Wande Abimbola @91: How an àbíkú decided to liv
Tunde Odesola
( January 5, 2024)

At 14, Ogunwande left his father’s house for the clinic of a renowned olóòlà, the penis stylist in Akeetan, his Oyo hometown, and declared his mission to have the foreskin of his manhood surgically removed. “Mo fe da’ko,” he told the baba of his intention to be circumcised.

The baba shot him a knowing look, fetched his surgical tools and intoned some words to himself. As directed, a bare Ogunwande lay spread-eagled, wrapping his arms around a giant gourd that passes for a surgical table while the olóòlà set to work. With the dexterity that belonged to the ages, the olóòlà peeled off the foreskin as though he was unwrapping a candy.

Blood gushed, pain panged but Ogunwande did not flinch. His face was deadpan, like still water at night. He got up, put on his clothes and headed back home as if he had only visited a tailor who had taken his measurements for an agbádá. He walked with the swagger of a youngster returning home from watching Alapinni, the father of all the egúngún (masqueraders) in Oyo.

Every why has a reason, says William Shakespeare. A newborn should be circumcised at birth or within the first few days of life if the parents believe in religious or traditional beliefs. Why then was Ogunwande, begotten by religious and traditional parents, not circumcised at birth? Why was it his call to decide when to be circumcised? Why did he not wince or cry when he was circumcised?

Well, Ogunwande was born an àbíkú. His mother, Sangodayo Awele, had knelt four separate times before the midwife, bearing four children, one after the other, but she lost each at infancy. However, Ogunwande’s parents already had two children, Ogunyoyin and Ogundiya, before abiku visited them four times in succession.

An article, “Grief and Bereavement in Fathers After the Death of a Child: A Systematic Review,” published in April 2021 by the American Academy of Pediatrics says fathers and mothers react to the loss of a child differently. The article written by Michael J. McNeil and four others, emphasises that, “Fathers often avoided discussing their grief with others, returned to work earlier, and used goal-oriented tasks as coping strategies. Intense grief reactions and posttraumatic psychological sequelae diminished over time in mothers yet persisted in fathers.”

But another article, “Bereavement Experiences After the Death of a Child,” written by Grace H. Christ, et al, and published by the world’s largest medical library – the National Library of Medicine – owned by the US government, says, “Women typically grieve more intensely and for longer periods of time than do their spouses.”

The loss of her four babies scorched the heart of Sangodayo like the leaping tongues of fire crackling dry twigs. Because it was a period when husbands were lords, Sangodayo knelt before her husband, Iroko Abimbola, and pleaded that they both go to Babalawo Ajao in Ahoro Iseke, Oyo, to protect the newborn against returning to the netherworld.

When mother and father got to Oluwo Ajao’s place, the priest gave them his object of divination to say their hearts’ desires to. The parents did not divulge what brought them to the babalawo but after speaking to the object of divination, and Ajao consulted Ifa, ‘Eji Ogbe’ (good omen) was the revelation the babalawo got, and he said in Yoruba, “Sangodayo, you’re pregnant. You do not want the baby to die like the others that died before it.”

Shocked, Sangodayo confirmed she was pregnant even as her husband recalled the loss of their four babies. “This baby will live,” Oluwo Ajao predicted, adding, “If you will obey these three taboos.” “What are they,” Sangodayo asked eagerly; “We will do them,” Iroko assured.

The babalawo cleared his throat, “One, the child must never be beaten. Two, he must not have tribal marks. Three, he must not be circumcised unless he willingly volunteers to do so himself.” “We shall adhere strictly to the taboos,” the husband reassured the babalawo. And the couple departed.

After some moons, the abiku crept up from the underworld realm of ageless wandering and knocked on the door of life, hoping to make father and mother cry a river the fifth time. Little did it know that a trap had been set for the whale in the depth of the deep so that no one would wail no more.

Iroko and Sangodayo welcomed their bittersweet baby with hope and trepidation. They named him Ogunwande, which means ‘Ogun has come to dwell with me’, in recognition of the family’s ultimate belief in the Ogun godhead.

Ogunwande was never beaten, circumcised or given tribal marks. And he lived as predicted by Oluwo Ajao. Iroko consecrated his son to the gods. So, Ogunwande learnt Ifa, ijala, and the worshipping of Ogun, Sango, eegun etc, knowing the panegyrics of various deities. He also learned farming and hunting as a youngster in the family’s farmstead located away from their Akeetan home. The family lived on the farmstead, occasionally coming home during Ogun, Sango, and Egungun festivals.

Ogunwande said, “The farmstead was remote and threadbare when compared with the amenities in Akeetan where the family house is located. We lived more on the farmstead and occasionally came home to Akeetan. Whenever we came back home from the farmstead, we would be super excited to see even the omolanke (cart). The farmstead was considered a bush.

“We had come home to celebrate one of the festivals, and I passed by Native Authority Town School near our house. I saw some children wearing the same uniform, playing on the field. I was surprised.”

A curious Ogunwande sauntered onto the school field and asked a student, “What are you boys and girls doing here?” The shocked student retorted, “What are we doing here? We are learning, of course!” Ogunwande got more confused, “Learning? What is learning?” The student laughed out loudly, “Ara oko (bushman), you don’t know what learning is?” “I don’t know,” Ogunwande said, crestfallen. “What’s your name?,” the impudent student asked in Yoruba. Ogunwande told him and watched as the student used a twig to write O-g-u-n-w-a-n-d-e on the ground. “That’s your name, ara oko,” the cheeky student said.

Ogunwande followed the student to his class, where he was shown what a classroom looks like. “You better tell your father that you want to school and stop chasing rats and rabbits about,” the student admonished.

School was love at first sight for ’Wande, who ran home to tell his father of his newfound desire. “I prostrated before my father; nobody in the family talked to him standing, my mother kneels to talk to him, I also prostrate to talk to my two older siblings, Ogunyoyin and Ogundiya, whom my parents had before the four abikus,” Ogunwande said. But his father wouldn’t have his son go to school. “Sukuru or what did you call it? Is that not the place where they write meaningless little things in books? Is that what you want to do with your life? Is that a job? You’re lazy! My son will never be lazy! So, you can’t go into the forest and kill buffalo, leopards and snakes? It’s writing small, small nonsense on paper that you want to be doing in your life. Is that a job? You won’t do that in my family?”

Ogunwande, subsequently, went on a hunger strike for three days, eating nothing, and he became very weak. His mother, Sangodayo, begged and wept but Iroko was unperturbed. Sangodayo, “My lord, please, remember the prediction of Baba Ajao, who said when Ogunwande comes of age, he would want to choose a peculiar job; remember, my lord, that the Baba said we should not stop him!”

But Iroko won’t budge. “So, Sangodayo ran to my father’s younger brother, Ogunyemi Ojo Olaluwoye, to come and prevail over my father,” Ogunwande recalled. Ojo spoke to my father while prostrating and pleaded my case, saying, “My lord, you’ve been to Lagos and the Second World War. Western education is the future of the world. Let Ogunwande go to school. My son, Ige, would also be joining them, too. Both of them can go together.”

“My father kept quiet for a long time after Ojo made his plea,” and he said, “You too are very lazy, Ojo! That’s why you’re supporting young boys, who should be displaying valour, to go and waste their time writing small small nonsense! It’s ok, he can go and ruin his life!”

Ogunwande survived on broth for the days his father was adamant and he became so gaunt, earning himself the nickname Olómí tóóró.

But ’Wande didn’t abandon Ifa and the worship of the deities. The knowledge of Ifa came in handy for him one day when a snake bit a student in school

Truth and justice are badges of honour Ògún, the god of war and iron, proudly wore when he walked the earth. Unquestionably, truth and justice define the essence of Ògúnwándé. Right from childhood when he became the disciple of Ifa, Wande’s life is a script written and directed by the supernatural; it is a life lived in honour of truth and defence of justice.

When he was about six years old, his three-year-old sister had strayed into a room he warned her not to go into. “Fàránsèté, did I not tell you not to go into that room?” Wande thundered, spanking the toddler on her buttocks.

Their mother watched the unfolding scene in shocked silence and wondered where on earth Wande got the name Fàránsèté, for that wasn’t the name of her daughter. The mother was just returning home from a neighbouring farmstead after leaving Wande to take care of his sister in her absence.

Fàránsèté is the ultimate eulogy for a princess resplendent on a velvet throne. “From that day, she became known as Fàránsèté; no one called her by her first name again. I don’t know how I came about the name. I just opened my mouth to rebuke her and Fàránsèté came forth. I loved her so much but we lost her before she was 10; I can’t even remember her first name now,” Wande recalled with nostalgia.

Despite being an ambassador of the gods, Ògúnwándé was almost beheaded at 9, like a dog tied to a stake at the shrine of Ògún Lákáayé. That sunny afternoon, farmboy Wande, along with two of his age-mates, decided to go to the bush to fetch herbs for ringworm. As they were about to set out, Wande discovered his machete wasn’t sharp enough, and he decided to whet its blade on the big rock in the family compound.

He bent over the tool and sharpened it. One of his two playmates looked at Wande as he bent double, honing his machete against the rock. The friend saw the back of Wande’s neck. It was black, beautiful and slender. “Can my sharp machete cut Wande’s head off in one strike?” the age-mate thought.

Wande was oblivious his envious friend preferred his tender neck to the stalks of ringworm leaves they were about to go and fetch, raising his machete high up and bringing it down in one maddening moment of murderous megalomania. “I writhed in agony. The compound looked like an abattoir at peak period; the whole farmstead turned upside down with people running helter-skelter. I was rushed to an old woman in the neighbouring farmstead because my father, the great Iroko, wasn’t at home.

“One thing I learnt from the incident is never to use hot ointment or hot cream on deep cuts. The old woman didn’t use hot ointment or hot cream. She mixed palm oil with the latex of wild rubber called wáwòn in Yoruba, and applied it on my wound. The blood had stopped. When asked why he tried to behead me, my friend said he only wanted to see if his machete was sharp enough to make my head thud and roll on the floor. If the old woman didn’t know about traditional medicine, I would’ve died. I was lucky.”

But Wande’s luck didn’t prevent him from being paralysed for six months as a result of the attack. He could neither walk nor stand up. After he relocated to the US in 1996, he did a scan on the neck and was told he was less than an inch away from being beheaded.

Contemplating what wisdom is, the third American President, Thomas Jefferson, penned these words in evergreen ink, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next. Skill is knowing how to do it. Virtue is doing it.”

Every second counts in dying minutes; rescue is meaningful only before the final breath. As last-gap rescue came Wande’s way before his coffin slammed shut, providence, similarly, used Wande to rescue a snake-bite victim in school years later.

On the fateful day, death walked bare-chested on Wande’s primary school farm as a big snake bit a student, sending panic waves among staff and students. “He is dead!” “He’s been paralysed!” “He’s blind, deaf and dumb!” The rumour mill was awash with falsehood. Wande fled towards the scene of the bedlam on a rescue mission.

“I can heal him, I can heal him, I told the authorities. They knew the reputation of my father, so they made a way for me to reach the victim who was crying. I chanted some incantations and he fell asleep. I told them to leave him, and that he would wake up soon. When he did, the school roared in jubilation,” Ògúnwándé said.

A few years before Ògúnwándé openly exhibited his prowess in school, the Agric Science teacher had defied the warning by Ifa forbidding anyone to beat the young boy. Fellow students chorused: “Ha, it is forbidden to beat Wande!” “Nobody beats Wande!” “It’s a taboo!” But the teacher wouldn’t listen, on Monday, he beat Wande for not waiting back on the school farm on Friday. The explanation by Wande that he had to go to the family’s farmstead cut no ice with the teacher. The teacher wasn’t seen in school for three weeks after he developed a sudden illness the next day.

Asked what sickness afflicted the teacher, “Ń ò mò o; I don’t know,” Ògúnwándé said. Asked if the teacher knew where the sickness came from, Wande said, “I don’t think he knew. If he did, he probably would’ve gotten in touch with my family.”

Expressing his view about corporal punishment, Wande said beating doesn’t make children better. According to him, beating kills the sense of initiative in children, making them wallow in self-doubt. “It makes them fearful, unsure in making decisions, always seeking validation from a higher authority. In my case, I was daring, I felt everything was doable,” he said.

Commending the standard of primary school education in his time, Ògúnwándé said someone with a Standard Six Certificate rose to become Head of Service in the western region after returning from the Second World War.

With a tinge of regret in his voice, Ògúnwándé, who is a Professor of African Languages and Literatures, explained that no people or culture anywhere in the world had as many literary stories as the Yoruba, saying Ifa is a literature with 256 ódù which means books, adding that each of the 256 books has 800 stories! “No other literature in the world has 15% of what Ifa has. Sadly, our people prefer foreign ways of life to our own culture which is far better,” Wande bemoaned.

Specifically, he condemned the meaning ascribed to Ibadan as an embarrassment to the Yoruba race, saying Ibadan was never a derivative of ‘Eba Odan,’ which connotes a city founded ‘by the roadside’. ‘Ibà’, according to him, is a place of rest.

Ògúnwándé said, “The South-West has two types of vegetation. One is the thick forest called ‘igbó’ in Yorubaland, where you have mighty trees that grow in large densities in the same area. The forest is heavily wooded. The other is ‘òdàn’, which is the type of vegetation that is cut between a forest and a grassland. That is, it has grassland and not too dense trees. This is the main type of vegetation you have in Ibadan to Oyo areas. ‘Ibà’ is a place where climbing tree stems form a massive shelter by matting themselves into a canopy using upright trees as support. The underneath of the canopy is ‘ibà’, where harmful and unharmful animals rest – as the case may be. This is where the name Iba-Odan emanated from, before morphing into Ibadan. An ibà can be bigger than a football field.”

Calling on stakeholders to rescue the Youba language and culture fast, Wande said many Yoruba proverbs had been bastardised. Particularly, he said it is wrong when people say, “Owo fun ni, ko to eyan,” to connote the meaning that giving out money isn’t as important as respecting an individual.

Ògúnwándé said ‘owo’, which is cowrie, in the context of the proverb, is white, adding that ‘funfun’ (white colour) in the proverb is shortened to ‘fun’ to take the form of ‘owo fun ni, ko to eyan’, meaning that ‘money is only white’, ‘it is not as important as a human being’.

To be continued

X: @Tunde_Odesola

Culled from Fb

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