Africa: ‘Yoruba in Brazil have not forgotten their root’
Nigeria joined in the celebration of the 2019 Brazil’s Independence Day in grand style. The event, which featured the exhibition of over 60 ancient Yoruba artefacts and treasures, reestablished the link between Brazil and the Yoruba race in Nigeria, reports EVELYN OSAGIE.
Orunmila, Ori Olokun and Obalufon welcomed guests into the exhibition hall of Brazilian Consulate-General in Lagos. Dignitaries of different nationalities from all walks of life travelled back in time into Yoruba history and heritage as they were greeted with over 60 antiquities, dating 30, 000 years ago, from the stables of the Yoruba Museum (Oduduwa Mobile Museum).
Like explorers walking into a hall of treasures, they were also met by precious metals and gemstones excavated from the ancient city of Ile-Ife.
Women in Brazilian carnival attires, music and pictorial displays of some of its tourist/historic sites at the entrance of the Consulate-General and the exhibition were some of the scenes that greeted guests at the 2019 Brazil’s Independence Day celebration. Brazilian Head of Mission in Nigeria, Helges Bandeira, his lovely wife, Sumaya, and Brazilians resident in Nigeria welcomed guests to the event with the Brazilian national anthem, songs and snacks.
But why hold an exhibition of African ancient artefacts on Brazil’s Independence Day?
“Oruko mi ni Helges Bandeira,” began Bandeira. “Everybody in Brazil is very familiar with Yoruba culture, and to us it is really an honour to unveil the collection of Yoruba artefacts from the Palace of the Ooni of Ife,” he continued, adding: “It is really a historical event because it is Africans showing African arts in its natural beauty. The Ooni of Ife has been to Brazil and acknowledges the Brazilians that are there as also his people. I was in contact with him and we have been talking about organising an exhibition of Yoruba artefacts here for a very long time because as Brazilians, we are Yoruba too. And so we can celebrate our national day and our Yoruba heritage on Brazil’s Independence Day in Nigeria.
“We appreciate Nigeria for their receptivity towards my countrymen and women. Brazilians feel very welcomed when they are in Lagos. Maybe it’s because we also identify ourselves as Oyibo Yorubas (Laughs) if that’s possible. Happy Independence Day to all. And thank you, very much, the Ooni of Ife, for giving us the honour of unveiling your artefacts.”
Tagged: “Pantheon of 401 Divinities and Treasures of Ancestors”, the exhibition featured relics in gold-plated, bronze and wood, as well as gemstones and precious metals.
The Ooni, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, took guests into the “forest of artefacts”, explaining the historical relevance alongside the economic value of the stones and metals.
According to him, he is out to change the historical and cultural narrative of the black race. He said: “The inspiration behind it derived from the increasing awareness of the richness of Ife cultural and historic heritage which has remained for long unplumbed – much of which has been lost in the course of African progression through the postcolonial phase of her history. The Yoruba in Brazil have not forgotten their root, and are strongly connected to their origin, and that is the reason why I have been working very closely with the government of Brazil.
“The Pantheon of 401 Divinities: the items on display are representative examples of the 401 divinities that constitute a pantheon but that the divinities are larger in number than 401. It has always been the western world that is telling our stories. We have to tell our stories by ourselves. With this exhibition, we are starting a movement – movement over 20 countries, especially with countries like Brazil and Cuba where Yoruba is strongly rooted.”
He decried youth unemployment in the country, stating that the harnessing of Nigeria’s natural resources hold the answer to the problem. ”Today for the very first time in history, we are unveiling something very important commercially to the entire populace of our country and the continent of Africa, that we can actually add value to our treasures and by extension, our economy, take it to the entire world. It is a shame that we have so many treasures and we are living in abject poverty – it’s not adding up. We should wake up from our slumber,” he said.
Although it was anchored by the Ooni of Ife himself, the two chaperons of the two sections, Victor Badejo and Lotanna Amina Egwuatu (Gemologist), were on ground to lend their voices.
According to Scott Hoskins, who is working with Ooni on dating of the relics, building awareness around the relics and the cultural heritage of Ife is something that ought to have been done a long ago. “I am impressed what the Kabiyesi has pulled out of his archives to show the public. I think it is very monumental that he would do this. And in our humble way, I am actually working on bringing a German group to add some scientific knowledge to testing some of the bronze that he has to give them an age title.
“I think the more details that he can put on the symbolism, e.g. around why there are multiple Ife Heads, why the crest around the Ife Head, who those people might have been or were and if he could document and tell us about those things, would add value to what he is trying to do.”
Nigerians at the event spoke highly of the experience, saying it was a pride of the country.
While commending the efforts of the Ooni, the president of ARSADIC, Chief Sola Olalekan Atanda, said: “We are living witnesses of the stories of the past and it’s not mere stories but facts because all we have been hearing in folktales, folksongs and reading in books, we have now seen physically.”
For art legend, Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, “To have this opportunity to showcase these treasures at the Brazilian Consulate-General is a great achievement for Brazil and the Yoruba people of Nigeria to see their cultural heritage at the Brazilian Independence Day. They are part of us; they are Yoruba. If you go to Sao Paolo, you’d see the Yoruba people there. They eat akara and all we eat. And you know they actually left Lagos and still brought the culture along back home.”
Reiterating Davies-Okundaye’s words, Former Commissioner for Art and Culture Steve Ayorinde, also commended the collaboration between Brazilian government and the Ooni for bring history closer to the people.
Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, Mrs Sally Mbanefo, observed that: “This is an incredible exhibition. It is a historic landmark for us in the culture industry and the history industry that some of the artefacts that were taken away are back home and we can have access to them. The exhibition is a very impressive work and I’m happy that the Brazilian Consulate General is part of this. It is really wonderful. The Ooni of Ife has always been a pacesetter when it comes to culture. I remember my days when I was a director-general of culture; he supported my work so much. It was during my time that he declared Ile-Ife a Tourism Zone and I had to go there to open it up.”
On his part, Lagos State Commissioner for Science and Technology Hakeem Popoola Fahm, who is a founding member of Egbe Omo Yoruba, said a strong connection between Brazil and Yoruba of Nigeria still exists despite it being centuries old. “I find the exhibition fascinating. You can go to certain parts of Brazil and feel as if you are walking in a Yoruba city. You see people dressed in Yoruba attire, still practising the traditional religion and selling akarawa, which is akara on the streets. So it is very fascinating. So the connection is great, we share the same ancestry and we continue along that path.”
Mrs Adenike Laja of the Lagos State Physical Planning Ministry said it was her first time she would see that Nigeria has gold and gemstones in Ife. “If they are mined and refined, it would go a long way to create employment for our youths and Nigeria would be great again,” she observed.
By EVELYN OSAGIE