A popular place of interest in the town of Abeokuta is the Ransome Kuti family house - childhood home of the Ransome Kuti siblings - Dolapo, Olikoye, Fela and Beko. Now known as the Ransome Kuti Heritage Museum, it has been repurposed into a repository that houses the legacy of one of Nigeria's most influential families across history.
The Ransome Kuti's have made significant (understatement) contributions to art, religion, education and medicine in Nigeria, and their influence stretches far beyond the country's boarders, therefore this was a must see for me, as I was getting an insight into the lives of these gifted minds.
The house itself is quite unique. A 2-floor building set in concrete and granite but its the details that elevate the structure to the point of elegance. The cracked-glass patterning in the front walls as well as the symbols in the balcony make it unlike the others in the area. As I observed these minute details, I could sense the strong aura of creativity in the space.
The building boasts of a simple yet functional design and is finished with an earthen and artistic touch. The compound is spacious and in addition to the main structure, features an open-air space for relaxing in the backyard, an adjoining garage and a secondary structure for housing more family memorabilia.
The interior of the main house is spacious which isn't immediately obvious from the outside and much of the interior aesthetic such as the furniture, appliances, musical instruments and decorations has been kept unchanged. The rustic feel was cleverly maintained on the upper floor, while the ground floor has now been converted to an information space about the Kuti's.
The project lay dilapidated for many years, and after much back and forth over it's renovation, it's great to see a public-private partnership manifest in this way.
The tour costs N2,000 per adult and a guide takes you on an engaging journey through the facility and through the timeline of their lives. Fela Anikulapo Kuti is undoubtedly the most popular member of this family, gaining popularity as a musician, a vocal political activist and a pan-africanist, he is regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat which is a combination of West African music and American funk and jazz. The rest of the siblings...
Their stories would not be complete however without spotlighting the roles their parents played in their lives, their mother in particular. Born to educationist parents (Israel Oluduton Ransome-Kuti and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti), the siblings were raised with a passion for justice and equity, their mother serving as a strong role model in this regard. She was a woman before her time, an educator, a feminist, a political and women's rights activist and her stories are severely under documented in the history of Nigeria.
Chief Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was born in Abeokuta on the 25th of October 1900, and she would go on to be the first female student to attend the Abeokuta Grammar School. Her early adult years were spent teaching and organizing some of the first preschool classes in the country, before travelling to London in 1919 to further her studies. The experience was unsavory for her due to the racism she experienced, so she dropped her English names Frances, Abigail and Thomas, and became known as Funmilayo.
In her 40's she formed the Abeokuta Women's Union, bringing together women of all social and economic backgrounds to advocate for their rights and the rights of their communities. Her drive to promote literacy amongst women didn't falter, and using her experience as a privileged woman, she was able to push for women's rights as many of them only ever knew about farming and child bearing. She noticed and began to fight against the series of taxation that the market women were subjected to, the final straw being a colonial tax (parakoyis) enforced by the Alake of Egbaland.
By mid 1947, protesters thousand-strong demonstrated their displeasure by frequently occupying the palace of the Alake, refusing to pay the unfair tax, and circulating petitions to remove the Alake from power. They were forbidden by police authorities to have demonstrations but the AWU rebranded these protests as "picnics" and "festivals" instead. She would train the women how to deal with tear gas cannisters thrown at them, and membership dues were used to sort out legal issues as a result of the protests.
By April 1948, the Alake finally responded to their demands and suspended the unfair taxation and also appointed a special committee to handle the complaints of the AWU. She was given the nickname "Lioness of Lisabi" by the media for the marches she led, the change she enforced, and the many other impressive feats she would later go on to accomplish. Like, the consistent spreading of the message of empowering women and discussing the issues that directly affected the often marginalized group.
In the later parts of her years (early 70's), she would follow her son's example and change her name to "Anikulapo Kuti', removing the European influences from their name. "Anikulapo" means "a hunter who carries death in his pouch/a warrior who carries strong protection". By 1976, Fela had become a thorn in the flesh of the Nigerian government, because he was very vocal about calling out their atrocities and on multiple occasions, armed police would raid his establishments and home. It was during one of these raids on Fela's home property (The Kalakuta Republic), that Chief Mrs Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was thrown from the 2nd-floor window, resulting in injuries that later claimed her life.
Anikulapo-Kuti's story is one of many stories about Nigerian women that have been subject to a lot of erasure from Nigerian history and growing up we only learnt about her as the first woman to drive a car in the country. She was so much more than that, and her steadfast nature for always speaking up in the face of injustice would immortalize her as a pan African visionary and an overall legend.
I would like to see her story explored and documented in befitting formats, because there's no society that can progress without empowering women. Also because civil disobedience has always been a necessary tool to fight against oppressive regulations and disenfranchisement, we owe it to ourselves, and to the people coming after us to unearth this, and similar stories, for the betterment of our society.
So next time you are in Abeokuta, stop by at this prestigious location and learn what you can about the Kuti's, it's an eye-opening experience.