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Between Cognitive Histories and Forms of Knowledge: An Integrative Model Arising from Falola Studies

      Between Cognitive Histories and Forms of Knowledge

         An Integrative Model Arising from Falola Studies

                             Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju


           Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems

Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge





The Exile and the River    3

The Storyteller                    3

Between Episodic Construction and System Building  4

Creative Provocations in Falola’s Work      6

Efforts at Multidisciplinary Syntheses           6

Iya Lekuleja as a Unifying Image in Falola’s Work   6

Circles as Ideational Matrix   7

The Individual as Shaper of Meaning   7


The Individual as Part of a Social Group and its Historical

Development      8


Oscillating Between Self, Society, Cosmos through

Systems of Knowledge        9


The Conjunctive and the Divergent, the Historical and the

Epistemic, the Social and the Metaphysical       9


Images as Cognitive Tools   10

Image and Text: Leku and the Circles of Infinity  11

Image Analysis     10

Smoking as Sacred Activity   10

Navigating Cognitive Zones    12

The Arrow and the Spiral        12

Image Creation and Contemplative Visualization as Cognitive   Strategies  13


Image, Information, the Infinite  14



The Exile and the River

An exile in spaces of meaning, I am adrift on a boat in turbulent seas, wondering where I am coming from, where I am going to and why.  Adrift like many others on an ocean whose source and destination is unknown. Claims of an ultimate design in the constitution of possibilities that enables us exist are not universally convincing.

In the midst of this chaos one seeks direction with the help of other travelers also trying to make sense of different degrees of wandering on a sea journeying from a place unknown to a zone unknown.


The Storyteller

One of such people is the great storyteller Toyin Falola, who has organized a broad scope of investigations around his central vocation of story telling,  narrating and analyzing the significance of his experiences and those of others in various aspects of human existence on the African context and its diaspora. ”…narratives” Falola states,  ”are our understanding of the universe, how we make coherence of its chaos, how we negotiate the graspable and the improbable and understand the past and present” (Decolonizing African Knowledge, 2022, 79).

I am inspired by the idea of seeking to understand the work of such a broad ranging explorer of the human condition, trying to piece together my own perspectives from this kaleidoscope of insights,  shaping my own collage of meanings,  of ultimate values,  like the Lurianic Kabbalists who see the unity underlying the manifested cosmos as shattered to pieces by a primal explosion resulting in the moral disjunctions of the world,  fragments they reconstitute through methods of insight and of creative living, as Yaffa Eliach describes in Hasidic Tales of the


Holocaust, stories of how Jews were able to find inspiring values in the hell of that historic nightmare through the narrative strategies of Nahman of Bratslav, for whom storytelling was both a creative joy and a symbolic exploration of the puzzles of the universe.

Between Episodic Construction and System Building

Falola is a systematic thinker, but more an episodic constructor than a system builder, a person who works with ideas as they inspire him rather than a person primarily eager to forge explicit, detailed connections between the diverse conceptions and subjects he works on across each book and essay, building islands of structured knowledge within the tumultuous rush of creative force, rather than creating bridges linking these cognitive structures, perhaps sensitive to the impermanence of such bridges, his creativity more suited to restless shaping of newness than to forging aspirations to schemes of overarching order, an approach similar to mine as one flies within and above the river of existence, responding to particularly striking gleams of light within the flowing blaze,  the turbulent streaming alive with the luminosity of awareness.

But one may eventually step back and ask what’s it all about, what is the source and direction of this fountain’s rushing flow in the depths of night, the darkness of meaning in which scattered lights gleam, adapting St. John of the Cross’s ”Song of the Soul that is Glad to Know God by Faith.”

To some degree that is what Falola does in his autobiographies A Mouth Sweeter than Salt and Counting the Tiger’s Teeth,  complemented by the scholarly text Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies and the summative reflections concluding In Praise of Greatness: The Poetics of African Adulation, the latter generating verbal images of


African creatives and of students of Africa, culminating in reflections on intersections between mortality and immortality.

For myself,  looking in from outside at the Falola universe,  I want to understand it in my own way and see what light it can throw on the quest for immediate and ultimate meaning resonating with such  great creatives as the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel.

I seek inspiration in relation to constructing journeys in the quest for understanding the dynamism of being through the progression of oneself as an imagined character navigating imagined spaces symbolizing the cosmos, as done by Dante in the Divine Comedy.

I also seek projective force, energizing ideas, in such initiatives as trying to comprehend the progression of existence as a collective  and transcendent intelligence,  as in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind and Spirit, a title partly created by myself to foreground the two major uses in English of Hegel’s German term ”Geist”, ”mind” and ”spirit”, only one of which is usually employed in the title of English translations of his book.


”Everyone and his own”, Chinua Achebe invokes an Igbo greeting in ”The Igbo World and its Art” suggesting the correlative distinctiveness of self and community,  of the individual and the social world dramatizing the flow of the great river as Olabiyi Yai references the Yoruba understanding of life as a river in his review of Henry Drewal et al’s Yoruba Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought,  the river of  being and becoming in terms of which Classical Chinese thought sees the progression of existence, as described by Sarah Allan in The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue.




Creative Provocations in Falola’s Work 

The referential range and creative scope of Falola’s work  significantly facilitate the development of  ideational innovations. I am  finding Falola Studies, the exploration of the work  and   life  of  this scholar and writer, most stimulating in developing interdisciplinary cognitive models, models for integrating broad zones of knowledge in ways that are imagistically arresting and stimulating, generating conceptual outpourings.

Efforts at Multidisciplinary Syntheses

This outcome is most recently demonstrated in my effort to work out how to unify the vast breadth of this expressive universe, leading me to construct a range of approaches between the  ideational, the imagistic and the textual in ”Textual, Conceptual and Imagistic Windows into the Prolific Multidisciplinarity of Writer and Scholar Toyin Falola”.

Also evidential in this regard is my ”[Edited] From Leku’s Herbal and Magical Store to the Universe: Seeking Transdisciplinary Paradigms: Between Nimi Wariboko’s Void, Toyin Falola’s Ritual Archives, the Dihlīz Threshold of Al-Ghazali and Ebrahim Moosa, Laura Marks’ Enfolding-Unfolding Aesthetics and Bavine Nasser on Islamic Architecture : A Few Words” in which a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary range of ideas  is   explored for its value in correlating diverse cognitive zones, a synthesis  inspired by but going beyond Falola’s work.

Iya Lekuleja as a Unifying Image in Falola’s Creativity

Central to all these efforts is the compelling image of Falola’s childhood mentor Iya Lekuleja, ”Venerable Female Dealer in Assorted Herbal and Magical Items”,  along with  her store and


the room where she lived, both emblematic of her vocation, the orientation of her life and work in terms of her ultimate sense of mission, adapting Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language on the concept ”vocation.”

The figure of Leku, the short form of her name, as described in Falola’s autobiographies, and the larger historical context  associated with her in those books, may  facilitate the unification of Falola’s diverse work. This integration may further inspire  styles of perceiving  human creativity  in its individual and group  trajectories and the ceaselessly unfolding approaches to its ultimate significance.

Image and idea, visuality and exposition, may combine in generating these possibilities through the verbal picture of Leku, and possibly through its pictorial visualization.

          Concentric Circles as Ideational Matrix 

Thus, one could visualize a sequence of concentric circles symbolizing the various zones of Falola’s work. At the centre of this matrix would be the figure of Leku, in Falola’s context. In a broader framework, any representative individual may be imagined at that centre.

                     The Individual as Shaper of Meaning

Falola’s accounts of Leku embody major aspects of his work and of human experience in general. The first of these is the individual shaping their life in terms of specific schemes of meaning, particular hermeneutic possibilities, represented by Leku’s devotion to her work as a herbalist, a healer and a dealer in items used for spiritual activities.

This aspect of Falola’s work is represented by his books, essays and interviews on individual creatives, such as the historian of religion Ogbu Kalu, the artist Victor Ekpuk, the historian of Benin,



Jacob Egharevba,  the media scholar and media practitioner Farooq Kperoqi, the philosopher, theologian and economist Nimi Wariboko, the cultural activist Isaac Delano and the essays and poems on various creative luminaries in his In Praise of Greatness: A Poetics of African Adulation, among other works.

               The Individual as Part of a Social Group and its

               Historical Development


The second aspect of Falola’s work represented by this mapping of his creativity through its resonance with his account of Leku and her historical context is that of works on the  individual as part of a social group and its historical progression. This is demonstrated by Leku’s role in the South West Nigeria Agbekoya Revolt.

Falola’s account of this historic event narrates the intertwining of two major kinds of ideologies. These are  ideologies of  social power and ideologies of the larger, metaphysical nature of reality.  The latter, the metaphysical, emerges explicitly in the belief in magical objects as instruments of warfare, but is also relevant to the sociologically centred subjects.  These ideological correlations constitute systems of knowledge embracing social organization and conceptions of the place of objects, in this case, magical weapons. Both the sociological and the magical exist within a cohesive  metaphysical scheme.

This aspect of Falola’s work is demonstrated by his essays and books on communities, represented by such physical locations as the city of Ibadan and the country Nigeria;  on people dispersed across various locations but sharing similar circumstances, such as the African Diaspora and refugees;  works centred on bodies of


organized knowledge, as on African Studies and on African oral literatures; writings on spirituality and religion, as on African Traditional Religion,  on the Yoruba origin Orisa religion deity Eshu and on Islam and Christianity;  as well as works  on historical events and processes.

Oscillating Between Self, Society, Cosmos through   Systems of Knowledge  

Falola’s body of work may thus be understood in terms of an oscillation between self, society, cosmos, mediated through systems of knowledge.

The Conjunctive and the Divergent,  the Historical and        the Epistemic, the Social and the Metaphysical

The image of Leku is therefore conjunctive and divergent. It is conjunctive in integrating various hermeneutic possibilities  in terms of the intrinsic character of phenomena.  It is divergent in suggesting how these possibilities may be actualized in  the human experience in general. These possibilities are the social and the metaphysical. These integrations and divergences are traceable in Falola’s work, in particular, and in scholarship and expressive forms in general.

These two primary hermeneutic possibilities may be further understood in terms of the historical and the epistemic. The  historical   consists in the study of human experience as a temporal progression, unfolding through interaction within and between human beings as individuals and as groups in relation to their material environments.

The epistemic involves exploring human development as the shaping of meaning through thought and action. It studies human experience as  making sense of existence through reflection and through physical activity.


These distinctions between the historical and the epistemic are partly heuristic, a kind of shorthand for different approaches to scholarship and verbal expression which might not necessarily be distinct. The distinction may help, however, in studying the degree to which an exploration of a subject represents either of these possibilities.

Images as Cognitive Tools

I developed the collage below as a means of visualizing the verbal images facilitating my developing these cognitive models derived from studying Falola’s work as well as the latest outcome of these explorations. The collage suggests the value of images for idea generation and reflection on account of their conjunction of spatial conciseness and evocative range.

Image Analysis

                    Smoking as Sacred Activity

The woman smoking represents Leku, though as a young woman, well before Falola met her, perpetually smoking, although she is depicted in Falola’s book as smoking a pipe. Her smoking  was for more than pleasure. It was also a means of concentrating spiritual power, as suggested by her final ritual with Falola in which she asked him to  inhale and swallow the smoke from her pipe, one of a sequence of rituals of spiritual bonding and activation of power that she took him through in those final rites described in Counting the Tiger’s Teeth.

Her smoking is evoked in connection with this collage as akin to Native American sacred smoking rituals, at times involving sacred pipe smoking ceremonies, and the ingestion of the famous consciousness amplifying herb Ayahuasca,   a means of cognitive expansion, of amplification of awareness across diverse cognitive zones.

                                                  Leku and the Circles of Infinity


Image source for smoking woman: iStock

Accessed 6/11/2023

Collage by myself



     Navigating Cognitive Zones

These zones are represented, in this context, by the various aspects of the interdisciplinary model symbolized by the concentric circles behind the woman’s image, the circles of the Ghanaian Adinkra symbol Adinkrahene. The insights depicted as gained thereby are expressed in the words in italics directly below:

I ride on the rhythms of the smoke, centre to circumference, circumference to centre, from figures integrating all possibilities within themselves to the unfolding of those potentialities, from forms of knowledge to history as the constructions of people making sense of their existence in shaping their lives within the arrow of time, spirals of actualization converging within limitless possibilities of ultimacy.


        The Arrow and the Spiral


The verbal sequence culminates in an image of time and a picture of the interpretation of experience as it unfolds within time. The image of time visualizes it as an arrow moving from the past to the present and the future.  The picture of the interpretation of experience depicts it as a spiral.


In this spiral, the constants of human experience are understood in terms of new possibilities emerging from those constants. This spiral image is further depicted in terms of a potentially limitless scope of interpretation of the meaning of experience.  A constantly unfolding horizon is suggested, in which ultimate possibilities of understanding can be conceived but never conclusively reached.

”The spiral is an Nsibidi symbol meaning ‘journey’ but may also mean the sun and eternity”, a most scintillating convergence of evocations,  the explanation of a painting of a spiral by Victor Ekpuk at the site of the Smithsonian Inscribing Meaning exhibition,  building on the Nsibidi symbolism of Nigeria’s Cross-River region, an explanation from which my own interpretation is derived.

        Image Creation and Contemplative Visualization as

       Cognitive Tools


These ideas were developed through cultivating a relationship between reading Falola’s autobiographies and  creating a collage representing Leku and her store and room and daily visualizing the collage, speaking mentally to Leku as imaged in the visual  conjunction, in the belief that thoughts may be communicated across physical and spiritual space, between those in the flesh and those beyond it, in the spirit of Tibetan Buddhist poet and hermit Jetsun Milarepa’s cry to his gurus on Earth and those beyond time and space, ”vouchsafe your grace waves, o gurus!” (Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa, trans. Dama Kazi Samdup, ed. W.Y. Evans Wentz), an idea resonant with African ancestor veneration, the Catholic Christian Communion of Saints and the Western esoteric Masters of Wisdom concept, which initiated me into the practice.

That visualization stimulates reflection on the content of the autobiographies in relation to Falola’s work as a whole as I understand it. It also inspires reflection on the broader ideational reverberations of the collage as suggesting vistas of knowledge represented by the circle framing Leku’s form. The circle’s  symmetry evokes the complex harmony of the vast collection of many varied items in Leku’s store, organized in terms of an order enabling her swiftly access those items,



combining them in terms of the value of particular combinations for specific goals.

This correlation of visualization and contemplation, of image and reflection, of aspiration to communication across ontological divides, unifying them in the human person, is suggestive of a similar cognitive technique dramatized by Falola in ”Ritual Archives” in terms of his meditation on an image of the Yoruba origin Orisha tradition deity Eshu, demonstrating his argument on the need to marshal a diverse but ultimately complementary range of cognitive methods in the quest for knowledge, particularly in efforts to understand the mythic and spiritual systems of African peoples, systems, I would add, sharing deep similarities with others in diverse points of space and time, such as Western esotericism and Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, my own zones of entry into those practices.


         Image, Information, the Infinite


What is my ultimate aspiration in developing these cognitive models? I am pursuing what Laura Marks, adapting ideas from Islamic aesthetics, describes as image as an interface to information and information as an interface to the infinite (Enfoldment and Infinity).

The infinite, in my own context, is represented by endlessly unfolding interpretive possibilities, possibilities groping towards the source of existence.

My ultimate purpose is therefore  a metaphysical and spiritual quest pursued through an imaginative and intellectual method. It translates ideas into visual images and uses these visual images as a means of stimulating ideational conjunctions.


These permutations are executed ultimately in the name of penetrating to the ultimate ground enabling thinker and thought, ideas and the frameworks of possibility that configures them in the first place.

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