I apologize for the lack of entries. I attribute my decrease in correspondence to a combination of culture shock, heat, preoccupation with school work, and a slight loss of inspiration. For quite awhile after I arrived in Nigeria I was constantly mesmerized by new and shocking things I saw. Now hardly anything surprises me. I do, however find my self thinking, “wow the western world is so boring,” from time to time. There is never a dull moment in Nigeria that’s for sure. Although things rarely go as planned and are almost never on time, it is definitely always an adventure.
A good example of this is the first traditional cultural festival I have attended in Nigeria, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival which occurred last week Wednesday. The origins of the festival go back to the 1800s during the Yoruba civil wars after the fall of the great Old Oyo Empire. One particularly noteworthy war took place between the towns of Ibadan and Ijaye from 1860-1865. During the war, when enemies would begin to charge the city of Ibadan, all of the people of the town would run up the highest hill in the town (the center of Ibadan is quite topographic) to take cover. Due to the fact that this was typically done in an emergency situation, there was no adequate time to prepare food for the stay. Sometimes the stay on top of the hill (in Yoruba òkè) lasted for over a week. Mangoes, oranges, and whatever else could be found in season on the trees at the top of the hill was what the entire town was forced to survive on. When the danger was gone and the citizens finally returned to their homes, they had a big feast to replenish themselves and celebrate. Men and women also began to copulate as they were unable to do so in the crowd of people for such a long time. Often times, due to lack of nutrition, their bodies didn’t respond properly so people went to visit babalawo’s (traditional herbalists/priests) to fix their problem. For this reason, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival is characterized by heavy eating, drinking, fàájì (enjoyment), and singing songs about ojú ara (private parts). It is celebrated once a year in Beere, a neighborhood on top of a hill in the center of Ibadan-one of the oldest parts of the city.
I had heard a lot about the history of the festival before I arrived. For some reason I was expecting showy dances and musical performances. When I arrived around 4pm, I was instantly swarmed by a crowd of 10 people yanking and tugging at me asking for money. Some of them were desperately trying to please me by doing everything from playing bata drums to fanning me with a piece of paper the size of a post-it note. I gave two bata drummers who I was previously acquainted with 200 naira each and as soon as I dug the first bill out of my pocket an old lady screaming behind me grabbed it and it started to rip. I pushed her back and made sure it got to the person I wanted. After five minutes, it was evident that the chaos would not let up as long as I was there. Musibau, my bata teacher took me by the hand and led me down the hill into the “agbolé” (compound, a seemingly endless network of one story simple and ancient cement buildings tightly packed onto of a red-brown dirt on the hillside with the occasional water well in between). We sat under an awning of someone’s house he knew and within five minutes the entire crowd had found us and was screaming, those who got money were demeaning more and those who didn’t get any were demeaning something. Speaking Yoruba to them was mildly amusing and got some of them to go away. The stubborn ones didn’t respond to Musibau’s initial requests that eventually turned into insults. After a few more minutes, we started to hear a lot of commotion from the hilltop-a mere 25 yards away. People came running down claiming there were gunshots on the hill. A group of politicians was driving around campaigning in the typical style of a motorcade of old vans driving recklessly, blasting music through a crappy speaker system turned up way too loud powered by a generator, and hanging out of the vans with machetes, guns, and in this case brooms. We didn’t hear any gunshots but decided to leave just in case. We descended further into the agbolé until we reached the bottom of the hill and took cover in a dive bar for a while.
We returned around 7pm once it had gotten dark out and less people would quickly notice me. Things were a lot more tame. The festival itself looked like any other Nigerian outdoor party whether it be a wedding, funeral, or birthday party. The standard issue event tent, plastic chairs, plastic tables, rice and amala, and a highlife band filled the streets of Beere. We took a seat, ate and enjoyed the company of àwon elésin ìbíle (those who practice traditional religion). The traditional worshippers sat at tables and were grouped by which orísa (deity) they worship. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy observations I had was all of the women who were worshipping the deity Yemoja had goatee beards thicker than mine. Musibau took me around to greet everyone he knew and we also played bata drums for everyone. All and all I had a good time but it wasn’t quite the learning experience I expected it to be. I am going to Osogbo this weekend for another festival so maybe that will turn out to be more exciting.
Unfortunately, due to the chaos, I didn’t take my camera out before it got dark out and I only managed to take one picture: