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ALTHOUGH she was born in humble and inauspicious circumstances in the rural Ilu Ola community of Kwara State on October 10, 1960, veteran Nollywood actress, Mrs. Folake Aremu, popularly known as ‘Orishabunmi’, had become one of the best known and beloved stars in the Yoruba theatre and movie industry by the time of her death on January 5, at the age of 60. Her impact both in the movie industry and the country’s cultural life, particularly among her teeming fans within and beyond the South West of Nigeria far exceeded her modest educational background. Orishabunmi had her primary school education at Eruku in Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State and later attended Eruku Commercial College after she worked as a teacher for two years before blooming magnificently in the theatre and movie world.
Orishabunmi’s rise to stardom in her chosen field of endeavour was largely due to her late husband, the multitalented artist, actor, dramatist, sculptor, playwright, film writer and director, Jimoh Aliu, who discovered her talent and mentored her. Although the couple had been separated for over two decades before Aliu’s death last September, Orishabunmi continued throughout her life to gratefully acknowledge his role in her career trajectory.
However, despite the influence of Jimoh Aliu on her career development, Orishabunmi had always harboured an intense passion for theatre ever before she met him. In her words, “I got into theatre because I have a natural flair for it. Nobody asked me to go into it. I am an ardent lover of theatre. Whatever we take interest in would give us fulfillment… I gave it full attention. I put my best into it and God supported me”. She soared into theatre stardom in the 1980s, particularly for her role in the popular television series “Arelu” created by Jimoh Aliu in which she starred as ‘Orishabunmi’. The versatile actress played unforgettable roles in several other Yoruba movies such as ‘Ayanmo Eda’, ‘Oluwerimagoojo’, ‘Agbaarin’ and ‘Yanponyanrin’.
Orishabunmi who won the best actress of the year award for seven years between 1986 and 1992 was not discouraged or disheartened by the fact that the height of her career success was in the 1980s and early 1990s and that new stars had risen to prominence in the industry. Reflecting humbly and philosophically on her career, she said “I give all the glory to God. Others are now making waves and definitely another generation will come after the ones that are reigning presently. What this says is that time changes; and change is permanent in life”. The rise of a new generation also reflects the evolution of Yoruba movies that entailed new genres that reflect more modern experience shorn of the fetish plots and settings of her forte.
Giving an insight into her obviously favourite role of priestess with magical powers, which she utilised, for good, in films, the actress said, “…my father’s family is prominent as masqueraders while my mother’s family is into Osun deity. I know so much about the two. I lived with my grandmother. That helps me to be grounded in the knowledge of traditional rendition. I was born into it. My elder sisters are also gifted in this area and they can also do as much as I do. All the glory goes to God”.
Acknowledging Orishabunmi’s abundant talent, the National President of the Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Bolaji Amusan, said, “It is so sad we lost a priceless jewel, a very rare gem in the Nigerian film industry…If oratory is the masterful art, the world will surely miss Orishabunmi for her talent”. He described the actress as “an orator who would perfectly chant eloquently with her resounding sonorous voice”.
The movie world will miss Mrs. Folake Aremu not just for her eloquence and depth in Yoruba language and spirituality, but also for her arresting beauty and dignified carriage. The Orishabunmi character, which she popularised and personalised, has no doubt taken on a timeless life of its own that continues to live after her. May her soul rest in peace.