‘My attraction to Isaac Delano’

Toyin Falola, a Nigerian historian and Professor of African Studies, is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair, in the Humanities, University of Texas, Austin. He was the guest speaker at the 40th memorial lecture and book presentation on the late Chief Isaac Delano, a Yoruba author. In this interview with LEKE SALAUDEEN, he speaks on the work on Delano and other literary issues.


Writing on the late Chief Isaac Oluwole Delano

Chief Isaac Oluwole Delano was an Okenla born language educator, historian, ethnographer, anthropologist and literary scholar.

Born on the 4th of November, 1904, to the family of Chief Edmund Delano, the Aro of Egba Christians, and Mrs Rebacca Delano, an ardent Christian leader, at Okenla village in today’s Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State, Chief Isaac Delano was among the earliest Nigerians to go through the emergent western educational system in the country.

Without a university degree certificate, he published over a dozen books that are instructive in the various fields earlier mentioned, taught in the university, and in all his professional engagements, he could be regarded as one of the pioneer Nigerian nationalists. With all of these, he ended up being honored by the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) with honorary Doctor of Letters in 1976.

In recognition of his contribution to the Egba nation, the then Alake, Oba Ladapo Ademola, purposely instituted a new chieftaincy title known as Bajiki Ake in 1954, to honor Delano; and in his hometown at Ifo, he was named the Babasale.

Although he started as a clerk in the service of the colonial government, his intellectual sojourn led to his early retirement due an accident that almost claimed his life. It was after this period that he was able to consolidate his relationship with the likes of Oxford University Press, and build new networks in the intellectual community.

This took him primarily to the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and the then University of Ife.

He also taught Yoruba as a language on the radio, while at the same time he kept pages for himself in major newspaper, like the Daily Times, where his articles were published. On the political scene, he was appointed as the first Administrative Secretary of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, until 1951. This is a brief description of Delano, the Intellectual, Teacher, Nationalist and a Community Leader,

One thing that is however certain is that, a good piece of work does not die without being resurrected. And that is why today, we are celebrating the works and life of Chief Delano. I think it is providence trying to help me correct my omission of Delano in most of my works.

I have written several articles and books in which I focused attention on our indigenous knowledge production and the pioneers of this field, without reference to any of his works. But this exclusive attention paid to the works of Delano is a merit to the diversity of his knowledge and intellectual productions.


Relevance of Delano’s works to contemporary state of Nigeria and Yoruba

Just a few examples will do. In 1976 when he was honored by the University of Ife, Chief Delano could not but go back to reiterate his views on the Nigerian state, a task which he had been taken since his 1937 publication, The Soul of Nigeria.

This was about 3 years before he passed on. On this day, like he had earlier queried in his opinion pages on newspapers, Delano asked why it was difficult for the state to attract people to its agricultural diversification programs if the talk of economic diversification by the state were not to be cheap political gimmick.

Speaking the mind of the people, particularly the young unemployed graduates, Chief Delano asked why it is hard for our farmers and their families to be able to live a life of comfort like the lawyer, doctor, lecturer and other professionals and their families, in spite of their significant contributions to our economy.

His proposals in this respect are in three phases: Make village life very attractive; Raise farmers’ earnings by substantial Government subsidy; and Accept farmers into our society as honorable men.

In his factional publication, Aiye D’Aiye Oyinbo, among other, we could see how the society in this clime morphed into modernity and the genesis of our macabre political culture. Till date, his works on language usage in Yoruba still remain instructive in learning the language.


Delano struggle for cultural revitalisation


Aside the books he wrote in honor of Rev. J. J. Ransome-Kuti which also documents the trajectory of Christianity in Nigeria, particularly the Southwestern part, Chief Delano wrote about three books that speak directly to Christianity in Nigeria.

They are: An African Looks at Marriage, One Church for Nigeria and L’ojo Ojo Un. In the first two, Chief Delano took the position of a critique of the Nigerian Church. This was the period when the nationalist wave could not elude the church, due to the increasing exposure of the colonized people who the Europeans had supposedly come to enlighten.

In his first publication on this, he took the position that ultimately ended in the question of the feature of the Nigerian Christianity, either as a true Christianity or Churchianity. Christianity to him, in this way, is the domestication of the Christian religion which the European missionaries had brought to the society, so that its stream could follow the color and pattern of the soil upon which its water flows.

While the latter suggests the copy-and-paste approach of the society to the nascent religion in which its deficiencies in Europe become its ills of the Nigerian society. In this respect, among other things, Delano wondered why the Christian Marriage Doctrine in Europe that did couldn’t strengthen its marriage and family traditions, would be imposed on Christianity in Nigeria.

He further questioned the position of the church on the subject of polygamy, marriage procedures, and some other church doctrines and practices he felt were the imposition of the European culture into the Christianity that was given to the people.

This made him questioned if the missionaries were really spreading Christianity or European culture. Many Years after, this message was extended into his One Church for Nigeria, where he advocated that the Church holds the panacea to the problems bedeviling the emergent state, but decried that with the state of the Church itself, it is difficult to see how it could take on its naturally defined responsibility in the society.

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It was in this light that he advocated for love, faith, unity, tolerance and hope as the needed attributes needed to ensure the progress of the Nigerian society in its diversities. But in the final analysis, it is pertinent to note that Delano’s view on the state of the Nigerian church and its position in the society is a metaphorical representation of religion in the state which encompasses Islam, in the main.

Succinctly put, to inculcate the idea of the state and nation building in the psyche of the populace, the religious bodies have a lot of roles to play because here it is believed the moral compass of the individual and the society is constructed.

Hence, it can’t afford to be a hidden place for those who unrepentantly kill the state by creating an obnoxious dichotomy between the state and the society. It needs no telling how this structure has retarded the development of the state and progressive movement of the society.

Delano and his contemporaries were the first set of Nationalist, in the real sense of the word, in Nigeria. This was the period when western ideas were infiltrating into the fabrics of the society.

Not only that, these ideas were imposed- mostly through the Christian missionary activities, with the backing of the laws of the colonial state in some cases- on the society and considered to be superior in every manner to that of the indigenous peoples. Failure to comply with these laws came with punitive results on the offender.

Worse still, no matter how hard the colonized people tried to stay bond to these rules, they can never be taken to be equal to their European counterparts, even in the Church. So there was massive marginalization of the people, as well as their culture and at the same time, the imposition of an alien culture cloaked under the guise of Christianity and Christian doctrine.

While Delano and many of his contemporaries of this period were grateful to the missionaries for their efforts in the spread of Christianity, western education, modern health care facilities, among other activities they considered hospitable to the colonized people, they decried the bastardization and erosion of their culture through the religious pretense.

In view of this, they wrote articles in the newspapers, published books, and engaged in other forms of subtle resistance to the denigration of their culture, as they became determined to own the faith being introduced to them by the European missionaries.

This led to publications of books that intend to reinforce the Yoruba traditions in language, cultural practices, philosophy and the likes. Also, we saw the establishment of new churches, this time African oriented churches with different order of service and doctrines, compared to the mission churches.

Delano wrote about all these and even went a notch further to give us general account of the transition of this period that culminated into its modernization process. This way, he was more than a cultural nationalist, unlike many of his contemporaries.