Hubert Ogunde: A different kind of polygamist

A young boy IN oSOSA wears a T-shirt inscribed with the title of one of Ogunde's films--JAIYESIMI
A young boy IN oSOSA wears a T-shirt inscribed with the title of one of Ogunde’s films–JAIYESIMI

“Our father had so many wives but I won’t tell you how many they were,” older Bose, who retired from the Lagos State public service, told me at the onset of the tour, both of us standing in front of portraits of Ogunde and his parents, all placed in a exposed corner of the sitting room.

Shortly, she was joined by the younger Bose and both of them began to tell me of how closely-knit the family was—and still is. “He had many children but you wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from the other,” older Bose said. “All of the children took any of the wives as our mothers. If you asked me, for instance, who my own mother is I can introduce any of them to you. That was the life we all lived. It is one love that has bound us together.”

The younger Bose, a proprietress at a Montessori School in Ogun State, chipped in: “He had loving wives. They were always there for him in his lifetime and even after his death they are still there for him. As for the children, despite the fact that we are all from different mothers, we still work together with love”

Minutes into the tour of the estate, it became clear that the Ogundes pride themselves in the fact that they have remained united nearly 25 years after the death of the patriarch; year after year, they have returned to Ososa to either mark the anniversary of his death or during the Christmas season to bond. On such occasions, the villagers come around and the family pays courtesy visits to the king’s palace, among other engagements. They also get together to watch the few epic films Ogunde produced in the latter part of his life. “When he died, people said some nasty things; they said ‘we give them one year, they will go their separate ways’, but instead we are waxing stronger,” younger Bose said.

L-R: Kunle David Ogunde, Tunde Kelani and Richard Ayo Ogunde in Ogunde's Ososa home
L-R: Kunle David Ogunde, Tunde Kelani and Richard Ayo Ogunde in Ogunde’s Ososa home

Beyond their mothers, both sisters credited their older brother, Sir Richard Ayo Ogunde, the Baba Oba of Ososa, for this feat of togetherness. According to younger Bose, “He has done a very good job of coordinating the children and ensuring that the estate is what it is now. And God is still using him to move the estate forward and bless all of us.”

The narrative flipped again to the wives, with older Bose leading shedding more light on how Ogunde related with his women at home, like watching their favourite television programmes together and sharing story ideas for future productions with them. “He never did anything solo. He consulted his wives when he had flashes of inspiration, and they offered their own opinions,” older Bose said. “Our father loved his wives despite the fact that they were many. He was concerned about each and every one of them. I think commitment is one thing he got from his wives; he showed them love and they reciprocated with love too. He was everything to them as they were everything to him—they were the secret to his successful shows.”

In rounding off what was becoming a tale of one man and his many wives, young Bose said almost in a whisper, “They loved him so much that they even found new wives for him—they knew his taste, they did their research and they found the right women for him. Even the girlfriends knew the wives and there were no quarrels whatsoever. His polygamy was a peculiar kind; there were not many like it.”

By this time more people milled about in the expansive compound and inside bungalow, looking at the various Ogunde exhibits and memorabilia—turntable records and cassettes, film scripts, costumes, award plaques, film posters and many more. Ogunde’s trademark waist-high traditional drum, Ilu Agba, stands stoically in a corner of the parlour; and black-and-white images of his stage productions—some of them with equally famous actors of the time, like Duro Ladipo and Moses Olaiya—speak volumes about a long life spent acting out stories.

 

Preserved for Posterity: Beaded crown from one of Ogunde's film from the 1980s, "Ayanmo"
Preserved for Posterity: Beaded crown from one of Ogunde’s film from the 1980s, “Ayanmo”

It’s on record that some of those stories ruffled not a few feathers, from his early anti-colonial native operas to the very politically tainted plays post-Independence. So influential were his plays that his group was banned a couple of times. Older Bose recalled once when he was approached by politicians who tried to bribe him so that he could change the plot of a particular political play at the time (The ‘Yoruba Ronu’ episode in the old Western Region). He never did. “He was a man of integrity and he taught us to also be that. Our father never did anything for the sake of money. We take after him in that regard. None of us will do anything for money. That name Ogunde is the one thing our father bequeathed us with—we are not prepared to soil in in any way.

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