They say when an old man dies, a library burns down. Moreso when that library is one of the quintessential wordsmiths to ever use the Yoruba language, then it becomes a double tragedy. The media, the arts and the theatre in Nigeria is mourning the loss of one of its pioneers, an actor of the highest caliber, media professional per excellence and arguably one of the foremost writers and poets to use the Yoruba language, Pa Adebayo Faleti who exited this earthly stage last week
While younger generation might recognize Adebayo Faleti, they might not recognize just how significant the loss of a mild mannered unassuming man whose contributions to Yoruba literature and theatre has seen him receive many awards, both locally and internationally, including the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) the Festival of Arts award with Eda Ko L’aropin (1995) and the Afro-Hollywood Award for Outstanding Performance in Arts (2002) is to the Nigerian theatre and media industry. if, unlike many of his contemporaries and his younger colleagues his filmography isn’t particularly extensive, It is because throughout his extensive career in the Nigerian Theatre, Arts and media space, Faleti has preferred to be behind the camera than in front of it. The result is that there is hardly any actor, director, poet or writer in the Yoruba arts who wasn’t directly or indirectly influenced by Faleti’s expertise.
Despite being born into royalty (his mother was a daughter of an Alaafin), Faleti grew up poor, and the many setbacks he experienced early in his life made sure that he didn’t start school on time. Faleti, however, displayed a tenacity and resolve in his aim of getting himself as much education as possible. For a time he was destined to be a restless soul, becoming a teacher, then a sign painter and then assistant to a produce inspector, before somehow finding himself in the media as an information officer for the then Western region and being one of the pioneer staff of Western Nigeria Television (now NTA Ibadan). Here He would play a major role in bringing Yoruba culture, Arts, and Literature to the small screen.he attended the University of Dakarin Senegal and obtained a Certificate of proficiency in French Language and Civilization, and then to the University of Ibadan.
Faleti in many ways is one of the fathers of modern Yoruba literature, and he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of D.O. Fagunwa and Amos Tutuola. Where the likes of Fagunwa and Tutuola had been content to rely heavily on the Yoruba folktale tradition, Faleti was among the first set of Yoruba writers to use literature to explore Yoruba history and culture and use it for social and political commentary. His seminal work, Bashorun Gaa (1979), one of the first historical fiction books written in Yoruba, was not just a fictionalized account of one of the Oyo Empires most controversial generals, it was also a discussion and a warning on the nature of politics and power as well as what makes the Yoruba nation what it is. At any rate Bashorun Gaa inspired successive generations of Yoruba writers and filmmakers to create epic cultural movies and books and increase the interest in Yoruba art, literature and theatre
To this writer and so many members of his generation, Faleti who was already old before they were even born, represent a genial, mild mannered and humorous sage/ mystic. His role as Old Opalaba in Tunde Kelani’s Saworoide and the sequel Agogo Eewo is perhaps an apt representation of Adebayo Faleti himself. A man who is not a major character and who so rarely hogs the spotlight, yet whose influence on others can clearly be seen. Faleti as Opalaba is like the unbiased commentator who sees and hears everything, and whose voice, still and small yet insistent provides clarity into the nature of society and pushes the other characters to change their patterns of thinking.
Faleti did not wield a sword or a gun, but used his word as a crusader for change. In many ways his play Basorun Gaa was not just a bit of historical fiction about a bygone empire, it was also an exposition into the nature and notion of power, justice and oppression. Faleti never wielded and axe or cutlass to clear a jungle, but he was in a lot of ways a pioneer and and a pathfinder. Perhaps the central theme of Pa Adebayo Faleti’s existence was his quote at the end of Saworoide loosely translated thus
“when the young person falls, he looks to his front, when an elder falls he looks behind him, both old and young, why don’t we try to fix the road, so that we do not fall again.”
Rest in Peace Pa Adebayo Faleti, your legacy, your service to the Yoruba nation will never be forgotten.