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Legendary Hubert Ogunde ‘Resurrects’ in Ososa! ~Omonaijablog

The extraordinary life and times of Hubert Ogunde, the doyen of Nigerian theatre still resonate in Ososa, his home town and final resting place in Ogun State

Hubert Ogunde is a history maker. In 1945, he established Nigeria’s first professional theatre touring company in a most dramatic manner. He was the first dramatist to stage protest plays against the British colonialists and their obnoxious policies especially with regard to their opposition to the nationalist struggle of that era. 
Ogunde was also the first and probably the only Nigerian performing artiste that married 17 creative and hugely talented women with multiple skills both in front and behind the cameras. Among his wives were actors, costumiers, designers, make-up artists, playwrights, composers, administrators, marketers and more.

But to understand Ogunde’s role in Nigeria’s socio-political and cultural life, one must review his pioneering efforts, his patriotism, resilience, dramatic excellence and activism as a man of creativity, style, innovation and courage.
It is therefore not surprising that after his transition in 1992, the man still lives in the minds of many. At Ososa, his country home and where the theatre giant spent his last and additional fruitful years as an actor, playwright, composer, theatre manager and musician, there are still signs that a great man once lived. Today, he is still remembered in Nigeria and globally for his contributions to the arts and culture sector as a pioneer and purveyor.

Interestingly, his children and grand children are not leaving anything to chance in their determination to keep the memory and legacies of their departed patriarch, alive. So, they established Ogunde Living History Museum, a world class museum where researchers and other visitors can come, see and learn about this extraordinarily gifted Nigerian artiste who left a mark in the world of theatre.
Inside Ogunde Living History Museum, there is no dull moment. The promoters of the project painstakingly organized the museum in such a manner that every piece of item contains a deep and rich history of Nigeria’s theatre, culture, politics and evolution. Ogunde’s Bedford Lorry and his Nissan bus are the two most conspicuous things outside. They are called artistes buses. The buses were used in those days to covey the troupe to locations and other performing sites. It is evident from the loudspeakers on one of the buses that they were also used for publicity purposes especially on performance days.

Another item that will not likely escape the prying eyes of any inquisitive visitor is an aircraft engine positioned near the buses. Ogunde actually bought the engine in 1983 because of a particular film he wanted to shoot at the time. The movie, Aropin ‘N Tenia and Ayomo needed this big aircraft engine as a major requirement for the production of the movie; so he bought the engine which was used to create a thunderous wild wind effect in the film.
A few steps away from the aircraft engine lies the theatre legend’s final resting place which is rich in traditional designs. At the entrance to museum are his magazines and other publications, his works, his photo album, his portrait, an art work, and other art collections in his repertoire. Once inside, the visitor enters his main apartment where he spent the last 10 years of his life. On the left hand side are scenes from his early plays like The Village Hospital, Concert Party, Bread and Bullet and other notable works and stage performances that were staged in the 1940s and 1950s.

Other things of interest are his personal costumes: crowns, beads, horse tails, staff, drums, his picture when he started singing in 1948, his records, his turn-table, film scripts, cartridges and cassettes. There are also his traditional royal wrappers, his masquerades, telephones, the pictures of his parents and his beaded footwear. Inside the museum are his awards, a picture with Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1969, academic gowns and pictures of his honorary degrees from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Lagos; more photos with renowned actors like Duro Ladipo, Adebayo Faleti and others, newspaper cuttings, his travel passport, the military uniform of a four star general, his travel box, his shoes, casual wears, police officer costumes and pictures of his 26 children and the family tree.
It is interesting to note that Ogunde was also deeply religious in a very curious way. He was influenced by both the African Traditional Religion and Christianity. His grandfather was an Ifa Chief priest while his father was a Christian pastor. And in many ways, his meditation room says a lot about his spirituality. This prayer room is also where he sat and meditated anytime he wanted to think for inspiration. In his prayer room, there is the family altar, a Bible and a candle stand. Prayer time was a special moment of deep reflection and contemplation. During meditation, his wives sat on the chairs while the children stayed on the bare floor for the duration of the morning and night prayers. Ogunde believed God answered prayers through different colours around him, so he fixed different lights for different prayers and prayer points.

Near the meditation room is Ogunde’s former garage where his Mercedes Benz car was parked back in the day. Today, the garage serves as a multi-purpose store for costumes, drums, Songo Dance costumes, divination trays used as props, fishing accessories for fisherman dance, rods and staff of various kinds, and other spiritual dresses he used in his different dance and dramatic performances. 

For instance, FESTAC ’77, a celebration of Ogunde’s 33 years on stage which encapsulates an interesting career that began on an interesting note, drew substantially from this multi-purpose store house of costumes.  FESTAC ’77 was indeed, a fiesta of a sort and featured all kinds of drama from Fisherman Dance and Itsekiri Dance to Atilogu Dance from the South-East and even the Hausa dance drama. The museum also houses a film equipment room. In this room are stage lights, 33mm films (celluloid), Sound Nagra used to record sound on location, projectors, Track Dolly and Mini Jib used by cameramen. There is also a cloud machine used for cloud effects if the need for a change of weather arises and a Dimmer Board to control light. In addition, there is a scene from his two famous films, AIYE and Jaiyesimi.

Nearly 30 years after his exit, the dining table where he ate has remained impeccable just like his bedroom and a bathroom that still sparkle. This is also the condition of other costumes and props that are indoors. Ogunde’s son, Ayodele has remained on the centre stage in this task of preserving his father’s legacies for posterity. The doyen’s grandson, Adeleke who described his grandfather as a man of taste, is also working alongside his father as the museum’s curator.

However, it is evident from the environment that the children of this theatre giant are yet to attract the attention of government or the private sector even in this age of technology. One of the inhibiting factors to the growth of this extraordinary and novel museum is the prohibition on photographic gadgets once a visitor sets foot on the premises. So, Nigerians and foreigners who may never have the opportunity of visiting the place are forever denied the chance of beholding the performer’s vintage and exotic props, photographs, stage scenes, location shoots, audio and visual recordings, his bedroom, his unique visual art, his personal effects, family tree and more.

Kehinde Omotunde, an architect and a visitor to the facility says there is a lot of value for government at this museum. Therefore for him, a serious government must look in the direction of the museum. According to him, “this is not a museum you place in the hands of family members alone because it is huge. I also don’t understand why people are restricted from taking photographs. It is a lovely place, no doubt, one of the best I have visited but it must be open and run professionally. This place has a lot to share about drama, entertainment, arts and culture. It also has many things to showcase and this is not happening because publicity is very poor. As a matter of fact, I was just passing by when I saw the man’s statue and that was the attraction. It is unfortunate that government is not paying attention to this edifice”.

One remarkable thing about Ogunde and his theatre is that he made his costumes, he never borrowed. He also supervised his stage designs and other construction needs before mounting the stage. He actually went the extra mile to create effects on stage and movie locations in his own special way. And he never bothered about the huge cost or the inconveniences associated with acquiring heavy equipment or designing for his company’s personal use, expensive costumes, props and extraordinary stage designs and lightings. That was why he went all out and purchased an aircraft engine specifically for effect in a movie. This kind of professionalism has no place in our movie industry today for obvious reasons. Many believe this is the kind of seriousness the industry he left behind and even his beloved country, Nigeria need to make progress.

Ogunde who worked till the very end will continue to be missed. He actually took ill at the location of Mr. Johnson, one of his popular movies. He was later taken abroad where he passed on.

This article was first published in alice, the in-flight magazine of Air Peace.

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