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.