Uninhabited, unkempt and unknown: The house that Fela was born in

Posted on October 14 2016 , at 02:56 pm
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  • On Isabo Road, Abeokuta, the house that once housed the Ransome-Kuti family is rotting away.

The house in which the Ramsome-Kuti family once lived in. Photos: Olaitan Bakare

Standing alone and lonely in the middle of an ancient neighbourhood in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the brown storey building that Olufela Oludotun Kuti was born in on Saturday, October 15, 1938 is slowly rotting away, with no sign of the greatness that once lived there.

There’s no doubt that Fela was one of the greatest musical imports that Africa ever produced. His music crossed borders quicker than diplomacy could and his strong socio-political views elevated him from just the inventor of the Afrobeat genre to iconic status and prophet to many.

The legacy of his art lives till present times – Afrobeat is played and celebrated the world over by non-Nigerians, his sons; Femi and Seun, ensure that Afrobeat lives on through their music, and the annual week-long Felabration reaches its crescendo this weekend.

The entrance of the once grand house.

However, it looks like Fela’s legacy remains only in music as the last vestiges of his life on earth become largely forgotten as time passes. The original Kalakuta Republic compound where Fela held sway has since been demolished and the site now occupied by a school. In the same vein, the original Afrikan Shrine on Pepple Street is faceless in the throng of mobile phone shops that Computer Village is known for.

READ: #Felabration2016: All you need to know about the 7-day celebration of Fela

But for the tenacity of Femi who built a new Afrikan Shrine in the less densely populated Alausa area of Lagos and plays there every week, and the benevolence of former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola who paid for the renovation of Fela’s personal home on Gbemisola Street, Ikeja and is now a museum of sorts; there would not have been any trace of Fela’s life away from old vinyl records that only a few ageing fans still have by today.

This portrait of the Ransome-Kuti family taken in the 1940’s would have been photographed at the house. Fela is second youngest.

More regrettable, is the Abeokuta house that bears no reference to the prestigious family that once called it home. Fela’s father, the late Reverend I. O. Ransome-Kuti was a clergyman and educator who was the pioneering President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers.

His mother, Funmillayo was a teacher and activist who is remembered for championing women’s rights – she would go on to be the first Nigerian woman to drive a car.

Fela’s siblings are of equal pedigree – brothers Olikoye and Beko were both medical doctors who also fought for human rights in their days. Their only sister, Dolupo was a nurse who lived away from the spotlight of her younger brothers.

Olaitan Bakare, who is a journalist currently working in Abeokuta and a Fela fan, noticed the striking colonial era building and found out who it belonged to. She took the photos used in this piece.

Left: the Jackson family house. Right: Elvis Presley’s childhood home.

In other countries, childhood homes of celebrities and eminent personalities are restored and kept as tourist attraction centres. Gary, Indiana where the Jackson family came from, is visited by thousands of tourists every year.

Elvis Presley‘s childhood home in Tulepo Missisipi has been designated by the US government as a historic museum. The only figure we have in Nigeria comparable to those two is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His own childhood home is a nondescript structure, counting the years till it’s pulled down and forgotten in the annals of history.

This driveway is where Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s car would have been parked.

A part of our national anthem reads ‘the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’, but that might only be a sentiment that hardly reflects our treatment of such heroes. Fela was a national treasure and it beats one’s imagination that successive governments in Ogun State have largely forgotten one of their most illustrious sons.

READ: Nigerian artist reawakens Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s spirit in honour of Felabration

The tourism potential that Ogun State stands to generate if the Ransome-Kuti house were restored is endless. And for a state whose governor is always moaning about lower revenue received from the federal government, it is shocking that they do not know – or care – about this place. (Disclaimer: I am from Abeokuta, so I know).

One of Fela’s most pressing messages was for Africans to know their history. It is rather sad that the current and coming generations of Nigerians are being deprived of the chance to know about one of the most notable historical figures their nation has ever produced.

 

 

 

 

With Love from the Grave

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