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Professor Ulli Beier’s contribution to the cultural development of the Yoruba race could only be described as immeasurable. For a German who arrived Yorubaland as a 28-year-old in 1950, and spent the most productive years of his life researching on Yoruba culture and traditions, which later resulted in archival materials of over 10, 000 items of books, articles, photographs, negatives and albums, films, videos, audio cassettes, record and CDs, he could only be labelled as a Yorubaman in white skin.
It was, therefore, not a surprise that the region was shocked with the news of his death on April 3, 2011 in far away Sydney, Australia. But for the distance, as well as the short notice of his funeral, the Yoruba people would have sent a delegation to Australia for his final passing rites.
However, last Saturday, July 2, prominent Yoruba sons and daughters gathered at the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo for the celebration of life of Beier, whose works formed the nucleus of the Centre.
In his opening address, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the immediate past governor of Osun State and the Board Chairman of CBCIU, said the Centre was celebrating Professor Beier for his significant contribution to the Yoruba race.
Prince Oyinlola said, “It is important we acknowledge with particular appreciation the efforts of this great personality who helped in most significant terms to shape the image of our past and present as a society greatly blessed by the Creator. It is no mean achievement that Ulli Beier was able to gather all those treasures which today form the nucleus of the archives of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU).
“Let me say with great pleasure that this Centre has within its relatively short period of existence contributed its quota to the growth of the tourism and culture sub-sector of the economy of this state. More importantly, it has provided the whole world opportunities to glimpse Nigeria’s very rich heritage through its involvement in the organisation of three international conferences held in Osogbo, with the solid backing of the administration I was privileged to head,” Oyinlola, whose father, Oba Moses Oyinlola, the late Olokuku of Okuku, was a close friend of Beier, said.
Also, the former governor confirmed the naming of the Centre’s multi-purpose Hall after the late Beier.
Another cultural activist, Ambassador Segun Olusola, in his tribute, said, “there was no where Ulli Beier went that he did not plant hope” just as he commended Prince Oyinlola for what he described as the solid structures put up in the Osogbo Centre.”
Professor Niyi Osundare of the University of New Orleans, in his tribute, described Beier as a great son of Yorubaland and Nigeria who helped conserve what the Yorubas themselves systematically destroyed. He added that “the country that produced Ulli Beier is long dead” while expressing doubts on whether the man would have achieved all he did “if he were to live in Nigeria of today.”
Prominent artist, Professor Bruce Onokbrakpeya paid tribute to Beier as an artist and an inspiration to many artists, including himself, while Chief Yemi Elebuibon attributed his own fame as an Ifa priest to the assistance and encouragement he got from Beier.
As a result of Beier’s art workshops at Osogbo, which spanned a period of five years, skills of artists such as Oyelami, Jimoh Buraimoh, Taiwo Osuntoki (Twins Seven Seven); Jacob Ogundele, Rufus Ogundele, among others, were elevated beyond the artisan level. And it was not just about visual art, but culture in general: some of the performing artists who were brought to broader public glare through the workshops were Yemi Elebuibon, late Oyin Adejobi, Tidjani Mayakiri, Ademola Onobonokuta and Lere Paimo, and Beier himself once said of Yoruba art, “In Yoruba art, as in all great art, form and content, are completely identical. The artist, like the priest, operates on a certain level of consciousness, where he is in close contact with trees, animals, spirits.”
Beier’s study of the people also suggests a mystic perspective to the people’s culture. “Yoruba are particularly sensitive to inner vibrations of the world; they are still in tune with nature. They can still see meaningful relationships between certain natural forces, historical personalities, the force associated with certain animals, the magic quality of minerals or even colours.”
Beier was just so passionate about the Yoruba culture such that he gave himself different native names. One of such, perhaps, well known among the people is ‘Obotunde Ijimere.’
Although Beier and his partner, British-born Georgina, also included the Eastern part of the country in their experimentation, the Ife-Osogbo axis ended up as the couple’s major focus for which they are known.
Others notable personalities at the event honouring Beier were Chief Segun Sofowote, Professor Wale Babawale, Professor Tola Badejo, Chief Muraina Oyelami, among several academics and cultural icons across Yorubaland, and they all used the opportunity to examine some of Beier’s writings and selected photographs.Share