It was excitement and razzmatazz couple of week prior in Abeokuta, Ogun State,
when dignitaries from all around the world gathered to uncover the Kuti Heritage House which has now turned into an museum, obligingness of the Ogun State government. Edozie Udeze composes on the significance of this unique legacy worked by Fela's mom, Olufunmilayo Frances Abigail Ransome-Kuti at the tallness of her political activism during the 1930s.
ne of the greatest highlights of the just concluded African Drums Festival held in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, was the unveiling of the Kuti Heritage House at the Ishabo quarters of the city. The House has just been turned into a museum by the Ogun State government headed by Governor Ibikunle Amosun. The one storey historic edifice was built in the 1930s by Olufunmilayo Frances Ransome-kuti, wife of the Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Both were the parents of the famous musician and Afrobeat exponent Fela Anikulapo-kuti, the Abami Eda, and his siblings, Olikoye Ransome-kuti who was a Minister of Health and Beko Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor and human rights activist. They also had an elder sister Dolu, who was also a matron nurse, and who equally championed the cause of the poor and the downtrodden.
It was a moment to reflect on history by all the dignitaries from all over the world who gathered for the ceremony. People were profoundly amazed to see this wonderful and outstanding building erected by one of Nigeria’s greatest and fearless women leaders. As people sat in clusters in the spacious space provided at the backyard of the compound, their eyes constantly roamed round the premises.
Most people wondered openly how Fela and his siblings must have felt and played around this edifice in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s while they tried to find their rhythms in life. It was nostalgic to think of those moments of bliss; those times when the Rev. Ransome-Kuti, a teacher and man of God was forced to wield his sticks to discipline his kids.
As Fela’s evergreen tracks played evocatively and non-stop in the background, people shuffled their legs, nodded their heads and sang along. The muse for Fela must have begun from this serene and inviting environment. Some of his classical renditions show an environment full of astute quietness which propelled him to reflect deeper and deeper. The house itself is roomy enough to provide each child his own exclusive privacy which helped for sober and deeper creative ideas. Built of burnt bricks characteristic of monumental houses of the era, the house has all the beauties and trappings of an elitist opulence.
It showed class and it still does in spite of years of neglect before it was finally renovated for this purpose.
There is enough room and recreation for kids to play and even be involved in pranks which parents may not be able to decipher. With a huge balcony in front where the Ransome-Kutis were fond of relaxing in the evenings, they were always privileged to see what the whole surroundings looked like. It is a vintage sight, properly situated to view who and who were causing trouble or intruding into the premises. It must have been one of the reasons it was easier to checkmate the Kuti children and forced them to face their studies with aplomb and commitment.
It has two gates on both sides leading into the compound, probably as a result of the renovation. There are visitors’ toilets by the side equipped with modern facilities. Atop the toilets are offices and other provisions to ease the running of the museum. It has just been painted in glittering and blissful white colours. This is to help to assuage visitors thereby making it a proper tourist centre. For lovers of historical monumental sights, this is a memorable place to visit to reflect on those years that formed the artistic outlook of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Abami Eda. It shows the house of an ironic lady, a beacon of her people and the first of her kind to drive a car in Nigeria. It shows Funmilayo, fearless, a highly educated woman leading others to the palace of the Alake of Egbaland to protest the imposition of domestic taxation on women.
The beautiful house now supported with big pillars to withstand the vagaries of time and weather equally shows the foresightedness of a dogged activist for which Mrs. Ransome-kuti was widely known.
For someone who ended up with the Order of the Niger (MON) conferred on her by the Federal government in 1965, Funmilayo was indeed a lioness in her chosen career.
A teacher of teachers and one of the foremost of her time, this well-planned house provided her with the needed succor after her day-to-day struggles to liberate Nigerians from the bondage of the British colonial slavery. No wonder she is indisputably tagged the doyen of female rights activism in Nigeria. Even her son, Fela, dubbed her mother of Africa and rightly so, for she, through her relentless efforts opened the eyes of Nigerian women to the lugubrious political and economic subjugations of the colonial masters from 1930s through the 60s.
Born in 1900, in Abeokuta into the family of Chief Daniel Thomas, Olufunmilayo while growing up showed a lot of interest in church matters. She was of the Anglican denomination and was also given the opportunity to train as a teacher. She was able to trace her ancestry to the returnee Yoruba slaves from Sierra Leone. Yet when she returned, she quickly adapted and gave her services to her people while schooling at Abeokuta Grammar School. Later, in England she trained as a teacher, now well-equipped to face the future. Her special attention was paid to market women through whom she gradually formed the Social Welfare for Market women. This was like a club exclusively meant for adult education for women in Nigeria.
This habit of resilience was what she inculcated in her children who equally imparted on the society in their respective professional callings. By the time she died in April 1978 she had already become a household name in Nigeria. These and more are some of the reasons why the Ogun State government deemed it quite irresistible to turn the house into a museum of antiquities to preserve and promote this enviable legacy yet to be surpassed in history by any Nigerian women leader.
Amosun, Soyinka speak
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, a well-known novelist, playwright and poet and human rights activist, is a cousin of the Ransome-kutis. All through the unveiling ceremony all eyes were on him to hear him speak. Seated there in the front row of the crowd, his keen eyes roaming constantly round the house, you could see a nostalgic sombre look on his forehead. That warm smile did not depart from his face throughout.
Then he said: “I remember this house with deep affection. It was here I spent two years before going away to Ibadan Grammar School. But I can never forget my uncle, the Rev. Israel Ransome-kuti and how he wielded his long sticks and canes. Of course when I left for Ibadan Grammar School, he considered that an elitist school. This is also where my cousin, the great Fela grew up. My uncle was also a great musician, composer, singer and Fela indeed took after him. He was a great educationist; at a point the Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School. After two years during which he disciplined all of us, I escaped to Ibadan. But I must tell you it was time to tone me up and I learnt a great deal”.
Soyinka reflected on the pressing need to make proper history out of those who really deserve same. “As a disciplinarian, my uncle used the cane absolutely when it was necessary. Now, most mothers and fathers frown at the use of canes to trim their children. I say this is wrong. Apply the cane when it is necessary. It helps. My uncle trimmed me. So this house is a part of history, a legacy of immense proportions. We commend the government for the gesture which is so memorable and important”, he said.
Soyinka also recollected how he and others used to go to the window at the backyard of the house to make noises that would rattle his uncle. A group of the boys would gather in the evenings and peered through the window mischievously. “Of course, my uncle never found out those behind this. These were some of those memorable moments”, he enthused, smiling broadly.
Governor Amusun in declaring the monument open, said, ‘I first of all thank all Ransome-kutis for allowing us to do this; to turn this wonderful edifice into a museum. Indeed our heroes will never die. We need to preserve their legacies in order to keep historical matters evergreen in people’s memories. This is what this house symbolizes for us as a people; as a government. This house is a mega tourist sight not only for the state, but for those who love to see history replicated. This house, as you know, has a lot of history embedded in it, indeed built around it”.
He referred to the great Ransome-kutis who were born and raised in the environment. “Here was the place where Professor Olikoye (Koye) grew up. A former Health Minister and one of the best pediatricians in the world. He also was an activist and scholar. We cannot forget Fela and Beko and Dolu, their eldest sister, a nurse and one of the best of her generation. So these memories cannot die. We want to pass this from generation to generation, not only in Nigeria but beyond Africa. Their father Rev. Israel, the first Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School, gave many people here the opportunity to be educated. And then to cap it all, Fela became a citizen of the world. And in the area of the art he is one of the foremost in the world”, he said.
In her speech Yemisi Ransome-kut, daughter of Dolu, began with what she termed the national anthem of the family. As she sang, recalling her younger years, her voice rose and permeated the space, capturing the attention of guests. Then she added, “This house, this song and more, symbolizes the values our family has fought for. This our people have passed from generation to generation. It is the value for respect, honour, dignity and what the human lives mean to the society. The value of respect matters a lot to the Ransome-kuti dynasty. It is not necessarily the respect for wealth that we live for; it is great and invaluable legacies that matter. Governor Amosun is an action governor. He has shown the people of Ogun State that you can march your words and promises with actions. This is why we are here to make this history permanent”.
As the government went upstairs to inspect and view the interior of the house, a large crowd gathered around the premises to see the epoch event. As the governor and Soyinka and members of his entourage appeared at the balcony, the crowd outside surged on, screaming and yelling, hailing their governor. The people were more touched to see Soyinka glittering in his golden white hairs in the throes of the evening sun. They waved, smiled and showed appreciation to the enthusiastic residents of Ishabo, the hub of Abeokuta.
Part of the show was the performances by artistes who danced, demonstrated and sang to the delight of the people. The incantations rendered by an artiste was on the sound legacies of Olufunmilayo; the genesis of her life and more. The drums beat in slow, steady and evocative tempo heralding this iconic Amazon. The dance-drama symbolized a family always in the forefront of the creation and promotion of the art.
Present at the occasion were foreign and local artistes of African and American descents who came for the African Drums Festival . Also present were Dotun, Yeni and her spouse, Theo Lawson and other immediate and distant relations of the Ransome-kutis. It was indeed time to relax amidst deep repertoire of music, entertainment and deep reflections into the past.