To me more dear
Congenial to my heart
One native charm
Than all the gloss of the city
The Deserted Village (Oliver Goldsmith 1770)
Far from being deserted, my town, Ogotun Ekiti, except for the 1861 invasion by Ijesha over its support for Efon in its war with Ijesha when survivors of the invasion fled to Ikere Ekiti and Okeagbe in current Ondo State, my beloved village has today grown into a modern city retaining her position among the pre-independence 16 Ekiti pelupelu confederate Obas. Located at the foot of a range of hills that envelope the whole of Ekiti land, the town, with its admixture of inclement and mild temperate weather, remains serene, untroubled, captivating, magical and a tourist haven where one finds peace with God.
Like most other Yoruba towns that traced their origin to Ife from where most Yoruba people dispersed to found their different kingdoms, Ogotun Ekiti is defined by community life of cooperation and responsibility. Age groups come together to contribute towards implementation of members’ projects such as building a new house, getting married or burying one’s parents.
Of course, there is also the beauty and simplicity of the village; the purity, innocence, and honesty of its people; and the genuine goodness of their lives. It was a community where in the time past, the people displayed their wares at the junction of their farms and selling points and consumers or willing buyers picked items of their desire and dropped the exact cost which remained there no matter how long it took the owner of the produce to return.
Growing up in the sixties and returning home after vicissitudes of life has taken me out of the town first to St. Joseph College, Ondo, through University of Ife, University of Lagos, and then, to United Kingdom, Russia and United States of America as citizen of the world, brought a nostalgic craving for the peace and pleasure of the past.
The immediate refreshing and magical effects of spending two weeks at a stretch in my town after so many years was liberation from debilitating cultural imperialism. I was temporarily free from unproductive debate about democracy, the unworkable imported new value system that is in all respects inferior to Yoruba concept of democracy; free from the tyranny of imported religion that pretends to convert the already converted as our ancestors were worshippers of Olorun Olodumare, a monolithic God the subject of Abrahamic religion of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and of course from the western media notably CNN and BBC which strive to make self-inflicted crisis of imperialist barefaced armed robbers our problems in the name of globalization which further allows then to enslave our minds and pillage our land.
For two weeks, one had sufficient time to reflect on our beautiful past as a community.
I remember with nostalgia the celebration of the various festivals such as ‘oro omo owa’ (Omo Owa festival), an annual coming together of all the princes from the town’s ruling houses. It takes off with slaughtering of a big ram. Olokuboro Alobioje’s being a large family harbouring men and women of all faiths, my father as the then Eleromo and Christian of Roman Catholic denomination would first invite the Reverend Father to pray for God’s intervention, followed by an Alhaji or Imam member of the family and rounded up by traditional prayer after which the ram is roasted for consumption. Eating and drinking was often followed by dancing and singing, blowing of ‘ekutu’ and beating of the talking drum to recite the “oriki” panegyrics of the princes.
The celebration of Obalufon festival was unique. It is a participant crowd-pulling event involving curious children from all parts of the town. Obalufon festival often comes up at the thick of the raining season between the months of July and August. Most of us children back then saw it as show of power and struggle for supremacy between Chief Afuye and Chief Elegosi. Both, fully armed with charms, the tools of their trade and adorning magic regalia, would lead a group of other juju men, dancers and drummers from their respective quarters through designated streets in the town. The main attraction often was the young virgin bearing a burning fire from inside a pot delicately placed on her head even as they danced to the pulsating beats of the drum even as it rained cats and dogs. Children often followed the groups around the town from morning till evening, curious to find out if any of the two rival’s flaming fire of the dancing virgins would be extinguished by the pouring heavy rain. The celebration closes with a staged battle at a designated point in the town.
Ogun is the dreaded god of iron, notorious for going to Ire Ekiti to drink palm wine. Its celebration was often more secretive. Besides lifeless dog one sees strapped to the shrine, very little was known about other activities during its celebration. Curious about the real event at the shrine which is often shrouded in secrecy, as young primary’s school pupils, my cousin, now Evangelist Tunde Awopetu, our friend, Veronica Oyebode and I decided to sneak into the market in the night while the ceremony was going on. Unfortunately we were caught by Petu Ereja, the chief priest and his other officiating priests. We were chased by cutlasses-bearing young men as we dispersed in various directions. In the flight, I lost one leg of my shoe which was to become the incriminating evidence of our sacrilegious offence. The lost shoe was brought to my father the following morning by the Ogun chief priest who warned we would have become ‘eran ogun’ if not because the three of us were Omo Owa from different ruling houses.
As we grew older, we have since learnt that Ogotun like most other Yoruba towns, accused by ignorant European occupying powers of worshipping 360 gods are in fact not idol worshippers. The so-called gods according to the late Sophie Oluwole, a University of Lagos professor of African philosophy, are Orisas, i.e. those who had found special favour with God when they were alive as demonstrated by the level of their earthly achievements. It is believed in Yoruba cosmology that these special favourites of God can, like the saints Joseph, Mary. Paul etc. in the Christian religion, intercede with Olorun Olodumare, the God of all gods.
Two weeks re-union with primary and secondary school class mates, retired academics and bureaucrats and a few others who have chosen to return home after a tour of duty around the world was a rewarding endeavour, a source of social connection for bonded attitudes and values towards a strong community.
And finally for those in the city who think the people in the rural communities are starving and unhappy and the World Bank with its disturbing claim that 75% of Nigerian live below $2 a day, the rural communities are neither starving nor unhappy. They may not have loads of cash but they have enough to eat and they eat well.
There are fresh fruits: pawpaw, pine apple etc. A bunch of vegetable costing N100 was all we used to prepare a meal of pounded yam for about 10 people. The total figure for the lunch was about N2,000 coming to N200 per person for a full meal. And since dollar is not a legal tender in Nigeria, an average person with N1000 naira in the rural community is not starving.