Day I encountered Fagunwa and his weird spirits – Sheikh Muyideen Bello


Akeem Lasisi

A  Yoruba say aidegbe jinna ni ko je ki a ri abuke okere. Ti eniyan ba de odo jinna, yoo ri eja to ya aro. This literally means that it is only he who does not hunt widely that will not encounter a hunch-back squirrel, and that it is the fisherman who does not tirelessly probe the belly of a river that may never encounter a crippled fish. In other words, in whatever vocation one chooses, the more one travels, the more uncommon things one will experience. So it is with veteran Islamic preacher, Sheikh Aafaa Muyideen Ajani Bello.

In one of his religious adventures across Nigeria, he once travelled to Oke Igbo, Ondo State, the town where legendary writer, the late D. O. Fagunwa, was born. Fagunwa was a super magical realist who wrote acclaimed Yoruba novels that include Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje, Aditu Olodumare and the most popular one, Igbo Irunmole, which the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, translated into Forest of a Thousand Daemons. In Fagunwa’s books,  protagonists are always on heroic but dangerous adventures into forests populated by wild animals with strange features and powers. Most times they hate human beings so much that they are always hungry for their blood and intestines. In such forests also are fairy beings – which Yorubas call oro and iwin. So strangely created are such spirits that one may have as many as seven heads and seven eyes. They too are usually a thorn in the flesh of Fagunwa’s human characters.

But the fact is that many of the Fagunwa’s characters and stories were inspired by his experience in Oke Igbo, which is surrounded by a lot of huge bushes and trees. Up till today, many of these are not just dense and nealr impenetrable, they also still harbour the strange beings that Fagunwa wrote about. That is why critics who have this information or have visited Oke Igbo and its forests will hesitate before categorising Fagunwa as a magical realist, which more or less means a literary magician, someone creating magical stories from nowhere. The fact is that Fagunwa created his own tales from the antics of the different kinds of rare beings that permeate his environment.

And if no other person believes that a lot of the things the man wrote about truly exist, Alhaji Muyideen Bello does.  This is not from the perspective of a reader, critic or Fagunwa’s fan. No. It is based on his personal experience the day he took waasi (lecture) to Oke Igbo.

On arrival in the sleepy town, the first thing he did was pay the baale (head of the town) a visit. He then explained to him the fact that he had visited the town as part of his Islamic missionary, and that he would be preaching to the people the following morning.

The king welcomed him. After all, Aafaa Muyideen Bello was the proverbial odu vegetable, which is no stranger to the farmer: odu ni kii se aimo fun oloko. Even if the king had not met him before, he had had a lot about him. He must have also, one way or the other, listened to some of his waasi, as recorded in many albums.

As part of the welcome remarks, the king recalled that Oke Igbo gave birth to Fagunwa. He told the visitor that it was the nature of the area that enabled the legendary novelist to write the way he did and that many of the things he celebrated were real. Whether or not Aafaa Muyideen Bello doubted the man, he too would soon confirm for himself.

He (Bello) notes, “The Imam there said he wanted to take us to Baale’s place. I saw many huge trees in Oke Igbo. Even those that had fallen were still so high that people were crossing them with two larders. But we were not scared. The Baale had to invite D. O Fagunwa who also came to greet us. He said spirits truly abounded in the town. He said that after our waasi, by 12 am, we should peep through the windows in our rooms and that we would see iwin, the fairy beings. True to his words, it was in Oke Igbo that I first sighted iwin. We saw the spirits live. That is how I realised that many of the spirits that Fagunwa wrote about had real existence.”

For Afaa Muyideen Bello, the journeys continued. He, along with his team, visited many other Yoruba towns. He was in Ondo, Ile Oluji, Ile-Ife and many more. According to him, at times when they left Ibadan, they could be away for as long as five months before returning to the town he still resides till today.

(From Missioner of Truth, the manuscript of a biography of veteran Islamic preacher, Sheikh Muyideen Ajani Bello)


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