Ayodele Olofintuade is a writer whose work focuses on feminism, Yoruba spirituality and culture, plus LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming communities in Nigeria. They speak to SNACK about their latest work, Lákíríboto, the experience of voicing queerness through a new novel that meshes family saga, mobster-pulp, queer-coming-ofage, and what home is.
Ayodele, what made you want to write a novel about the Yoruba people and Nigeria’s queer/feminist communities?
Before I wrote Lákíríboto, I had been immersing myself in books written by Black women, both in Nigeria and the diaspora. These books, articles, and research are love letters to Blackness, to subverting gender as a social construct. But the seminal works that birthed Lákíríboto were written by Sefi Atta, Helen Oyeyemi, Audre Lorde, Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí, Lola Shoneyin, and Abimbola Adelakun. The divergence is my writing queerness, not as a subversion, but as a state of being.
To establish queerness beyond binaries and boundaries of the ‘norm’, for nature in itself is very queer and I dare say trans, as it is in a constant state of change. I also wanted to establish queerness as a big part of being Yoruba.
The way and manner Éérìndínlógún and Ifá poke fun at imperialist attempts to erase queerness from these cultures. I wanted to establish that trans femmes have always been at the forefront of expanding the meaning of being human; their existence as a pushback against limits imposed on humanity by heteropatriarchal capitalists. Their insistence on claiming the rights and liberties afforded to all of nature.
The idea of ‘home’ is disrupted in multiple ways, especially at the novel’s beginning. How do themes of home, community, and jointedness emerge in Lákíríboto?
Lákíríboto’s concept of home is taken from the design and philosophies of The indigenous peoples of Yoruba, wherein home is not necessarily about buildings or geographies, but about yourself and the people you feel most safe with.
The indigenous peoples of Yoruba live in compound units called agboolé, usually made up of people with common interests living and working together. Since adoption is commonplace, and migration encouraged, one will find members of each agboolé in constant motion. And in the different cities, towns or villages they encounter on their travels, they’ll always find kin.
The Alágbàdo also exemplify how the imperialist notion of kin is an antithesis to this way of thinking, as their idea of home is closely tied to bloodlines, emphasised in their way of defining family along these very strict and binary lines: the nuclear family is made up of a father, a mother and their children. All the Alágbàdo in the story are not necessarily blood relatives, but are considered part of the family due to shared interests. Leaving home for the characters was not the disruptor, but leaving behind safety.
Protagonists Móremí and Kudirat were forced to grow up, to learn cunning and resilience because they couldn’t afford to be vulnerable. On the other hand, Móríebá still has access to Olorí Ebí’s house, to come and go as she pleases because, in spite of the danger he poses to her, she knows she can stand up to him. Home is where you can call out people’s bullshit and get away with it.
Lákíríboto gives the reader many different character voices, emotional stances, and backstories. How was the experience of writing a story through these varied lenses, and did it impact the way in which the final book was shaped?
Originally, the book was meant to be written from a single character’s perspective. The outline had this character, Móríebá, encountering others and recounting their experiences.
Over the three or so years that it took me to complete the book, the POV was turned inside out as it became the experience of a queer woman living in today’s Nigeria through the eyes of those she encounters in a ‘compound family’. Switching perspectives wasn’t so difficult, because by the time the book was published, I had read so many iterations of queer women fighting against or surviving family pressure in an all too familiar setting. It’s always sad and violent.
For once, I wanted other people to experience queerness through their own unique lens, to examine why people act the way they do whenever they encounter overt queerness. I wanted to narrate how society treats women and queerness the way they do.
For once, I wanted to take the burden of explaining queerness off our shoulders and distribute it amongst other players. This singular decision did not only shape the book, but it has also shaped my writing post-Lákíríboto; the way I experience people and the world around me.
What would you like your readers to take away from Lákíríboto?
Anything they make of it is what it is. That it is possible to create worlds within worlds; that there’s no single profound truth or philosophy that can explain the world we live in or the people we will encounter. The only thing I want them to take away is laughter. I want them to enjoy the book and intermittently burst into laughter at the caprices of the characters.