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Friday, March 25, 2011

Ogun festival

Ogun festival. Modern terror or tradition?

You are in your car rushing off to work and then as the traffic picks up and slows, you press your hand on the horn impatiently. You do not want to be late for the all important meeting or it could be just your boss’ bad day and you had decided you were not having any of his tirades today. So you lean out of the car to find out what was keeping the traffic into a standstill then you hear the yell before the apparition appears in front of you. You blink rapidly. What was that? Face in blue , white with palm oil making a streak across a face also half covered by palm fronds, it stands in front of you swaying . A gourd of calabash is tucked at his waist and he is carrying the head of a dog still dripping in its own blood. You swallow and momentarily think you must be having a nightmare but the blasts from the musical band rudely tells you that you are unfortunately awake!!.

You are staring my friend at a devotee of Ogun, the Yoruba god of war and Iron. Under all that goo is maybe a Christian, or a Muslim, but if he is commercial driver, he will be celebrating Ogun between the months of September at different locations within the Yoruba race in the south west part of Nigeria.
Ogun is the patron god of all commercial drivers within the Yoruba race. He is celebrated yearly by all persons who have anything to do with Iron, so this will include mechanics, welders, Iron smithers of any hue and persuasion. The average Yoruba is a deeply spiritual person. Spirituality that has to be separated from religion. He believes that nothing happens by accident. There are set rules and gods that guide his daily thoughts, actions. No matter the level of western civilization , you find him visiting the elders if things do not follow a perceived pattern. The concept of witchcraft, bad medicine or that one could tamper with fate or destiny are issues that the average Yoruba takes in serious consideration.

Thus a belief in Ogun is as natural as a belief in the Almighty for he accepts without question that these gods are merely devoted messengers of the Creator. After all an Oba is referred to as being next in rank to the Creator and thus is seen as the chief priest of all the pantheon of the Yoruba gods. He can therefore not afford the luxury of stating that a different religion has changed his spirituality or affected his belief in the efficacy of the gods.

In Ondo town,one of the prime places that the worship of Ogun gets pride of place, there is a dignified and precise procedure to the celebration of Ogun. But first who is Ogun?
He is the legendary warrior of the Creator who fought several wars to maintain the Yoruba kingdom. He was reputed to be a very good blacksmith clever with forming all types of farm implement. He had a very lively temper and would at the close of day be found taking palm wine. It was said that the other gods like Sango the god of thunder would come to his smithy to ask him to prepare their cutlasses or instruments of war. In fact legend has it that it was in one of those trips that Sango met Oya the wife of Ogun, seduced her and married her. Ogun called him out to a duel but since Sango was the god of thunder he called forth thunder and lightning and won the duel making Ogun furious and churlish.

This is not however about that but how Ogun festival came to be and why it is celebrated. On one of the trips of Ogun from the numerous wars he had been sent to fight, he was thirsty for his favourite palm wine and came across some men playing ayo game. A gourd was standing up by the side, so Ogun assumed there was palm wine to drink and came across to ask for a drink. He lost his cool when he found out that it was an empty gourd. He was so angry that he nearly killed the whole town. He came to his senses only when Olodumare (the Creator) sharply called him to order. He was so remorseful that in repentance he vowed to stand in protection over anyone who had work to do with Iron. He however requested that an empty gourd should be on its side so it could warn him that there was no palm wine.

Devotees of Ogun eat roasted yam with palm oil, streak their faces and wear palm fronds recreating as it were the war dress of Ogun The women will dance in front to the drums of war songs as the men run around in threatening motions doing mock war dances. For the squeamish it is better not to be around as the sights could be disconcerting. A dog is used as sacrifice so dog lovers are advised to keep their dogs on a firm leash.
Some town are quite popular for their celebration of the Ogun festival. These towns make a real festival of it with musical nights on the eve of the festival and parties lasting through to the real day.

Commercial drivers have assumed the status of being the chief celebrants irrespective of individual religion. So you will find garages setting up their programmes There is an understanding that if you worshipped Ogun, you were protected from accidents. The drivers then ride wildly round the streets over loaded and hanging out from windows and car boots, horns blaring faces all types of colors.
Pedestrians, private drivers were sometimes made to pay the right of way on this particular day. If anyone proved obdurate to part with money when accosted, they would splash robin blue of white powder on the person. Sometimes though this could cause trouble if they happen to accost a pedestrian who does not want to part with any money and resists being sprayed with powder.

Ogun worship is one day of playful mayhem that might degenerate into violence if it collides frayed nerves in today’s super material world. Some governments are beginning to see the tourism potential inherent in this festival and are looking at ways to make it spectator friendly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Iroko Spirit

The dawn was still hours away. It was the time to start for the farm. He did not particularly like the practice of waking up this early. It always gave him goose bumps because he was always afraid of meeting the spirits of the Iroko tree who he was told would just be going home into the big Iroko tree by the particular time. He would wonder about what he would do if he was to come across one. Tope never seemed to have any problem as he looked very much like an Iroko spirit anyway. He left the bed reluctantly and still half asleep groped for his basket, and cutlass.

Tope was up slapping away at his face. It was odd, Tope always slapped himself as he wakes every morning. Babatunde had been curious enough to ask him why he did that and Tope had replied that he wanted to confirm that he was still alive. Crazy fellow was his quiet dismissal of that habit. Tope also had the irritating habit of suddenly wiping his face with imaginary cloth while he talked to you. Ige his younger brother told him that Tope was by all accounts a strange fellow. “I mean he could decide to head for the farm all alone himself”. Ige had said with a shrug.

So this morning Babatunde watched as they all moved towards the front door. His mother called a good morning from her bedroom and he grunted his reply. She asked if he would check on her pepper farm, he sighed and wondered if he had the time to go to her pepper farm. They were going to the cocoa farm and it was a ten kilometer walk. He was not keen on taking a detour to the pepper farm. Tope answered for him saying if they finished in time they just might call at the farm adding that she would have to promise that there would be hot pounded yam waiting on their arrival.

His mother laughed a reply back saying he was a poor provider as a husband and bantered with him as she came to the door of her bedroom to bid them goodbye. She always called him her husband as he was the eldest son and her step son. In the culture of his tribe, she was not allowed to call Tope by his given name. Babatunde had refused to call Tope ‘brother’ as they were only six months apart. He didn’t feel six months qualified Tope to be his senior, tradition or no tradition. But Tope didn’t seem to mind, just seemed comfortable with being himself. Short , almost squat, Tope had also not seemed to mind his mental inability to continue with academics.

He just shrugged, slapped his face and said he did not like sitting in a closed place when he could be laying traps or chasing a girl round the farm. He would say that with a wicked grin in the direction of Babatunde. They were opposites in that, Babatunde rarely spoke to girls.
In the evening the brothers, Tope, Babatunde and Ige will tell stories and Tope seemed to prefer stories of the Iroko spirits, which tended to make Babatunde uncomfortable. He did not like the stories though as it tended to give him the creepy feeling that someone was going to get caught one day by these spirits. Each evening as they came home from farm work, Tope will regale them with the exploits of his favorite spirit. Since they usually heard the tales in the dark while they waited for the hunters’ bells to announce the village curfew Babatunde always had problem sleeping.

Most nights, while Tope snored he would be awake going over the fantastic tales of the exploits of these spirits. His world was of spirits, good ones, awful ones and some really rascally ones. He just didn’t like Tope’s penchant for telling them, or his penchant for talking about the spirits of the Iroko tree.
In the dark they made their way to the farm, sometimes in single file when the road got too narrow to the farm. They had to leave this early as they had a long way to walk and you needed your strength and the early dawn ensured you were not going to arrive sweating from the heat of the day. It was a familiar path with farms of families and neighbors along the road. Each time they got to a farm belonging to someone they know they will make farm calls. That is you cupped your hands over your mouth and you gave a long whistle like call. You were not allowed to use normal human language in case any of the spirits happen to be still around. You never called out names nor speak normally as these spirits could copy your voice and use it to your disadvantage or take it to a witch. So you made long whistle like calls and carried out a conversation that way, if the farmer you called was on the farm, he would reply you in the same way.

When Babatunde was younger he had had fun doing the same things as Tope but now older and home on holidays from his boarding school in the city, he had suddenly become self conscious about such ‘pagan’ stuff. He was suddenly embarrassed to use such language. It did not make sense to him and he also did not want to endanger his brothers by using proper language so he kept quiet.
It was family requirement bordering on law that he had to join his brothers to the farm each time he came home on holidays. The family had a large cocoa farm and the only labour required were, the boys and during harvest all members of the family. The wives, children and close relatives. Babatunde knew if he did not join in the cocoa harvesting there would be no money to pay his school fees and any other expenses.
“You are quiet this morning,” Tope remarked looking at him keenly. He returned the look with a shrug and said he just did not feel like yakking so early in the morning “besides I need to conserve my strength” he added.
“This city adventure of yours is making you soft” Tope replied spitting chewing stick saliva to the roadside.

That was another thing he didn’t like. Chewing stick, especially the one made from the branch of bitter leaf. It was always very bitter and he would complain to his mum asking her to get the ‘Ijebu” type but she would insist that the bitter leaf one was good for his health as it had anti-malarial properties.
Suddenly Ige who was in front, froze and stood still. They bumped into him and he signaled furiously for them to be still. In the distance, they saw a moving light. Babatunde’s heart jumped and raced. Ige whispered from an almost strangled throat if they should run. They all three were petrified. It could only be that an Iroko tree spirit was going home and if it met them on the path it would do them harm.
Babatunde’s hands went clammy and he suddenly felt like peeing, his saliva thinned and he shivered. Ige was simply rooted to the spot. Should they pray? To who? He was not sure the Almighty had ever heard of these tree spirits! At least his Bible knowledge teacher never ever mentioned them. The light moved closer and he suddenly became aware that the whole forest path was eerily silent. He had heard tales of Iroko taking its prisoners into the Iroko tree and making them work endlessly. He wanted to be a surgeon. Finish school and get his mother to leave the village. Now he was going to be a slave to an Iroko spirit. He shivered, as the light moved closer. Tope started a chant and he hissed in his ears to shut the hell up so they can make good their escape before the spirit got to them. Ige asked if a cutlass could be effective on a spirit. Nobody answered. Babatunde closed his eyes and suddenly prayed, but to no particular deity.

That was the problem, which deity was he going to ask to protect him from an alien spirit? Someone touched him and he shivered, opened his eyes straight into the face of an old man holding a lantern up and peering at him. He swallowed and stared back at the old man.
He gave a respectful greeting in a thin voice and the man simply nodded giving him a very thorough once over. That unnerved him. The old man said nothing just simply stared. Ige had been standing rigidly straight, staring ahead, eyes almost popping out of their sockets. They all remained like that for a full minute after the old man had passed and then Tope started shivering, his teeth chattered, Babatunde stared at him alarmed.
“What is wrong with you?” He demanded
“You mean you don’t know who we just saw?” Tope asked in an almost strangled voice holding himself and shaking uncontrollably.
“An old man returning from the farm”, Babatunde answered, his own voice thin and shaky
“No, That is the Iroko tree spirit. They say he can change to look like an old man or even a beautiful girl”
“Shut Up”

He knew he was frightened but he was expected to be the educated one and besides that really was an old man not some damned spirit. After all as the story goes these spirits generally tend to have one eye in the middle of their forehead and would be very short with a certain evil look and smell. So he looked at his brothers and sighed trying to sound sophisticated. In a lazy voice he gave Tope and Ige a smile, “you bush boys want a spirit by any means right? that was an old man”
Tope was angry, “so where is he coming from?”
“I do not live with him” he shrugged and looked round. He wished Tope will just crack any of the outlandish jokes so they could move on as they seemed rooted to the spot. His head felt light, and he goose bumps riding all over his skin. He held himself rigid with an effort. Ige was making no pretence about his fright and asked plaintively if they should return home.
Babatunde was brusque asking why they should return home.
Tope looked round and shook his head saying he should have listened to the dream he had and refused to rise that early/ besides there had been the strange calls of the owls all night. All that talk only served to make him nervous and he started walking. That decision galvanized all of them just before Ige looked down and gave a jump high into the air.

They turned round to stare at him, but Ige was pointing at the ground. Tope peered down and jumped into the bush. He missed stepping on a snake. As they whirled they bumped into the old man staring at them, Babatunde could not suppressed a frightened yelp of real terror
There was no need for further arguments as they all turned and ran all the way back to the house. As they got to the front of the house, they saw their dad sitting out calmly sharpening his cutlass. He gave them a startled look and raised his eyebrows.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


ONET’S TALE: My Review

Onet’s tale is a chilling warning of what real evil could be. I never was into sci-fi and definitely this one held me by my short hairs. It grabbed from the first page and refused to let go until the very last. I found the interesting twist at the end more frightening. For I felt Onet was the absolute evil itself. I would not deign to classify it as even near human. I found the way women were portrayed a bit of a hard chew, which being female I guess is understandable. I would like to congratulate Jack for this brilliant work and can only say, in obedience to his statement from the beginning, mankind sows seeds in words, actions and in thoughts and the consequences of such sowing lies at their feet. I would sincerely hope the world will be spared the thoughts of the Khaz.
I ‘met’ Jack Eason on one of the social networking sites, specifically FACEBOOK. He had a contained presence even then and has this brusque vinegar and lime gentleman courtesy towards me. I took a risk, I decided I liked him which may have annoyed him but he was (and still is) unfailingly encouraging and supportive as I submitted my book and waited for the publishers to take a decision. He remained always encouraging and had a deep sense of what I may be going though. His book came out and I was awed but for all I know it was Greek. I read it and yes, that is my review you just read. I have retained my respect for Jack since then knowing full well we are cut from different bands of light. It is thus my pleasure to bring Jack Eason to Center Stage. Please enjoy the interview.
1.Tell me a bit of what you thought of in your younger days as you gazed at the stars?
Like most people from my generation, I grew up as the space race was in its infancy. I still remember the reports when Sputnik was heard beeping for the first time. We all thought it was a wonderful technological achievement at the time. As for my literary preference for science fiction novels and short stories Biola, my imagination was fired by authors like Arthur C Clark. I must admit that it was several years before I got bitten by the astronomical bug. But when I did I spent many happy nights looking up towards the stars, wondering if we were the only sentient beings in the entire universe.
2.It is understood that writers can influence others with what they write, what kind of impact do you want Onet’s Tale to have?
My first published science fiction space opera, at least to me, is nothing more than a story telling the sometimes brutal journey a group of altered beings who become ‘brothers’ take while trying to save the universe from an unseen evil that inhabits several of the many characters during the story. The overall premise of “Onet’s Tale” is a simple one – good versus evil.
3.Sci-fi and fantasy is a heady mix and humanity is portrayed in your novel as being very expendable, could you explain?
Number One – Onet’s Tale is pure science fiction, there is no element of ‘fantasy’. Number Two – In the story I portray humanity as an unwilling pawn in the battle between good and evil. In this particular case, humanity is totally out of its depth. It has no answer to the far more aggressive beings that just happen to use the Earth as their battleground.
4.Will it be right to read you as a woman hater in your portrayal of the totally evil cannibalistic inhuman queen of the Lesbos?
You are so completely wrong on all accounts with this question Biola. The character you speak of was created by the evil genetic manipulation of an entity whose agenda was to take over the entire universe. She was born out of a hellish set of circumstances, who somehow managed, despite everything to survive. Personally I admire her survival instincts. Given her early life, is it any wonder she wound up bitter and angry, and leading a group of female amazons in a world which has reverted back to its most primitive and brutally savage state, hating the men who had contributed to her circumstances in the terrible way they did? So, no Biola I am not a woman hating misogynist in any way shape or form; in fact quite the reverse.
What type of reader did you have in mind when you were writing Onet’s Tale?
Isn’t it obvious – readers of science fiction? The genre has moved on since the early days when sci-fi authors like H.G Wells only ever wrote about space or time travel, decades before we finally sent men to the surface of the moon.
5.Your first book came out when you turned 60, a science fiction fantasy that was well received, however please share why it took you so long to publish?
To correct you on a couple of points – firstly I was sixty-two, secondly as I have said earlier – there is no fantasy element in “Onet’s Tale”. Now as to why it took so long, well like all first time authors I spent years sending hundreds of letters off to literary agents and publishers in the hope that someone within the closed world of mainstream publishing may want to read the product of my blood sweat and tears, largely to no avail. Then some seven years after I had written it, by pure chance I met my future editor on Facebook. The rest as they say is history. “Onet’s Tale” was finally published last year via an up and coming new small press publisher - IFWG Publishing.
6.Is there really a retirement age for writers?
You retire from writing only when you depart this mortal coil Biola, only then.
7.Onet is the classic evil, never really conquered nor defeated and there is the implicit threat that Onet will resurface soon in a more evil sequel, true?
In answer to the first part of the question - Incorrect! Onet (the story teller) is waiting for the evil he seeks to arrive so that he can remove it once and for all. To answer the second part of the question - I have moved on since writing “Onet’s Tale” and I can say I have absolutely no plans now or in the future to write a sequel.
8.Please give us an insight into your writing schedules and how you cope.
My writing day starts around 9am after I have caught up with my emails and consumed a large pot of coffee. On a good day I may write as much as five thousand words, but days like that are few and far between. Usually I tend to write on average two thousand words from 9am till around 3pm every day, spending most of the time reworking a particular sentence or paragraph until I am relatively happy with it. Of course as the author of the piece you know that that is only the beginning once you have placed it under your eagle eyed editor’s highly critical gaze. As to the second part of your question – coping doesn’t even enter the equation. If you are driven to write, then that is what you do.
9.Every writer has a worry..the writer’s block. Have you ever experienced it and how did you deal with it?
Yes on many, many occasions. My current project is a good case in point. For nearly two months, up until a few days ago, I sat staring at my computer screen re-reading the manuscript trying to decide where it was that I wanted my characters to go next, both physically and mentally and emotionally, within the context of the storyline.
10.How is the book doing in the market?
Like all first time novels, “Onet’s Tale” is doing as well as can be expected. If you are asking will I retire on the royalties – definitely not? I’m just happy that other human beings across the world have read it and either enjoyed it, or like yourself, been obviously confused by it Biola as evidenced by some of your previous questions. Perhaps you should re-read it.
11.What can writers do to boost sales of their books especially first time authors?
I can only speak from my own particular set of circumstances Biola. I make a lot of use of social platforms like Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, not only to promote my work, but also that of my fellow authors within IFWG’s stable. In this day and age the Internet is growing at such a mind-blowing rate of knots that far more people look for books via the internet than they do in their local bookshop or library.
Thank you for coming on Centre stage.

Spot Poetry

She sat there
her withered cheeks
hollowed eyes
bloodied rag covered feet
and empty begging bowl
as the line thinned out
we cleared the dishes
of choice food
she shuffled over
stretched out her bowl
and looked up
in the ensuing silence
her eyes told
of the neglected past.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Numen..Imole Ife

One holiday, Ife met Lucas. Dark, small and with all the dreams of a young brave he offered his cardigan when he sensed Ife was chilled by the cold harmattan wind. They had both stared at each other in some faint recognition and just naturally started talking. Tinuade had been miffed, jealous that Lucas could communicate in English far better than her. Ife just accepted Lucas and they became a trio after that going to places together with Lucas playing the brave around Ife, telling her about the stories and myths of the village. He would speak quietly, rarely laughed just simply smiled in something amused him.
One day they called for Lucas and was told by a half hysterical mother that they could not rouse him. She was screaming with anxiety and pleading with the gods that no one should take her child from her. She begged no one in particular that they could please take her life instead as that was her only child. In tears she recounted how she had given birth eleven times and was left with only this one son. It was painful watching her rolling on the floor, tears streaming from her eyes and begging the gods not to take her only surviving child and only son. Other wives in the compound cried along with her as the men tried to revive Lucas. Someone held Lucas head and feverishly recited incantations. Ife was still watching while Tinuade stared terrified. Abruptly, she whirled round looking for the kitchen. In most homes the well was usually in the kitchen area. Ife went to the well and fetched water which she dipped her finger in it and stirred then determinedly took it outside pouring it around. The men carried a still limp Lucas and were going to put him on bench close to logs of fire, when Ife let out a cry stopping them. She pushed Lucas away from the seat he was about to placed and poured what was left of the bowl of water on his face. His mother screamed at her in horror saying Lucas needed the warmth of the fire. Ife however seemed intent on her own remedy and paid scant attention, just doused him with water
They tried to pull her away but she struggled and held on to Lucas. Slowly he opened his eyes and stared straight at her. She smiled and held his hands he turned and vomited some small amount of liquids with black streaks. Everybody stared at the vomit as it had quite a lot of strange objects. His mother stopped screaming just as his distended stomach went slowly down. In the ensuing silence, Lucas closed his eyes and slept. No one said anything as Ife got up and followed meekly by Tinuade headed back to her home.
When they got to her house, Grandmother was at the door seething with rage. She hissed at Ife
“You interfering stupid girl, that was none of your business”
Ife gave her grandmother a long look but said nothing.
Tinuade was puzzled and she was about to explain to the old woman when she received a warning look from Ife.
Ife quietly bade her friend goodbye and sidestepping her grandmother went up the stairs to her father’s room.
Yeye came to visit the next morning. It was the first time in a long while that she came. Ife simply stared at the young woman who was sitting calmly watching her. Yeye was not exactly a stranger to her. They had been friends for a long while. Ife had been used to seeing Yeye around but never went to the grove shrugging that she was too civilized and educated to spray herself with chalk or mark up her skin. Yeye would laugh that no one is marked by Yeye but it never became an argument.
Ife liked Yeye for she seemed comfortable about her religion, would sit in her house breaking melon seeds or cook cotton seed soup. She led the annual virgin dance and Ife would tease that there were no more virgins in the village except baby girls. Yeye never lost her temper but would smile and give Ife a long look. But she always made a point of visiting Ife calling her the educated lady and both will gently tease each other.
Her mother was always tense whenever Yeye visited or would hurry off to a vigil and that pretension was beginning to get on her nerves sometimes. When she opened her eyes and saw Yeye, Ife assumed she had heard of what had happened the previous night and was amused. She waited for Yeye to bring it up then remembered that Yeye rarely spoke of such things. So she smiled in real pleasure at seeing her friend.
Yeye brought out a white cowrie shell, and placed it calmly in her open palms, a small earthen pot of honey, and water.
“What should I do with the shell I like it.” Ife asked smiling completely at ease. “might be nice as a bracelet. Look properly African”
Yeye shrugged, “it would be whatever you like I think”
Ife picked the cowrie shell and turned it over slowly feeling its smoothness and suddenly feeling peaceful.
There was no need for conversation between them, Yeye gave her water mixed with the honey, Ife accepted it and drank. She still held the cowrie. Ife was curious and asked questions about the grove. Yeye smiled and said she could come and visit whenever she felt. Ife made a face that she did not want to be a traditional worshipper and teased the priestess.
“Guess what. Could I have six more beads so it is a perfect seven?”
“Okay, will bring the bracelet in the evening. I have to go now, just came round to see you.”
“or more properly to ask me what happened last night?”
“If you feel like telling me I will listen”
Ife looked into space for a long time, then sighed,Yeye sighed too and stood up.
It was not yet time.