My name is Dàda Àreògún. I am a wood carver. A lot of you may not know me, but I am sure that by the time you’re reading this story, my name would have been etched on the sands of time.
I was born in 1880 in a small quiet village called Osi-Ilorin, located at the northern edge of Ekiti State, South-western Nigeria. The village is set in a large expanse of gentle and densely forested rolling hills walled by the lush Effon Ridge to the east and the granite hills of the Ikere and Ijero enclaves stretching all the way to the South, and dissected by webbing streams of crystal clear rivers.
My parents and the villagers considered me a special child because of my natural dàda hair (dreadlocks), which I was born with and named after. Children are rarely born with this type of hair in Yoruba land. I was given special attention at home and in the village square. I enjoyed the attention, and it fortified my self-confidence and belief that someday I will become great. I loved trees. I loved the touch and feel of their rough barks, and got fascinated with the special skill with which Woodpecker birds and Owls sculpted their homes in their fat stems. I admired the fairly smooth finishing of the internal parts of the bored holes.
A big tree sat at the village square. Its stem bulged at the base and narrowed as it towered into the skies, capped with an umbrella of verdant canopy. Numerous holes had been bored by birds in a seemingly-systematic pattern at the upper segments of its stem where man could not easily reach. So amazing they seemed, and whenever I followed mama to the village square on market days, I often spent most of the time starring up at the holes.
“Like these birds, I could sculpt tree stems into whatever I want,” I often thought to myself and I decided to learn the art of wood carving. Baba Bamgbose, a famous wood carver at the time and my father’s friend accepted me at a tender age. He took me as his favorite apprentice and that was when it all began.
As I watched Baba Bamgbose, I fell deeper in love with timber. I knew all the different types. I could even identify trees from afar. I could estimate the size of the stem and how much raw material I could get from it. I also revered Ogun the god of iron because iron was my primary tool. I needed his blessing and inspiration as I handled his tool. After years of hard work and dedicated learning, I became as skillful as my master. When I gained freedom and independence from Baba Bamgbose, I dedicated my time into perfecting some areas of my profession and creating a distinct style for myself.
Although I carved in a traditional manner, I adopted a unique smooth and fairly flat finishing and logical composition to my relief carvings shown in the low-relief figures on my lidded bowls, which are often arranged in an orderly and tight structure. I also acknowledged the gods in my works because I believed they blessed my hands with grace of craft. I learnt from the birds and nature loved my works. I became wealthy. Kings and princes from far and near patronized me. I carved their Palace doors. The villagers sang my praises, they called me Àreògún-yànnà, which means ‘one who makes money with the tools of Ogun, and spends it generously’. I specialized in carving doors, house posts, masks and lidded bowls.
As I grew old, I began to foresee into the future and thought that my works needed an identity. I then decided to start branding my works with a special signature- a triangle at the bottom- so that anyone who saw it would know I produced it. I also taught my son, Bamidele the art that made me great and he grew up to become a famous wood carver himself. He worked on a project to create new modern Christian art in Nigeria. He created his own unique style. I am glad to see my works see the light of life. I lived, I followed my passion, explored my dreams and upheld an art that stood the test of time. This is my art, I am Dàda Àreògún, the wood carver