Sunday, October 30, 2011


I grew up with this proverb, “Iko rita meta, idamu alejo,” i.e. A crossroad is the predicament of a visitor/stranger. And each time I heard it, I had this image of a stranger arriving in the metropolis that was Ibadan of my childhood from my grandmother’s small village in Ekiti, and he would be in the traditional four piece suit of Fila, Agbada, Buba and Sokoto all of which were made of Aso Oke and he would have a horse tail in his hand. He would be standing at an intersection with three, four or more roads meeting and he would be reeling around and around and around in confusion while waving the horse tail, perhaps to ward off the ever present flies, or, to maybe clear the fog that he thinks its in his mind for he knew he was in a quandary.

Why this image? I grew up in a household ruled by my maternal grandmother who missed her small village very much and so most of her discourses were about this nostalgia. And her relatives did come down often to visit bringing with them lots of yams, some vegetables, chickens and a goat once in a while along with lots of stories about the happenings in the village and these, my grandmother would savor with relish. The relatives in turn would be overwhelmed with the city teeming with zillions of people and so many roads and vehicles, and my grandmother in turn would reassure them.

There were other references to crossroads as well, I remember walking to my elementary school with my twin brother early in the mornings, and on arriving at certain crossroads in our neighborhood we would find pieces of broken clay pots, and in some of the larger pieces would be a peculiar combination of stuff—palm oil, a coin, dead rat, chicken skull, some large feather belonging to some bigger bird like a hawk, and once we saw the head of a dog, at another time, the eye of a big animal, and usually some precious beads like corals and other weird and bizarre combinations of things. Each time we see this, I would freak out as I felt my head expand and contract, and as we had been warned several times by my superstitious grandmother and other housemaids, we would give the offering, for that was what they were a wide berth as we hurried along on our way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oriki is ‘The Call of the Head.’

It is poetry loved by the Yoruba of Western Nigeria and perhaps other parts of Africa and had been taken by the black race into the Diaspora because a vestige of it was featured in the movie “Ali,” in which the character of Drew Bundini Brown played by Jamie Foxx, repeatedly sang poetry to Mohammed Ali before, during and after his fights, calling on Ali’s ‘head.’ There is a poignant scene in which Ali had kicked Brown off his entourage after he admitted to selling Ali’s championship belt on the street for $500 to feed his heroin addiction, Brown shows up to beg for his job back and he was clean of drugs; Ali relents when he starts the call of the head poetry—“Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee,” and the two of them finished the poem in unison.

At the lips of talented orators, it is something to behold. An example was the Premier of Western Nigeria in the early 1960s Chief S.L. Akintola all of whose political speeches be it state of the union address, canvassing for votes, cursing out his enemies, or lauding his supporters were poetic orations powerful enough to hypnotize a person.

Oriki includes family history, praise, warnings, admonishments and admirations. It is not flattery, but based on real accomplishments and failures of the family. It goes back many generations, thus each family has the Oriki unique to them. It is sang for a person usually by his parents and loved ones in times when he/she is depressed, challenged, going through trials or tribulations, or after the person has accomplished something remarkable like moving from one threshold to another, or as an appeal to the person. If the individual is in despair, it reminds the person whom he is, where he came from, and where he is hoping to go. It is one of the rituals to accompany the person through the challenging tasks of life and for him/her to know that others have faced the challenges before and have succeeded.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forgiveness: According to Nelson Mandela

I put Nelson Mandela up there amongst the gods, as a contemporary of Prometheus. “Civilization begins with a rebellion. Prometheus, one of the Titans, steals fire from the gods on mount Olympus and brings it as a gift to man, marking the birth of human culture. For this rebellion Zeus sentences him to be chained to Mount Caucasus where vultures consume his liver during the day and at night it grows back only to be again eaten away the next day. This is a tale of the agony of the creative individual, whose nightly rests only resuscitates him so that he can endure his agonies the next day. But note also that Prometheus is released from his sufferings only when an immortal renounces his immortality in Prometheus favor. This Chiron does. What a vivid affirmation of human life, one of the essential characteristics of which is that each one of us will some day die! It is saying: I willingly give up immortality to affirm humanity; I am willing to die in order to affirm human civilization.” Rollo May, Power and Innocence.

Mandela did steal ‘fire’ from the gods and gave it to the humans of the 20th century and as such he increased our level of consciousness in our dealings with one another regardless of the color of our skins and I know that race relations in the world since then has improved.

The history of South Africa has fascinated me since I was in secondary school and in the late 1970s there was a massive influx of black South African students into our schools, this was Nigeria’s way of helping the disenfranchised South African blacks. The five students that ended up in my school had left home, family and friends behind. At the time, I was still struggling with the feelings of abandonment from my parents who I felt had banished me to boarding school at the age of 12, but I still saw them about once a month, on vacations and holidays, I wondered how these students fared without seeing their parents for years and some of them swore never to return to apartheid South Africa.