INTERVIEW WITH DR. DERIN ALAGBE – THE PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF YORUBA IN DIASPORA SOUTH AFRICA (AYIDSA)
May 02, 2016 | Uhuruspirit
Dr. Derin Alagbe is the President of the Association Yoruba in Diaspora SA (AYIDSA)
We are in the midst of a long weekend that will end on Monday (May 2) in South Africa because this year’s Workers’ Day fell on a Sunday. On Saturday evening, I ran into Dr. Derin Alagbe, who travelled from his base in Gauteng with his family, to Cape Town where they are enjoying the long weekend. With him was my good friend, Comrade Adeola Oyebade, who, was either showing him around or was about to hold a meeting with him. Adeola is the Chairperson of Egbe Omo Yoruba in Western Cape.
Honestly, I should have asked what they were doing together, but, unfortunately, I had forgotten. Anyway, I did pose many questions to Dr. Alagbe, who is currently working as a medical practitioner in South Africa. He originally came to South Africa to specialize in Family Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand after qualifying as a medical doctor at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. Dr. Alagbe is also the President of the newly-formed Association of Yoruba in Diaspora South Africa (AYIDSA) which was the main focus of our discussion.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
- Comrade Hilary Ojukwu
UhuruSpirit: Good evening doctor. I understand you are here with your family?
Dr. Alagbe: Yes! I am here with my wife and children, and we are taking an advantage of the long weekend to tour the beautiful city of Cape Town.
UhuruSpirit: You are the president of the newly-formed Association of Yoruba in Diaspora South Africa (AYIDSA). What are the goals and objectives of the organisation?
Dr. Alagbe: Our main objective is to create a formidable platform that will benefit Nigerians of Yoruba descent living in South Africa. It will also serve for the promotion of Yoruba culture in South Africa. In fact, one of the reasons I love South Africa is that every group is encouraged to promote its culture. And I am not talking about just the African indigenous groups. Here, even the Chinese, the Indians, the French, the Afrikaners and others are encouraged to promote and celebrate their cultures. So we believe that in a society, like South Africa, where cultural diversity is celebrated, the Yoruba culture being one of the most ancient in Africa must not be left out. It is also our mission to promote good relationship between South Africans and Nigerians, as well as to project a good image for our country.
UhuruSpirit: We understand that you recently paid a visit to Nigeria where you met with the Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi and the newly-installed Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi.
Dr. Alagbe: Yes! We were recently in Nigeria to pay a courtesy visit to the Alafin of Oyo and later, on the same day, we also visited the newly-installed Ooni of Ife.
Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi
UhuruSpirit: What were the visits about?
We were there to present our association and to pay our homage to them as our first-class Obas, as it were. We thought it necessary that they should be made aware that there is a new Pan-Yoruba association in South Africa, and as well as to seek their blessings. We also used the visit to the newly-crowned Ooni of Ife to offer our compliments and wish him well. Thirdly, we went to formally invite them to join us when we celebrate the Heritage Day in South Africa on 24 September.
As you know, Heritage Day was celebrated in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa as the Shaka Day before the end of apartheid. Shaka was the legendary Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation. So, each year people used to gather at King Shaka’s grave to honour him on the day. But the day became known as the Heritage Day after the first democratic elections in 1994 and is now famous as the day when South Africans celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. I think the idea is to give a sense of belonging to every group and community, and to say to each and every one of them that they matter. We therefore believe that the presence of the Alafin of Oyo and the Ooni of Ife during that festival will help give a pride of place to the Yoruba culture in South Africa.
The delegation from AYIDSA with the Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi
UhuruSpirit: So, are they coming?
Well, they have given us their words, but as you know, there are a lot of protocols to follow for an Oba to travel outside the country. The State government has to be involved for that to happen. But the good thing is that our invitation was made well ahead of time even though we are still working out the logistics. Though we are still at the early stage of preparations, we are very optimistic that everything will be fine as we continue to pursue our objectives towards the date. So, yes, we are very positive that they will make it.
The delegation from AYIDSA pose in a photo with the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi
The delegation from AYIDSA pose in a photo with the Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi
UhuruSpirit: How has your organization been received by Yorubas in South Africa?
Thank you for that question. Since our inaugural meeting on 18 October, 2015, we have been inundated with messages of support from Yoruba sons and daughters all over South Africa. I think this has to do with the caliber of people who identify with us. No doubt, they are men and women of impeccable character who are well respected in the society. Certainly, the reception has been unbelievable all over the country. Anywhere we go, we are well received and many people are coming on board and showing interest to help strengthen the organization.
UhuruSpirit: We also understand that there is this other group, the National Association of Yoruba Descendants South Africa (NAYDSA). So, why are you not together?
The National Association of Yoruba Descendants South Africa (NAYDSA) has been in existence for a few years now, though I can’t remember the exact date when it was started. Previously, some of us were involved in NAYDSA, but because of differences in vision, objectives and ideology we felt that it was time to build an organization that the majority of Yobuba people in South Africa can truly be proud of. Without sounding boastful, we can say that many Yoruba sons and daughters have made and are making great contributions to the growth of the South African economy. We have many professionals working in different sectors of the South Africa economy. So, we feel that with a strong organization, we can achieve more.
UhuruSpirit: Do you think that there is a possibility that, one day, the two can come together and merge into one?
Why not? There is nothing personal about our differences. In fact, discussions are already taking place on the issue, but I think it will depend on whether we can agree on the direction, vision and the overall objectives.
UhuruSpirit: It seems that you have quite a good number of professional people in your organization. Is the organization only for professionals and well-to-do people?
I think you want to know if our organization is an elitist group. Well, it not an elitist organization and we don’t discriminate against people on the basis of who they are or their status in the society. As the name suggests, it is an organization of Yoruba people and we welcome every Yoruba who wants to join us. While we have top professionals as members of Association of Yoruba in Diaspora SA, we also have members who are handicrafts workers or small business traders in our midst. Everyone is treated equally and we relate to one another as brothers and sisters. What is important is that every member abides by our constitution.
UhuruSpirit: What benefits are there for those who want to join?
Indeed, besides the need to promote the Yoruba culture in South Africa, an organization like ours is also about the empowerment of the members and the advancement of their general welfare. However, given that we are a very young organization, we are still developing our plans in terms of how to achieve these objectives. Not long ago, when I was in Australia with my family during a vacation, while there, I was privileged to learn what the Yorubas in Australia are doing as Egbe Omo Yoruba to assist and empower their members. We have thus set up a committee to look at ways through which we can help to empower our members and as well how to help to improve their general welfare. We are looking at various things like joint investment schemes through which our members can benefit. We are also looking at acquiring a Yoruba House that will have various income-generating components. And as you know, our country, Nigeria, is a great investment destination. So, we are looking at forging links with various South African businesses that want to invest in Nigeria. We believe our members can benefit greatly by assisting South African businesses to invest in Nigeria. But for now, our members are benefiting by exploiting the various networking opportunities that exist by being members of this kind of organization.
UhuruSpirit: What is the Association of Yoruba in Diaspora SA doing to build a better relationship between Nigeria and South Africa?
Well, one of the reasons why there is a feeling of animosity towards the African migrant communities is that we are generally perceived as criminals or as people who have nothing to offer. This is correct to some extent because some migrants act as if they are on transit and do not take interest in what is happening around them in South Africa; as a result, they do not make any positive contribution to the wellbeing of the country. However, we believe that the best way to change the negative perception and the feeling of animosity is for our communities to increase the level of their engagement with the local communities. Instead of working in isolation, it is important that we work together with them in dealing with the challenges that face both the migrants and locals in places we live. It was in line with this kind of thinking that during the last World AIDS Day on December 1, 2015, we organized a healthcare promotion event during which a group of doctors and other health practitioners, who are members of our organisation, offered a range of free health tests and screenings like HIV tests, Blood pressure tests, Cholesterol tests, Breast screening, Eye tests and more to members of the police at Sunnyside in Pretoria. We have also visited some motherless babies’ homes since our founding and we intend to continue as a way of giving back to our host country. It is also on the same basis that we as AYIDSA have decided to fully take part in celebrating the annual Heritage Day later in September.
UhuruSpirit: Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Alagbe. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Cape.
AYIDSA President Dr. Derin Alagbe with Comrade Adeola Oyebade, Chairperson of Egbe Omo Yoruba Western Cape.
About the Yoruba People
The Yoruba people are an ethnic group of Southwestern and North central Nigeria as well as Southern and Central Benin in West Africa. The Yoruba constitute over 40 million people in total; the majority of this population is from Nigeria where they make up to 21% of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language, which is the Niger-Congo language with the largest number of native speakers.
The Yoruba share borders with the Borgu in Benin; the Nupe and Ebira in central Nigeria; and the Edo, the Ẹsan, and the Afemai in mid-western Nigeria. The Igala and other related groups are found in the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, Ewe and others in the southeast Benin. The Itsekiri who live in the north-west Niger delta are related to the Yoruba but maintain a distinct cultural identity. Significant Yoruba populations in other West African countries can be found in Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Due to the Atlantic slave trade, the Yoruba people are also found in such countries as Cuba, Saint Lucia, Brazil, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Yoruba myths trace their origin to Ile-Ife, a town in the center of Yorubaland where the grave of Oranyan, the mythical second king of the Yoruba is still shown. Other theories regarding to their origin point to Mecca and Upper Egypt as the point of their departure and the second millennium B.C. as the period of their migration to Ile Ife.
During most of the 18th century, the Yoruba, except for the Ijebu subtribe, were united into one kingdom ruled from the old Oyo. By 1780, they were divided into four states (Oyo, Egba, Ketu, and Jebu), and by 1850, as a result of the Fulani conquest of Ilorin, four new states emerged (Ibadan, Ilesha, Ife, and the Ekiti Parapo). By the turn of the century when British authority was asserted over Yorubaland, additional fragmentation had occurred as the disintegrative process was encouraged by the colonialists. At a point, the Ekiti Federation was split administratively into sixteen separate units. Ibadan would later sever itself completely from Oyo, and in turn the seven outlaying districts of Ibadan (Oshun Federation) seceded. Ijebu-Remo was separated from Ijebu-Ode, and the Egbado subtribe had maintained only a tenuous attachment to the Egba.
Despite these political fragmentation and regional dialectical differences, regional variations in religious and ceremonial forms, and tensions produced by former slave or trade wars and chieftaincy disputes, a comparatively Yoruba consciousness had persisted.
Another important distinguishing feature of the Yoruba is the comparatively large-scale political organization which existed before the British intrusion. Archaeological findings indicate Katunga, capital of the Yoruba Empire of Oyo that flourished between the 11th and 19th centuries A.D. had a population of over 100,000 people. The Egba Kingdom, the Ekiti Federation and the Kingdom of Ijebu-Ode had populations exceeding 200,000. Another notable feature was the substantial degree of urbanization which prevailed in pre-European times. Finally, apart from the Efik of old Calabar and a few sections of the Ijaw on the Niger Delta, the Yoruba peoples were subjected to more intensive westernization than any group in Nigeria. Christian missionaries entered Yorubaland in 1841; and Lagos, a predominantly Yoruba city, was annexed to the British Crown in 1861. Since Lagos is the principal port of Nigeria, a large percentage of Nigeria’s exports and imports traverse the Yorubaland.
The Yoruba has a rich cultural heritage. In the period around 1300 C.E. the artists at Ile-Ife developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta, stone and copper alloy - copper, brass, and bronze many of which appear to have been created under the patronage of King Obalufon II, the man who today is identified as the Yoruba patron deity of brass casting, weaving and regalia.
Yoruba culture consists of folk/cultural philosophy, religion and folktales. They are embodied in Ifa-Ife Divination. Masquerades are an important feature of Yoruba traditional artistry. They are generally known as Egungun, singularly as Egun. The term refers to the Yoruba masquerades connected with ancestor reverence, or to the ancestors themselves as a collective force. There are different types of which one of the most prominent is the Gelede.
The Yoruba are a very expressive people who celebrate major events with colorful festivals. Some of these festivals are secular and only mark important milestones and achievements; these include wedding ceremonies, Naming ceremonies, Funerals, Housewarming, New-Yam festival, Harvest ceremonies, Birth, Chieftaincy, and so forth. Others have more spiritual connotation dedicated to specific Orisha (deity) like the Ogun Day.
Another is the Osun festival, which is a two-week long event that is usually celebrated annually in the month of August. It normally takes place at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove located on the banks of the Osun River and around the ancient town of Osogbo. This festival which is dedicated to the river goddess, Osun, normally attracts thousands of Osun worshippers from all over Yorubaland and The Yoruba diaspora in the Americas, as well as spectators and tourists from all walks of life. It starts with the traditional cleansing of the town called 'Iwopopo', which is then followed in three days by the lighting of the 500 year-old sixteen-point lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun, which literally means, the sixteen eyed fire.
Another very popular festival with spiritual connotations is the Eyo festival or Orisha play, celebrated by the people of Lagos. The Eyo festival is a dedication to the God of the sea, Olokun, an Orisha whose name literally mean owner of the seas. Generally, there is no customarily defined time for the staging of Eyo Festival. And once a date for its performance is selected and announced, the festival preparations begin. It encompasses a week-long series of activities, and culminates in a striking procession of thousands of men clothed in white and wearing a variety of coloured hats, called Aga. The procession moves through Lagos Island (Isale Eko), which is the historical centre of the Lagos metropolis. On the streets, they move through various crucial locations and landmarks in the city, including the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos, the Oba, known as the Iga Idunganran. The festival starts from dusk to dawn, and has been held on Saturdays from time immemorial. A full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the 'senior' Eyo group, the Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. When this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other 'important' groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday.