Title: Grandma’s Sun: A Childhood memoir from Africa
Author: Tayo Olafioye
Publisher: University of Calabar Press
Year of Publication: 2000
Reviewer: Olutayo IRANTIOLA
This piece is of an ingenous biography written in the character name of Olu Yaro. The book opened in an interesting and high-catchy way that would make the reader read further. This book can be understood if followed with thorough concentration on the sub-themes and reading beyond the formal vocabularies that span across the script. It has ten chapters that discussed his life from his primary level of education till he wrote the final letter to his daughter.
The Analysis of the Chapters
Chapter One is an expose of the the primary school mischief of Olu Yaro’s schoolmates. He earned the nickname of “gbuku-soja” as a result of the arthritis that he suffered from. He eventually had to liberate himself, a bit, by fighting Soji. The fight attracted the attention of the grandparents of both boys and it was settled in the usual communal way of the elderly and the suburban settings.
Chapters Two is humourous in nature. Olu Yaro and his cousin, Ronke Fakuade, discussed on varying subjects. The most significance of the interlocution was the childish belief that Egypt and Jerusalem are heavenly cities that do not exist on the earth, It also has another contrary belief or expectation, the way of eulogizing in Yorubaland made Olu Yaro assume that a minister must be tall, hefty, strong etc. but he was surprised to see a lanky, young man as a minister who came to his community.
He discussed how regarded & esteemed teachers & headmasters of his age were accorded. He condemned the use of English as the instructional language whereas teaching would have been aided id the mother-tongue is used. This chapter discussed his teachers and their attributes sufficiently.
Chapter Three is on his life as a youngster who does not want to be drafted into the labour force that will ensure the continuity of poverty. His thirst for education was stressed. He was offered admission into the University of Lagos, just like every episode in life, his university education finished. He then proceeded to the San Dokito University, America. Some of the sub-themes in this chapter are the essence of creative writing against the critics. Creative writers are known but not the critics; the state of Africa tracing it since the advent of the Europeans till leadership was handed over to Nigerians.
Chapter Four informs us of the rumours the protagonist had over the years. His mother was rejected when she conceived, out of wedlock, but nature made it impossible for his paternity to deny him because of the resemblance. The sub-themes in this chapter includes the commercialization of royal thrones, democracy-turned “democrazy,” the exodus of people from the country in search of greener pastures. The story continues with his departure to live with his parents uncle’s family.
The arrival, in winter, in New York, where he mistakenly registered in another school after gaining admission in another school; eventually, he did the other half of his study where he belonged. The quest for scholarship in America made it compulsory for him to spell words in the way Americans does and not in the British style of writing that he was trained with in Nigeria.
Chapter Five is on the new status he just acquired; an elite and a scholar. He came to Nigeria after four years in America to reunite with family members for summer. Rumour mongers became active, there were diverse summations; he might have committed a crime in America. He might not have left Nigeria and other idle talk. He left immediately after summer. The chauffeur asked him questions at his arrival in the US, students continued with wrong mentality of Africa. When he dressed in African attire, a student ranted, “I love your Pyjamas.”
Olu Yaro did not like the treatment meted out on him when he when he was a petrol station attendant and also working at a barber’s shop. At the completion of his Ph.D, he was given an appointment at the University of Ilu-Erin. He extensively described the origin of Ilu-Erin, the rulership, the religious and artistic tilt of the town.
In the University of Ilu-Erin, the first point of conflict was his hair and office. He was seen as looking more American than African. His close associates were Chally Mann and Bade. Olu Yaro intervened in a situation involving Jemilla and another America-trained lecturer. This was the beginning of his relationship with her. He had differences with her regularly but resolved it over time till they married. The last threat to the consummation of marriage was the rumour that he had wives and children in Europe. The support of his father in-law made the marriage possible. Another problem he faced was the spine-pain he had that he had to travel out of the country for medication but it was said that he was conducting researches in America. After treatment, he had a daughter, Foyinsayemi, he insisted on returning home, ultimately, he left for San Dokito.
Chapter Six opened with Jemilla’s face off with her supervisor during her Master’s degree. Olu Yaro had to take the matter with some resilience. He described people in the faculty like Chally, Chief Lajubi, Sibina Akingbeja, Baba Adewiye, Dr Dayo Egunjuwa, Niyi (re).
Chapter Seven is a narration of hurts he suffered from childhood. His friendship with Yinkus Junbo, the many slaps from his mother and the transfer of aggression from Aunty Edith. He got one from his wife and this made him react by beating her up, he confessed, “I beat you up today, not only because of you, but as a final response to the festival of slapping contest on my face by women in my life since I was a child.”
He went further to lampoon very religious Christians; he believed one’s religion should be his or her character. Other writers who had diverse childhood experiences are James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Marya Angelou (American national poet laureate) and Merle Woo (a second generation Korean American).
Chapter Eight is about the confluence of elites and intellectuals in Ilu-Erin. The meeting place is find pond; various delicacies are served there, most especially on the menu list is pepper soup. A paradoxical interlocution on Nigeria took place at the place involving these intellectual friends. The problems, efforts made and the situation of the country was analyzed there. Some of those present that night were Olu Adefemi, Albert Anji, Chally Mann, Segun Ola, Balogun Chike-Obi and Ade Oba. The agitation for change by these people had been done by people like Olaodah Equiano and Frederick Douglas.
Such places like fish pond in other parts of the world that the writer knows include Dux Maggots, Dome, Boulevard Germaine and Le Flore Café. Some intellectuals who frequented cafes at London were Alexander Pope, Dr John Arbuthnot, Thomas Gray, Addix and Stele. Others include Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hermingway and Jean Paul Saittre.
Chapter Nine is about Sonoma-Napa valley that Olu Yaro visited. Yaro had a dream bringing him close to his roots and reminded him of somethings in life that guided him on to Santa Rose where Joan McMurray-Ketzez would host him.
The concluding chapter is about his family life. The advent of his daughter when he least expected. Olu Yaro performed a very essential parental role; he answered all the questions that she asked him. He wanted her to believe in her fatherland regardless of her citizenship and sojourn in America.
The attempt to have another child was difficult coupled with the economic hardship of the season. Kako-Olukumo eventually arrived seven years after Foyin has been born. His naming ceremony and his feature at birth was adequately described. There were the sub-theme of the death of his doctor friend, Clyde St Hill, and the eulogy presented at his burial and also the death of Pa Gabriel Omonigbeyin and the attendant behavior of his siblings.
He concludes the script by writing a letter to his daughter, telling her of her ancestry, some events that had happened in his life, his siblings and he admonished her.
The language of the novel is for the intellectual and academia. It is of the Wole Soyinka style of writing as the ability to discourage those out of the humanities and academia from reading. The overall language of the text is for the high learned elites.
Also, there is a reflection of Nigerian languages in the test. Yarois a Hausa word for boy, words like abi and ka na da kudi on pg. 150; Yaya dai pg. 151 were used.
There is also the sufficient use of Yoruba language and its shades. Yoruba words like amure pg. 49; loun lounpg. 81; kayiji pg. 125 and others. Proverbial expressions like aja ti o sonu ko ni gbo fere ode; igbagbo koni k’ama soro ile pg. 49; b’omode ba mo owe, aa ba agbajeun pg. 96; bi a ba n ja bi ti k’akuko pg. 101 etc.
There is also the use of transliteration most especially when incantations were made. He made efforts to translate sufficiently. Wrong pronunciation due to phonological differences, defects or illiteracy was depicted. Words like Giresi which is Grace, in English; Minista for Minister; Tishas for teachers; Shifu for Chief; Unifaity for University; Sayensi for Science; tekinoloji for Technology. There is also a fuse of pidgin into the script that makes it relevant to the environment of occurrence, Nigeria in Chapter Two and nobisopg. 164.
Some noticeable typos are seen in the text both in Yoruba and English: “Oorun”, which should read “oorun”; ae which should read “are”; “you”, which should read “your”; “ro” which should read “to”; “hat” which should read “that”; “cut” which should read “call”; “Higbazti” which should read “nigbati”.
The use of personal quotes that start each chapter has spiced it up and it added a lot of meaning to the text.
There is a fusion of many cultures in the script: English, Yoruba, Hausa and pidgin. The book described some rituals that are usually carried out in Yorubaland; the betrothal of a lady to a man; the isoye rituals; the amure rituals; the naming rituals. This also concluded the use of incantations. Names of materials mentioned include akoko leaves, mariwo, palm-nuts and kolanuts.
The locales evident in the text include:
Nigeria: Igbotako, which is the country home of Yaro pg. 26.
Igede-Ekiti where he had his secondary school education.
Lagos where he stayed with his uncle’s place and the University of Lagos where he had his bachelor’s degree.
Ilu-Erin: He worked in the University and met his wife, Jemilla, there.
Other places out of Nigeria include: San Dokito where he bagged his Masters and PhD degrees. Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Britian and Austria (Yaro and Jemilla traveled to these locations before marriage). The two main classifications would do Africa and Europe.
The life of Olu Yaro started with rumours of his paternity. He also experienced another set of rumour when he came home after a four year sojourn in America. The traditional belief that people would stay there for a minimum of seven years before coming home with full academic laurels; people assumed that he must have committed a crime to be home. The misinformed American also asked questions about Africa and the black race.
His stay in the University of Ilu-Erin was also full of rumours which include his marriage abroad; his conduct of research while he was on a sickbed; his involvement in the cruelty unleashed on Dr Dayo Egunjuwa, a staff in the same department. Another rumour about his life was his impotence which made female students flock around him. Jemilla’s proven affair that caused rift between the duo.
The book also has a lot of humours. The first example was the religious discussion about Egypt and Jerusalem; the minister and his stature. The registration at different schools in San Dokito; the barrage of slaps he received and his reaction; the pyjamas comment passed on his African attire; the barber’s shop episode and the analysis of Nigeria at the fishpond.
This is a text that is thoroughly descriptive, has a good touch of narrative tour. It also employs dialogue that enlivens the book with an equal addition of superb analogies. It is a script that combines many qualities reflecting the Nigerian environment and the American settings effectively.
There are a lot of characters in “Grandma’s Sun” but this review will reflect those who made significant contribution to his life. This will be grouped
Grannies: The controversial conception of Olu Yaro made his grandma adopt him. He was with his grannies till he left for secondary school. She was his defense a lot of ways by fortifying him; told him his ‘story’, she went to Soji’s grandfather. She is an epitome of motherhood.
Olu Yaro: The protagonist, he is at the centre of the creative piece. His quest for education; his informal traditional training spiced up the book. He moved from childhood to adulthood and was lucky enough not to be involved in many tragedies but had a rollicking time with rumours. He had a good grasp of both English and his mother-tongue, Yoruba and he eventually became a literary scholar.
Bade and Chally: These were Olu Yaro’s allies at the University of Ilu-Erin who updated him with the latest rumours about him. Bade was the person who made him realize the rumour about his foreign marriage.
Dr Clyde St. Hill: He did not feature prominently in the book but he played a vital role in the life of Olu Yaro since their days at the University of California and at San Dokito. He hlped Olu Yaro in becoming a citizen of the US ans stood by him when he was on admission in the US.
Jemilla: The daughter of a British-trained man who married Olu Yaro after a lot of storms as a student. She bore two children for him; she is described as firm, in Olu Yaro’s words, “she is strong lass, a lioness, a typical Amina of a woman.” Pg. 100.
Chief Fosile and Aunty Edith: Chief Fosile and Aunty Edith (a white woman) are a couple. The husband is a politician and the wife a homemaker. They adopted Olu Yaro and helped him through his university education in Lagos and helped him to proceed to the US for his postgraduate education. He received a slap from Aunty Edith but generally they are good spirited folks.
These are some of the characters in the text.
The book is a whole is entertaining and it is an elitist version of the African Child by Camara Laye. As an alumnus of the University of Ilorin and a student of Arts; despite the modifications of the names of Olu Yaro’s allies, I am conversant with original names; heard some of these stories, however I did not meet Prof Olafioye in the school. This memoir is a great faction.
First published in the Herald newspaper, Ilorin December, 5 and 12, 2008
(c)Olutayo IRAN-TIOLA, Lagos, Nigeria