Obituary: Veteran actor, Akin Ogungbe, passes on, marking the end of a glorious era

Akin Ogungbe [Photo: africanartswithtaj.blogspot.com]

Mr. Ogungbe set up and supervised the 50:50 company to capture the early filmic phase of today’s corridor of the Yoruba Nollywood

The curtain is gradually drawing to a close for the inspiring Yoruba Travelling Theatre movement with the demise Wednesday of 78-year old Akin Ogungbe at his Iberekodo home in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Mr. Ogungbe was a notable name in the movement that was pioneered by the late Hubert Ogunde, a former police constable, who in 1946 later took to active, professional, theatre life by forming a travelling company headquartered in his Ososa country home of Ogun state.

The Yoruba travelling theatre featured elaborate entertainment and spectacle in its definition as a quintessential audience-theatre, and Mr. Ogungbe’s unique contributions to that was generally thought to be the exploration of grand mytho-historical themes, and the introduction of such events like acrobatics and fire-eating acts in the opening and closing stages of the plays to create a sense of sustained audience engagement.

Other pioneering names in the first generation of that movement included Kola Ogunmola, and Duro Ladipo, all now deceased.

Braced by a nasty illness that kept him down at Abeokuta for most of his recent years, Mr. Ogunde had maintained a very active and energetic youth career that contributed, with merit, in giving the Yoruba traveling theatre a professional and respectable profile.  That theatre movement, according to the respected theatre historian and critic, Biodun Jeyifo, had about 120 companies out of which women led two of such companies by the year 1984.

Scholars date the origins of this theatre to the ancestral Egungun cults in Yoruba culture from which it went through many phases—some latent, some elaborate– in a 30-year wandering motion called the Alarinjo episode, between the fifties and the early eighties.

The decade of the nineties, however, saw the Yoruba indigenous theatre companies transit almost wholly to the filmic/televisual chapter of its history, and again Mr. Ogungbe followed the leads of the principals in this process. Along with the examples of the Ogunde Cinema, and the Moses Olaiya Cinema, Mr. Ogungbe set up and supervised the 50:50 company to capture the early filmic phase of today’s corridor of the Yoruba Nollywood.

Mr. Ogungbe’s place in the spotted landscape of this movement will be assured mostly on account of the famous scions that came through his patronage. Two towering presence of that pupillage are the famous duo– Ishola Ogunsola, known as I-Show Pepper, and Jimoh Aliu, the performer who made name on the stage and as a major entertainer for the military during the Nigerian civil war.

Besides, many children and spouses who have continued in the family tradition survive Mr. Ogungbe.

Family members said Mr. Ogungbe will be buried on Thursday in Abeokuta, and speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, amidst a throng of mourners, the immediate younger brother of the late actor, Claudius Olaseinde-Ogungbe, declared pointedly that “We are all learning to understand the meaning of this passage and the immensity of this demise which we all now know will create a long vacuum in the theatre industry.”

In the pattern of the tradition that characterized the domestic life of members of this movement, the deceased left behind many wives and children, some of them forming part of his theater group.


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