The Oral/Aural: Sound & Meaning in Yorùbá Poetic Prose Translation: Akínwùmí Ìsola and the Fágúnwà Tradition
© 2002 Pamela J. Olúbùnmi Smith.
The Oral/Aural: Sound & Meaning in Yorùbá Poetic Prose Translation: Akínwùmí Ìsola and the Fágúnwà Tradition first appeared in Metamorphoses, the journal of the five-college seminar on literary translation.
After the tragic and mysterious death by drowning of pioneer Yoruba writer, D.O. Fagunwa, in 1963, scholars, critics, readers, and audiences averred that no writer could match, let alone rival, the skills of this master rhetorician. In fact, Fagunwa adulators viewed translations of any of his five classics with suspicion, deeming such attempts irreverent, or even treacherous. Fagunwa's preeminence in the Yoruba literary canon had already been established and critics preferred that his legacy remain untarnished. After all, this consummate storyteller had blazed the trail, commencing a literary tradition for the Yoruba language shortly after it was orthographed. Fagunwa was renowned for his creative manipulation of the language and acclaimed for pushing it to its linguistic limit with such dazzling rhetorical devices as word play, ideophones, hyperbole, metaphors, and repetition, which have become hallmarks of Yoruba creative writing. Notably, he made the language "sing," imbuing it with a musicality that is at the core of a distinctive legacy known today in the Yoruba canon as "the Fagunwa tradition," a tradition that arguably places the Yoruba's sheer love of rhetoric above choice of material in creative writing and oral art. Contemporary writer Akínwùmí Ìsola attributes this collective cultural response to the manipulation of language and its characteristics: "This love of rhetoric, this preoccupation with beautiful words, this delight in verbal celebration, is a feature of the Yoruba novel today" (1976: 473).