Dejumo Lewis is a Nigerian television and film actor famous for his iconic role as Kabiyesi in the classic drama The Village Headmaster, Nigeria’s longest-running television series shown on NTA from 1968 to 1988.
The series is a typical village setting with all its trappings: the meek, the wise; the cantankerous, rumour mills, the local medicine storeman who would like to be called a doctor and others. The series is written with plot lines dealing with social problems and the effect of government policies on the local people of Oja.
When the signature tune sounds, it is unmistakable. It was the popular Yoruba primary school rhyme: “Teacher ye, a fe lowa nkan je, omo oniresi ti de…” Immediately, children from the neighbourhood would race to the few houses with black and white CRT TVs.
Very few houses had colour TVs in those days. The children would sit on the floor, quietly watching intrigues as they unfold in The village Headmaster, whose castes were all stars in their right. As soon as it was over, the children retreated to their respective homes, discussing the episode they had just watched.
Lewis was in his late 20s when he joined the Village Headmaster castes and played the role of the Kabiyesi, The Oloja of Oja. He played the role so well that one would think he was indeed old. His characteristic gait: bent over with age and wearing the traditional Yoruba flowing agbada and an abeti aja cap.
He is always clutching the traditional flywhisk called “ìrùkẹ̀rẹ̀, the insignia of office. His short laughter heh heh heh; the geriatric slide to sit on his throne – He would shuffle back and forth twice before climbing the flight of stairs as if to gain acceleration to reach the throne.
His role was that of the mediator in conflict resolutions in concert with Chief Eleyinmi, played by the late Funso Adeolu and employing wisdom in the handling of the cantankerous Counselor Balogun, played by Wole Amele, and the handling of other intrigues of the village. When he speaks English in his Kabiyesi role, it was with the raw Yoruba accent of a semi-literate ruler, which he played very well.
Dejumo Lewis was born in 1943 in Ekiti, southwestern Nigeria. He began his career behind the scenes, first as a programmer and later as a producer/director.He had his primary education at the Holy Cross Primary School in Lagos Island and St. Gregory’s College, Lagos for his secondary school.
He wanted to be a Priest but later changed and went for his Master’s degree at the University of Ibadan to study Communication Arts. He joined the “Village Headmaster” cast as a freelance actor but later offered the role of Kabiyesi, the wise and benevolent king who presided over the fictional village of Oja.
For 20 years (1968 to 1989), Lewis “reigned” as Kabiyesi of Oja witnessing the evolution of Nigerian television alongside the changing tapestry of the nation until it rested. He was a man in the tube, yet also known for his memorable performances in acclaimed films such as “A Place in the Stars” (2014), “Power of 1” (2018) and “Crossroads” (2020).
The icon lamented in an interview with the Punch newspapers that despite his pensions, he is just another famous Nigerian, struggling to make ends meet. He died on Saturday 23, December 2023 after a brief illness at the age of 80.What’s your thought about this?Kindly like, comment, follow and share.