Alagba Faleti’s disappointment is no doubt justified. Besides bringing the state honour with his acclaimed exploits in the arts as an indigene of the state, renowned for rich culture, he had served as the General Manager of its broadcasting corporation and Chairman, Board of the State Council for Arts and Culture.
In this interview, the veteran dramatist and playwright relives his childhood, reveals what has kept him going at his present old age and explains why he is unhappy with the government of Oyo State.
Sir, please share with us part of your memorable experience when you were young
I spent the best of my childhood days in the villages. I miss playing with other kids under the trees at the moonlight time, especially the games of teaching children how to recite figure 1- 10 (Eni bi eni, Eji bi eji, Eta n tagba Erin woroko, Arun bi arun…) There is another one in which you would stretch your legs out and say Menimini pokan, menimini pokan, pokanpokan kabi epo serere, Mobarugbo kan lodo, moni o bunmi lomi mu,olohun o bun mi lomi mu, molosapa kanlenja… Those were things that made my childhood days enjoyable. Well, different experiences so far, because what happened to you at 40 would be different from that of 20.
Was hunting part of your hobbies when you were young?
Yes, hunting, singing, writing, drawing, drumming and dancing are my hobbies. I attended hunting expeditions until I became a professional hunter. Even as at the time I got employed as the general manager of a firm, I still went for hunting. Then my co-hunters liked treating me like “Alakowe” (educated elite), but before they could conclude on what we were to do, I would have already jumped into the bush. But when I was getting old I began to make a choice on which of the hobbies to concentrate on, so I picked writing. But I made sure all other hobbies were reflected in all my write- ups. So hunting is a noble profession, just that the situation in the country has changed, nearly most forests had turned to houses, no hunting area are made enticing, the government should allocate reserves for hunting, so young people can show their interest. You see, I got myself engaged in selling firewood, despite the fact that I was an “Alakowe.” Many of our people do not want a dirty job, but when you don’t have a white collar job, just get yourself busy with work that will make you a happy person.
Can you compare today’s mode of dressing to the fashion in those days?
In those days, young people did not put on full dresses; a female goes out with what we call ‘yeri’ wrapper, while the male goes out with ‘digo’ apron. Later it changed to ‘kookun’, that is short knickers, only chieftains were allowed to wear what pleased them. Also, men must remove their ‘Dansiki’ when greeting the Oba. The tradition connotes compulsory respect and unwritten law to the royalty.
How come issue of rape wasn’t common in spite of the bare dresses?
Rape? If anybody dared it then, such a person will face the law. Young boys and girls were well disciplined and people respected the law of the land. In those days, young people most times played together almost naked, went to the stream to swim without even developing any evil thought of raping the opposite sex. I never heard of rape cases in those days.
Could you share with us some of the unwritten law in those days?
In those days, the use of an umbrella was restricted, it was only meant for the king. So anyone found with it would be arrested. It was also forbidden for an ordinary man to roof his building with iron sheet. In addition, only two types of grasses were used to build houses- Eka” for the ordinary man while “Bere” was meant for the distinguished. It was the duty of the subordinate chiefs to bring “Bere” from the upper Ogun area- Iseyin, Saki down to Oyo-where the king celebrated “Bere” festival every year. That’s why we have a place called “Kotu bere” in Ibadan.
You are a versatile artist, but more known for your proficiency in Yoruba. But, you didn’t study the language. You studied European Languages in your tertiary institution days. Why?
It doesn’t matter if I studied English and French. I believe everybody must pass through Yoruba class at the primary school level. Besides, my father who happened to be one of the greatest Yoruba speakers motivated me. My brother who was also a fantastic storyteller and a palace band leader got me interested. Let me say I inherited it from the village lifestyle.
What are you missing at old age?
I think what one misses most when getting older are your friends. As Yoruba will say: “Ogun omode kole sere fogun odun” (20 children cannot play together for 20 years). You would miss a lot of your friends and it becomes sad, some had been snatched by death, which is inevitable, some whom you used to play with are gone. So life is in stages, while men are in phases.
What time did you enjoyed most?
The time you enjoy most is when you have your people all around you, that is your family, friends, colleagues, children. But unfortunately, the time doesn’t last because people have to go their separate ways for one reason or the other.
What can you say about the present state of Yoruba movie platform?
Everything has changed, segregation has come to stay, unlike before when people were united. Also, producers are no longer writing educative and rich cultural stories. Then, the worst of it all is that our government does not rate us high in the Yoruba section, but prefers to sponsor other tribe, which is not meant to be so. I think the government needs to treat all the tribes equally and assist us to fight the almighty issue of piracy.
What has the film industry done for you since you retired?
As a body they’ve done nothing, but as individuals some of them have tried. I receive gifts from people who appreciate me. But it’s extremely pathetic that my own state (Oyo) doesn’t even see any good thing in me that is worth appreciating.
Even at the point when I was suffering from illness, people came from other states and contributed immensely to saving my life. Imagine somebody visited me, saw how difficult it was for me to climb the stairs and without even asking, the man renovated this place with a substantial amount, spent more than N2.5million. So, if an outsider could do this, then how much more do you think I should benefit from my own state government?
So how do you keep yourself going at your present age?
I read newspapers and listen to radio everyday; I am all over the world through these means of communication.