Yoruba heritage – Cultural narrative on batik

Sangodare Ajala
Initiation – Oro sise






Batik here is an amazing creation of Sangodare Ajala – Obatala and Sango priest was unveiled at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford by Prof Wole Soyinka 04 May.

The story of Yoruba initiation into Obatala priesthood – god of creation as well as that of Sango, god of Thunder was vividly told in this artwork. From the little child in the basinet being welcomed to the world through the rituals of esentanye while the whole village stood, with tilted heads towards the sky in unity pleading to the gods on behalf of the baby. According to Baba Ajala, initiation can be done at anytime during lifetime, giving everyone opportunity to connect spiritually.

Also visible from the painting were market women with their produce well-balanced on the heads as if on the way to the market – colourful outfits, chatting happily along. Men in their elaborate agbada outfits in mood for celebration of some sorts. I especially liked that the batik highlights so much of the beauties of Yoruba culture and traditions that is fast becoming obsolete in Yorubaland- the part where we unite to celebrate and rejoice in our shared heritage.

Here is the link to Prof Wole Soyinka unveiling – enjoy!

John Adeleke was spot on with his comments on the steep decline for Yoruba arts especially the ones that capture the rich heritage such as the work of Baba Ajala was partly due to new religions – Christianity and Islam. He continues that yoruba traditional religion is now seen as backward and stigmatised. This is especially true today that most people of my generation only heard bad things about our grandparents’ religion but no one has provided convincing reasons why this religion is so bad for us.

I can relate to this – in the 1980s in my town, we had annual seven-day festival that includes all major Yoruba deities. Most people in my town were either Christian or Muslim and yet lots of them gladly participated at the festival. We lived in the central part of the town and opposite a T junction so got to see most of the parades – this was the time when Yoruba collectively celebrate our similarities and rejoice in simple pleasures of life – belongingness without the drama.

Baba Ajala was very accommodating and answered my never-ending questions about his upbringing and relationship with the late Susanne Wenger – his interest in preserving Yoruba tradition is enduring.

Prof Wole Soyinka was pleased to unveil Baba Ajala’s batik, he spoke fondly of his talents and genuine interest in preserving the tradition through his artistic and traditional healing talents.

Professor Roy Westbrook, Deputy Dean of the Saïd Business School at the unveiling says the 9 by 25 feet artwork livens his mood as he enters into the building every morning since it was put up – the statement I found truly inspiring!

Why is it that our artistic talents especially the ones that celebrate our common heritage of Yoruba culture are more appreciated outside of the country than within?