FINDING ROOTS IN NIGERIA
YINKA FADEHAN AND PEGE
We had run out of things to do in Ibadan that day and our helper Yinka told us that we could easily go to Ife, which wasn't far and get started on things that we wanted to do there. Ife was his city, he'd graduated from the university there and had lived there until a recent political war had burned his parents out of their home.
We took the hour drive over to Ife, as usual, stopped by machine gun-weilding police at checkpoints along the way. We were struck by the number of gutted homes as we passed through the city, the result of the recent violence, which involved rival politcal factions in the state government.
Ife is said to the the home of all the Yorubas. It is home of their religion. And it is the home of numerous shrines to various historical and religious icons. Yinka took us to the shrine of Opa Oranmiyan. Oranmiyan was the founder of the army of the Oyo Empire, the powerful Yoruba kingdom that donminated much of what is now Nigeria during the 1700s and into the 1800s. Problem was, the shrine was locked.
Yinka took one of the men who lived near the shrine to find the caretaker to open the gates. And after we had waited about 90 minutes, they returned with the caretaker of the Opa Oranmiyan. Opa means staff or stick in Yoruba. The caretaker Chief Mo Akinyemi Owa Eredumi arrived carrying his own opa came to explain to me the significance of the shrine.
CHIEF MO AKINYEMI OWA EREDUMI
The chief, a former captain in the Nigerian Army, asked my point blank what was my purpose of being there all the way from America. Why was I interested in the shrine?
As told him my story of seeking my roots through DNA, his eyes softened, his face became friendlier. He told us that the shrine consisting of a concrete 20 foot high staff, was the weapon of a great warrior who was big enough to use it, and indeed that warrior had stuck in in the ground where it stands. He told us that the warrior was still alive despite the centuries that had past, but was invisible to all by himself, the chief, and a few others.
The official shrine legend out of the way, he began to talk about the significance of the city of Ile Ife to the Yoruba people.
Ile Ife is the source of the Yoruba people wherever the Yourba man is from. Some come from Egbaland, Ikejaland, even Kaba. We're all Yoruba.
I asked him whether that included me? He said he was taking me as a Yoruba man, who came from North America where my ancestors had been taken as slaves. It was a hard path, he said.
And as you are coming back home now, we thank God. We want to see you back home. You need to come back. Not with cameras and such, but you need to come back home and settle in your fathers land.
To which I replied: Thank you for the invitation chief.
As we spoke the shrine began to fill up with people who came to see what was going on. The chief seemed to have his following there and he acknowledged several people with nods of his head.
After the visit at the shrine, I accompanied Yinka and Shamu, our driver, in taking the chief back to his home. It was only a few blocks from the shrine. It had taken Yinka most of the 90 minutes they'd been gone to convince the chief to come.
The areas we passed en route to the chief's house reminded me of a poor back woods black town like Tuskegee in Alabama, Boley in Oklahoma, or East Preston in Nova Scotia. I felt a familiarity to it. We arrived at the end of the road and stopped. The chief invited me to see his home. Yinka and I followed him past poor houses with grassless yards. When we arrived at the chief's house, just another one in the neighborhood, there were two children on the porch wiht a bucket of water, whcih they threw out, as if to clean the approaching chief's path and then they threw themselves prostate on the porch before their grandfather chief, who embraced them, and led us into his house.
CHIEF INVITING US INTO HIS HOUSE
He led us into his throne room and bad us sit down. He soon returned with two items in his hands, which he gave me. One was a type of switch or whisk, which I've seen pictures of chiefs holding. The other was a strange looking sword with a curved up blade. As I held one of the objects in each hand he told me to state a wish and it would come true.
Never one to look at gift horse in the mouth, I wished that people would the the story that I'm doing on my roots and DNA and that the story would be well received. And that other African Americans would dvelop an interest in pursing their African ancestry.
CHIEF WITH SWORD
The chief and an assistant then began to pray aloud in Yoruba. And he told me my wish would come true.
You may leave, he said, and we left his home.
A YORUBA FAMILY