If you are non-Yoruba or non-Nigerian (many people in other ethnic groups seem to have been hard at work copying this Yoruba non-tradition born of brain waves of a few women that have now become a multitude), you may wish to check out a 2004 essay from my old weekly column in the rested The Comet on Sunday which was reproduced here almost eight years to the date last year May:
It should enable you get into this short piece.
At a recent Yoruba traditional wedding engagement ceremony a young (I should just say ‘younger’) woman breezed from the part where I was among the groom’s family, and took the center stage by storm. She snatched (that’s the only word that best describes what she did) the microphone from the Alaga Iduro, rather, the woman I had thought was OUR representative, and gently scolded her for saying something in a certain way!
The Alaga Ijoko, the spokeswoman for the bride’s family who had been a star of her kind since the always tortuously-long program got under way: chatty, boisterous, part priest, part p.r.o., joyous and always ready with a dance routine which she did on the same spot merely shaking her not-Miss-Nigeria-type body, suddenly wilted before our very eyes – at least before mine.
I had barely started to wonder at the sudden cessation of ceaseless chatter from the bride’s rep when low murmurs started going round: the stylish lady with the proper pedicure (a pretty pair of slippers showed off her pretty feet) is a star of Yoruba movies, and from the moment she took the microphone, she never let us forget that fact. And the Alaga Ijoko welcomed her with a reference to one of her movies she saw that morning and a repartee that must have tickled the star: how in the world could she traverse such long distances in such a short time except for airplanes!
Pardon me, I’m a bit of a laggard in that area of modern Yoruba “culture”: Nollywood movies and its stars. I leaned over to my brother, the groom’s dad, and asked for info on the Star who, despite her weight, was brisk and smart, and as she danced, she would raise a foot with delicately-painted toes and wiggle it before pirouetting! My God, “what is her name”, I asked a second time. Of course, my brother, who is older than me by almost a decade, did not know. He turned to the wife who gave a name that drew a blank from me.
So, Ibo lati ri? Ta l’o organize e ninu awon girls? I asked which of my nieces “organized her” because despite my laggard-ness, I’m not unaware that Yoruba movies and the stars they’ve sprung are big not only in Nigeria but among young Nigerians in the States where a niece watches the genre; I’ve also been long aware of some big names like Jalade-Ekehinde and Stella Damasus in the industry as I read quite a wide variety of Nigerian publications. See!
I must explain briefly why I’m not enamored of movies that put women down even more than the reality in Nigeria. While I’ve never taken in more than cursory looks when I visit homes where these movies are on, I’ve gone beyond wondering aloud to friends and family why the movies I see bits of have always shown women weeping to writing on Nollywood. I concluded one of the essays with the cliché about the senselessness of questioning success since the movies make tons of money and producers could not see the sense in making the movies more culturally real and clean.
The Alaga Ijoko, to whom the day usually belongs (by default since brides’ parents seem to have given her limitless powers to lead prayers, choose hymns and the tunes even when she cannot carry a tune like most Alaga) perhaps as much as the bride, soon capitulated to our Yoruba Star who took center stage, dancing and generally going off on those effete monologues that characterize many Yoruba MODERN traditional wedding engagement ceremonies.
Since I lost an uncle to whom I used to turn in matters like this, I’ve sort of adopted my Significant Other as an uncle, and so, to him I turned, and posed this question:
How could Ms. Y, a Nollywood movie star, do THIS kind of job?
He looked at me with that smile that says are you kidding: “her fees and the offerings from the bowl circulation are good and two, she’s also acting out there. Ekini, theatre Yoruba; ekeji theatre of the absurd as you grammar people would say!” Mercifully, the ear-shattering drumming drowned out my laughter.
In his “Trial of Cows” last month, The Nation on Sunday’s Tatalo might have had his mind on a more elevating subject than Nollywood – the frustration and disillusionment academic-type Nigerian critics must feel about their country - his words were anything but: “in which case you don’t need to bother about whether you are actually watching a play or dreaming; or whether you are actually dead or part of the cast of a hilarious tragicomedy. We seem to have arrived at that juncture where fanciful reality meshes seamlessly with colourful fiction.
That is exactly how I feel each of the very few times I must attend the so-called traditional engagement ceremonies which are no longer about culture. A near out-of-body experience that sees me watching a not-“hilarious tragicomedy” in which I’m also a participant is how these “fanciful reality” shows that are more of “colourful fiction”, almost always seem to me.