Heart of Arts

Professor Akin Ogundiran: The Serenity of Strength

Toyin Falola


In the realm of academia, a shining light,

 Akin, an inspiring sight.

 A beacon of dedication, unwavering and true,

His journey through knowledge, a remarkable view.

With determination as his guiding star,

He ventured far and wide, both near and far.

 From Obafemi Awolowo to Boston’s embrace,

 A scholar’s quest, leaving traces.

Archaeology, history, a blend so rare, beyond compare.

Yoruba’s world, a tapestry explored,

Two millennia’s tale, through time he’s soared.

Intrigued by questions, history’s unknown,

He pursued answers, seeds of knowledge sown.

With degrees and accolades, his path did trace,

Northwestern’s halls, Cambridge’s embrace,

 With his intellect and heart, he does grace.

Through the media’s lens, his words take flight,

 and echo, day and night.

A scholar, a sage, his voice rings clear, his purpose defined,

A societal guardian, culture enshrined.

In knowledge’s age, where voices compete,

His wisdom stands tall, in times so fleet.

A scholar, a leader, a guardian, a friend,

A tapestry woven of dedication and grace,

With unending commitment, his path does wind,

Akin, a guiding light enshrined.

His calmness is his forte! I remember clearly the day, the time, the space and the moment when Professor Emmanuel Babatunde, the distinguished scholar at Lincoln University, compared Professor Akin Ogundiran to a majestic river, calm and slow on the surface, swift and rapid below. Each time I visit great rivers, this imagery strikes back. You don’t jump at Niagara Falls and hope to survive, mistaking the gentility of the downstream with stupidity. A few years ago, Dr. Abikal Borah of San Diego State University and I were at the bank of The Brahmaputra near the India-China border. Everyone, including the children in the village, knows not to dip their legs in the water, as you would disappear in seconds when the constant spa consumes you. If I had encountered The Brahmaputra years before, I would have asked Professor Babatunde to use this as the title of his classic lines. If bold men compare themselves to the powerful cats of the jungle, they should add the great rivers to their epithets. I have been with talented Nigerian historians to be at the bank of great rivers—Professor Sait Fwatshak of the University of Jos to drink beer a few feet from the River Benue; with Professor Okpeh, then at Benue State University; and with Oselua to marvel at the confluence of Rivers Benue and the Niger at Lokoja. The rivers were calm, but when they got angry, villages were consumed, and half a mile of shops, stores and houses were destroyed last year at Lokoja. Ogundiran is like The Brahmaputra, with multiple names in three countries, acquiring a forceful transboundary character. Ogundiran is home to the world of Archaeology, Anthropology and History, flowing like the great rivers whose beginning you don’t know, whose end you cannot fathom, and whose depths are hidden. Deep ocean currents, if you don’t know, flow like rivers non-stop.

I am prompted to write this short tribute because of his relocation to Northwestern University and his election as the 18th President of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists. Both are important and worthy of continental celebration. The first, the move to Northwestern, consolidates the recent African moves to leading private universities worldwide, as in the case of Dr. Grace Idahosa, now at the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso, now at Brandeis University. On the second, he is the first African to attain this presidency in half a century of the history of this preeminent association.

Professor Ogundiran is one of the rare individuals in the huge world of scholars who shines as brightly as he does. His long career is a monument to the power of determination, research, and leadership, as a tenacious dedication to precolonial African history and a great affection for the world of the Yoruba that defines him. The intellectual road Ogundiran has taken thus far is monumental, with its unique elements in the hardship terrain of ancient history and difficult research. The data to generate one essay in his field is equivalent to using the archives to write a book.

Professor Ogundiran’s academic trajectory is nothing short of inspiring. From his early days at Obafemi Awolowo University, where we met, detouring through the University of Ibadan, to his advanced studies at Boston University, his pursuit of knowledge has been unwavering. But it is not just the degrees that define him; it is the depth and breadth of his research, like the deep ocean currents. Ogundiran is motivated to rigorously pursue his scholarly inclinations by an innate curiosity regarding historical issues. This culminated in completing a Bachelor of Arts degree with the highest distinction from Obafemi Awolowo University in 1988. An unquenchable thirst for intellectual enlightenment compelled him, so he embarked on a scholarly journey to the University of Ibadan. There, he was able to earn a Master of Science degree in the discipline of Archaeology in the year 1991, and he used this degree to further his career. He went to Boston University, where he diligently pursued advanced studies culminating in attaining a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Archaeological Studies, specializing in the African continent, in the year 2000. This demonstrates a relentless pursuit of knowledge on his part.

The academic efforts of Professor Ogundiran have always demonstrated an all-encompassing reach, diving profoundly into the historical backdrop of West Africa, with a special emphasis on the Yoruba civilization and the African Diaspora. Ogundiran has made significant contributions to the academic community by developing an all-encompassing methodology that combines archaeological, historical, ethnographic, and material science research techniques. This framework draws from a variety of academic disciplines, which offers a nuanced and comprehensive knowledge of the Yoruba culture over a period spanning two millennia. The author’s first endeavours were centred on understanding the processes that led to establishing Yoruba communities and the impact of global occurrences on them. During his ongoing study activity, which he is currently involved in, he is doing an in-depth investigation into the historical terrain of the Oyo Empire. This academic study can provide vital insights into the prosperous society that existed from about 400 BC until about AD 1840.

Leadership is not simply about holding positions but affecting the people around you. And that is just what Professor Ogundiran has accomplished. Not only does his distinguished service at illustrious institutions, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Cambridge, attest to his intellectual prowess, but it also demonstrates his capacity to lead, inspire others, and innovate. Because of his extensive international connections and his work’s international impact, he is a well-known figure in the United States, Africa, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Dr Ogundiran has, in the past, held significant positions, such as serving as the Chair of the Department of Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and undertaking a fellowship at the prestigious University of Cambridge.  His face is in the hall of fame in his former department at Charlotte, confirming the adage that there is nowhere that we cannot find glory and all lands are sacred. He was a transformational figure at Charlotte, building a formidable department that attained an international reputation.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Ogundiran has distinguished himself as a leading figure in professional engagements. In 2019, he was given the prestigious position of Editor-in-Chief for the African Archaeological Review, which he will hold until 2023. In addition to that, he has worked as a consultant for prestigious organizations, such as the Department of Homeland Security in the United States and the National Park Service in Nigeria.

The academic community has recognized and appreciated his significant contributions to the discipline. Professor Ogundiran has been honoured with numerous accolades throughout his professional life. Two of these honours are particularly noteworthy: the prestigious Isaac Oluwole Delano Prize for his outstanding contribution to the field of Yoruba Studies, which was awarded to him along with Tunde Kelani, and the Distinguished Research Award, which was presented to him by the University of Texas at Austin. The academic study, The Yorùbá: A New History, has attracted praise due to the intelligent anthropological insights and painstaking historical contexts it examines. He is credited with unearthing several remarkable artefacts and relics that date back thousands of years.

His thoughts have been amplified in various media outlets, from the highly regarded Washington Post to Nigeria’s National Television Authority, which proves that Professor Ogundiran’s scholarly contributions have gone beyond the confines of the academic world. He has become quite popular due to utmost regard for his knowledge. As a result, he has been invited to participate in interviews and podcasts and even featured prominently in National Geographic.

However, the contributions made by Professor Ogundiran go far beyond research and teaching. His commitment to utilizing his skills for the benefit of society is demonstrated by the roles he has played as a consultant for various prestigious organizations. In public service, Ogundiran has established himself as a figure of prominence, shedding light on the way forward towards improving society. Concerning the African American Burial Grounds Network Act, he has offered Congresswoman Alma Adams advice in the past. In addition to this, he has participated in the Harvey B. Gantt Centre for African American Arts + Culture’s Inaugural Symposium Committee in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they have given their knowledge and expertise. Professor Ogundiran’s significant involvement in various highly regarded professional groups, such as the African Studies Association (USA) and the Society for American Archaeology, indicates his tremendous impact on his subject, reaching a broad audience. Ogundiran’s importance on teamwork is one of the defining characteristics of his professional path. He exemplifies the spirit of communal work in everything, from professional associations and committee responsibilities to joint research projects.

The narrative that his impressive career has provided serves as a compelling tribute to the tremendous influence of unflinching tenacity, intense enthusiasm, and an unbreakable desire to comprehend the diverse fabric of African historical and cultural contexts. This resolution is the driving force behind the presentation of this preliminary biography. Ogundiran is, in essence, the embodiment of a complex identity that goes much beyond the confines of the academic world. He emerges as a pioneering character, a scholar of historical significance, an archaeologist of renown, and, most significantly, an enthusiastic champion of appreciating and protecting the rich tapestry of African heritage. People from many walks of life can draw motivation from his journey, exemplified by a steadfast commitment to helping others and an unending search for new information. It is time to wear my agbada, put on my cap, and bring out the bàtá drums. Baba ‘Beji, ijó yá:


Akin ọmọ Ogundiran

Akin tíì fojoojúmọ ṣèṣe akin

Onímọ̀ tíì fẹ lẹ́lẹ́lẹ́

Tíì fìmọ̀ jíjìnréré fún mùtúmùwà

Ọmọ Ogundiran alágbada ìmọ̀

Tónílé- tàlejò ń bùmu- bùwẹ̀

Akinwumi awalẹ̀pìtan

Tíí lamọ lójú sítàn oun àrọ́bá

Èyí tó sodo sílẹ̀ Áfíríkà

Ǹlẹ́ o Àkùkọ gàgàrà

Èyí tí í lànà orókè fóròmọdìẹ

Bí mo wá ọ wálé

Akin dákun fìmọ̀ ìtàn támilọ́rẹ

Kí n le dòpìtàn ṣékélé

Tí tẹ́rú-tọmọ ń wárí fún

Bù fún mi nínú àmù ìmọ̀ rẹ

Bó o ti ṣe f’Álára oun Ajerò

Kò kúkú jọjú

Bí akin bi akin lọmọ Iba ń ṣe

Kò ní rẹ ọ

Agara ò ní dá ọ

Iṣẹ́ èyí Elédùà gbé lé ọ lọ́wọ́

Pẹ́pẹ́ lowú ń ṣarọ́

Àtẹ̀pẹ́ lẹsẹ̀ ń tẹ̀nà

Koko lara ọta á le.


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