Kabiyesi is dead!- A Tribute to Dejumo Lewis – Peju Akande
Kabiyesi was the King of the make-believe village of Oja in the popular Village Headmaster drama series which aired from 1968 to the early 90s on NTA and its precursor. Dejumo Lewis played the role, and he reprised this role in the recently revived series sponsored by Glo.
Dejumo Lewis who acted as the aged Kabiyesi in the much-loved weekly drama series is dead. He passed away on Saturday 23 December 2023.
Dejumo Lewis embodied the role of a wise and patient king, especially in dealing with the intrigues of his subjects. He was often a cautious voice to his rather impatient and erratic chief adviser, Chief Eleyinmi, played by the late Funso Adeolu.
Dejumo Lewis was in his early thirties when he began playing the elderly Kabiyesi which led many who watched him at that time to assume he truly was an old man, bent over with age. He never wore a crown but the traditional cap, abeti aja was a signature among other accoutrements he came to embody. His quirks, like his laughter and manner of getting himself seated on his throne, were character traits that portrayed him as one rooted in tradition and these endeared him to millions of Nigerians who watched the series.
Dejumo Lewis as Kabiyesi had a manner of laughing when he was amused. His laughter never came out in bursts. As a royal, he had mastered the art of keeping much of his amusement to himself and perfected a special laughter for his role as Kabiyesi. No matter how excited he was, it came out the same way, Ehien, ehin, ehnin…never more than that.
Oloja of Oja spoke with a Yoruba inflection to his English, “Moi people…” instead of “my people” was one expression common to him and used by many today.
He was a king not given to too much display of emotion, though he was kind and patient and always quick to rein in Chief Eleyinmi, who was more rambunctious, erratic and cantankerous. Both characters were always a joy to watch.
The other quirk Dejumo Lewis embodied as Kabiyesi had to do with how he climbed up to his throne in the palace. Making his way into the palace from his inner chamber, he would come out slowly, as if mindful of his age. He would shuffle back and forth twice before climbing the three steps to sit on his throne. These were just a few of the quirks Dejumo Lewis brought to the character of Oloja of Oja and these endeared him to the audience, both old and young.
It was quite a surprise to many (myself included) when we found out that Dejumo Lewis was not an old man.
When I ran into him at an event in Freedom Park, four or five years ago, I was quite surprised he hadn’t aged a day since the last time I saw his photo. He was full of smiles and full of life and happily agreed to take pictures with as many fans as came to him that day.
Waking up to read about his demise at the age of 80 has precipitated a sober reflection on the life of a man we knew more as a wise old king but who was in actual fact, your everyday Nigerian just looking to get on with his life.
Not much is known about Dejumo Lewis beyond his acting as he appeared to have kept his private life very private.
This piece is tribute to Kabiyesi, the Oloja of Oja and a prayer for the repose of the soul of a great man who brought us laughter on TV.