Yesterday, a friend asked for my views on the new movie in Yoruba language, Jagun Jagun, and I did not hesitate to state that it was loud on costume and artistic expressions, most especially alliteration, and low in historical value.
I am a historian and movies purpotedly Yoruba movies, are of interest to me. I look for how they mirror reality or exaggerate it. I look for life lessons and values they espoused, etc.
In relation to Jagunjagun, here is the summary of what I shared with my friend.
Off the cuff, there were two instances in Yoruba history when bands of terrorists constituted themselves into menace, terrorizing societies in ways reminiscent of what was depicted in Jagun Jagun. Both related to the 19th Century Yoruba wars.
The first was led by Toyeje of Ogbomoso who allied with Afonja, the Are Onakakanfo to destroy Old-Oyo. Toyeje and Afonja and their terrorist groups orchestrated the destruction of over 3000 Yoruba villages and towns, leading to refugee flows towards the dense forest areas on Yorubaland. The relics of these villages and towns are still standing today at the Old Oyo National Park.
The second was a band of rough boys that constituted themselves at Eba-Odan, now Ibadan. They knew no other job than stealing, pillaging, and terrorizing people.
In both, what could be effectively called terrorist groups band themselves together for their parochial interests. Toyeje’s group was a terrorist group and the alliance between Afonja and them resulted in the destruction of Old-Oyo and the ultimate Fulani take-over of Ilorin.
The Ibadan ruffians later became warriors and stopped Fulani advance at Ikirun, thereby saving the remaining part of Yorubaland from Fulani take-over.
None of the two instances in Yoruba history compare in reckless and senseless killings with what we see on display in Jagunjagun. In other words, the amount of bloodshed on display in Jagunjagun is unknown in Yorubaland. Rather than wantonly killing the people, Toyeje terrorists and Ibadan ruffians were taking and selling them as slaves, a theme that did not feature in Jagunjagun.
On costume, the use of guns in Yoruba wars is dated, hence, the use of guns, horses, and camels in Jagunjagun belie some of the claims that I have read from others, especially that Jagunjagun was well researched.
If it was researched at all, it should be cleared to the movie makers that guns began to feature in Yoruba wars when the Oyo lots among the ruffians in Ibadan fought with the Ife elements in their midst. In fact, the Yorubas, as at the time, have no name for guns; hence, the war was named “Gbanamu” war. Samuel Johnson described the introduction and use of guns during this war as a novel development in Yoruba history.
Besides guns, horses and camels were rarities in Yoruba wars, as only Oyo warriors were able to afford them. The topography of Yorubaland did not support the use of these animals, being densely forested areas and littered with tsetse flies. Horses, donkeys, camels etc. that were used so gleefully in Jagunjagun makes dating the movie and relating it to specific periods in Yoruba history difficult, if not impossible.
In addition, Dele Odule, Adebayo Salami, Agemo, etc. spotted damask in different scenes. In Yorubaland, during the 17, 18, and 19th Centuries, only a handful of notable kings wore these type of clothes. In fact, only the Alaafin and, very much later Latosisa, and Oluwo wore damask, velvet, and such other clothes. These kings imposed satorial laws, making them forbidden for wear by any one else.
The argument can be made that Ogundiji was a terrorist under whom there was only one law, his words. But, strangely, Ogundiji did not wear any such dress. So, the argument does not hold water.
In most Yoruba movies, cowries are used to symbolize charm. This is wrong and it is one of the key signifiers that I look for in a movie to determine how well researched or educated the movie makers are.
Historically, in Yorubaland, cowries were legal tenders. Cowries were rare, imported into West Africa only from Madagascar. Whether in the past or now, it had nothing to do with war, power, or charm. It had everything to do with wealth. It was replaced with brass ingots, gold, manila, etc. Almost everyone of the warriors spotted cowries, a clue to how uneducated our movie makers are, even on our culture.
The use of a coffin too is ahistorical. It is not a part of Yoruba culture. In fact, it was a colonial-cum-missionary culture and therefore Christian in nature. Igoo or Akoo is not the same as a coffin. Igoo or Akoo are sheaths for holding daggers. So, not only was the use of coffin poor, referring to it as Akoo is shameful and ties to one of the critical flaws that can be found in all these movies pretending to be Yoruba movies in the last two years.
Facial markings are not only for aesthetics, they are Yoruba national passport, denoting state, place, and family or compound of origin. In Anikulapo, the wanderer from Gbongan sported Abaja, an exclusive Oyo royal mark. Mr. Macaroni, a blacksmith in Oyo, sported Gombo, Ogbomoso marks. The melange of facial marks adorning different faces in Jagunjagun is an eloquent testimony to how little our movie makers knew about those cultural representations.
Alliteration is a speech mechanism, commonly used among Oyo Yoruba and others across the world. The over-use of alliteration in Jagunjagun is a disservice to the movie. It marred rather than extolled the movie. For a great part, the relations between what was intended and what the alliteration means are at variance.
An alliteration is not a chant and a chant is not an alliteration. The Liberian flag is not the same as the flag of the United States of America.
I love the social commentary on politics and how the powerful use ordinary people while keeping their children and wards overseas. It is, for me, the only lesson in the movie. It is encapsulated in Agemo’s words – “Omo olomo laa ran ni ise de toru toru”. It mirrors the current Nigerian and Yoruba situation.
This should have been the rallying point of the movie. Since 1960, I only know of 2 Yoruba leaders whose family were fully involved in the agitation for good governance. Fela Anikulapo Kuti and MKO Abiola remained the only two leaders of thoughts whose family members actively involved themselves in the people’s protests. Others keep their family members abroad, using us as cannon fodders.
Agemo, Gbotija, Ogundiji, etc were all cannon fodders in the services of the mighties.
There are various other themes – politics and power, deceit and treachery, love and courage in the face of adversity, revenge and vengeance, etc. All of these give the movie its entertainment and didactic values.
With all of the above and its assemblage of usurpers masquerading as kings, Jagunjagun is not a Yoruba movie but a movie in Yoruba language. For this reason, I have nothing to say about the movie.
(ERRORS and OMISSIONS expected. Writing on smartphone is hell).
© Bukola Adeyemi Oyeniyi
August 13, 2023