Greatness can be a surprisingly quiet thing. Some geniuses are of such exceptional modesty or gentility, that they shield themselves in deliberate self-effacement. Such a man was the man we fondly called ‘Honest Man’, who has now departed and paid the ineradicable debt of death.
That nickname was, thinking of it now in retrospect, perhaps a deliberate part of the disguise, and perhaps that was why he relished it. So many people knew ‘Honest Man’; and throngs of devotees know by heart the plots and protagonists of such scintillating works like Efunsetan Aniwura, Saworoide, O Le Ku, Aiye Ye Won Tan, Koseegbe, and numerous others. But many of these adoring fans would be hard put to come forward and identify in person Akinwumi Isola, the author of the works. Because he wanted it like that: wanted his works to speak directly to his audience by themselves. Most unusually, Isola was a culture activist more interested in propagating the lore of our people than in acquiring any adulation for himself.
Our friend lived this paradox to the end. He came from the small village of Labode, in the forests of Ibadan, but grew into an artiste of uncommon genius and unusual inventiveness. But, in spite of his enormous popularity however, and his international renown, he chose to live humbly, without ostentation, away from the glare of the limelight. Wrapped thus in the cloak of humility, he could walk the street any day unencumbered by his fame, unknown and anonymous among his teeming fans. That way, he could remain one of the people he wrote about, and be their faithful witness, singing their sorrows and their joys.
I am proud to have been a friend to such a man, this giant avatar of our much-neglected Yoruba culture and civilization. I came to learn so much from him. For, with the exception of Faleti, who is also unfortunately gone now, no one else I have I known can speak our language with the eloquence of the ancestors. No one else has been as prolific with stories and wisdom. No one else has made us more proud of the riches in our Yoruba identity.
But he is gone now. Like other friends we have lost before, we must learn henceforth to speak of him in the past tense. Oh, I will miss him and his companionship. I will miss his consummate skill in the art of weaving words. Yes, as his faithful wife for so many decades put it, Labode ti din nikan!’ Labode village has been deprived of another talent, and Yorubaland has lost one of its gifted chroniclers…
Fabulist, raconteur… friend! We must meet again in the after-life. But for now, I can only wave my hand and say—Good night!