By Chijioke Uwasomba (PhD)
Death, the foolish and mindless reaper, has struck again, taking in its wake the redoubtable Professor (Mrs) Mary Ebunoluwa Modupe Kolawole, who until her deserved retirement on October 1, 2010, was a Professor of English and Literary Studies in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife, Nigeria. Mrs Kolawole was not only a mother to all, including her colleagues and students, she was also an inspiring teacher with demonstrable competencies in critical theorising and pedagogical skills. In 2008, during the celebration of the Fifty Years of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife, I had described her as a matriarch of African Literature and a deserving mother of all to boot.
Mrs Kolawole’s immense acceptability as a literary and feminist giant came to the fore with the publication of her two well regarded books, Womanism and African Consciousness and Gender Perceptions and Development in Africa. She was a feminist but her brand of feminism was devoid of noisiness, malice, disputations, and other male – hating, phallus – breaking and garroting stunts that alienate and render feminism hors de combat. She preached accommodation, collaboration, sisterhood and negotiation, realising that patriarchy is real and therefore, requires sophisticated negotiating skills and strategies that work to engage with it. It is possible that because of her carriage and nobility of character, her relationship with her colleagues blossomed and her impact on her students made her their toast.
Radical Feminism has not been attractive to most African feminists because they see it as destructive and capable of destroying the family which is so dear to the African woman. Pushed to the wall, the African feminist would react by telling the inquisitor that she is a feminist with a small “f”. Mrs Kolawole was by every necessary implication a womanist who, in spite of her towering status, demonstrated respect and devotion to her husband and family. She created time despite her crowded academic engagements to cook and tender care to her family without fuss. There is something unique about Ife (University) gender – conscious women. This uniqueness is signposted by their fidelity to their families and reasoned search to change the condition of the African women. Mrs Kolawole, Professor (Mrs) Stella Williams, Professor (Mrs) Simi Afonja, Professor (Mrs) Sumbo Abiose, Professor (Mrs) Simi Odeynika, Dr (Mrs) Bisi Anyadike, and numerous others left out for mention because of space constraints who belong to this enviable group. They have left their indelible marks as amazons of invaluable change and progress for humanity.
It is with nostalgia that one remembers an encounter between the late Professor Oyin Ogunba (the doyen) and Mrs Kolawole after one of our Departmental meetings in the late 1990s. Professor Ogunba had in his usual affable manner asked Mrs Kolawole when she would “return to theory”. She laughed, bowed and greeted Professor Ogunba with reverence. Mrs Kolawole was one of the numerous Doctoral Students of Ogunba in the mid 1980s. (Professor Ogunba established the first and last Department of Literature in Nigeria in the 1970s). Generals Buhari and Idiagbon had in their swashbuckling stone-age dictatorship among other displays, abolished the Department because it had become a rallying point for radical politics and liberation of Africa from the vice – grip of irresponsible leadership.
Apparently in reaction to Professor Ogunba’s charge to “return to theory”, Mrs Kolawole later presented arguably, one of the best researched and resourceful Inaugural Lectures in the history of the fifty – nine year-old Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife. The title of the Lecture which clearly showed that she knew her onions in literary theorising and criticism was “Text, Context and Contextuality: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained in African Literary Theory”. With this “return to theory”, Mrs Kolawole paid her dues to Ogunba and therefore, established herself as an international scholar of repute deserving of attention and acclaim.
Since 1969 when Professor Wilfred F. Feuser debuted as the first Dean of the Faculty of Arts, it has all been a male affair as no female has been able to occupy the Deanship position. Mrs Kolawole almost broke this jinx in 2005 when she lost by one controversial vote to the incumbent Dean, Professor Olusola Akinrinade who had sought a second term. But in her easy – going and jovial manner, she resisted all pressures mounted on her to fight. Instead, she accepted the outcome with equanimity to the surprise of most of her supporters. It is to her credit that she went on to serve the Faculty as the Chairperson of the Diaspora Committee.
Mrs Kolawole’s academic prowess and successes did not encourage any form of pig- headedness as she went about doing good, loving people, settling family disputes, mending broken relationships and enjoying her Christian life of persistent prayers so much so that those who knew her very well, dubbed her a Prayer Warrior of immense capabilities. It is a measure of an all – round success that both at the secular – cum-academic and spiritual levels, she is talked about in glowing and appreciable terms. Her faith in Christ gave her the desired impetus and clear –headed direction to pursue her feminism, which, while promoting the cause and essence of womanhood took everything on board to unite and perfect the design of God for humanity, for after all, men and women are one humanity irrespective of their different hormones and other differentiated social actions.
It is meet to state that every success we achieve, no matter the greatness, brings us nearer to the dust. Mrs Kolawole was successful in her chosen career and exertions and will be remembered and memorialised by the lives that she touched. They were many and will ever be grateful. This life is really a stage; we come, stay, accomplish and disappear. And as the inimitable Shakespeare had quipped through Jaques in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances”. Fare thee well our matriarch!
Uwasomba teaches in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife, Nigeria.