Book Of The Mind
Yoruba culture is very strong, as we can see all over the world today, because now we talk about the Yoruba diaspora in Cuba, in Brazil, of course in the United States here, in Haiti, and of course in the Caribbean too.1 These were the people who were taken from Yoruba because of slavery, and somehow despite all the terrible incivilities of slavery, they’ve been able to keep certain aspects of Yoruba culture, particularly Yoruba religion and Yoruba music.
So, I grew up in the 50s. My country was a colony then, because Nigeria didn’t become independent until 1960. And my father said he would like me to have a different line, he would like my life to be different from his own, professionally, because he kept on telling us that he would have gone to school, it’s only that he didn’t have the opportunity at his time. And 1953, January, was the first time I stepped in school. At that time, education was not compulsory, my father just took me there because he said, the way he was looking at me, I showed a lot of potential, because I was inquisitive and I was all over the place and I took to school straight away.2
My first contact with the book happened in school.3 One or two of my American friends have asked me, “Hey Niyi, what kind of book did your parents read to you when you were young?” and I’ve told them none. There was no book reading person in our family.4 We read another kind of book, as I said in a number of my poems. My father was a farmer and a quality transfer of metaphor. His barn contained a shelf of — was a shelf of books. His barn was a shelf of books, because when he arranged his yams, it was very much like the way we arrange books on the shelf. So, the Yoruba distinguished between book knowledge and inside knowledge. Until you have the two, you are not really educated. Book knowledge, of course, is what you gain from books, things in black and white and so on. Those things will make you literate. They could make you clever, they could make you smart, but you need the knowledge of the inside, the invincible book of the mind.