“A river that forgets its source will dry up. (Yoruba Proverb)
Ahjot Naija with maternal grandfather, Baba
My homecoming would have been incomplete without a visit to my ancestral home, Igasi-Akoko. Long before I left Germany, I was clear I must visit this land that gave me life again, and again. My resolve to reach home was only strengthened by calls from various quarters not to visit this village. I am a memory merchant; while growing up I heard many (his-)stories about this hometown, I visited with my mother at least on two different occasions, memories of which are still with me as I write. Of course, there could be times when mother took me there when I was much younger, memory of which I have lost. The last visit I remember was a trip to Igasi-Akoko with an aunt. All these were memorable moments, part of growing up, this is my life. I sincerely cannot remember a bad experience of/about the village. So much was then my surprise when I was told not to visit a place I so much cherish.
Ayo’s father, Ahjot Naija, Uncle Jegede
Confused, I wanted to know why. My curiosity only deepened when answers provided ranged from accusation of witchcraft to being a den of sorcerers and wickedness. “Paga!”, I seemed to exclaim. “This can’t be true.” If I ignored some voices who counseled me against visiting, excused on the ground of old age, I found it difficult to explain another voice, a much younger voice, who insisted there are indeed witches who “fly in broad day light” in the village.
Oke, Pastor Segun, Baba, Iya Idowu, Omololami (At Baba’s new abode)
I took time to make her reason with me. Let’s assume for once that you were right about the your claim of witchcraft etc, have you ever taken time to attend to these matters critically, gone to this so-called village of witches and wizards? Did you ever read about the art of witchcraft and wizardry and how this art works? Isn’t this assumption based on sheer hearsay, which you refused to pursue beyond reasonable doubt? In short, are you informed beyond your nose about the (his-)story, existence, use, positivity and negativity, the import of this art? I was sincerely interested in engaging that young voice, who out of ignorance and fear, submitted that I was best advised to not visit the village. We could not discuss because I gave up almost immediately when I realized I would be dialogue-ing with a mind long decided against critical inquiry.
I found a wonderful company in my uncle, Pastor Segun. He was first to support my decision to visit Igasi-Akoko again. In fact, he drove me. We visited in company of a cousin and another extended family member. We refreshed memories as we drove. We talked about my great grandparents, grandparents and many other family members I never knew or saw, and haven’t seen in a long time. My excitement was boundless. Pastor Segun was my history guide for the trip. I was thankful I had him in the team. How could I have known where to turn in the village without his wisdom and presence!?
Ahjot Naija with Yeye, Women Leader and Chief Priest of Igasi-Akoko
Welcome to Igasi-Akoko was written on the brick banner that saw us into the village. Besides English, it was written in Igasi; I smiled as “u yame” rolled out of my mouth. I have just learned another sentence in the language my mother refused to speak with me, even though I craved so much to speak it. “That is the police post”, pointed my uncle. Overgrown with bush, the colours were shone brighter as the sun shone on them. “Thank goodness for progress. Little by little, we’re becoming a town”, I commended.
As planed, we drove through the town to my uncle’s house, Pastor Segun’s brother. They had been expecting us. Upon seeing this uncle I was flat on my belly to the ground, full of smile and a whole lot of happiness. “Dide, dide, omo mi dide”. That was my uncle telling me to stand up. He was coming towards me while he said that. I began rising from my position of happy humility to hug him real tight, he held me tight, and we exchanged pleasantries. I greeted other yet-to-be-introduced relatives. My two uncles greeted warmly, I looked around, took one or two pictures, then we went in.
Finally, I met my uncle; I used to remember him as an elite, always one step ahead his age group, families and friends, his compound neatly swept, he is a pig- and crop-farmer and a carpenter. He is still all these professions. He showed us his garden farm. For age he goes less often to faraway farms these days. The garden farm is barricaded with barb-wired fence. To keep goats away.
Ahjot Naija, Aunt Jegede, Pastor Segun
In that moment I remembered a proverb I heard long time ago, I could not stop laughing as I talked about goats weeding only grasses not in the forest but in the homestead. The first time I heard the proverb it was Bro’ Jide who compared me to a goat because I had eyes only for girls in my local church and around our house; I was always tongue-tied around girls I wasn’t familiar with. The proverb was right on point also now that we talked of my uncle’s garden farm and goats that forced him to barb-wire his behind-the-house farm.
Uncle Jegede harvested maize cobs, my aunt was to cook them so we had victuals for the return journey. Pounded yam was to be prepared, we talked in the sitting room, I met the relatives I was yet to know; my eyes opened wide in surprise when Uncle Jegede explained the connection. The man to my left is the son of my grandaunt. If it was that straightforwardly put in Yoruba, I would not have big-eyed in attempt to understand the family connection.
It went like this: See, you know Ayo, right? I confirmed after Pastor Segun reminded Ayo was the young man who worked with Uncle Folorunsho in First Bank Ajaokuta. “Now I know”, I confirmed again. This man to your left, he is Ayo’s father. His mother is sister to your maternal grandfather. I understood the connection well. I know my maternal grandfather very well, so it was good the connection was built around him.
The other man farther left was introduced too. I don’t remember the connection now, but I well remember he asked Ayo’s father if I was resident in London. Ayo’s father was sharp in response, I saw wisdom in that. This is what he said: “Where he is resident is for now irrelevant, at least not now. We are happy to have him come greet us. Let him arrive properly.”
Ayo’s father, Ahjot Naija, a relative
Exchange of pleasantries went on and on, I enjoyed every moment. I pointed to a picture on the wall, she was Uncle Jegede’s late wife. His wife, the mother of almost all of his children, was in the kitchen, she was busy with our pounded yam. I saw her in the picture too, with Dr. Jegede between her and her husband. In the picture, Dr. Jegede could not be older than five. I wowed, it was a long time ago, Uncle Jegede now has grandchildren, my nieces and nephews; Dr. Jegede and his wife bore him three of them.
“He wanted to meet the King”, Pastor Segun said. In that case we were best advised to go see the King first, then return for the pounded yam. We decided to do just not just that alone, but to also see more relatives thereafter.
My maternal grandfather. We met him in town, he was seated on a stone, with friends, we sighted him as we drove away from Ile Olokuta, that house which got its name from the plenty rock-like stones in its front-yard. Another grandaunt lives in the house. Upon seeing me, she was first in doubt, maybe shock, as to my identity. When she got herself together, she gave out a big laughter, shouted for excitement, “Dakudaji! Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh! Gbemi, Dakudaji re!?”
Iya Ile Olokuta with Ahjot Naija
I greeted her, I was all smile. She was sure she could not have recognized me if she wasn’t told. I used to have seizure as a child, so it was that appellate she addressed me with. We greeted, and greeted again. I took three selfies with her before we left.
So she knows I am still very much aware of my childhood troubles, I mentioned another popular appellate I used to be called by. “Gbekude”, I said. “Ah! He still remembers o!”, she confirmed. We continued laughing while we stepped out of the one-storeyed house into the car.
Pastor Segun (standing) with Uncle Jonwo
Everywhere we stopped at, I took pictures and made videos endlessly. We went past my grandfather’s dilapidated house, he lives there no longer, we met a young woman with her children in the house. I saw Baba’s room, the pantry, and while we made to enter the backyard where the kitchen is, I pointed Baba Serafu’s house to Pastor Segun. I was sad to learn of his death few weeks back. If only I had come earlier, I probably would have met him. I saw grandfather’s well and took pictures of the old bathroom, it was just like I used to imagine it, same spot, corrugated iron sheet. The kitchen too.
The kitchen. I remember a tortoise Uncle Folorunsho hunted many years back, it was here he kept it. I and my sibnlings were fascinated by this beautiful creature. We talked different talks about the animal, both confirmed and unconfirmed knowledge, we shared them simply as they came to the tip of our tongue. I still remember we three agreed that we could loose our finger if we stuck it into the anus of the tortoise. One of us said he was sure he saw the animal broke a hard stick into two with her anus when Uncle Folorunsho inserted it into the anus. We were terrified, I particularly never allowed my finger any more close after this talk.
I am not very sure now, I think we left the tortoise alone when Uncle Folorunsho arrived with a squirrel he had hunted. We sat under a tree, Uncle Yomi was somewhere. Uncle Folorunsho told us of the adventure which led to the squirrel-catch, we were captivated. The squirrel was no more just another animal when it was being prepared for eating. I was much interested in its fate, I was for example so curious to know where its intestine and other inner waste were thrown or buried; that was after it was cut open. Another of my uncles’ friend made fire while an uncle cut open the squirrel’s stomach.
All these memories have always been part of me. I was beyond happy to see the scenes again. My excitement was boundless.
Baba. My maternal grandfather now lives in Pastor Segun’s house. We opened the door. The house smelled of old times, it was like certain moments held still in the scent I perceived in the spaces. Although it is a different house, much younger than grandfather’s house, I could hear the past, see voices of long time speak to me. Those memorable moments we all shared together when I was a child.
The scent. I was taken back in time to a room in the old house. In bed. Many almanacs. Calendars on the wall. The month was August, I suppose. The years were definitely not in the 1990’s, they were old calendars. From the 1980’s. On them were dancers attired in varying traditional clothes. I remember very vividly now.Tunde, my brother, told me the woman in the calender was an aunt. I wasn’t sure he lied then. I believed him. I visualized the aunt in the attire. Dancing so happily. Even if I had difficulty placing her face right on any I saw in the calendar. I laid in bed, and she came alive, dancing as if she would not stop. Tunde even told me she won awards for her beautiful dancing. I believed him.
In that same room we used to be when we were not outside or not in the farm. Or somewhere else! Singing an old rhyme that went like this:
Tanimo o!? Emi moo! Kini nje mo? Molade! Kini nj’ade? Adesupo! KiniI nj’epo? Posere! Kini nj’esere? Sere oloye! Kini nje oloye? Oloye Akoko! Kini nje Akoko? Akoko orisa! Kini nje orisa? Orisa alaye! Kini nje alaye? Alaye Olorun! Kini nje Olorun? Olorun ijala! Kini nje ijala? Ijala oniye tete bale teruteru! Kini nje teru? Teru ola! Kini nje ola? Ola nijo! Kini nje ijo? Ijo nife! Kini nje fe? Fefe feju e teteri! Ebira, laju e waiwaiwai!
We sang, and sang, and we sang again, we corrected our errors and re-sang to be sure we had no error, then we began allover again. We were never bored of our rhyme. Bose, an aunt my age, used to be our rhyme leader, she was a wonderful young girl, she was never tired of life, she was full of it until she died, her fullness of life got killed a little earlier though before she died. But her memories, especially those times when she was her real self, live on in me. That much is sure.
The bathroom (I bathed in here as a child)
That room I entered in Baba’s new abode. And the scent that filled my nose, opened a whole lot of things. Memories! Moments! I could tell forever all that transpired. In the room! As if I was trapped in a past that has certainly gone, but is still present I could hardly call it a past.
Baba’s former house
Let me tell of two, or even three times I remember as I write this piece, all of them happened in that dilapidated house, from where Baba moved to live in his present abode. Here, one of them: Dawn, or later. But it wasn’t afternoon, that much is sure. In the pantry. It all started Like play, like play. Iya Idowu, Baba’s wife dished soup. A bicycle. Somewhere in the pantry. Nothing was arranged. And nothing was scattered. Everything was in another place. Yet everything seemed to be in their right places. Mother was somewhere in the kitchen, or somewhere between the kitchen and the passage. Someone opened the door of the pantry. From the living room, not Baba’s living room. There were two.
Up in the roof hung cobs of maize. Many of them. They hung there. Drying. Dying. Awaiting full death. So they could come alive again. They were birthed. Just same way. Their creator were dried, then buried, to die fully, so they could come alive, not as themselves, but in hundreds of maize cobs. I looked at them, then I looked away. Like I wanted to be sure I remembered what I was told about them, then I looked up again.
Mother was visible now. I saw on the floor, close to the bicycle, a cricket. I pointed it to mother. It flew in my direction. I shouted. I lost my voice. I slumped. Then that was all. I did not know what followed. But I sure did not die. Permanently.
Awogbemi Family House (Mama Abigail lives here)
Then another one: It was an evening. Night was about to set in. Pounded yam was ready. Ishapa soup. I had my portion. Mother had hers. Everyone in the house had been served. I ate my pounded yam. Faster than anyone could. I was first to finish. Baba saw me. Mother saw me too. “Are you still hungry?” That was Baba, asking to know if I had enough. In short, he called me to him, and we ate together his portion. In the same bowl! It would have tasted good all the same, if he cut some for me and I had to eat in my bowl. But it tasted much better in his bowl. I enjoyed it.
“Baba, this boy will not allow you eat your full! He just finished his own. Ehn!” That was mother. “Let him eat”, was all Baba answered. I ate and drank water from Baba’s cup.
Then this one, the third: That is the story of how the well in the backyard was dug. I was told about those who dug it, and what they went through to have it dug. I won’t tell you now, so I don’t bore you. But I sure will tell it soon.
And about my marks.The marks on my face, hand, back, my chest, and my feet. Because I met the woman who marked me, so I could stay put. And I did stay! She was all joy as she recounted with confidence how my mother backed me, running to meet her, from the farm. She collected me from her and gave me the marks. Yeye greeted me. She hugged me, full of joy that a life she once saved came back to thank her. I am thankful indeed. She did what she had to do to save my life.
The shrine is beside Baba’s old house. Only if I understood the language well enough to hear Pastor Segun argue with her that the god she served was not good enough, I would have found another way to interfere, so I could get to see the shrine that was once a saviour to me. I wanted to, but he was much in a hurry that I followed at his instruction. I hugged Yeye again. Then we left.
The well in Baba’s former house
In the car I asked what that was all about. Pastor Segun told me what the woman said. I got to know the meaning of her name. Yeye is a title, but this has since become her name, she is the women leader in the village, and the chief priest in the shrine. This is what she responded: “When we all die, we return here.” She pointed to the shrine as she said that. “Your god, or my god, I am certain we all return here.” She stood her ground. Her confidence impressed me. I wished I could chat with her. But we were long gone away from the shrine.
Did we see Baba first or was it after we had visited Jonwo? I am not sure now, but what does that matter? What mattered is, we saw him in his house. We passed by my paternal family house. We greeted my grandaunt. She is the last standing of her generation. Mama Abigail is a sister of my paternal grandmother. She must have been born when my paternal grandparents were old. Because she looked relatively youthful, younger than Jonwo in appearance.
Ahjot Naija with Uncle Jonwo
Jonwo is the immediate younger brother of my dad. He is a paternal uncle. I had no problem recognizing him. He was happy to see me. He is 70 years old, dad is 73. He wanted me to meet, other relatives, but for time we could not wait. It was on the way out of the area Pastor Segun pointed to Remi. When Remi learnt of my person, she introduced Mama Abigail as her mother. She corrected me when I mistook our paternal family house for a house where my paternal grandmother once lived. “No, she did not just live here. This is her family house. Awogbemi Family House.” She must have been married from here into the Ajagunna Family. I thanked Remi, photographed the house, and video-ed.
Uncle Jonwo is cool. At 70, he smokes like I don’t care. He was not sorry to tell us he drinks ogogoro. He almost rebuked Pastor Segun who begged him to stop drinking. “If I die now, I have not lived in vain”. I gave him money to top up his ogogoro and Rothmans supply. He was calling out to Ogidi, another relative, when we must go. A real cool uncle he is.
With Mama Abigail
We drove out of Igasi-Akoko. We all were happy it was a successful visit. Pastor Segun and I chatted while he drove. I ate a cob of maize. We all agreed our King is a very intelligent man, ambitious and committed to positive development of Igasi-Akoko. I was thinking of how to best share with the world the history of Igasi-Akoko and many of the wisdom the King shared with us in the interview. I have a duty to share the (his-)story of this beautiful village. I definitely am going to do that in another piece about this homecoming.