimi’s “Kurunmi”


Kurunmi: An Historical Tragedy (1971) is an historical play about the Ibadan-Ijaiye war, what culminated into the war, the turns it took, and the tragical losses of Kurunmi, a real-life principal actor in the war.

Ola Rotimi’s play takes a deep look into the Yoruba history, focusing its lens on Kurunmi, the Ààrẹ Ọ̀nà Kakanfo, who because of his values and insistence on the sanctity of Yoruba traditions met stiff opposition from his Yoruba brothers. In Kurunmi, there was an unwavering brave man who in his fight to ensure the perpetuation of an existing Yoruba tradition lost his soldiers, his city (Ìjàyè), his five sons, and his life.

Ola Rotimi also portrays Kurunmi as an egalitarian. To Kurunmi, there is no distinction between slaves and the freeborn. They are all his children.


In this post, we shall be examining notable quotes from the play; some of these are proverbs while the others show the ideological and behavioural positions of the real-life actors in the carnage that was the Ibadan-Ijaye war.


“Take the Elders away, and the town rots.”

Crowd (Page 12)

“When the gaboon viper dies, its children take up its habits, poison and all. The plantain dies, its saplings take its place, broad leaves and all. The fire dies, its ashes bear its memory with a shroud of white fluff. That is the meaning of tradition.”

Kurunmi (Page 15)

“The pride of a man is in his tradition — something to learn from for the peace of his present; something to learn from for the advance of his tomorrow.

Kurunmi (Page 16)

“The day the tall iroko loses its roots is the day the baby ant shits on its head. The day a people lose their tradition is the day their death begins.”

Kurunmi (Page 16)

“A king, a ruler who sees truth but is too weak, too cowardly to hold the truth, the ruler has fallen low, lower than the most depraved slave in our bushland.”

Kurunmi (Page 18)

“Tradition must change with man.”

Oluyole (Page 20)

“The cow defecates and thinks she is soiling the pasture; we shall see whose buttocks will be soiled first.”

Timi (Page 21)

“A cow . . . a cow is about to be shipped to Whiteman’s land and she is happy. Very happy. Ehn . . . let the cow go. When she gets to Whiteman’s land, what will she become? C-o-r-n-e-d b-e-a-f!”

Kurunmi (Page 22)

“The bull-frog that rivals the size of the elephant will burst!”

Kurunmi (Page 29)

“A goat gets wiser after an ear is cropped off.”

Kurunmi (Page 32)

“The young palm tree grows tall rapidly, and it is proud, thinking, hoping that one day it will scratch the face of the sky. Have its elders before it touched the sky?”

Kurunmi (Page 35-36)

“When a man has placed himself far above his people, he is ready to gamble with their lives.”

Fanyaka (Page 37)

“When the rat laughs at a cat, there is a hole nearby.”

Kurunmi (Page 38)

“He who despises smallness, let him step on a needle!”

Kurunmi (Page 41)

“The cow steps on her calves — that does not mean she hates them.”

Kurunmi (Page 41)

“When an Elder sees a mudskipper, he must not afterwards say it was a crocodile.”

Kurunmi (Page 42)

“A man cannot be so angry with his own head that he seizes the cap from the head and dons his buttocks with it.”

Ibikunle (Page 46)

“Catctus is bitter to him who has tasted it.”

Ogunmola (Page 46)

“A man eating eggs can’t be satisfied with just one.”

Ogunmola (Page 47)

“A stick already touched by fire is not hard to set ablaze.”

Ibikunle (Page 48)

“A roaring lion kills no prey.”

Ibikunle (Page 48)

“A good soldier has discipline. He does not fight only when fighting is good for him, and then run away when the omens of war turn bad.”

Ibikunle (Page 70)

“When a one-legged man needs help, he must not say that the friend who carries him on his back stinks; even if that helper does stink.”

Kurunmi (Page 83-84)

Read: Characterisation in Ola Rotimi’s “Kurunmi”

“A paddle here, a paddle there but the canoe stays still.”

Kurunmi (Page 87)

“The size of a bush-rat is the size of its hole.”

Kurunmi (Page 88)

“It is not the beating of rain-drops that hurts . . . it is the . . . the touch of dew . . . the soft touch of dew . . .”

Kurunmi (Page 90)

“When the owl leaves its nest at noon, danger is near.”

Somoye (Page 92)

“When a leader of men has led his people to disaster and what remains of his present life is but a shadow of his proud past, then it is time for the leader to be no more.”

Kurunmi (Page 93)



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