Heart of Arts

Conversations with Professor Ademola Dasylva: Biography, Spirituality, Activism and Scholarship

Toyin Falola


I borrowed the title of this piece from the 146-page book edited by a pentad: Sola Olorunyomi, Olutoyin Jegede, Mobolanle Sotunsa, Rotimi Fasan, and Adedoyin Aguoru. A squad of five, not playing basketball, but constituting themselves into a franchise with an unpatented name: DST-Collective. I thought DST stood for the Demolition Squad Team, but it means the Dasylva Supervisee Team. I congratulate the lustrum for an illustrious project. This rich book includes oral interviews on various aspects of Dasylva’s life, tributes from about twenty doctoral supervisees, and miscellaneous. The book presentation will be on October 27, 2022, at the University of Ibadan.

I enjoyed reading the book, and I am offering this reflection in broad strokes, adding to the spirit behind the innovative ideas of the pentagon. One of the most vital questions in metaphysics is whether humans are predestined by an unguided supernatural and supreme force, and try as metaphysicians might explore the depth of questions like “Why are we here?” and “Do we have a purpose?” they have not been able to satisfactorily answer any of them. Perhaps, the acceptable answer to such questions is subjective and highly personal — only able to be manifested through the lived experiences of every person.

If individuals lived experiences define existence and purpose, then this cinquefoil’s undertaking to create a collective of purpose-defining knowledge on the life of one of the most purpose-driven people I have ever known is not a coincidence. Prof. Ademola Dasylva’s life has been defined by stellar academic and professional commitment, an unwavering spiritual stance, and a drive to give back to society; thus, it is only worth it that we all have come together — whether friends, colleagues, students, supervisees, or family members — to appreciate and celebrate him. Since I have known him, Dasylva’s loyalty, trust, commitment, and perspective on issues have only endeared him to me more in a relationship that has transcended the borders of what we often define as friendship. He is a principled man whose beliefs form the basis of his existence and relationship with others, and I cannot begin to count the many instances where we have had such soul-lifting conversations.

Friends like Dasylva are valuable and worthy to be celebrated, which is why I find the book curated by the pentagram among his past supervisees, titled, Conversations with Professor Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva: Biography, Spirituality, Activism, Scholarship, a worthy undertaking. In its three parts, the DST quintuplicate explores the biography and spiritual origins of a life saddled with intense social activism and scholarship that lays the intellectual bedrock of the life of Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva, a Professor of African Literature, Oral Poetics, and Performance, —a life that has served as the foundation for the lives and careers of many others.

The first part is the transcription of a thorough oral interview that the quinquennium DST-Collective had with the celebrant, a decision that appreciates the connection this scholar has to orality and oral performances in literature. The second part, which continues to tell the unique story that defines this eminent scholar’s life, purpose, and achievements, alludes to academic scholarship and is an exchange of written questions and answers between the team and the interviewee. In the last part, there is an emotional outpouring from Dasylva’s past doctoral supervisees, self-branded as Dasylvites, and wonderfully so. This could only have been made possible due to the commitment to excellence on the part of the supervisor, who went beyond the boundaries or provisions of the few years that each of those doctoral programs lasted. And decades later, these students are not only in touch with the one who guided them through the dreary academic path, but they are also successful and accomplished people who relate a chunk of their success to this man whom we celebrate on this auspicious occasion. There is love, awe, appreciation, and respect, and on Dasylva’s part, there is bound to be love, pride, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

Dasylva, the focus of this festschrift, has been actively involved in the practice of culture and the teaching of literature for many years. It should not come as a complete surprise that he is most recognized for his scholarship and scholarly pursuits, given his lengthy relationship with the organic realm of the mind. He has rightfully ascended the teaching levels from Oyo State College of Arts and Science (OSCAS), through to the Adeyemi College of Education (ACE), to the prestigious position of professor at the University of Ibadan, an institution where he has served in several capacities, including as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

This all-encompassing book, which embodies the most important things to Dasylva — spirituality, activism, family, and scholarship — begins with a first-hand narration of the celebrant’s biography. Born Anthony Michael Sylva to ardent Catholic civil servant parents in Ilesa, Omobewaji attended St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Ifofin, Ilesa, then proceeded to the Lady and St. Kizito Minor Seminary, Ede, for his secondary school education. Incidentally, he lost his Catholic faith in the same institution, but ultimately not his faith in God.

As significant as Dasylva’s scholarship is, so are his affiliative characteristics, which have molded and left their marks on his life. However, in this book, the DST-Collective has made a frantic effort to chronicle the inception of his spirituality, his conception and understanding of God, life, and man’s purpose in the universe, as well as his attitude toward organized or unorganized religion. God’s love for this brilliant academic can be traced to his birth and the circumstances surrounding it. It is, therefore, of little surprise that the Dasylva we know today is a deeply religious man who had meant his life to go in a direction other than the turn it initially took in his early adulthood until fate, again, steered him back to his predestined course. His time as a student in the minor seminary effectively shaped his philosophy, life direction, and enduring belief in God. It is impossible to understand the life’s work of this intellectual giant without finding the enormous space that God occupies, especially as documented in this book.

Dasylva is an exemplary social-conscious activist with evidential and enviable feats and records. Again, the minor seminary is a striking point as it is the original starting point of his activism. From standing up to bullies, leading a revolt against oppressive white priests, rightly demanding improvement in lecturers’ welfare in colleges across Nigeria, to joining the quest for the enthronement of democracy in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In scholarship, Dasylva has distinguished himself in the intellectual circle of African oral literature, oral poetry, and performance, with an extensive body of work in both local and international journals.

The DST-Collective meticulously laid out the extensive body of knowledge produced by Dasylva, especially in the postscripts.  His theoretical conceptualization of the Yoruba philosophy of ọmọlúwàbí and “Oral Literature and the Problem of Ambivalence” are some of the few examples of work highlighted in this book. According to him, “throughout my academic career, I have advocated for using homegrown African epistemologies and theories. I believe Africa is rich and African literature is old enough to evolve its own body of theories; in particular, the deployment of African ontologies, cultural concepts, and cultural principles to engage critical textual, verbal, non-verbal, etc., analysis and analysis and interpretations.”

Significantly, Dasylva’s works are geared towards finding African solutions to African problems, which is uncommon for academics to embody the core principle that defines their field. The book contains several of Dasylva’s works as they relate to teaching, research, and community services. Nothing symbolizes and captures all three more than a team of his former supervisees who rallied to celebrate a living icon. Needless to say, this is a well-lived life, both personally and professionally. When asked about his core ideology and belief, Dasylva was unequivocal about his belief in God and also stressed the point of his humanist side without contradiction. This is correct because believing in God is trusting His work, the chief of which is human, and humanism, according to  Dasylva, is an extension of God.

Ultimately, Conversations with Professor Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva: Biography, Spirituality, Activism, Scholarship succinctly captures a life full of intrigues and miraculous events. Beyond celebrating a scholar, it is a book that will serve the younger generations to form personal convictions on what it means to live for something greater than oneself. In 146 pages, this detailed collective serves the satisfaction of all types of readers, regardless of their relationship with the celebrant — whether they are literature professors who appreciate his academic work, historians who revel in the richness of his biography, or current students who bask in the antiqueness of the old images and tales.

In a world where the Yoruba maxim, “eniyàn l’ aṣọ mi” (humans — friends — are the clothes that cover my nakedness and protect my dignity and honor) is true, Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva is, for many of us, a thick fold of woolen blanket, warm, big, and encompassing enough to cover us and reassure us that we have a friend and a true one at that. Congratulations again, my beloved friend, on the occasion of your 70th birthday and retirement, and big ups to our quintette, alias the Dasylva Supervisee Team, for the amazing work done to birth this impressive collective.

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