Sango the god of thunder was held in healthy respect in her village and you were not allowed to swear in his name in a trivial manner. One of the things her mother used to tell her was she should not stand in the doorway while it rained as that might irritate Sango if he was on a mission. You could appeal to Sango if you wanted to catch a thief or someone had refused to tell the truth about something and it was important, because if you lied, you would get an answer within seven days. At least that was the story Tinu told her.
Ife had been skeptical until one lazy afternoon, during a previous visit when she had heard a scream and rushed out. The day had started innocently dry and sunny with no hint of rain in the wind nor in the sky, then a slight breeze had started and while still sunny some showers of rain had started to fall. Suddenly a loud rumble and flash of lightning, the rain stopped as the screams came.
Lying on the ground with a bag of cocoa beans on his chest had been a pastor. It was clear what had happened. He had stolen the bag of beans and the victim had appealed to Sango. No one could touch the body in obedience to the custom, her grandmother was sent for and she started up drums and songs, to summon the devotees who soon joined her. They had to search for Sango’s axe round the victim and they danced watched by crowd as they searched for the axe, when they found it they needed a black smith to extract it from the ground, so they took the man to the blacksmith. Sango was a blacksmith in his earth days when he lived as a man before he became a god so blacksmiths were always consulted on anything that had to do with him. However the devotees found the axe just a few meters away.
Ife had stared awed by the whole drama. Just before the pastor finally died, the devotees revived him and asked him to explain what had happened to him, he confessed to stealing the bag of cocoa beans, the Sango priests were asked to conduct the funeral by a shame faced congregation. Ife had wondered a lot about traditional religion and became hesitant about seeing it as a joke.
She remembered that her Dad had said religion was a matter of faith, experiences and conviction. He had said those who practiced traditional religion believed it and it worked for them. He just wished to be left alone because he felt it was presumptuous attempting to describe a Creator or the concept of one. She did not really know what he meant but she had nodded in some dim understanding.
There was also her mum who insisted that the world was full of evil spirits and could only be overcome by constant prayers, fasts, and seeing visions. She would light candles everywhere, refuse to drink palm wine or even water that was in bowl that had contained palm wine. Will pray into water to make them holy or sanctify them as she said. Her father would tease that the savior she followed took the occasional bottle or else why would he make casks of wine from water? Ife would be afraid to laugh with her father because of her mother’s scandalized expressions and pursed lips of intense disapproval.
To top all these religious pot, there is Yeye, easy going and her unforced acceptance of the human being, her simple practical healing. She was a devotee of Numen, the goddess of Love and Mercy, of women, childbirth and the patron goddess of her village. The village simply accepted Yeye and would visit her, for advice on what to do during pregnancy, children fevers, or the odd marital issues. She had learned all that from Yeye Agba and Yeye herself. Religion is really personal, like papa says, imagine the many different versions even in one family and oh yes there is Uncle Sasa and of course father Abraham.
Those were the patterns and experiences that shaped Ife’s holidays in the village. She could look forward to them and she gradually became really close to Yeye Agba as they would sit out most evenings in the moonlight and Yeye Agab would tell her stories about the gods and goddesses. She learned that the goddess Numen had been worshipped because she protected the village from invaders. As Yeye Agba explained, “Numen was a very beautiful and young maiden who had led the invaders away from her village saying the village men were hiding in the surrounding hills. She led them to the caves in the hills and then called on her spirit friends to seal the caves. The men could not find their way out and presumably perished in the caves. In gratitude they asked her what she wanted in recompense and she said the girls must go up the hills as a coming of age rite”
“Oh that is the meaning of the “airegbe”? Ife asked
“Yes Ife, every girl must go to the grove of Numen, learn the secrets of being a woman and be part of the virgin dance. If she lies about her virginity, she will be unable to climb and her family would be disgraced and she would not get a husband, it is that simple”.
“Did Mama make it up the hill?”
“Even to her wedding night, they brought her cloth to me Ife”.
“Her bridal bed sheets, appropriately stained, your father met her at home.”
Ife laughed, “I need a special translator to understand you sometimes, you mean Mama was virgin right?”
“I hope you will follow the same tradition”
“I hope you are not expecting me to marry a village farmer”
“A farmer is a human being Ife”, Yeye Agba said sharply and Ife laughed unrepentant
“I am not asking anyone to pinch walls for me that is sure” she retorted but her face showed she was teasing her grandmother.
Ife would watch as women brought their children to Yeye Agba, she would smile gently, take the child’s palms and speak to it. She understood the speaking to the palm as divining what the ailment was and deciding what the remedy would be. Ife was always curious and would ask questions after the mother and child have left, she also noticed that her mother never objected but would join in some of the consultations helping the mother to feel at ease. It is like attending a clinic.