Orunmila was the first Messiah –Fatomilola
Dr Peter Fatomilola bestrides the Nigerian movie industry like an octopus. He is a Theatre Art lecturer, actor, writer, director and producer. In this interview ... with YEMISI ADENIRAN, he speaks on his experience spanning more than four decades in the industry as well as the relationship between Christianity and Orunmilanism.
You retired in 2006, what have you been doing?
Before I retired in 2006, I was freelancing with other artistes in Nigeria. I joined them to do their video film, but now that I am on my own, I registered my own company, Olumojo Cultural Studio, here in Ife, and I have about 30 apprentices under me, who are interested in dramatisation. When I was in service, I was unable to record my own movie because they call it dividing interest; I won't be able to concentrate. But now that I am free, I have registered my own company and I have written up to 42 stories because I want those stories to mark what we are doing in the profession. So, for 42 years, I wrote 42 stories. Out of those 42 stories, I was able to record one this year. The film is being edited in the studio. It will soon come out.
For how many years have you been acting?
For 42 years, 1967 to date.
What has the experience been like and what are the challenges?
The experience I got doing the job is that when you have interest in something, whatever the challenges you may face, you won't bother about it, because it is your interest. And once you have the will power, it will carry you through whatever obstacle on the way. So for 42 years, I conquered all the challenges I faced on the job because my interest in drama is higher than any other thing. So that one assisted me to be able to perform very well.
When you were growing up, did you have any childhood days in Ilesha or Ekiti?
In Ijesha land.
Did you dream of doing what you are doing now?
Initially I did not know what they called drama, my late father happened to be a babalawo (an Ifa priest). Other babalawos used to come to our house to sing, drum. When they were doing this, I didn't know there was an element of drama in what they were doing then. But I enjoyed their singing, drumming, etc. Because I loved my father, I loved his profession I had interest in sitting down with him to know what is Ifa, I was too curious to know everything then. I used to join them whenever they came for activities like Ose Ifa, and this helped me when I got to secondary school, that is Ife City College. Whenever we had our drama they would ask for anyone who could play the role of a babalawo or anybody who knows Ifa and then I would raise my hand. Then they discovered me to be a good material. All of a sudden, we had festival of the arts, for Oranmiyan Local Government; every school must do drama competition. I was one of the people in 1967 who joined them to do the festival. Ola Rotimi happened to be the chairman of that occasion. He just came back from America then. After the festival, my school was rated the best. From there he put my name down and said that any time 'you can jump on me' but I didn't understand what he said. After two months, he came down to my school to take me for a drama or a play. The play was entitled: Cast the first stone.
It was a biblical drama, and that was my first outing in 1967. From there, I discovered myself to be a dramatist rather than hoping for accounting. I would have been a stenographer or an accountant because I wrote shorthand and studied accounting. When I discovered myself to be a material in the technical world, I shifted my interest to drama and since then I have been in drama.
How many movies have you appeared in?
I cannot say the actual number but I can mention some which I remember: Rererun, Afonja, Saworoide, Agogo Ewo, Bashorun ga etc. In Rererun, I acted as the labour leader. I stared in the film Afonja, I acted as the warlord. In Saworoide I acted as babalawo.
Can they be less than 60?
If I can lay my hands into my CV, they are more than 120. Before I left service, we used to put all the productions we have done in our CV, the university accepted it for promotion. Some of them include Apaadi, Odun Nbaku for Femi Rainbow, Iya Rainbow's son, where I played the role of Alfa Alagba Peteru. But people over used me when it comes to babalawo, they will say go and meet Peter Fatomilola.
I am tired of it but they told me I can't leave it because it makes me great. I asked them, did you not enjoy me in Afonja as the warlord or in Rererun as the labour leader and many other areas. I have also played the role of an Alfa were I recited different chapters and verses of the Qur'an. A good actor must be versatile. Also, the flexibility in you makes you to be a good actor. However, once you attach yourself to a particular role, you are no longer a good actor. That was one of the reasons why I ran way from Wale Adenuga, because I was the first Papa Ajasco Ikebesupa and I am still waiting to see another Papa Ajasco who can beat that act. I thank God that those who are playing the part are my students here in Ife and they are doing well. I left because I didn't want to be a stuck character. I am a comedian to the core, but if I just remain a comedian people won't know that I can play any other role, they will say he is a jester. I love to play other parts that will give me challenges, so as to discover myself. I am also a writer and a director. I know how many works I have directed when I was in service at the university. I see myself as an actor, director and writer. That is why I wanted to become a producer and God crowned the effort this year. I have become a producer and I hope to be a marketer in the nearest future, because as a marketer I can take my film and market in Togo, Benin Republic. I can also take it as far as the Caribbean where they need it. If I do any cultural film now, I will package it and take to Brazil, Antigua, Cuba, Barbados, etc. Our leader, Professor Wole Soyinka, likes to take us around the world, so we too know were we can sell our materials.
You said your father was a babalawo while you are taking the role of a babalawo. Are you a practising babalawo?
I have been practising at the age of 18. You need not to be a babalawo before you can know leaves or herbs. Herbs have nothing to do with babalawo. Babalawos are called Ifa priests like pastors and imams. But anybody practising herbs is called Onisegun - someone who knows how to make medicines. But babalawo is the person who has the knowledge of Ifa. What I am trying to say is that Ifa is a knowledge with no relationship with herbs. But those who know Ifa, always love to study herbs.
What does Peter Fatomilola believe in?
I believe in, God Almighty through Ifa, through the Bible, through the Qur'an because any religion that has something to do with God Almighty is my religion. I believe in God through these religions because they preach holiness. And when you get to Ifa, it is the same thing. Anybody who studied Ifa will know that what is in Ifa is fuller than either the Bible or the Qur'an. The founder of Ifa is Orunmila, who came to this world before any messiah. So he was the first messiah of human kind. When Jesus came to this world, how many years did he spend? How many years since he left now? He spent 33 years on earth, add it to 2009, so it is not up to 2500 years. He left before another messiah came. That happens to be “Anobi” Mohammed (S.A.W.). After 570 years that Jesus left, Mohammed came. The first man to collect tithe was Orunmila. When he left Ife and wanted to go back to heaven, he touched every where, because he is the owner of earth. They created earth because of him. He demanded for it and now he was tired of staying and he wanted to go back. As he was moving round the world he met Abraham who was a man of God. Abraham reasoned that this man must be a messiah, a prophet, then all what he had he gave one tenth of it to him (Orunmila). He was the first Alfa that the Bible mentioned before the Levite even came. The Levite came in the time of Moses.
Orunmila is the founder of Orunmilanism which is Ifa, Moses is the founder of Judaism, and Christ is the founder of Christianity. We have two religions in the Bible. I use to tell my pastor that you don't mix things.
But we have the Old Testament and the New Testament ?
They should be separated. If you want to be a good Christian, read your New Testament. But the pastors are very clever. When they know a chapter or verse they can use to support their message in the Old Testament, they just go back to Judaism. Even Christ himself said he came to improve on it. He did not believe in all the laws that bound the Jews. If you believe in Christ's doctrine, then you don't need the Old Testament.
Love is the greatest. If you love, you won't do evil. When pastors want to collect tithe, they will go and read Malachi but Jesus himself condemned tithes. Read Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, you will know what Christ said about those who pay tithe and those who collect it. Why is it that in every church they say 'pay your tithes', but Christ did not pay tithe and he did not collect it. So, to answer your question, I believe in those three religions. That is why I call myself three-in-one; once I can hear it in that religion, that there is God and He is the everlasting God.
But Christianity says no one can see the father except through Jesus Christ?
I can see father if I come through Orunmila. Orunmila is the son of God, Jesus is the son of God.
Is Jesus Christ Orunmila?
Who created Orunmila? God. Orunmila, the first messiah, came and reincarnated as Jesus. Niatetekose ni orowa orosi wa pelu Olorun, Olorun si ni oro na. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, John 1:1, NKJV). So, Christ was no small baby the way we saw him. Until when he wanted to come back to this world as Orunmila, he spent thousands of years, he did not die. He went as far as Australia. Orunmila left the earth and he did not just leave like that but he left a song. They did not want to listen to him, so they followed him to a particular point, then he told them that if they passed a point then they are no longer human beings and he taught them something on that day. He went and he reported to God Almighty and he said the people on earth didn't listen, 'I tried all my best, I taught them how to behave but they won't listen.'
After 3,000 years God himself decided to blow the earth and he informed Orunmila, saying 'since you came back, they did not still change, so it is high time I blew them up'. He then started begging and asked God to send someone to them to remind them what he taught them. God told him to call all the heavenly bodies together and 'let's see who will be ready to go'.
So they asked God to consult the person that has lived there before and God told them what Orunmila said and they were happy. But he asked that, 'who do we send'? He told Orunmila that nobody was ready to go. So, he (Orunmila) prostrated in front of Olodumare (God) and said, 'Here I am, send me.'
God said, 'I will send you but I won't send you as an aged man, so you will be born of a virgin, someone who is clean. Because you are clean you can't pass through a sinner but through a clean body', who is Mary who Muslims call Mariamo.
But look at the distance, 3,000 years when he came as an aged person they had no respect for him and now he came as a baby and they are so wicked to him. Before they killed him, he said, “If you destroy the temple, I will rebuild it in three days.” He was telling us that 'I am the one who came the last time, and if you kill me I will rise again'. They did not know he was talking of his own body, they thought it was the temple of Jerusalem. Before he resurrected, he lived for some days on earth before he finally left and he was with his disciples for over 40 days proving that he has power over everything. Then on the 40th day, he told the disciples that he had to go back home and they did not want him to go and so he promised them that he will send the Holy Spirit to them. Orunmila raised the dead like Jesus Christ. All these miracles that Jesus did, Orunmila also did it. Their job on earth was almost the same thing and even their departure. They both had followers. So, those who believe in Christ are the pastors and those who believe in Orunmila are the babalawos.
Why can't those Ifa priests that believe that there is similarity between Orumilanism and Christianity merge?
They cannot merge now because before there was no education; it came to Nigeria by accident. They took our forefathers as slaves abroad and among them, a boy called Ajayi Crowther emerged to free slaves. He was lucky to be with Crowther and Crowther sent him to school, they knew when they came to our country that we had land and resources, so they reported to their leader that in Nigeria they had many resources. So, let us train this boy on how to become a preacher, so that we will use the Bible to capture them. If we want to force them out of their land, they won't agree because they are very hostile, but if we use the Bible to lure them, then we can perform.
How do you unwind?
I like sleeping on bed, going to club and chatting with friends.
What are your hobbies?
I love farming.
What are the most challenging roles you have played?
Rererun. Because when I was on stage handling it. I enjoyed it, I always have the feeling that my audience were enjoying it. The lines were many and you were not allowed to put just anything there or substitute. It was very challenging. Others were not like that.
Tell us some of the awards you have received?
I received mostly from schools, students. Others I don't go to collect because often times they expect you to donate money and I am not rich, I can't let them take my salary. They don't do it this way abroad.
What is your favourite food?
Pounded yam as an Ijesha man.
Your advice to upcoming artistes?
They should put interest in the job and not join for money sake. They should endure, work hard and focus. Forty-two years ago when I took off many that we started together crashed by the way. Ohun ti a koba jiya fun ki tojo (What we do not suffer for, won't last). Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Hubert Ogunde etc suffered and they made their mark. It is no longer like that; everyone wants to become stars and millionaires by force. This is what is driving them into the evil they are in now, and they should always pray.
What is your take on Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners (ANTP) election?
Whoever they choose is my candidate. They have sent for me from Idoosi Local Government to come for chairmanship but I told them I am not a politician. I am not interested. Even if I know there is any ripple, I will pretend as if I do not know. I am an artiste, a renowned one for that matter, I don't want to become a fan of one and become an enemy of others.