D. O Fagunwa: Myths surrounding demise continue 54 years after
Daniel Olorunfumi Fagunwa, popularly known as D. O. Fagunwa, the Bogunbolu of Okeigbo in his days, wrote many novels that lay emphasis on the supernatural giving the impression that he is not an ordinary man. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI visits his home in Okeigbo to unravel the complexity on the circulated myth about the great writer even in death.
Little or nothing was known about Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, until he came out with his first book titled, “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale” which shot him to limelight and placed the agrarian community of Okeigbo in the present Ile Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government area of Ondo state on the world map. Apart from his first book, other books written by Fagunwa who was known to be one of the first indigenous authors to pioneer writing of Yoruba novels includes Igbo Olodumare, Aditu Olodumare, Ireke Onibudo, all of which remained an enduring legacy even after his death.
And as a result of his creative writings which border on unseen forces, there are myths surrounding the last minutes and burial of the late author and the story has refused to be laid to rest decades after his death despite the family’s efforts to dispel the untrue stories. Recently, his widow, Mrs Elizabeth Adebanke Fagunwa, lent her voice to this, describing the circulated myth as the imagination of some people.
After 54 years of his demise, his widow once again cleared the air about her husband who she describes as a good Christian who lived like every other human and had no inkling or premonition that death was near.
“My husband was buried in this town, his corpse was brought to his family house in Okeigbo and he was buried in the church, St. Lukes Anglican Church cemetery on December 10, 1963. The records are there in the church. His resting place is still there, so the myth about his body disappearing was only an imagination of some people. My husband was a good Christian,” she said.
She explained that her husband had no premonition about his death though she confirmed that drowned in the Wuya River in Niger state, while returning to Ibadan from a book tour of Northern Nigeria, adding that his body was found at the bank of the river three days later. According to her, the late Fagunwa was a representative of Heinemann publisher in Nigeria as he was appointed as one after writing four books which were published by the publishing company and his mission to the Northern part of Nigeria was to discover more writers for the publishing company before he met his untimely death.
“He initiated the establishment of Heinemann publishing company in Nigeria and Heinemann published his last official book, I call it official because he was writing one which he couldn’t complete, so I regarded “Aditu Olodumare” as his last official work and it was published by Heinemann. Through him, the company decided to come to Nigeria so that they could have many writers and authors from Nigeria and publish their books while my husband was appointed as the manager of the company in Nigeria.
“He travelled around the country advertising Heinemann books to schools and also searching for great writers like him. He left for the Northern part of the country on such an assignment on November 16, 1963 and was away till that fateful day, December 7, 1963 when he planned to come back to our home in Ajanla street, Oke Ado in Ibadan, we had planned for his arrival but on his way back, he stayed the last night on earth at Bida in an hotel,” she told Nigerian Tribune.
She explained further that according to the late Fagunwa’s driver who was with him when he died, the duo were waiting at the river bank to be ferried across the river in the early hours of that day when the late author decided to take a walk and unfortunately got drowned in the process, adding that the driver, known as James and a native of Ibadan, said they were the first to get to the river bank so that their car will be the first to be ferried.
“He said they left their hotel about 5:00am and the people to ferry them didn’t come until around 6am, so when they got to the river bank, Fagunwa decided to take a walk around before the people will be ready and while he was strolling, it was not yet daybreak, he said he just heard a sound in the water and looked at the direction and his master was nowhere to be found, he ran there and before he got there, he found a canoe which had turned upside down, so he guessed that it was not unlikely that Fagunwa had a slip as he walked too close to the bank of the river
“He said the canoe turned upside down and covered him, he shouted for help and people came to rescue him but Fagunwa was nowhere to be found until the third day. While the people were still searching for Fagunwa in the river, a message was sent to Ibadan about the incident but I still had the belief that he will be brought home alive because he was a great swimmer but to my surprise, he never came home alive.