Afonja – the Rise is an epic story by Tunde Leye. It’s based on a true story about how Afonja who is an actual Yoruba historical figure rose to being an iconic war general in the Oyo Empire. Set in 19th century Oyo Kingdom, we also follow some other characters, some fictional and others iconic to Yoruba history.

The Yoruba kingdom has just seen the chaotic exit of their Alaafin Gaa and to save the Kingdom from threat of war from other kingdoms looking to take advantage of their lack of leadership, they interrogate Yoruba tradition and history with respect to selection of an Alaafin. Aole is chosen as the king to be, however, his selection brings short lived reprieve from wars as the King makers are soon thrown into turmoil following repercussions for Alaafin Aole’s dictates.

As told by Tunde Leye in this story, we see characters pursuing their own political or altruistic agenda, most notable is Alimi who is an actual historical Fulani figure.

African Tradition

There’s a wealth of African tradition and history in this novel. There is a moderately complicated web of betrayal here but underneath all the intricacy of human relationships and emotions, there is a strong tide of Yoruba tradition. I learnt a little about courtship the old Yoruba way. Marriage, coronation, reverence of traditional rulers and their hierarchical system. And yes, even dethronement.


The relationship between Agbonrin and his soon-to-be wife Labake, challenged the myth about marriage by betrothal being loveless. We get a sneek peek into the Yoruba marriage rites that were also adopted for the marriage between Abudu and Jemima.

Woman Enfranchisement.

I thought I should save this for last because it is one of my favourite themes in this book. In Afonja: the Rise, Tunde Leye serves us a good dose of compelling female characters from the Olori Abike to Omolabake – the Ogbomoso woman, as Agbonrin called her when she first caught his eye. To me Labake brought balance to the dynamics toppled by Olori’s influence. Where Abike brought fueled Alaafin Aole’s despotic tendencies, Labake countered turmoil that would have destroyed the Oyo Kingdom with her calm wisdom and subtlety.

Best of all were the women in this novel. They were phenomenal!

What do I think of Afonja: The Rise?

  • An excellently told story of Afonja. Of course, Afonja and Alimi, as history now testifies, are the more eminent anti-heroes in the history of Ilorin but all characters were related without judgement. The reader is left to make up his own mind about who they thought was wise or foolish, good or bad, hasty slow or just sly.
  • I liked Afonja as a character in this story as he was most human. Regardless of his errors, he utilized his war experience to traverse the slippery political landscape in the Oyo Kingdom.
  • For Alaafin Aole, I’m curious to hear – if you’ve read this novel – do you think he was a despot? I mean would you rather have a king who is a puppet to his council than one who thought for himself – for good or bad?
  • Best of all were the women in this novel. They were phenomenal! Even Alimi confessed that he underestimated the influence of Aole’s wife so much that he had not anticipated certain outcomes in that regard. Of course, Labake saved her husband and Oyo with her wisdom.

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