Episode 3, Part 2: Between Psychiatry, Literature And Culture – Professor Femi Oyebode

Professor Femi Oyebode/ Photo by Femi Oyebode
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It is the firm belief of my government that the ideas and culture of a people are only fully expressible (sic) in the language indigenous to those. And it may not be unlikely that the absence of any dynamic growth in the thoughts of our people in the last decade has been due to the fact that, we are, for reasons that are basically economic, forced to express ourselves in a language absolutely foreign to our thought.

My government would therefore want your particular attention on the ways and means of correcting this major aspect of our education so that the interest to read and produce in the vernacular may become general…

–  Chief N.A. Ajibola (the State Minister of Education in Nigeria, 1965)

Professor Femi Oyebode is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham. He’s the current author of Sim’s Symptoms in the Mind (5th edition). His other books include Mindreadings: literature and psychiatry & Madness at the Theatre. He has published 6 volumes of poetry: Naked to your softness and other dreams; Wednesday is a colour; Adagio for oblong mirrors; Forest of transformations; Master of the leopard hunt; and Indigo, camwood and mahogany red. Also, Selected Poems.

His research interests include clinical psychopathology, medical humanities, the application of ethics to psychiatric practice, and  neuropsychological and neural correlates of abnormal phenomena.

It has always seemed to me that translation into the literary classics is the first step into nurturing a language and giving it life.

Femi Oyebode

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This second part of the podcast interview originated out of the comments exchange (italicised below by me) between Professor Femi Oyebode and a reader – Sango Aara, on Mindreadings.

I have decided not to edit the conversation in order to put things in proper perspective:

Sango Aara

APRIL 2, 2013 AT 12:35 PM

I am a Yoruba enthusiast and would like to know your thoughts on the prospects for the translation of major works of Psychiatric Phenomenology into Yoruba. I fear the language is in its death throes for a lack of utility/utilization. I feel indignant that children can study algebra and statistics in Flemish but not in Yoruba.

The consumer of medical service in the West seems a lot more knowledgeable because they can relate to ideas like “infection” “sepsis” “defence mechanisms” etc on their own thems while our people with their poor English are made to look like “learners” . “Learner” is a current slang or neologism in Nigeria meaning anything from novice to ignorant perhaps reflecting social impatience with “L” drivers. Thus the usage “you must be a learner”

Anyway I find your work inspiring and salute you “whole bodiedly”.
Best Wishes


APRIL 2, 2013 AT 7:08 PM

Dear Sango,
Thanks for your interesting comments. I do agree that translation of as many texts into Yoruba would be very good. I think that the same approach as when the Bible was translated would not go amiss. A group of dedicated and knowledgeable people should come together to take the classics in literature and translate them including the works of Doestoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, etc. It has always seemed to me that translation into the literary classics is the first step into nurturing a language and giving it life. Thanks for your comments about best wishes,

In the second part of this conversation, we covered many things, including:

  • The truism in the view that books can and do affect people’s mind
  • The role universities can play in the expansion and advancement of the Yoruba language
  • The importance and relevance of translating books from one language to another
  • The need to translate great classics in literature like: Dickens, Hardy, Twain and Tolstoy into Yoruba language
  • The significance of translating the Bible from English language to Yoruba language by Bishop Ajayi Crowther
  • The historical relevance of the translation of books written by the Greeks, by the Arabs (Muslims) in al-Andalus (medieval Spain).


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  • Listen to this episode on mixcloud
  • Stream by clicking here.
  • You can listen to the first part here

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1 Comment

  1. says: Saheed Akinola

    Quite astonishing the way the Prof delve into issues seamlessly I don’t expect anything less from a Prof of his calibre.
    I also quite agree with the fact books need to be translated to the indigenous language as it has lots of advantages as highlighted and perhaps maybe it is time we started thinking on how to train professionals in our own language as I believe ideas are easily lost when not expressed in ones indigenous language.
    On the idea of purifying language, I don’t totally support the prof’s submission. Languages still need to be purified so as not to totally lose content of the language however this also has to be done with caution to still allow room for language expansion and ‘controlled’ dynamism (if there is any word like that). If you allow a free fall in dynamism in language, the original content will be lost and you may not even be trace your step back

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