In Any Village, Yorubaland
I know that I will find
sparkly eyed boys and girls with brilliant white teeth
I know that
they will be happy to see me
I will be greeted and
be expected to greet
I know that I will
hear the sounds of omo odo against odo
smell the inviting aroma of delicious soup
smell firewood off in the distance
smell sour organic smells
hope not to see anyone defecating
notice adults and children with disabilities living defiantly with their disability
I also know that I will see
birds you don’t see in the city
children bathing out in the open unabashedly
people eating one oka or the other
someone chewing stick
people carrying loads on their heads
children backing babies
babies backing dolls
vigorous green vegetation
huge clouds very very far off in the sky
write off cars being used as passenger cars or cargo vans
people plaiting hair
small black goats
small brown goats
young girls hawking organic snacks, boiled corn, asala, eyin awo and all kinds of nutty, avocado-ish or bitter snacks
even if I have only been to one before…
These photos were taken in the 1970s. The 100 or so years since the 1896 fall of the Oyo Empire, and the end of the 1877 Kiriji Wars , both notable for the massive loss and destruction of human lives and the shipping of many Yoruba across the Atlantic Ocean, hadn’t brought that much change to the Yoruba villages then.
Today, half a century of Nigerian independence hasn’t either.
Oppressors have changed race and back, ancestors have swapped places with newborns, Heads of States and Presidents have presided instead of Obas, Obas have been reduced into competing for a living with their subjects, traditional workers unions replaced by government ministries , and borders created out of European merchant companies’ territories. But the villages and village life have remained the same.
Yes, once we were kings, but we were also ordinary. Yorubas were and are hunters, farmers, potters, iron smelters, weavers, poets, hairdressers, tanners, basket weavers, gourd carvers, fishermen, barbers, farm hands, etc etc and can be found in villages today pretty much as they lived in the 17th and 18th centuries . Maybe even living worse now ( bar the tragedy and chaos of war and slave raiding ) as many crafts, native science, farming skills are eroded due to economic migration to the towns and cities, and nothing modern fills the void.
Wiping away the sleepy nostalgia from the eyes , visitors would be right to wonder – How fair is it that some Yoruba…. this fine race that produced the first African Nobel Laureate, the enigma called Fela , the awesome Ife Bronzes and terracotta heads, and some of the most valiant military officers Nigeria and West Africa ever depended upon…… still live as they did under the Oyo Empire, while the outside world juggernauts through the Information Age?
Perhaps they choose to live in the village this way? The whole world shouldn’t have to work 9 till 5 , pay 25 – 40% tax for electricity, potable water and road infrastructure, buy plastic home wares, eat noodles and learn about America on TV? If security was assured, reliable transport links created, education and adequate free health care were provided, traditional cooperative schemes updated and re-activated, it would be a perfectly understandable choice.
Some of the world’s most precious scenery can be viewed from mountains on Yoruba soil. The best air I ever breathed was at the top of an Efon Alaye hill one crisp Harmattan morning many years ago. I dream of returning. By train. A romantic green and gold locomotive train to go with the rustic charm of Yoruba countryside….
However, I would settle for the newly approved light rail link too. Completion time is 7 years, roll on 2022. And this time the Yoruba governments must ensure that no one is left behind. Plans should be put in place to extend rail travel into all Yoruba states.