Joseph Olabiyi Babalola Yai died on Sunday 5th December in his Benin Republic home at the age of 80.
African Humanities has lost a solid pillar.
Olabiyi Yai was a specialist in African literatures and languages, literacy, oral poetry, alphabetization and the cultures of the African diaspora.
Born to Benenoise Yoruba parents in Sabe, capital of the Sabe Yoruba kingdom of Benin he was the only child of his parents.
He received early education at the Protestant Methodist School
Sabe, and the Sabe Regional School, Benin. He went to the Lycée Victor Colonne
In Port Novo for secondary school.
He has B.A. from the University of the Sorbonne (France). He also had a Linguistics degree from UI.
Yai, as he was fondly known professionally, had a productive career as a university teacher at the University de Benin, University of Ibadan, University of Ife & the University of Florida. He has held professorships in Benin, Nigeria, Brazil, Japan US & the UK.
He was a polyglot and eminently proficient and comfortable enough to study and write academic papers in Yoruba, English, French and Portuguese, apart from a number of other languages he spoke.
For a number of years, he was Ambassador Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Benin to UNESCO. He ultimately went on to be elected as the chairman of the executive board of UNESCO.
In his time as Ambassador to UNESCO, Yai was a Member of the World Heritage Committee, the Committee of the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC). He also served on the International Scientific Committee of the Slave Route Project.
He was a member of the Jury for the designation of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage as well as for the Melina Mercouri and Simon Bolivar Prizes. He was also a Trustees of the Africa World Heritage Fund (AWHFD).
In the 70s, he worked as a Consultant for culture and language policy in Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Togo and Mozambique.
K’a to ti erin o di inu igbo nla…
Babalola, omo l’eyin ‘Fatunbi Verger, awo Soyinka, ma ma ba won je ekolo o.
Olabiyi, omo Asipa, omo Olamilekan, omo oniSabe, sun’re o.
He will be greatly missed but warmly embraced by the ancestors!