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The Transition from Yorùbá Metaphysics to Islamic Aesthetics in Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù’s Poetry

Stephen Toyin Ogundipe
Department of English
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.;


This paper explores the poetry of Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù, a major contemporary Yorùbá poet, based in Ibadan, southwestern Nigeria. Much of the scholarship on the poet focuses purely on his sociopolitical interest, but the development of his craft has been largely ignored. This paper examines peculiar features of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry based on its fusion of Yorùbá cultural and Islamic religious values with the view to theoretically characterizing his practice. It draws on purposefully selected, recorded audio poetic compositions of Adépọ̀jù produced between 1974 and 2012 in order to yield a comprehensive view of his poetics. It employs hybridity, an aspect of postcolonial theory advanced by Homi Bhabha, as a theoretical framework to analyze the texts. The essay reveals that Adépọ̀jù’s poetry grows from the simple narration of the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òri ̀ṣà pantheon to become an instrument of radical Islamic ideology. It concludes that the integration of the indigenous and the Islamic cultural values in the work of Adépọ̀jù results in a unique poetic idiom in Yorùbá poetry.


Adépọ̀jù’s work represents an important phase in the development of modern Yorùbá poetry because of his pioneering role in the dissemination of Yorùbá poetry through audio recordings. He is one of the most prolific and influential practitioners of modern Yorùbá poetry. Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is also unique because of the complexity of his immersion in Yorùbá artistic conventions and Islamic values. This confluence has resulted in a variant of Yorùbá poetry that is uniquely his. His corpus includes a published Yorùbá poetry collection, two dramatic texts, and eighty-nine recorded performances on phonograph records, cassettes, and compact discs. Although Adépọ̀jù is best known to the Yorùbá-speaking public as a radio poet and one who circulates modern Yorùbá poetry on discs, the impact of his poetry spreads to the larger Nigerian context on account of its social relevance. He creatively adapts his practice to changing modes in media usage and technological innovations.

Despite being the most articulate promoter of modern Yorùbá poetry, Adépọ̀ju has been largely marginalized by scholars. A holistic and comprehensive engagement of Ọlánŕ ewájú Adeṕ ọ̀ju’̀ s poetry, emphasizing the hybrid nature, has not been done. Paying attention to this unexplored area enhances the understanding of the complex dynamics in Adépọ̀jù’s poetry and broadens its recognition within the context of the larger Yorùbá poetic tradition. This paper, therefore, pays attention to what he has produced, how his poetry has evolved, and his idea of a poet.

The first effort that brought attention to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is a study of another Yorùbá poet, Adébaý ọ̀ Fálet́ i:́ A Study of His Poems, by Olatunde Olatunji. He identifies Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù as an example of a commercial poet and also portrays him as lacking originality in his compositions. Adéyínká Fọ́lọŕ unsọ́ adopts a similar outlook, degrading the significance of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry and assailing his adherence to sociopolitical engagements and praise-singing. A considerable amount of literature has also investigated Adépọ̀jù’s contribution alongside other Yorùbá cultural producers regarding the popular struggle against military rule in Nigeria (Williams 1996, Haynes 2001, Olúkọt̀ uń 2002, Adaǵ uń odo ̀ 2003, and Òjo ́ 2007). More recent studies demonstrate that there is more to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry than many critical studies have recognized (Nnodim 2002, Okunoye 2010). The present essay provides a distinctive approach from previous attempts through its reading of Adépọ-̀jù’s poetry based on its hybrid constitution. This perspective explains why the notion of hybridity, emanating from a postcolonial theoretical perspective associated with Homi Bhabha, is appropriate for the engagement of Adépọ̀jù’s work. The concept of hybridity in the context of the essay is a modification of the original conception in Bhabha’s thought in the sense that its conventional insertion within postcolonial theory did not necessarily anticipate its application beyond the colonial context. The collision of Islam and the Yorùbá tradition in shaping Adépọ̀jù’s unique poetic idiom lends itself to this reading and only reveals how the idea of hybridity operates beyond the spheres of conventional postcolonial studies.

The notion of hybridity has been broadened from its manifestation in relation to object, plant, or person of mixed origins to include ‘anything of heterogeneous origins or incongruous parts.’1 Postcolonial hybridity as proposed by Homi Bhabha explores the collision and fusion of two hitherto relatively distinct cultures, identities, forms, styles, or ideas. The location of the representation of identity in Bhabha’s work is the ‘threshold of the border,’ an ‘in-between,’ ‘beyond,’ and a newly constructed space.2 Bhabha’s conceptualization of hybridity as “the borderline work of culture” suggests the possibility of utilizing available resources for double perspectives, juxtaposition, and integration. The cultural interactions may not necessarily be smooth, as hybridity is a cold war, involving intricate processes of cultural contact, intrusion, fusion, and disjunction. The question of the identity of the artist/poet/ intellectual frequently arises as one negotiates the intersection of an art that speaks from ‘two places at once’ in a rapidly changing society.

Apart from Bhabha’s theory of hybridity, this essay also finds relevant Ali Mazrui’s attribution of the nature of African cultural influence to a ‘triple heritage’—the traditional, the Islamic, and the Western.3 Mazrui’s perspective exposes the theoretical apprehension of the postcolonial identity and creates a basis for our discussion in the sense of admitting that the influence of foreign culture significantly defines identities in a postcolonial context. Mazrui’s work on the triple heritage is complemented by Edward Said’s argument that, because of imperialism, ‘all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid.’4 Hybridity, therefore, constitutes an essential aspect of postcolonial context, as it rejects cultural confinement and reaches out to forms of expression and experiences beyond established boundaries.

Adépọ̀jù is a complex and multifaceted personality. He is an author, poet, Islamic preacher, and founder of an Islamic sect. He is the most self-conscious propagator of ewì (modern Yorùbá poetry), a vibrant and dynamic form that he enlists for the articulation of Yorùbá values, cultural nationalism, and identity. In recognition of his contribution to Yorùbá culture, he has been conferred with the traditional title of Ààrẹ Aláṣà (custodian of culture) of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria in 1984 by the 37th Olubadan of Ibadan, the late Oba Yesufu Asanike.

Studying the many different shades of Adépọ̀jù’s artistic influence is vital for understanding the development of his identity. A proper comprehension of his art must recognize the influences of the Yorùbá socio-culture, his interaction with Western literacy and media, and the interaction with Wahhabi- inspired Islam. His birth and early life in the very traditional and cultural environment of the Yorùbá has become a feature that resonates in his works.He frequently declares, self-assuredly, ‘I grew up independently of any one as a poet.’5 His parents did not send him to school because they were illiterates and did not value Western education. But he learned to read and write in both Yorùbá and English through self-effort. His participation in communal celebrations and traditional festivals contributed to his mastery of the verses of Yorùbá divinities, including Ifá Ọr̀ únmìlà (divination deity), Ògún (deity of Iron), Ṣàngó (deity of thunder), and the ancestral cult at an early stage. This traditional link is evident in his only poetry collection, Ìrònú Akéwì, which is framed in the idiom of an accomplished oral poet.

Although Adépọ̀jù is a ‘local intellectual,’ his contact with Western literacy is highly significant to his identity formation. His successful attempt at overcoming the limitation of illiteracy and the attainment of the position of an accomplished modern Yorùbá poet, testify to a life of resilience and sheer determination. The acquisition of Western literacy enables him to strengthen his self-conscious identity as a ‘modern’ Yorùbá poet. The interaction of the oral and the written makes ewì ‘modern’ because only those poets who can read and write in Yorùbá practice it.6 Adépọ̀jù’s exposure to functional literacy granted him the opportunity to interact with the first generation of modern Yorùbá poets and the first elite cluster of university-educated people in Yorùbáland. The poetry group Ẹgbẹ́ Ìkéwì Yorùbá, which was established in Ibadan in 1958, and which later became Ẹgbẹ́ Ìjìnlẹ̀ Yorùbá (Yorùbá Renaissance Society), fostered creative efflorescence through reading sessions, discussions, and the publication of a literary magazine, Olókun, which defined the character of modern Yorùbá poetry. It was this environment that nourished Adépọ̀jù to early maturity as a poet, after he had worked with Adéagbo Akínjògbìn, one of the co-founders of the Yorùbá poetry society, as a houseboy.

New opportunities for creative development emerged through Adépọ̀jù’s position as a freelance presenter at the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service/ Television (WNBS/TV) in 1964. His interaction with Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, an ‘elder poet,’ provided Adépọ̀jù the best opportunity to exhibit his talent. The poet dexterously appropriated the broadcasting media outlets of radio and television to strengthen his art and to gain public recognition. Adépọ̀jù left broadcasting in 1974 and established a recording studio and a record label, Lanrad Records. The decision enabled him to appropriate the technology of broadcasting media to the practice of reading ewì on cassettes and discs, which represented a quick adeptness in knowledge transfer by the poet. He effectively employed a peculiar form of address and creatively adapted a commercial model for his practice of ewì as testimonies of his link with modernity. He also created a wider scope of sociopolitical engagement for his poetry, which was impossible at the government-controlled media establishment. In addition, the relatively inexpensive technology of records, cassettes, and CDs made his poetry to be more accessible to many people, and this action inevitably popularized Yorùbá poetry. The dissemination of commercially produced ewì on LPs provided an alternative channel to the audience, who could intersperse ewì and music in their listening enjoyment.
The most distinct expression of the character of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry came through the change of religion from Christianity to Islam in 1985. Following his acceptance of Islam, there has been a considerable change in his religious perspective. His exposure to Islamic fundamentalism resulted in changes in religious values, attitudes, and expressive modes, and in his understanding of the function of poetry. This outlook is reflected in the transformation of his poetry from mostly Yorùbá myths and spirituality (lyrics of the Ifa oracle) to Islamic sermon (nàsíà). His establishment of an Islamic sect, the Universal Muslim Brotherhood (Jam’iyyatil-Ukwatil-Islamitil Aalamiyah), was inspired by the religious fundamentalist precepts and teachings of the Wahhabis, the official religious group of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis are a movement of Islamic thought that was inaugurated by Ibn Hanbal (780–855) with the aim of establishing a new social movement in which Islam holds a prominent place.7 The Wahhabis also operate under the rubric of the Salafis, 8 in view of their call for a ‘return of Islam to the standard of the Prophet.’9

The conventional understanding of Islam among Muslims often invokes the religion as a timeless, unchanging, and universal faith. The common identity as Muslims is fostered through the Arabic language, the Holy Quran, the Hadith, and the five pillars of Islam. In spite of this transnational identity as Muslims, several scholars agree that the assumption of roots in a uniform, singularly orthodox form of Islam is incapable of accounting for the wide range of conflicting cultural practices and viewpoints (see Gellner 1981, Asad 1986, Starrett 1997, Soares and Otayele 2007, and Loimeier 2013). An alternative proposition is the paradigm of multiple cultures and societies in which elements of Islamic religion and cultures are integrated into a plurality of local contexts, suggesting local adaptation of Islam (Geertz 1968, El-Zein 1977, Harrow 1991, and Loimeier 2013). According to Loimeier, Islam is too diverse to support the idea of a single expression.10 He, therefore argues for the localization of Islam within specific communities such as ‘Hausa Islam’ or ‘Yoruba Islam,’ suggesting multiple faces of Islam. While the ‘localized’ Islam is assimilative in character, the ‘orthodox’ Islam assumes a pure form canvassed through the ideology of various Islamic reformist movements, including the Wahhabis, the Salafis, and other Islamic fundamentalists. The tension between the two sets of polarities is central to the understanding of Adépọ̀jù’s ambiguous relationship between Yorùbá culture and Islam.
Adépọ̀jù considers himself as a professional Yorùbá poet and claims the self-conscious title of ‘king of Yorùbá poets.’ His contemporaries and critics refer to him either as a commercial poet or a scavenger poet. Adépọ̀jù has been left out of serious consideration of Yorùbá creative practice because of his commercialization of Yorùbá poetry. His being a ‘professional’ poet is contrary to the dispositions of the first generation of modern Yorùbá poets, who are scholar-poets, including Adéagbo Akínjògbìn, Adébóyè Babalọlá, Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, Láwuyì Ogúnníran, Afọlábí Ọlábímtán, and Olatúnbọs̀ ún Ọládàpọ.̀ The first generation of modern Yorùbá poets was the first elite cluster of university-educated people, who stirred up a wave of creative activity through the Yorùbá poetry group Ẹgbẹ́ Ìkéwì Yorùbá. The poetry group fostered and developed a new guild of Yorùbá poets through reading sessions, discussions, and the publishing of a literary magazine, Olókun and Ewì Ìwòyí, the Yorùbá anthology of poetry.

The ambivalent relationship of Adépọ̀jù’s vocation of a professional Yorùbá poet with his Islamic fundamentalist identity constitutes another source of pressure on the development of his practice. Several forceful Islamic theologians, including Hajar al-Haythami and Al Qaradawi consider poetry as haram (prohibited). These scholars completely reject the acceptability of poetry in Islam, warning of its hidden dangers. Al Qaradawi, for example, expresses a strong disapproval of poetry, describing it as ‘an effeminate occupation, not fitting to virile characters; a game and a diversion unbecoming of religious and serious men.’11 Haythami similarly connects practicing poetry to moral and social vices, suggesting that composing panegyrics with poetic figures of speech and living as a professional poet are unacceptable in Islam. 12
Considering the fact that Adépọ̀jù earns his living from poetry and composes panegyrics with poetic figures of speech, there is a contradiction between his engagement of Yorùbá poetry and Islamic fundamentalism. Muslims generally believe that faith and work are inseparable; being a Muslim is part of daily life. Adépọ̀jù’s self-definition, therefore, constantly navigates between the Yorùbá and Islamic frames of reference. Moreover, his claim of being a ‘Yorùbá’ poet has been largely questioned by his admirers because of his extremist Islamic ideology. This reservation has been reflected in his poor album sales recently. His upbraiding of Yorùbá Muslim clerics for commoditizing religion equally alienates him from the mainstream Muslims. He is, therefore, too deep in Islam to be a Yorùbá poet. His experience vividly illustrates the interstices of a postcolonial identity.

Adépọ̀jù, however, justifies his practice as a Yorùbá poet, declaring, ‘as long as ewì is not against God, there is nothing wrong with it’.13 He envisions Yorùbá poetry as an instrument of preaching in such a way to impart understanding of religion. His position is informed by the dynamics of Yorùbá society, which is remarkably tolerant and liberal in religious matters. Yorùbá society encourages the co-existence of traditional beliefs and other religions. And this prospect invariably makes Islam in Yorùbáland to be unique, compared to other places. Perhaps, this is why it is frequently said that bó ti wu ni làá se ìmàle ẹni (people are free to practice Islam the way they want).

Although Adépọ̀jù’s engagement of the very medium of poetry is problematic, his decision to communicate his Islamic spirituality in expressive terms through what he calls ‘jihad poetry’ is another vexatious matter. This genre suggests his double identity as a Yorùbá poet and Islamic preacher. ‘Jihad poetry,’ according to the poet, is ‘making poetry in line with the wishes of Almighty Allah.’14 The poet vividly demonstrates the outlook of a poet-preacher through the rendering of several poems promoting many aspects of the Islamic faith such as Sharia law, equity, humility, submission to authority, and social justice. He also speaks on Muslims beliefs, the oneness of God, names and attributes of God, last days, destiny, predestination, and the revelation of the Quran.

The intercultural tension is reflected further in the poet’s advocacy for the destruction of artworks and sculptures erected in Nigerian cities. There are numerous statues of legendary warriors erected in several Yorùbá cities. The call for the destruction of these artworks contradicts the cultural rights of a people. The video footage demonstrating the continuous destruction of heritage sites in Iraq by Islamists provides a remarkable insight into the possibilities inherent in the anti-arts and crafts disposition of Ọlánŕ ewájú Adépọ̀jù. Although what is regarded as an artwork could be a result of a dominant discourse establishing its values; artefacts, creative works, festivals, and expressive arts constitute important aspects of a people’s cultural heritage, of which oral poetry is also a vital part. Adépọ̀ju apparently fails to recognize the link between creativity/culture and religion.

Ọlań ŕ ewáju ́ Adeṕ ọ̀ju takes very seriously the sociopolitical complexities of contemporary Nigerian society. He claims to be a public intellectual as a poet, ‘speaking the truth to those in power,’15 and exhibiting an uncanny passion for the well-being of the poor and the less-privileged. His poetry transcends any private emotion as he consciously addresses his works to trend within his immediate Yorùbá society and at the national level, providing a national character to his artistic imagination. Adépọ̀jù appears to recognize ewì as a vehicle to propagate a creed. According to him, ‘constructive and stout defense of social good form [is] the primary mandate of my poetry.’16 But this altruism is hardly the case at all time.

Adépọ̀jù’s poetry is also characterized by ambivalences, inconsistencies in sociopolitical and human rights commentaries. He reinforces a narrow, minimal perspective on human rights that derives ultimately from his fundamentalist Islamic ideas. The poet also supports the restriction of women from the public sphere and of the freedom of religion of òrìsà worshippers. In Òfin Ọlórun (God’s Commandment) Adépọ̀jù declares:

Òfin tí Olúwa mí ṣe lórí àwọn obìnrin
Níńlá ni, ó tóbi yéye
Èèwọ̀ ńlá ni
Kí obìnrin máa bá wa sọr̀ ọ̀ laẃ ùjọ
Ẹni tó bá fẹ́
Kó gbọ,́ kó ṣe oríire

God’s law regarding women
It is unusual and very firm
It is a forbidden thing
For a woman to address men in public
If you like
Do listen and be blessed

His call for the enforcement of Sharia as a legal alternative similarly negates freedom of religion and human rights that he eloquently promotes. His public display of Islamic piety and fundamentalist ethos considerably affects his vision of the poet as public spokesperson with respect to social justice and good governance. His initial aversion to religious extremism in Má Gba wèrè Mẹś ìn (Do Not Be a Religious Extremist) has been replaced with religious intolerance through his condemnation of other religions. The interaction of indigenous poetic conventions and received religious ideology has resulted in split identities and contradictions in his artistic engagement. The effect of such a decision has continued to affect the criticism of Adépọ̀jù’s poetry. The emergence of the foregoing trends in the artistic development of Adépọ̀jù is vividly illustrated in the subsequent paragraphs as we engage the two phases of his practice.

Early Poetry: Yorùbá Metaphysics

The early poetry of Adépọ̀jù encompasses the period 1972–1985. The period saw the publication of the poetry collection Ir̀ oǹ ú Akeẃ i ̀ in 1972 and the first decade of his production of audio recordings of his poetry. It was a time of experimentation with traditional oral forms and musical instruments. The experimentation largely derived from the adaptation of Yorùbá oral poetic forms such as Ifá (divination poetry), raŕ à (chanting), ọfọ̀ (incantation), and ṣàngó piṕ e ̀ (praise chants to Ṣango) to his poetry. These oral forms were largely mixed with ideas drawn from the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òris̀ ̩à pantheon.

The 1972 collection Ìrònú Akéwì reveals how the values that drive Adépọ-̀ jù’s poetry are closely tied to Yorùbá religion. The poet demonstrates the value of identifying with the Yorùbá pantheon in several ways. The various forms include panegyric performed for Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning, in the collection. In Mo Fẹs̀ ùn Kàn Ọ́ (I Accuse You), the poet addresses the manner of rendering his poetry as ‘expelling fire’ like Ṣàngó, declaring (I am desirous of expelling fire like Ọya’s husband). The reference to Ṣàngó’s attributes is probably meant to appropriate the power of the òrìsà through the expression of its authority (àṣẹ). The interaction of the poet with Yorùbá religion and philosophy is also evident in the frequent allusions to the Ifá corpus in several poems, including Má Mọ́bùn S̩aya (Never Marry a Dirty Woman), Àgbà Ọr̀ ọ ̀ (Mature Counsel), and Tèmi Yé Mi (I Have My Reasons). In Tèmi Yé Mi, for example, Adépọ̀jù claims ‘mo forin dífá / Ifá ṣẹ’ (I rendered my song as an Ifa oracle, it came to pass). The idea of connecting his poetry with Ifá metaphysics suggests that he lays claim to esoteric knowledge. There is also an enthusiastic appeal to children to practice the traditional religion in Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change). He publicly acknowledges the society of women mediums (witches), Ìyà mi Òsò̩ ròng̀ à, in the poem Tèmi Ń Bẹ Lára Mi (I Am Not Infallible). The following verse taken from Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change) illustrates the Yorùbá religious outlook:

Ìgbà ló dé, ìgbà ló dé.
Ọmọ́ burú títí,
Ọmọ kò níran iṣẹ́ tí baba wọn ń ṣe.
Ọmọ gọ̀, gọ̀, gọ̀,
Ọmọ kò mòrìs̩à tí baba rẹ̀ ń sìn.
Ọmọ ń bọ egúngún elégúngún,
Ọmọ pa tilé wọn run.
Ọmọ ń pabì fórìs̩à àjèjì.
Òrìs̩à onílé kìí sìí gbobì lọ́wọ́ àrè.
Egúngún ilé baba ẹni ní í gbe ni.
Òrìs̩à ìdílé ẹni là á sìn.

Times change, times change
A child is so perverse,
He does not recall his father’s vocation.
A child is so stupid,
He fails to recognize the deity of his father.
A child is worshipping another person’s masquerade,
The child destroys the lineage’s masquerade.
A child is consulting for a strange deity.
The divinity of a native does not demand for a sacrifice from a stranger.
Worshipping one’s ancestral masquerade only attracts blessing.
You worship only your family divinity.

The appeal to the younger generation to worship the òrìṣà and masquerades of their forebears is characteristic of the poet’s disposition in his early poetry. The commentary on the people’s attitude to traditional culture raises the ageold conflict between the old and the new, between tradition and modernity. The Yorùbá religious outlook additionally finds expression in the invocation of several deities, culture heroes/heroines or ancestors in Yorùbáland in the poem Òtítọ́ Korò (Truth Is Bitter):

Ẹ̀yin alágbára nílẹ̀ Yorùbá!
Tíẹ ti débùgbé òótọ́
Ẹ má sùn lọ́run
Ẹni pé ki n kú
Gbogbo wọn pátá
Kó fọwọ́ ara wọn ṣera wọn
Oòduà Ọlọ́fin,Ọbàtálá
Bas̩ọ̀run Àjàká Ajẹ̀ǹgẹ̀-tí-ẹ̀ lẹ̀-
Efúùfù kò fẹ́rì
Ẹ wá gbé mi lékè
Gbogbo àwọn abínúẹni
Òkè Ibadan, Às̩àkẹ́ ọlọ́mú orù
Má sùn
Ọ̀rányàn, Olúorogbo,
S̩àngó, Lákáayé
Ẹ jẹ́ kásákòkó
Kó máa bá kòkóẹ̀ gbẹ
Bí a ti rọ́jú pe orí ako̩ni
Gààràgà la fidà lalẹ̀.
Ẹ̀yin Ọba aládé mẹ́rẹ̀ẹ̀rìndínlogún
Ilẹ̀ Èkìtì
Ẹ wá gbè mí níjà
Agẹmọ kìí kú ni màjèsín
O dijọ́ tó bá fọ̀pá rìn.

All renowned ancestors in Yorùbáland!
Those who have reached the habitation of truth
Do not be asleep in heaven
Anyone who says I should die
Let everyone
Face the backlash of their actions
Oòduà, Ọlọfí n, Ọbàtálá
Basọ̩ r̀ un Àjàká a man of peaceful disposition17
The wind does not befriend a drizzle
Come and deliver me
from the plot of the envious.
Ibadan Hill, As̀ à̩ kẹ,́ the o with large breasts
Do not sleep.
Ọr̀ ányàn, Olúorogbo,
S̩àngó, Lákáayé
Let the one drying cocoa seed
Dry in the sun with it
As we invoke the names of heroes
We drag the sword on the floor
You sixteen kings
of Ekiti land
Come and fight for me
Age̩mo̩ does not die young18
Until he uses a walking stick.

The early poetry of Adépọ̀jù encompasses the period 1972–1985. The period saw the publication of the poetry collection Ir̀ oǹ ú Akeẃ i ̀ in 1972 and the first decade of his production of audio recordings of his poetry. It was a time of experimentation with traditional oral forms and musical instruments. The experimentation largely derived from the adaptation of Yorùbá oral poetic forms such as Ifá (divination poetry), raŕ à (chanting), ọfọ̀ (incantation), and ṣàngó piṕ e ̀ (praise chants to Ṣango) to his poetry. These oral forms were largely mixed with ideas drawn from the Yorùbá traditional worldview, identity, and òris̀ ̩à pantheon.

The 1972 collection Ìrònú Akéwì reveals how the values that drive Adépọ-̀ jù’s poetry are closely tied to Yorùbá religion. The poet demonstrates the value of identifying with the Yorùbá pantheon in several ways. The various forms include panegyric performed for Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning, in the collection. In Mo Fẹs̀ ùn Kàn Ọ́ (I Accuse You), the poet addresses the manner of rendering his poetry as ‘expelling fire’ like Ṣàngó, declaring (I am desirous of expelling fire like Ọya’s husband). The reference to Ṣàngó’s attributes is probably meant to appropriate the power of the òrìsà through the expression of its authority (àṣẹ). The interaction of the poet with Yorùbá religion and philosophy is also evident in the frequent allusions to the Ifá corpus in several poems, including Má Mọ́bùn S̩aya (Never Marry a Dirty Woman), Àgbà Ọr̀ ọ ̀ (Mature Counsel), and Tèmi Yé Mi (I Have My Reasons). In Tèmi Yé Mi, for example, Adépọ̀jù claims ‘mo forin dífá / Ifá ṣẹ’ (I rendered my song as an Ifa oracle, it came to pass). The idea of connecting his poetry with Ifá metaphysics suggests that he lays claim to esoteric knowledge. There is also an enthusiastic appeal to children to practice the traditional religion in Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change). He publicly acknowledges the society of women mediums (witches), Ìyà mi Òsò̩ ròng̀ à, in the poem Tèmi Ń Bẹ Lára Mi (I Am Not Infallible). The following verse taken from Ìgbà Ló Dé (Times Change) illustrates the Yorùbá religious outlook:

Ọ̀kan ṣoṣo tí Èdùmàrè bí
Tó ju ẹgbẹẹ̀ ́dọǵ bọǹ ọmọ lọ
A -gbénú -ṣọlá
Omọ Ọg̀ a àgbà
Ọmọ lójú Olúwa
Ọmo aládé àlàáfíà
Àpẹẹrẹ Òjíṣẹ́

The only begotten of Edumare
Greater than five thousand sons
The one who richly dwells within
Son of the Most High
Beloved of the Lord
Prince of peace
An example of the Prophet

The construction of a mingled religious persona similarly finds expression in the poet’s composition for Olódùmarè (The Praise of Olódùmarè). The poem aggregates creeds and oríkì of several divinities in the Yorùbá pantheon, and of Islamic and Christian beliefs. Adépọ̀jù ascribes the attributes of Ọr̀ únmìlà, the custodian of oracular knowledge, to his idea of the Supreme Being. Specific examples include allusions such as Ẹlẹŕ i í̀ Ìpín (the witness of creation) and Òpìtàn tó mọ̀dí ayé, mọ̀dí ọr̀ un (the custodian of knowledge that knows the origin/history of heaven and earth). The poem ‘The Praise of Olódùmarè’ similarly contains attributes of Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá divinity of thunder and lightning. A number of allusions eulogizing the thunder-deity includes Ò-képàrá sọlọŕ ọ̀ di jìnnìjìnnì (the one that exclaims and the person concerned is terrified), sángiri, làgiri, òlàgiri (the one that breaks the wall, one that splits the wall, splitter of walls), and Ọba à so (the king did not hang). The breaking and ripping of walls is an allusion to thunder strikes and the spirit of fire linked with the Yorùbá thunder divinity.21

In addition to the cognomens of Yorùbá divinities in ‘The Praise of Olódùmarè,’ the poem contains allusions to the Islamic Shahada (the Oneness of God) such as Ọ̀kan soso péré ni Ọlọŕ un (God is one) and Ọba Yáárábì (the King who occupies heaven and earth), which portray an Islamic theistic vision. Adépọ̀jù also alludes to the Christian idea of God, calling the Supreme Being Olúwa (Lord), Ọlọŕ un (God) and Ọba tíí pe ra rẹ ̀ ní àwa (The King, who calls himself we), which gives an impression of the Christian idea of the Trinity. It then becomes clear that behind Adépọ̀jù’s praises of Olódùmarè is an ambivalent theistic vision in his early poetry.

The fusion is also reflected in the manner of musical accompaniment to Adépọ̀jù’s poetry. Musical accompaniment features prominently in much of Ọláńrewájú Adépọ̀jù’s early poetry. He employed traditional instruments such as the hunter’s flute, dùndún drum, and s̩ẹ̀kẹr̀ ẹ ̀ (rattles). He started with a solo dùndún drum accompaniment and subsequently added the hunters’ flute regularly used in the performance of ìjálá chanters. He later introduced guitars to his work, providing a sense of visionary response to the popular musical trend and the patronage system of the 1970s. The combination of Western and traditional musical instruments was a demonstration of his embrace of old and new forms.

He stopped using guitars and jùjú beat in 1981 but retained the traditional instruments. He removed the hunter’s flute after his return from Mecca in 1995 and experimented with bẹm̀ ̀bẹ́ (similar to the largest of the European drum set) drum used by the Muslim Ajísààrì groups to wake Muslims for the early morning meal during the month of Ramadan. The introduction of the instrument at the critical point in Adépọ̀jù’s career probably signifies an awakening, having just returned from the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. He completely stopped drumming in Ta ní ń Bínú (Who Is Angry?), declaring that his new vision of ewì was irreconcilable with drumming:

Ìwọ tóo mòwe,
Àti àsàyàn ọ̀rọ̀ó gbọ́,
Jẹ́ ki ń kéwì fún ọ.
Fífetí sí
Lewìàsìkò yìíń fẹẹ́
O kọjá à ń lùlù sí
Mo fẹ́ síná ọgbọ́n bolẹ̀
Bí ọ̀wààwàrà òjò ni
N ò ti ẹ̀ lùlù séwì mọ́
O tọ́ ko yé wa
Etí ò gbéjì
Ilu maa gbelẹ̀
N ò ní ijó ó jo
Ká rétí gbọ́ nàsíà.

You that have an understanding of proverbs,
And other carefully chosen words,
Let me render my poems to you.
Careful listening,
Being attentive,
These are the requirements for ewì of the moment.
It does not permit drumming
I want to throttle with words of wisdom
Like the showers of rain
I no longer drum to my poetry
It is fitting for you to know.
There is need for absolute concentration
Let drums be taken away
I am not willing to dance
So as to listen attentively to sermons.

The foregoing marks a turning point in Adépọ̀jù’s poetry, representing the transition of his poetry from Ifá orin (lyric of Ifá oracle) to nàsíà (sermon). There is a sense of movement from the overtly Yorùbá-myth-informed poetry to that of Islamic aesthetics, a transition from indigenous aesthetics to a foreign one. In doing so, musical accompaniment, which signifies entertainment, was a serious impediment to the new perception and direction of ewì as an Islamic message.

Later Poetry and the Transition to Jihad Poetry

The values that Adépọ̀jù propagates after his embrace of Islam are strictly driven by Islamic fundamentalism. He introduces Islamic preaching to Yorùbá poetry, suggesting an art that is concerned with the spiritual well-being of humankind, and individuals’ usefulness in the service of their creator. The manner in which he voices disapproval of religious innovations and what he calls ‘syncretic’ practices and innovative worship (ẹs̀ ìn àdádáálẹ)̀ of some Yorùbá Muslims attests to an outlook of religious extremism.

The fundamental Islamic vision becomes apparent through the poet’s conception of a new identity for his poetry known as ‘new jihad poetry’ (jìáàdì orin ewi ̀ tuntun), suggesting ‘a vision of implementing God’s new society on earth’ (Zeidan, 15). The outlook of a ‘jihadist poet’ effectively transforms him into an ‘Islamist warlord.’ His new self-conscious identity of Ajagun N ́lá Mus̀ ù lum̀ i ́ (Commander of Muslims) could be interpreted as an alignment of his ewì with propagators of militant Islam. This identity is a striking departure from the earlier religious ecumenism and endorsement of traditional religion. The coming of the ‘war commander’ suggests a vision of a rampaging religious conqueror, whose task is to enforce perfection in the perceived imperfect Islamic practices in his society.

The foregoing outlook probably informs his calls for a reversal of the Sufi- inspired Islamic practices in Yorùbáland as declared in Òfin Ọlọrun (God’s Commandments):

Aránnilétí dé!
Olùkìlọ̀ tó hàn gbangba ni mo jẹ́ fáráyé
Láńrewájú dé!
Ajagun ńlá de!
Irọ́ pin.
Àgò yà lọ́nà fún gbogbo alábòòsí ẹ̀sìn

The prompter is here!
I am a sure Messenger to the world.
Lanrewaju is here!
The war commander is here!
Deceit has ended.
Let religious charlatans give way.

The poet clarifies the nature of the warfare in Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):
Ogun kùmọ̀
Ogun àdá kọ́ ni mòń wí
Ogun wáàsíìgbàlà làń wí
Irọ́ la fẹ́ gbógun tì
Ìránńsẹ́ ès̩ù la fẹ́ bá jagun
Èmi Àkànmú ti gbé wáàsí
Ajagun ńlá kálẹ̀ lórílẹ̀-èdè Nàìjíríà.

It is not a war of the cudgel
Nor a war of cutlass that I am talking about
It is a spiritual war for salvation
We want to confront deception
We want to confront servants of Satan
I, Akanmu, have come with a mission
To propagate a militant message in Nigeria.

Unlike the militant Islamists such as Al Shabab or Boko Haram that frequently take to armed struggle in order to enforce their religious convictions, the poet interprets his Islamic mandate from a spiritual perspective. A similar call is made in the same poem, Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):

Ẹ̀yin ọmọ ogun ìgbàlà
Isẹ́ mi ti bẹ̀rẹ̀
Isẹ́ tóó ṣe Jànmáà
Ibo lẹ ti rísẹ́ ààfáà
Àsé jìbìtì lóń bẹ
Kò síhun tí ń jẹ́sẹààfáà.
Inúń bí mi sí gbogbo èke,
Sí gbogbo alábòòsí pátá poo.

All you soldiers of salvation
My work has started
It is time to work Jànmáà.22
Where did you get the work of a cleric?
It is all deception
There is nothing like the work of a cleric.
I am angry with all liars.
I am angry with all deceivers.

The diatribe is towards professional Islamic clerics, whom he refers to as ‘deceivers’ and ‘liars.’ The poet rejects the idea of having professional clerics like Christian clergy, describing it as an Islamic aberration. He also challenges some practices of the Islamic clerics, like making talismans for people and preparing Quranic writings as medicine and divination, in Tàkúté Ọlọrun (God’s Trap):

Mo fẹ́ rọra ṣe ìbèèrè kan sii:
Ibo ni kùráánì gbé wí pé
Kẹ e̩ máa hàǹtú ta.
Èsì ọ̀rọ̀ la fẹ́ gbọ lẹ́nu yín o
Àáfáà kí ló dé?
Tẹ ẹ fi ń tajà òkùnkùn.
Tẹ e̩ fi ń wí pé
Kí wọn kó mówóàdúà wa
Sé Oluwa ń gba rìbá?
Lóríìbéèrèàwa wa ọmọ aráyé ni
Ká han hàǹtú
Ká di tírà fún ni
Ọjàòkùnkùn ló já sí
Ààfáà onífá ló máa ń tẹ yerùpẹ̀
Òdodo Mùsùlùmí kòníi se bẹ́ẹ̀
Ẹbọ ni
Ílànà Èsù ló jẹ́
Fún ẹni tí kò bá mọ̀

I want to ask you another question:
Where do you have it in the Quran
That you should be selling hantu?23
We want to have a response from you
Alfa, what is it?
Why do you engage in shady deals?
Why did you demand for money?
Why charge a fee for prayers?
Does the Lord demand for a bribe from human beings
For their prayer requests?
Drinking Koranic writings
Preparing talisman for people
These are unwholesome practices.
It is a cleric-diviner who practices sand divination
A true Muslim does not do so
It is a ritual practice
It is a pathway of Satan
For those who do not know.

Prayers for the departed (fidau), the drinking of Quranic writings (hantu), sand divination, the use of talismans and granting public voice to women, among other practices, are very common among many Yorùbá Muslims. The aforementioned practices are considered acceptable in Yorùbá society, where Islam is indigenized. However, this verse categorically decries such practices as unacceptable to Islam, and a journey through the pathway of Shaytan (Satan). The debate regarding the lawful (halal) and the unlawful (haram) is a continual one in Islamic societies and cultures.

Along with this interest in condemning unwholesome Islamic practices, there are concurrent lawful practices he endorses and promotes through the life history of Prophet Muhammad in As̀ eyọri ́ Aǹ ábi ̀ (Achievement of the Prophet), Ẹm̀ i ́ Òkuǹ kuǹ (Evil Spirit), I ̀dájọ́ Òdodo (Righteous Judgement), It̀ aǹ Aǹ ábi ̀ (Life History of the Prophet), and Is̀ iṕ ayá (Revelation). The representation of Islamic practices in Adépọ̀jù’s later poems reflects the tension between syncretism (Islamic innovations) and accepted (orthodox/tradition) practices. It is also a pointer to the dynamics of Islam within the Yorùbá society. The advocacy of Islamic principles as a means of moral and societal reconstruction has serious consequences. It suggests Islamic reform as the only solution to socioeconomic problems in the society. This possibility of a fundamentalist ethos is unattractive to several Yorùbá Muslims. This divergence probably explains why religious extremism, which the poet’s outlook seems to represent, is unattractive to many Yorùbá Muslims.

The tendency towards fundamentalism finds vivid expressions in Ìdájọ́ Òdodo (Righteous Judgement), which evokes issues pertaining to the introduction of Sharia in Nigeria:

Kò sẹ́ni tó fẹ́ fi ṣàríà da ìlú rú o
Ẹ̀tọ́ wa la bèèrè fún
Tí aráyé ń se gbérùmí sọ̀ mí sí
Iléẹjọ́ṣàríà la fẹ́ ní
Só dáa kó dariwo?
Àwa Mùsùlùmí ni a fẹ́ ṣàríà
Kí ló wá kan ti kírísítẹ́nì ní bẹ̀

Demanding for Sharia is not for social unrest
We are demanding for our rights
Everyone is contesting our demand
The request for a Sharia court
Should it generate any controversy?
We, the Muslims, desire the practice of Sharia
What is the concern of Christians?

A call for the implementation of Sharia should be of interest to non-Muslims because it represents a visible character of an Islamic state and a possible threat to the secular state policy. The introduction of Sharia in a mostly non-Muslim dominated southern part of Nigeria has the tendency to aggravate the tense religious atmosphere. This position explains why the idea of a separate legal system for Muslims may be perceived as promoting religious identity in a secular society:

Ohun tó rẹwà tó yẹ
Tó kan ti Kírísítẹ́nì ní ti wọn?
Ẹ̀tọ́ ti wọn pàtó ló yẹ́
Ki Kírísítẹ́nì kó bèèrè fún
Bí wọ́n bá fẹ́ ká pín ilé ẹjọ́ sí méjì
Ká kúkú pín in.

What is pleasurable and proper
That should concern Christians
Is for Christians to demand
for their rights
If they desire a separate legal system
Let it be so.

A people have the right to demand that they be governed in accordance with the moral-cum-legal precepts of their religion. However, the modern nation-state must be recognized as a secular construct to prevent a situation in which several judicial systems struggle for dominance in the country. Although the justice system inherited from the colonial authorities was based on the Western-Christian legal system, associating the prevailing system with conspiracy against the Muslims is an expression of the fundamentalist’s potential for over-generalization. Such resentments have dangerous consequences, as they often lead to unprovoked attacks on innocent people. The call for the implementation of Sharia probably arises out of such resentment. Such prospect has its danger, as there is the probability of subverting diversity and individual rights, which may lead to sociopolitical tyranny.


Much as the driving idiom of Adépọ̀jù’s early years largely remained Yorùbá traditional religion, his interaction with the Islamic religion provided additional stimulation for his artistic imagination. The interaction with Islam resulted in the displacement of the Yorùbá traditional outlook. The collision of the Islamic and Yorùbá knowledge systems resulted in a fusion, which is characterized by what Bhabha calls the ‘beyond.’ The ‘beyond,’ therefore, functions as a bridge of nexus between Islam and Yorùbá traditions in his poetry.


The research on which this paper is based enjoyed the generous support of Carnegie funded American Council of Learned Society African Humanities Program.


Primary Texts

Adépọ̀jù, Lánŕ ewájú. Oríkì Jésù /Muhammad. Ewì 6, LALPS 39. Lanrad Records,
1978. LP.
———. Ọbáfẹḿ i Awólọẃ ọ.̀ Ewì 9, LALPS 47, Lanrad Records, 1979. LP.
———. Òtítọ́ Korò /Ọjọ́ Ìdájọ.́ Ewì 10, LALPS 55, Lanrad Records, 1979 LP.
———. Òdodo Ọr̀ ọ.̀ Ewì 22, LALPS 127, Lanrad Records, 1983. LP.
———. Tèmi YéMi. Ewì 23 LALPS 128, Lanrad Records, 1984. LP.
———. Ìtàn Ànábì. Ewì 39, LALPS 139, Lanrad Records, 1988. LP.
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———. Òfin Ọlọŕ un. Ewì 47, LALPS 148, Lanrad Records, 1992. LP.
———. Ìdájọ́ Òdodo. Ewì 57, LALPS 159, Lanrad Records, 2000. CD.
———. Oríkì Olódùmarè. Ewì 58, LALPS 160, Lanrad Records, 2000. CD.

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1 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.
2 Ibid., 217.
3 Ali Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage (New York: Little Brown and Co, 1986), 13.
4 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993).
5 Stephen Ogundipe, Interview with Chief Olanrewaju Adepoju, in “Hybridity and
the Construction of Olanrewaju Adepoju’s Poetry,” PhD diss., Obafemi Awolowo University,
Ile-Ife, 2015), 270–75.
6 Adeagbo Akinjogbin, Ewi Iwoyi. Glasgow: Collins, 1969.
7 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Plainfield: American
Trust, 1994).
8 The Salafis were the first three generations that represented the golden age of Islam.
They were often referred to as Islamic ‘predecessors,’ ‘pious ancestors,’ ‘pious successors’
of the Holy Prophet.
9 This is the idiom of those who venerate the Salafis. It derives from the idea of weaving
a future out of a distant past.
10 Roman Loimeier, Muslim Societies in Africa; A Historical Perspective (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2013).
11 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (Plainfield: American
Trust, 1994), 2.
12 Islamic fundamentalism is generally averse to music, poetry, and artistic works.
13 Ogundipe, 279.
14 Ogundipe, 280.
15 Edward Said, Representation of the Public Intellectual (New York: Random House,
1994), 85.
16 Ogundipe, 277.
17 Odùduwà, Ọr̀ ànmíyàn, Àjàká, and Ṣàngó were the first four Yorùbá rulers who
were deified.
18 Agẹmo is an ancestral deity commonly celebrated in Ijebu land.
19 Experts on Ifẹ̀ religious traditions claim that Olúorogbo predates Mọrèmí.
20 Toyin Falola, “Yoruba Writers and the Construction of Heroes,” History in Africa
24 (1997), 2.
21 See Akintunde Akinyemi, “Myths, Legends and the Poetics of Heroism in Two
Yoruba Historical Plays.” Ife Journal of Languages and Literature, 1, 1(2013): 1–15.
22 Muslim faithful.
23 Qur’an verses written in ink, washed and stored in a bottle like a syrup, taken as