We savored the grasp of a double joy, a necessary mark of renewal that put recent sad experiences behind us. Before Dele’s arrival from Afashio, Musa had invited a prayer group that offered prayers titled ‘Yasin’, said to be potent and famous among Moslems, at tackling and expelling evil, to tackle the source of what was to us an intermittent problem in the household, which cause remained a mystery. It was announced that the reason for the prayer was for protection and guidance for Dele who was traveling abroad. The gathering was attended by members of the household, and neighbors who identified with what they described as a positive development. But it was unclear from the procedure, whether the session was to collect money for the prayer group or prayer for Dele and the family.
At every point of the prayer, money was collected to facilitate the prayers; all the money went to the prayer group. Dele himself was apparently amused by the way money was collected at every turn and he could not hide his feelings which he giggled for us to see. He was relieved just like the rest of us, when the prayer suddenly ended following an end of money flow from the congregants. I had thought we were to witness a long reading of verses from the Quran, followed by a long period of prayers. But it was a case of short prayers and each session followed by collection of money.
A New Beginning
Dele left the ancient city, after which he departed the country. It looked veritably a new start for us. Musa and Ai were fully healed of their illness. Laisi returned to a high school and changed his name to Tunde, after he had completed learning photography and a stint as an assistant in the studio. Dele not only passed the high school leaving examination, he capped it with about five years of working: first in a bank, and then in a radio station before his decision to travel abroad for further studies. Positively, he gave me a push from what seemed like a brink to rousing hope for a high school education.
Meanwhile, I looked to joining high school going kids in the neighborhood. good radiance to bad rubbish; I
would be appearing in a high school uniform after a long wait. I imagined the pride and joy which I had already felt before school resumption. We were a family on a winning path made possible by the education of one member of the family, without which other members of the family would have equally forgo education beyond the elementary level.
We were definitely on a winning path. As a family, we were shoulder to shoulder with other families in the ancient town. Our home was a melting point for our friends who did not hide their joy and pride in our appearance. We were as good looking as any other. Musa ensured that we were well groomed. He took special care of our laundry needs.
Musa might not have got a good source of income, he invested the one he had in the well being of his family. He valued the need for a constant supply of food to the house. He frowned on reliance of finished food from outside the house. Before he secured the college employment, he had lands in the outskirt of the town, that were given by kind neighbors that he cultivated with various crops like yam, maize, cassava, sweet potato, groundnut; and various types of vegetables for home consumption.
Immediately he secured the college employment, he utilized free availability of land to improve his cultivation for the benefit of his household. Apparently, he must have been hard working to have been able to combine a full time job with farming, where he did all the work and we only joined him as demanded, when necessary. Resultantly there was always food in the house-all type of food. Ai and El seized the opportunity to earn income by processing surplus corns to raw pap, which at first were vended by me and my immediate elder brother around our neighborhood near the palace, in the early years of our elementary education, early in the morning before returning home to prepare for school.
Very early in the morning, Ai would wake us from sleep and asked each of us to carry a tray that contained items wrapped in green leaves and a bowl of maize water-called sweet water- seated in the middle of the tray to be given to customers who demanded it. Later, when we had advanced in the elementary school, and we lived at Oduduwa Street, we vended fried peanuts that were still in their shell after school hours. After El and his brother‘s arrival, before Musa’s sudden illness and Ai’s later illness, Ai having established a culture of earning income to support Musa’s effort, the new wife joined the initiative, her brother the vending, and the new wife always referred to Ai as ‘our mother.’
When they were not frying peanuts for us to vend round the entire town beyond our neighborhood, we vended cooked maize.
At times, the soccer tournament, mostly at the college’s soccer pitch, the local authority playing ground and the teacher training college’s playing ground offered easy avenues for sales. There was a time the University of Ife was under construction, the two women seized the opportunity to make money by conveying bread to the
construction sites scattered around the new university town. At this time, we woke up at four in the morning, went and queued for bread in the bakery, six blocks away from the house. After we had collected bread from the bakery, arranged on trays, basins and cartons, covered with polythene, we would head to the Hausa community area of the town, where these loads of bread are lifted into tippers along with the women with the help of construction workers, before we would return home to go school. But whenever we were on holidays, we would go along in the tippers to help in the sales of bread in the citadel of studies that was under construction.
It was not all work without a lesson in civic studies and time to play. I knew Ile-Ife, west of River Niger as my birth place. I knew I was not a native of the town, and I knew and understood the dialect spoken in the town outside r home as belonging to the native; and that we spoke a different dialect in our home, which I understood when spoken which I was not ardent in speaking like my two eldest brothers. This always put Musa on the edge, and often reminded us we were strangers in the town, and wondered aloud why we could not speak our own language.
Nigeria’s constitution stipulates parent’s hometown as children’s. It helped Musa in his demand for us to know our root as different from where we were born. But that did not change the fact that I did not know my parents' birth place, Ugbekpe, near Auchi, in the Mid-West Region, later Bendel State and later Edo State of Nigeria, until I was nineteen, unlike I knew Ile-Ife.
My early life entwined first with the palace area in Ife, and later after I had grown up, other parts of the ancient city, regarded as the cradle of the Yoruba people, West of River Niger. One major area in the palace-Museum of Antiquities - actively drew crowd on daily basis throughout the years, was a source of education, and a playing ground for children in the neighborhood. Built round like a dome, and painted milk white, it had a sprawling green lawn round, formed a semi circle like a radius, and a splash of shrubs with leafy branches dotted around it.
As a child, whenever I was not in the museum, I would be outside on the lawn, either pushing a wooden motored toy around the paved terrace. Inside, children mixed with tourists who visited to admire historical artifacts. It was here, like other children in the neighborhood, that I had first contact with the white people who came in large number as tourists, took photographs and showed rare affection in their interactions with children.
The museum seemed to have been a part of the palace. There was a door at the rear of the museum, through which we could escape into the palace for additional enjoyment of nature in the form of innumerable flowery plants or be part of welcoming ceremonies for visiting dignitaries, who called on the king almost on daily basis. There were times we followed the dignitaries and witnessed them parleying with the king. As children, we were never barred, whether from holy or unholy places.
Outside the palace, there was a large playing ground called Enuwa Square, where the local youths played soccer and table tennis all year round. The square was also popular for film shows by companies that used the venue for free movie shows to advertise their products. It was where films that featured cowboys like John
John Wayne and Roy Rogers became popular among children of our days.
Apart from the museum, the palace and knowledge of monuments within and around the area were two major memorable traditional festivals- Edi and Olojo’ respectively. Both were popular among the natives and they drew a large crowd of tourists. They are still observed up to this day. They feature an array of rites and ritual, some are conducted behind the scene and others in the open. They are for the protection of indigenes from evil and terror; enhance their well being as well as that of the ancient city.
During my childhood days, the Edi festival featured a man who carried a shroud of palm leaves, surrounded by palace chiefs and a joyful crowd that chanted, “take away death, take away sickness” amidst drumming and dancing, with the king paying homage to his subjects. Before emergence of the shroud in the public, first within the palace, it had gone through a process of rituals and rites inside one of the bungalows in the palace, adjacent to a quarter of palace workers and a magnificent hall called Ile Nla, which also serve as a secondary museum, having different types of historical artifacts mounted on the wall for public viewing. After the shroud had emerged from the bungalow, he would go straight to the front of the king’s residence-within the palace, then into the hall and with the king in the procession accompanied by drumming, singing and dancing.
After the congregation and ceremony in the hall, the king and the shroud would be led out into a large playing ground in front of the hall, where the king would be seated under a giant umbrella where he would play host to a very large crowd. The crowd would then be led out of the palace through a gate to the outside playing ground called Enuwa Square in front of the palace, where the king would continue the ceremonial parleying with his subjects; and from there the procession goes to a hilly area- Oke Mogun- about two hundred and fifty meters away from the palace, where final ritual is performed in the open, from where the king would return to the palace and the shroud would be led toward a road that leads out of town , accompanied by a chanting crowd and palace chiefs to a far away forest area from where, I learnt as a child, he would not return until early hours of the following morning, alone without the shroud believed to represent misfortunes like sicknesses, untimely death, and bareness.
During the Olojo festival, the shroud would be replaced by palace chiefs, dressed in white shorts, upper torso painted in white and brown colors in two halves-horizontally, each holding a small calabash stocked with feathers on one hand and canes on the other. The preparation and emergence followed the same process; in the same bungalow behind the hall. The difference between the two festivals is that, unlike the Edi, the Olojo is a thanksgiving and celebratory festival, when thanks are offered to the creator for his mercy and blessings. The word-Olojo- means the owner of the day and the universe.