Homage to Lanrewaju Adepoju, the Wordster

Láńrewájú Maṣ'ud Adépọ̀jù is gone. But his works are still here. As our people say, if the calabash-carver carves no more calabashes, the ones he has carved will not perish.

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An older Lanrewaju Adepoju.
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‘Láńrewájú Adépọ̀jù was an exemplar to me in three aspects. Yorùbá rhetoric, Islam, and autodidacticism.

I first heard of him from one of our lecturers. He had fixed one of these eleventh-hour I-must-finish-my-coursework classes. In the class, he told us to download two short videos of Adépọ̀jù’s ewì* because they would be part of our exam. It turned out to be untrue. But I forgave him because, as short as the videos were, they were enough to show me that Adépọ̀jù was gifted with Yorùbá rhetoric. He was a Yorùbá person whom other Yorùbá people listened to to learn Yorùbá language. Not only did he construct good combinations of words, he also used those words to bring out meanings and ideas that resonated with the common people. He also used poetry to express his opinion on the trending issues that occurred in the prime of his career. As an amateur in the Yorùbá language, Adépọ̀jù is one of the masters under whose tutelage I put myself.

A cover page of one of Adepoju’s poetic renditions.

It was through another of our lecturers that I got to know about the second aspect. I was playing around on Internet Archive’s Scholar page when I happened to download a paper authored by the lecturer on Adépọ̀jù. In it, the lecturer elaborated that Adépọ̀jù, at a point, transitioned from Yorùbá metaphysics to Islamic aesthetics. This had a significant impact on his poems. I understood this shift because I had undergone a similar transition in my life, albeit on a narrower scale.

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I read one or two comments from supposed listeners of Adépọ̀jù after his death who said that he was a good poet all right, and he would even have been better if not for his “fanatical” practice of Islam, as one of the commenters put it. Being a creative too, I had noticed a certain waning in my literary output since my religious transition. It looked as though my religious commitment was stifling my creativity. At first, this worried me. But later, I saw that it was due to my own insufficient effort or knowledge. Had this Islam, which they now term “fundamentalist” or “fanatical,” not once blazed the trail in all aspects of knowledge on earth? Was this Islam not the same that produced all the men who are labelled fathers of different fields of knowledge? But let us not go into that. Suffice to say that even if Láńrewájú Adépọ̀jù had such feelings after his transition as I had, he did not pay much heed to them as he produced more albums after his transition and he still had many more unpublished poems when Death knocked on his door.

Front-page of Ladepo Omo Adanwo by Olanrewaju Adepoju.
Back-page of Ladepo Omo Adanwo by Olanrewaju Adepoju.

I discovered the third aspect myself in an interview of his that I read online. This interview was conducted by yet another lecturer of ours. In the interview, Láńrewájú Adépọ̀jù mentioned that he never attended a school. He first gained Yorùbá literacy through a Yorùbá textbook, which he bought with his money. Then he moved to the metropolis, where he had access to a library and university friends. Thus, he did learn English too. He learnt it well enough for him to be employed as a proofreader for a Sunday newspaper written in English. Although he did not mention it directly, it can be assumed that he learnt Arabic too, even if elementary. This is because some knowledge of Arabic is necessary to understand Islam properly. This is why Arabic is one of the things taught to new Muslim converts. And in Láńrewájú Adépọ̀jù’s case, he could be considered a new convert—even though he was born into a Muslim family—considering that he had dabbled in a form of Christianity beforehand.

Read: From Fagunwa to Isola: The Translation Narrative of Yoruba Works Continues

Another thing that suggests that he did learn Arabic was his establishment of an Islamic Movement; Jam’iyyatul-Ukhuwwatil-Islamitil ‘Aalamiyah (the Universal Muslim Brotherhood). He could not have established an Islamic movement for people to follow while being ignorant of Islam’s scriptural language himself. Not many people possess the steadfastness and self-discipline to achieve such a feat in learning.  His case will serve as impetus that will drive me to, at least, cover a part of my long list of learning interests.

Láńrewájú Maṣ’ud Adépọ̀jù is gone. But his works are still here. As our people say, if the calabash-carver carves no more calabashes, the ones he has carved will not perish. I will end this with the poet’s self-assured statement from his interview with Prof. Oyeniyi Okunoye:

“My major contribution is that I modernized and professionalized ewì. In other words, I raised it from mere mendicancy to professionalism. Nobody can be identified in Yoruba history as having achieved that feat. . . I have become the master of Yoruba poetry.”

‘Láńrewájú Adépọ̀jù.

*Ewì is Yorùbá poetry rendered orally.

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