A TIME OF TROUBLES
Book 2: Itan - Legends of the golden age.
4 OUT OF 4 STARS
Online Book Club, USA
Reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s African trilogy, Oladele Olusanya’s A Time of Troubles is book 2 of the Itan – Legends of the Golden Age series. All books in the series (Gods and Heroes, A Time of Troubles, A New Age, and Semimotu and Other Stories) make up a wonderful fresco of Yorubaland and the Yoruba people, an ethnic group inhabiting western Africa, mainly Nigeria. If the first novel in the series relies on the fascinating tales of ancient Yoruba gods and heroes, A Time of Troubles follows the stories of war, displacement, and tragedy that marked the dramatic years of the nineteenth century.
In the foreword, the author confesses that his intention was to continue the tradition of the “arokens”, the ancient storytellers of the Yoruba people. Based on the tales of the Old Woman, his grandmother, and his mother, the stories in this historical novel have preserved the unmistakable charm of the oral tradition. The novel acquires epic dimensions when the author focuses on major historical figures and historic wars and battles fought by the Yoruba tribes among themselves or against the British colonists.
What I absolutely loved about this book was its genuine air of authenticity. The cover image and chapter illustrations are original art compositions by the author and Dipo Alao, a contemporary Yoruba artist. Each of the seven chapters is preceded by an original verse or quotation in Yoruba translated into English. All the pages of the novel are imbued with culture-specific terms referring to various customs and traditions, religious superstitions, local cuisine, clothing, names of musical instruments, or social ranks. The potential exoticism is counterbalanced by the realistic description of the day-to-day life of ordinary people who tried to make sense of the changes around them.
Contrasting the legacy of the Yoruba culture and history with the devastating effects of colonization, the author brings back to life an era called “igba inira”, a time of hardship and troubles. Like any extraordinary epoch, this historical period had its legendary figures. Step by step, each chapter revives the image of such a protagonist. The first two chapters, A New City by the Seaand Omo Eko, are dedicated to the impressive life story of Odumosu, an Ijebu native captured as a slave in his youth and later ironically turned into a wealthy slave trader and one of the most influential merchants in Lagos. Odumosu’s story is a pretext for the author to describe the corrupting and debilitating influence of slavery, the ensuing “Bombardment of Lagos”, and its formal annexation by the British.
A tribute to both his family history and the Yoruba past, chapters three to seven follow some prominent members of the author’s family. Chapter 3, The Warrior from Ife, weaves the story of Solaru, his great-great-grandfather. Born in Ife-Ife, he goes to Ibadan to become one of the war-boys who engaged in stirring battles to defend Yorubaland. Solaru’s son, Solesi, is featured in chapter 4, War-boy, and chapter 5, Solesi of Ikenne. I was impressed not only by Solesi’s amazing life journey from a drum boy to an important chieftain, but also by the fact that he was one of the pioneers of traditional Yoruba music. The last two chapters, War Comes to Ijebu and Baba Mamu, revolve around the author’s grandfather, Odusanya, a witness to the momentous events of the era. These include the signing of the peace treaty to end the Kiriji war, the massacre of around 2000 native warriors during the rebellion of the indigenous tribes against the British, and the establishment of the British Protectorate over the whole of the Yorubaland.
Fans of historical fiction at its finest will find this novel an engrossing read. The level of historical documentation is truly exceptional. Considering the intricate network of characters and the embedded narrative threads, the novel flows easily. Narrated in the style of the ancient stories, A Time of Troubles gives birth to a number of larger-than-life characters. Sometimes, there are gruesome details of certain war scenes. However, these are not disturbing because they become an integral part of the epic dimension of the book. Since the male protagonists usually have polygamous households, there are also descriptions of some erotic scenes that are not exactly explicit, but rather metaphorical and even mystical.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to those interested in postcolonial novels and the history of colonialism. With patience and objectivity, the author skillfully unfolds the history of the British colonization of Yorubaland. He depicts the irreversible changes in the social, economic, religious, cultural, and political spheres of life. Despite the fact that the novel has almost 450 pages, Oladele Olusanya obviously did a great job of fixing any potential editing errors. All things considered, I have no hesitation in rating it 4 out of 4 stars. Last but not least, I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series. I have high expectations because the novel ends on an optimistic note. The whole book reiterates the idea of preserving the cultural legacy of the past while looking positively toward the future.
A time of troubles
Dare Demuren, U.K., author of ‘Behind the mask.
In a “Time of Troubles,” Oladele Olusanya has seamlessly continued the epic story of the Yoruba race from its origin a thousand years before in the Nubian desert as recorded in “Gods and Heroes.”
The story commences at a time when the aura surrounding Ile-Ife as the cradle of the Yoruba race, and the indomitable power and influence of the Oyo empire had greatly diminished, supplanted by other towns and settlements ruled by warrior kings and warlords.
At the outset, the reader is captivated and transported into the era of the powerful Yoruba obas and warlords, corrupted and intoxicated by filthy lucre obtained from the slave trade, a trade which fuelled interminable internecine wars. This was a time of turbulence and anomy. To the victors, pillaging of property and riches of the conquered, with beautiful maidens ravished by the warlords or gifted to their obas to be kept in their harem as war booty. Less attractive women, strong boys and men were sold into slavery. The weaklings and dependent children were exterminated at time of capture. This was a cruel and unemotional business.
The book tells the story of great warriors such as Kurunmi, Ogunmola, Balogun Kuku and Ogedengbe, some of who are still celebrated today. The story of Balogun Kuku of Ijebuland is interesting, a great warrior who turned peacemaker espousing the futility of war. This led to his banishment to Ibadan where he thrived in commerce, but was recalled to Ijebu-Ode after the routing and humiliation of the erstwhile unbeatable Ijebu army by the British colonial army at Imagbon in 1892.
This book is a page turner, filled with enigmatic characters, none more so than Odumosu. Odumosu was the Ijebu slave boy, rescued by a British Navy frigate from a Portuguese slave ship and returned to Lagos. By dint of hard work, he learnt to read and write English and then made good in commerce. After a chance meeting with Madam Tinubu, the beautiful and wealthy wife of Oba Adele of Lagos, they went into partnership in the slave trade and made obscene amount of money. Odumosu was smart, a great survivor. When slavery was abolished by the British, he turned and became an advocate for abolition of slavery. He was now feted by the British colonial government and moved in the upper echelons of society. Madam Tinubu refused to stop her involvement in the trade and dared the British. She was a master puppeteer with a lot of clout in business circles and in the palace.
The author tells us the story of Lagos, originally called Eko, and how it obtained that name, and names of other landmarks in the town. He narrates the rise and fall of several traditional rulers. Notable amongst these was Oba Kosoko who was a supporter and beneficiary of the slave trade. The trade brought him tremendous wealth. When he refused to desist from involvement in the trade, the British government brought in warships into the Lagos lagoon opposite the palace, with a delegation led ashore by Lieutenant J.P.L. Davies, a black man of Sierra Leonean descent. A few thunderous salvos from the cannons on the warships and Oba Kosoko was deposed. This was the first example of gunboat diplomacy in the colony.
It is interesting how Oladele in his inimitable way has woven the story of his family into events of this period, starting from Solaru of Remo, who became a war hero in Ibadan, and his scion Solesi. Solesi was a master drummer and musician, and exponent of the various drums and musical instruments of Yorubaland. His mastery extended to the arcane and esoteric world of the traditional masquerades, the egungun. We see how the traditional religions of the people with several deities were slowly but inexorably supplanted by Christianity and Islam.
“A Time of Troubles” is thoroughly captivating and fascinating. The book leads you through a journey into the culture and history of the Yoruba and other peoples of Nigeria as very few writers can.
Review written by Dare Demuren, Author of ‘Behind the mask’ and other novels, March 2019.
Dominic Jones, Dallas, Avante Garde Filmmaker
Oladele Olusany’s Book 2: A TIME OF TROUBLES is an extraordinary continuation of the myths and legendary figures introduced in Book 1: GODS AND HEROES. Dr. Olusanya weaves a narrative of suspense, love, and loss that is befitting of an epic tale, while his style of prose remains accessible and relatable for readers of all backgrounds. Although Dr. Olusanya takes bold creative license in the re-telling of Yorubaland’s history, what remains is a legacy of beauty, endurance, and triumph.
Femi Olugbile, Lagos, award-winning author of ‘Lonely Men.’
‘A Time Of Troubles’ is the second in Oladele Olusanya’s trilogy – ITAN- legends of the golden age. It describes a turbulent period in Yoruba history, spanning the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
It is a story of a people told through the common thread of the author’s ancestry.
His grandmother Efunyemi who was born towards the end of the nineteenth century lived through many of the events of these interesting times. Her accounts of adventures, heroic feats and difficult times, brought up in stories she told to little children in her family growing up, would stir in the author an urge to bring the epic story of his people to life.
Major events and figures of the era – local and foreign, jump to life and walk the earth on the pages of Olusanya’s big tome. The battle of Osogbo, the destruction of Owu, the defeat of Kurunmi of Ijaiye, the Kiriji War, the Battle of Imagbon that would open up Yorubaland to colonial rule. Governor Carter, Consul Campbell, ‘Redbeard’ McCoskry. Oba Kosoko, Oba Akitoye, Oba Dosunmu – Kings of Lagos. The great warlords Ogunmola, Kurunmi and Ogendengbe. Colourful rich and influential personages - Balogun Kuku of Ijebu-Ode, Madam Tinubu, and Captain JPL Davis.
The story commences at a time when the Old Oyo Empire is already in meltdown. Yoruba towns and peoples – previously under the sovereign authority of the Alafin, are now beholden to no one. Warlords are imposing their will in different areas. Greed is rife, and the filthy lucre of the day is slave trade. The warlords have got rich raiding communities in the hinterland and conveying them to the coast to be transported to foreign parts. In return, they acquire the hallmarks of wealth – ornaments of brass, silver, gold, guns to carry out more raids, and bags of cowries to purchase horses and to pay their fighting men.
The story opens with a slave raid on the little village of Itokin – ‘between the towns of Ofa and Oje’, and ‘not far from Ijaiye and Ibadan’by a group of ‘war boys’ from Ibadan, led by an adventurer named Iba.
Having wrought death and destruction on the hapless village, effectively wiping it off the face of the earth, Iba and his warriors are accosted on their way to sell their booty, by another warrior, Kurunmi – who is there to enforce the instruction of the Ooni of Ife that no men, women or children who could trace their roots to Ile Ife should be sold into slavery. The lucky captives who can prove their roots in Ife are ‘liberated’. Kurunmi, taciturn, authoritative, departs. Iba and his ‘war boys’, grumbling, proceed with their depleted number of captives.
The story proceeds and is rapidly populated with characters.
There is the boat-boy Odumosu from Ijebu Ode, captured in 1825 to be sold into slavery. He is miraculously rescued by the British frigate HMS Bournemouth and taken to the Island of Lagos.
He would live in the ‘boy’s quarters’ of the British Consul to the Bight of Benin and Biafra, the Right Honourable John Beecroft at Onikan, learn to read and write, become an administrative officer in the British Consulate – at a monthly salary of two shillings. Eventually he would become rich and famous, a pillar of Lagos society, and close friends with Efunporoye Tinubu, the redoubtable slave-merchant and wife of Oba Adele of Lagos.
He would go on to acquire the nick-name ‘Omo Eko’, and to play a role in the British intrigue that would lead to the bombardment of Lagos to force Oba Kosoko out and take over the Colony.
The panorama that is Olusanya’s story would sweep across a vast swathe of land and time to reveal other people – a boy named Solaru born in the Iremo quarters of Ile Ife in 1829, his journey to Ibadan and the adventures that would culminate in his fighting under the Ibadan Commander Ogunremi in the battle of Osogbo – which would finally halt the advance of the Fulani army into Yorubaland.
There are other stories – the story of Solesi of Ikenne – from war boy to consummate musician. The exploits of Chief Kuku of Ijebu Ode, a warrior turned wealthy trader and counsellor to the Awujale. He would travel with his retinue to the Kiriji battle field in Oke Mesi to meet with Ogedengbe – the legendary leader of the Ekiti-Parapo army, and Reverend Samuel Johnson, and to sign the treaty ending the Kiriji war that had riven Yorubaland apart for sixteen long years.
Then there is the battle of Imagbon, where the Maxim gun of the British would wreak havoc on the fighting prowess of the Ijebu, killing two thousand. At the conclusion, a treaty is signed by Yoruba Obas, ostensibly ending slavery, but actually handing over sovereignty of Yorubaland to the British monarchy.
A TIME OF TROUBLES is an interesting book – as a work of ‘faction’ – that genre of Literature that blends historical fact with fiction, and as a study in History for all Yoruba and all persons interested in the history of the Yoruba, one of the most universally dispersed ethnic groups in Africa. Olusanya deploys a mastery of prose that lays out his story without garnish and allows the reader to get into the stranger-than-fiction past of a race.
It is highly recommended.