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Monday, January 30, 2012

The gods do not speak English

The gods do not speak English!
Biola Olatunde
I have been watching football.No matter our troubles, fuel subsidy removal, corrupt politicians and extremists, football brings us close together and we laugh , agonize and scream while the game lasts. You can also be very sure that for the duration of the game, we are tribeless. So Saturdays are happy days as husbands abandon homes to head for stadia or a clubhouse to watch the round leather game as the men call it. The wives take time off to do their hair in the million braids or whatever fancy name we live by.  Now from my younger days I have always being amazed at our insistence that a side cannot win a football match fair and square. We insist that they must have gone to the gods to appeal. We defend our goal posts with magical art and some are known to have incisions cut into the goal scoring feet to make them invincible to the other side. This is a very serious issue during the rains when the professional league is on efforts are redoubled that the rains can only fall on their own terms. So rain is not allowed to fall on Saturdays. It is a firm conviction. My sons reminded me of what had happened when Nigeria hosted the U-17 FIFA World cup some years ago. I recalled we also then had forgotten our frustrations with electricity, water, and practically any form of amenity we hoped would make life bearable. I do not like football because I simply think it is silly watching twenty two able bodied males chase a round leather on a field that could be put to better use. And with some thousands hollering and making all types of gestures. My family will groan if they read this. I am not writing about that actually but something interesting as the papers reported the matches daily.
 There was one interesting report from my Eastern daily, that paper that a match had to be postponed in one of the venues because the field was water logged. There were groans, frustrations and pontifications about our efficiency or lack of. After all, people argued that we had fair notice that some people were coming to play from other countries so how come we did not make enough preparations? What struck me and caught my attention was a piece of news tucked away in one of the pages of that daily, it gave reasons on why the field was water logged. The reporter suggested that we might have been able to watch the football if we had done some of the precautionary things any self- respecting organizer in the south east takes into consideration. We should have made use of the services of the rainmaker! I blinked when I saw that piece, looked again, in fact I went for my glasses because you never know I may have been imagining this, but no, there it was in black and white!
We had that problem for two reasons, the reporter wrote, one reason was the governor who should have contracted the astro turf to a professional had been parsimonious and in his penny pinching endeavor had given the contract to someone who could not do the job properly! The other reason the reporter gave was that the organizers had not thought fit to invite the rain makers to ensure that they will be no rain on match days. He pointed out reasonably enough that the rain makers were pissed off and so had ruined the match for everyone. I bent over laughing, years later I still remember and chuckle because it underlined one very important thing for me. No matter how educated we claimed to be or enlightened , or westernized, scratch a typical Nigerian and you will find he takes his traditional religion seriously.
If he seeks medical help for his ailments, and it does not seem to be working for him, he will return to the elders to ask the priests to divine for him.
You will find in every street corner women selling herbal remedies and until recently they were a regular feature of every garage. Men seeking to get married, and women looking for prince charming will as an insurance quietly visit a diviner to read the stars to enhance their marital chances.
So this Saturday, as my sons got ready to demand a refund for their money from the charlatan priest, I also recalled that for them the services of the rainmaker was very vital to the soccer success. I smiled as I also recalled what had happened when I showed that same paper to my friend and a cousin who were visiting. Well, my friend looked at me like she would humour a silly child and asked if I was not aware of the importance of rain makers for any important event. “Haven’t you noticed that rain hardly falls on Saturdays”? She asked with eyebrows raised at me for my ignorance. I said I had not paid it any particular attention, She shook her head at me in pity. “Saturdays are party days, when we get married, bury own relatives, parents, or turn over the bones of those who had departed some twenty years before or more. This is the season and no one was going to allow some silly rain put a spanner in the preparations! Thus the prudent event manager will add the cost of the services of rain maker to his bill for you. It goes under the innocent title of ‘contingency’”
What I found odd was that no one seemed surprised about rain maker story. I asked my friend and cousin if they really believed in the ability of someone to hold off rain from falling and they laughed at me saying my ‘book knowledge’ had made me silly. This is Africa, they reminded me and of course it is quite possible to hold off rain if you had an important thing to do like an international football event, and what were the organizers thinking allowing rain to fall so that they lose face? Hmm.
What has civilization done for us really and truly I wonder? We are neither truly African nor properly westernized as our deeply ingrained culture comes to the fore at the slightest puff of trouble. If we really can stop rain at will, shouldn’t we export this art for the benefit of those countries that experience tornadoes, tropical thunderstorms. Monsoon et al? My cousin stared at me and shook his head in real sympathy for me. Then he intoned in a tone that brooked no dissension.
‘the gods do not speak English!’
My friend chimed in, “neither do the gods understand a bride with wrong colour”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Numen Yeye: The Rationale

My up- coming novel Numen Yeye , all things being equal should be out in print very soon. My friends have always asked me why did I call it by that name and what does it mean really? I have thus decided it might be a nice way to start introducing you to my character Imole Ife who may or might not be a human being. In the concept of my Western friends, they will find our customs strange and even bewildering but my fellow Africans and particularly fellow compatriots will be truly at home. I am Nigerian, Yoruba of the south West part of the country. It is an exciting part of Nigeria, and more so because you see I come from there.
The Yoruba race we claim is as old as time, as complicated, simple and exciting. We are ruled almost solely by our religion which is the Ifa religion. We are guided by its laws, its spiritual concept and ethos. We say that four hundred light beings escorted the Creator from the heavens down in the forming of terra firma. From these four hundred, you have your pick of gods and goddesses that will do us proud in the pantheon and probably give the Greeks pantheon stiff competition.
Every aspect of the life of the Yoruba man is ruled by the supreme Being , assisted by the pantheon. Once scandalized my mother when I flippantly called them, the ruling council of gods and goddesses, she was sharp in her reprimand that the light beings were not be trifled with nor did I have the luxury of being irreverent about them..
The Ifa oracle was and still is consulted on every aspect of the human existence. We would not give a child just any name, but must check with the oracle to know the child’s pre-destiny and/ or fate. Since we live a fairly seamless existence with our ancestors and never feel that an actual separation occurs during death so it is with the incoming incarnating being we give birth to, and rear. In this context are we to understand the concept of “ABIKU” literarily translated to mean ‘one who is born to die’. The ‘Abiku” is believed to be a group of near ethereal humans who can incarnate and die at will. They are generally dreaded and every respecting woman prays not to attract the attention of such a being. Modern science today has explained what really had been happening but that science is not comparable to hundreds of years of belief and agony.
Ifa priests are called in as soon as a woman suffers from recurring infant mortality to find out if she has attracted the attention of one. Divinations are called for. Appeals are made to the child to tell its spiritual affiliates that it has decided to stay and live out a proper course of existence and would not keep a predetermined date of death again. A child who is confirmed to be an ‘abiku or emere’ is assumed to have incarnated with a ‘pact stone’ which would have been hidden in some place, known only to the child.
This ‘pact stone’ is what the Ifa priests would try to cajole the child to give up in the form of promises to the child that it will receive kind care and consideration. If the child refuses or denies knowledge of being an abiku, the next child  was given very insulting names intended to shame the spiritual partners to reject the status of the child as a spiritual member thus bringing about an expulsion from the group.

There is also the ‘emere’ who is believed to be far worse than the ‘abiku’. While the abiku is generally regarded as a stress on the emotional and finacila resources of an afflicted household, the emere is a different class. The emere is definitely assumed to be a spiritual being that has at its disposal wealth, fame, and beauty which it can dispense at its discretion to any home it incarnates into. It is understood that an emere is temperamental, is conscious of its dual personality and can experience human and spiritual realms simultaneously within minutes.

As a young girl growing up , I was aware of these influences on my village. I had friends, relatives who were suspected or assumed to be either of these beings. I had also observed how withdrawn most of them were particularly if they should fall ill because they would be generally ignored. I started wondering about the stigma, the sense of remoteness and bewilderment they must be going through.
Years later enlightenment came to some of my generation that lack of proper medical education and care may have been the cause of the ‘abiku’ syndrome but the emere still goes through that silent accusation and stigma.
Interestingly, women were prone to being labeled as emere and some of the symptoms were given as if the person is too beautiful, is light skinned and above all given to shifts in temperament. I came across some of my Western friend who had what their medical science would call bi-polar. I became intrigued because that person in my village would simply have been judged as an emere.
The emere is powerful, more powerful than witches and could make or mar the financial potential of anyone they were interested. They were assumed not be really interested in marital longevity as they already had ‘spiritual homes complete with family et al.
I thus decided to bring all these into one mix in a young girl whom I called IMOLE IFE. I decided to ask questions through her. I am intrigued that my people are comfortable about the concept that certain human incarnations may have more mission to it than is ordinary. I decided to probe what would happen if sometimes a really light being, beneficial and benevolent incarnates amongst my people and is regarded as an emere. I decided to explore the confusion, pain, and sense of stigma that an emere would experience. Could we really have light beings visit the Earth with a mission to help? Could we grasp the lesson they would have brought and how much they would be willing to dispense of the Grace? Numen Yeye explores that through the emerging understanding of Numen Yeye who finally sees herself as a priestess not of an ignorant goddess but of the true concept of love and service. It is my own version of an African fantasy.