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Olúróunbí’s Promise,


An African Folktale

__________


Princess Sherifat Akóredé


Illustrated by

Súnkànmí Akínbóyè





Olurounbi’s Promise 
is a unique glimpse into the Nigerian town of Yorubaland, where typical experiences of West African life coalesce with compelling mysticism to form valuable lessons. Princess Sherifat reminds us of the power of storytelling and the value of discovering cultures different from our own.

Alex Melone (TypeRight Editing)


As an adolescent, I fondly remember Princess Sherifat gathering my relatives and I for "story time." Her narration immersed us in elaborate worlds far beyond our native Chicago upbringing, yet we saw ourselves in the stories and grew a deep affinity for the characters. I am thrilled to have these stories take new life in her first book so I can share them with the next generation of young people, as they develop their spirituality, family values, and empathy towards others. 

Ahrif Sarumi

(Founder of Aces of Taste, Houston)


“I enjoyed it as much as the children of Lagos. I loved the nuanced and details that show the reader what it's like to live in Lagos. You enrich your story with that care and attention to specifics that makes you story even more interesting to someone that has never traveled to Africa. The details like the types of food being cooked or not sitting under the tree bring your story to life. I also liked the delicate and precise characterization of your primary and secondary characters. The couple is loving and realistic, and the in-laws are even more realistic in their different approaches to family problems. Excellent work.”

Alex Perry (Houston Writers Guild, Texas).



“Get ready to be enchanted by a warm, funny, sad, and loving story set in Africa. When Olurounbi and her husband had not given birth to a child soon after their marriage, some people started insulting and blaming them for it. Their love for each other and their faith kept them together. Princess Sherifat takes you on a journey among the Yoruba people of Nigeria that you never want to come to an end.”

Aisha Ọ̀sányìn, La Reve Bridal Couture



The uniqueness of this story lies in the fact that Ìrókò tree, displaying ambivalent characteristics is not a true antagonist. It's dimensionality results in a very interesting outcome." 

Muhibat Edunjobi
University of Illinois (Chicago) 




Olúróunbí’s Promise, An African Folktale

Copyright © 2018 by Princess Sherifat Akóredé

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

ISBN 978-0-9850268-8-2

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.


Princess Sherifat Akóredé / Royal Heritage Publishing Company

12043 Hira Lake Dr. Houston, TX / Harris County – 77099, USA

www.princesssherifatakorede.com


Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Email contact: author@www.princesssherifatakorede.com or princessakorede@gmail.com

Information: Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by corporations, associations, and others. For details, contact the publisher at the address above.

Houston / Princess Sherifat Akóredé — First Edition

ISBN-978-0-9850268-8-2

ÀFIHÀN - INTRODUCTION

From birth till age sixteen years, I lived in Lagos, Nigeria with one travel overseas at age fourteen years on the Holy Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia; and trips to Abẹ́òkúta, Ògùn State with my maternal grandmother for the annual Muslim Eid Festival and to Ògbómọ̀shọ́, Ọ̀yọ́ State for occasional visits to see my paternal grandfather. From 1978 to 1983, sojourned in the Middle East with my father who was a Nigerian diplomat, along with the rest of the family.

During this period of my life, I was exposed to Yorùbá folktales, Arabian tales and English fairytales, primarily from my grandparents, my older sister, Alhaja Ganiat Akóredé, and my father, Chief Imam Sheikh Prince Muritala (Murtadha) Àkànbí Akóredé, an acknowledged story-weaver, story-teller and lyric composer in both English and Yorùbá Languages. My father transferred much of his tales and oral tradition skills to his children, relatives, wards, and so many others who encountered him. Hence, my love for story-telling and a knack for embellishment of the originals.

When I relocated to the United Stated at the end of the 1980s decade, I shared a lot of the Yorùbá folklore and Islamic/Arabian tales that I had heard to my children, relatives, their friends and some students I thought.

Being an avid reader from a family of readers, helped in expanding my knowledge base and in igniting my love for writing. Based on my recollection, I started writing regularly at sixteen years old.

Olúróunbí’s Promise is meant to be a cultural and spiritual but secular book that adherents of any religion can comfortably relate to. Spirituality is a vital and integral part of the Yorùbá people’s lives, irrespective of the religion they follow. Majority believe in a supreme being that everything and everyone else ultimately defer to, hence the word God is used as a representative of that supreme being.

As a parent and a relatively new grandparent, I realize that it is very important to join others in leaving a legacy of transmitting and sharing African (Yorùbá) folklore with the general world population in written and oral form. After many decades of the timeless COMING TO AMERICA movie, the advent of the superbly-made BLACK PANTHER movie, this is a time that I consider the neo-renaissance of African literature and pride in America.

As far as Yorùbá language is concerned, some people are concerned that it is an endangered language that may become extinct in less than a century from now. Although it is spoken in the southwestern region in Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo, Brazil, pockets of communities in the United Kingdom and the United States of America; and has recently been declared an official language in Brazil, it is being replaced with English in Nigerian homes. It is banned and forbidden in many homes and some schools for children to speak it. It is classified as “vernacular.” In some circles, it is a sign of affluence and modernization. Unfortunately, it is the official language in Nigeria and many other countries colonized by the British. Therefore, and consequently, people are not motivated to master it. Our motivation is to master and honor the foreign language of the colonialist. Even though, I am not one of the scanty few masters of Yoruba language and culture, I like to align myself with the propagators of Yorùbá pride awakening. I hope the new generations will right the wrong that had been done and families would take pride in their heritage.

I am very happy that my goal to contribute is taking shape and would come to fruition, by God’s Grace. And I hope you will enjoy the journey with Olúróunbí and her promise to Ìrókò tree, the King of the woods.


ÌDÚPẸ́ – DEDICATION

My gratitude is offered to the Almighty Creator of the universe and all that is in it, The Supreme God of all.

This book is dedicated to my family, starting with my late father, Chief Imam Sheikh Prince Muritala (Murtadha) Àkànbí Akóredé, who was a great storyteller among his many talents and gifts; and to his partner in birthing me into this world, my sweet superwoman, Alhaja Chief Hassanat Táíwò Àkànkẹ́ Akóredé-Balógun, who always puts her children first after God and The Prophet (SAW).

The tremendous support and immeasurable love from my children, Aisha &, Ibraheem Babájídé Ọ̀sányìn, their son, Abdul-Raheem Hakeem Babátúndé Ọ̀sányìn, Rashidat Ọmọlọlá, Muhibat Ọlábòmí and Muhammed Ẹdúnjọbí-II “MJ” UIC Flame. Their belief and confidence in me gave me the confidence to follow my rainbow. Their tireless assistance in proof-reading and editing greatly contributed to the successful completion of this work. The birth of my first grandson, Abdul-Raheem Hakeem Babátúndé Ọ̀sányìn, infused my life with unparallel energy, joy, and enthusiasm to keep on working through the storm of book writing. As if the Universe knew what I needed next, its Lord sent me a wonderful companion in the person of Sheikh Uthman Musa Ọláìtán (Al-Ilori) to spice up things. His advent brought along much needed spousal support and unexpectedly a vast knowledge in farming, herbal medicine, nature, animals, the woods, healing, prevention, The Scripture, Yorùbá and Arabic languages, culture, customs and traditions.

I also dedicate this book to each of my twenty siblings from both parents: the nuclear and extended members of Akóredé and the Alli-Balógun clan.

This is also in memory of many departed loved ones, among whom are my beloved father, Alhaji Muritala Akorede, my mother’s twin brother, Mr. Hussain Kehinde Uthman, my father’s sisters and brothers, my first husband, the Late Alhaji Abdul-Hakeem Àjàó Adégbindin and my brother, Abdul-Hafeez Akóredé, and my friend’s son, a beautiful young soul, Fuad “Muyiwa Matti. The late Hakeem Adébáyọ̀ who played a significant role in supporting my writing career in 1989 by paying off a publisher a large sum of money to retrieve my first manuscript from them after leaving Nigeria. I pray that you all rest in perfect peace and comfort in the bowel of mother earth.

I have been blessed to have so many God-sent kind people supporting me through thick and thin to keep me of sound mind and nourished body to see this day. It is impossible to list them all here but I ask you to be blessed for eternity. To mention a few, Alhaji Luqman Ìyàndá Akóredé, Prince Ayọ̀ & Adéníké Akóredé (Bàbá Zeenah), Alhaji Bashir & Mrs. Kafilat Akóredé-Bello, Fatima Akóredé-Ọdúnewu, Mrs. Kẹ́mi & Dr. Túnjí Aláúsá, Mr. & Mrs. O. J. Lawal, Sandra Jackson-Opoku, Asi Williams, Alhaji Shewu & Wanda Akóredé, My beautiful inspiring longtime friends, Hanan Wajid and Kitten “Kat” Grey, the Alli family of Alhaja Rafatu, Alhaji Salman Akóredé & family, Kafilat Abdul-Majeed, Alhaja Fatimo Solomon, Alhaji & Alhaja Sàrùmí, Ahrif Sàrùmí, and all the Akóredés from Ògbómọ̀shọ́ and Abẹ́òkúta. I am grateful to Mrs. Rashidat Kíkẹ́ and Ambassador Rafiu Bello for allowing me in the west wing of their home for a solo writer’s retreat. Mr. and Mrs. Kẹ́hìndé and Lọlá Alli were consistently supportive in so many ways. To Mrs. Jane Schelander, my English Literature professor at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia who helped me discover my writing skills when she shocked me in 1980 with a statement, “You write well, I will make a good writer out of you.”

It's my pleasure to acknowledge the spiritual nurturing, love and support that the Nigerian-American Muslim communities in Houston, Texas (Ansar-Ud-Deen SW-Houston and the North America continent (ADSNA) under the leadership of The Worldwide Missioner, Chief Imam Abdur-Rahman Ọlánrenwájú Ahmad, Houston NASFAT, Masjid-ul Mumineen, and in Chicago area: Light of Islam (LOI) and Nigerian Islamic Associaltion (NIA), University of Chicago Muslim Students Association as well as in other parts of the United States, and Nigeria.

To everyone that I have mentioned and those that I could not mention, I pray that goodness and blessings come back around to you and yours.

ÌJẸ́Ẹ̀RÍ – ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

First and foremost, I acknowledge the presence and manifestation of God in my life as The Controller and Discharger of my affairs. Then I acknowledge the support, contribution and hard work of the following people/entity to the successful completion of this project:

Súnkànmí Akínbóyè, my illustrator, who put up with my tough demands in portraying and giving visual to what were in my head onto his working material. He patiently drafted and re-drafted each art work until I was satisfied.

Mrs. Reyhanat Títí and Dr. Tijani Mọ́gàjí along with Ismail Gbénga and Tósìn Alli-Balógun were instrumental in scouting for the right artist in Nigeria and overseeing the contract transaction on my behalf with Súnkànmí Akínbóyè.

Ms. Asi (Azeezat) Williams who refused to let me rest by insisting that I must continue publish my work. My daughter, Mrs. Aisha Ọ̀sányìn’s confidence in my writing was demonstrated in her relentless encouragement and support. She encouraged participation in writers’ groups, conferences and workshops; and often paid applicable fees and charges.

My in-house proof-readers, editors and critiques, Ms. Rashidat, Muhibat, Aisha and Muhammed, who in spite of their respective busy lives, created time to help me do the necessary work. Mrs. Fadheelah Ọpẹ́yẹmí Ṣódípẹ̀-Ọ̀kánlàwọ́n, supported by her husband, Mr. Abdulaziz Ọ̀kánlàwọ́n, provided valuable contribution to proof-reading and editing. In addition, Mrs. Fadheelah (thanks to her father, Alhaji Nurudeen Ṣódípẹ̀, lecturer at the Federal College of Education, Abẹ́òkúta, Ògùn State who taught her the language) is responsible for the accenting and tone-marking of all the Yorùbá words and names in this book. Before discovering this gem, the world’s nicest journalist in the United Kingdom Diaspora, Mr. Wale Hassan, had volunteered to carry out the task, in addition to his free blasting of my book on his Live Facebook show, ‘ṢÉ Ẹ WÀ?’ (Are you fine?).

I appreciate Tiffany Miller for creating the initial publishing roadmap of Olúróunbí’s Promise and exposing me to the complex nuances of the creature called Publishing.

I acknowledge the exceptional peer critique of this book by the Houston Writers Guild, especially the constructive feedback from Alex Perry and Pat Daily which is part of the reason the story was expanded from less than 40 pages to 200 pages. The exposure into the writing and publishing industry gained as a member of the Houston Chapter Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has been outstandingly educative and inspiring.

My mother, Alhaja Hassanat Táíwò Akóredé-Balógun’s 24/7 prayers and regular status checking-in, “Ṣé oti ko ìwé yen tán? Ọlọ́run ábá ẹṣẹ́ o,” were evidently accepted and granted. Alhamdulillah, Glory be to God.

Even though, he prefers to be an invisible support system, Alhaji Mr. O. J. Lawal demonstrated his endorsement of my creative and entrepreneurial aspiration by providing positive reinforcement and a jumpstart. Jazaakunmullah Kheiran.

My sincere gratitude also extends to those that I did not mention herein. God’s Blessings on you and yours.

Ọ̀RỌ̀ ÌÁÁJÚ - FOREWORD

After many, many years of writing, Olúróunbí’s Promise is finally a reality. The author, who also happens to be my mother, spent several years compiling the chapters that make up this story. It grew and transformed many times before it took its final form, a first of a series. Olúróunbí’s Promise is a story that merges African folklore with a modern perspective.

It is also a story that has pulled me in many times during the editing process. Despite having heard the original folk tale many times in the duration of my childhood, I am simultaneously surprised and proud of what my mother has turned it into. If you are a Nigerian, you will appreciate this take on the original lore. If you aren't, you will learn a whole lot about the culture. Either way, I invite you to jump in. Thanks for reading!

Rashidat Ọmọlọlá Ẹdúnjọbí

December 2018

Ọ̀RỌ̀ ÀKỌ́S - PREFACE

This project was born out of the realization that majority of Nigerian children both in the homeland and in the Diaspora did not know Yorùbá stories. They romanced English/Western tales. As a parent, I was part of the problem. I invested a lot of money in collecting the Cinderella, Snow White, Barbie, Ken, Aladdin, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Shrek, Mulan, books, music and movies to list a few. My daughters even competed on their favorite characters. Hmmmm … and we wonder why children of immigrant parents in the western world have identity crisis.

In retrospect, I realize that I have always admired the richness of African culture, tradition, dressing, history, lifestyle and food as I was always drawn to books and stories from all part of African, in addition to my immersion western literature.

In the middle of working on an adult novel manuscript, I decided to suspend it and I started writing a collection of seven Yorùbá children’s tales with Ìjàpá (the trickster and mischievous tortoise) as the central character. The stories of Ìjàpá were every child’s favorite. After completing four or five of the manuscript, something persistently nagged me to publish Olúróunbí’s story first. Ever since I was an adolescent, the story of Olúróunbí having sacrificed her daughter was always harrowing my mind. I pondered on why a parent would opt to give her daughter as a sacrifice in exchange for material things. So, I decided to publish the story of Olúróunbí first.

The completed manuscript was 32 pages of text. In order to provide a visual aid for the targeted age range, I started the tedious task of getting a Yorùbá artist who could give the illustration the authenticity that I desire. Then, I started sharing the manuscript with my critique group at the Houston Writers Guild. It literally opened a can of nice worms. They demanded more contextual, setting, cultural, and language information. Ms. Asi Williams and Ms., Muhibat Ẹdúnjọbí were the first to point out that some of the themes were not appropriate for the audience intended; yet they were peculiar societal issues that needed to be brought to light. Thus, I embarked on the rewrite process of Olúróunbí’s Promise. At the end of the day, it turned out to almost quadruple length. The project transformed from a 38-page children’s story book to about one hundred and forty-page young adult (YA) novel. It was a fantastically stressful and exciting journey. I love it!

The story consists of plots and subplots, themes and sub-themes that stretches over multiple generations that would incidentally bring to life a she-hero (Olúfúnmi, daughter of Olúróunbí) of uncommon power, qualities and character that young people can relate to. Her heroism will be demonstrated in how she surmounts extremely powerful negative forces and formidable enemies among humans, jinns, animals and supernatural creatures.

Several months of writing, proof-reading, editing, rewriting and re-editing, the manuscript was completed with all the Yorùbá names and words still in the Latin script. I wanted the book to be as authentic as possible. Also, part of my aim is to provide the opportunity for non-Yorùbá speakers to use it as a tool to learn some Yorùbá names, words and phrases. I hope you can benefit from this effort. Thank you.


Chapter 1

ÈKÓ – Lagos, Nigeria 1975

Ugh, NEPA!” echoed across the densely populated city of Lagos. Blackness enveloped the houses and the streets. Even the street lights went out, but instead of dampened spirits and anger, the youngsters from each family started giggling and laughing. The Nigerian National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) had wielded its authority, as usual, to eliminate light from parts of Lagos City. No one knew how long the outage would last.

After helping her mother lit a wax candle,
Làbákẹ́ rushed to the corner of the room where the straw mats rested against the wall. She grabbed one and ran out of her family’s two-room apartment, her farewell, “Ódàbọ̀, màámi,” trailing behind her. Màmá Làbákẹ́ smiled, shaking her head. I wonder which tale Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ will narrate today.

Làbákẹ́ almost collided with a couple of boys who were racing each other to the coconut palm tree in the middle of the Àyìnkẹ́ Housing courtyard. Even though she couldn’t catch up, she joined in the race. Children from several houses spilled onto the streets and were assembling in varying clusters, some carrying lanterns, others armed with battery-operated torch lights, and some without anything to light their way. Several children were already buzzing like bees on their woven mats made of straw and rubber. All parents knew that their children belonged to Alhaji during power-outages. The only children among the regulars who did not get to attend the storytelling under the palm tree were those who were sick or grounded by their parents.

Làbákẹ́ rolled out her mat as closely as she could to the base of the tree where Alhaji usually sat. The world’s best storyteller liked to sit on a mat and rest his back against the tree’s trunk.

This time, it had been as if NEPA was waiting for the arrival of dusk to flick off the power supply, happening just as the Muslim call to prayer, signaling full sunset, was heard over loudspeakers from the surrounding Mosques and as families had been preparing for supper and other end-of-day activities. Alhaji emerged from the small Mosque in the compound, beaming from ear to ear. His eyes danced over his children—he called all the neighborhood children his. He didn’t treat his own four biological children and his three nephews and niece who lived with him with preference. He was adored by all of the children and most of the adults in the area.

Commotion erupted when the assembled children sighted Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ emerging from the Mosque. The Muslim children who were among the congregation trailed behind him respectfully, in spite of their eagerness. As soon as Alhaji moved out of the way, the children behind him raced to the mats and squeezed into the dwindling open spaces.

“Daddy!” The children said in unison, giving him the crown as a sign of respect. “Good evening, sir.” The boys prostrated and the girls took to both knees.

Ekáalẹ́, gbogbo ẹ̀yin ọmọ mi (Good evening, my children).” He waved at his expectant audience. “So, you have begged NEPA to switch off the power tonight, so you can have an excuse to come and listen to stories, hennn, Àbí?

“Noooo! We did not, sir ooo!” they chorused.

“But we are glad they took the power, sir,” offered a girl of about eleven years old. “If not, our parents wouldn’t have allowed us to come out tonight. You are the only one they allow us to come together in the evening for, sir.”

“Okay,” he smiled, lowering his body onto the wooden folding chair in front of the tree. He nodded greetings at his closest friend, Pastor James, who had already taken a seat alongside the other adults. He smiled and returned the nod. Alhaji and Pastor James were childhood friends from their grade school days. Their fathers had worked together at the Nigerian Railway Corporation during the British colonial rule in Nigeria. They lived in the same neighborhood of Àpápá Road, Èbúté-Mẹ́ta. Their wives also became best of friends, and they looked out for each other’s children. As a result, their combined ten children became close. The two families celebrated the Muslim Eid festivals and the Christian holidays harmoniously together. Pastor James never missed his friend’s storytelling as long as he was around. His house was situated on a parallel street behind Alhaji’s house. The pastor’s seven children were also in attendance of their favorite pastime during the power outage.

The assembled younger children crouched near his chair, even though they knew that they would be redirected.

“My children, you know the rules, don’t you?”

“Yes sir.” Their sullen voices were accompanied by their instantaneous obedience. Feet scraped the ground as the children inched backward. Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ always insisted that they sat outside the brush of the tree to avoid coconut-inflicted head injuries. An impressive number of young men and adults had also assembled behind the children, each having brought his folding chair along. Alhaji observed that none of the few women who usually partook in the storytelling were present. He guessed that they must be busy with house chores, cooking supper and taking care of the family, as usual. After a satisfactory safety inspection of the children and ensuring that he was seated close enough to the tree trunk where coconuts could not stray, Alhaji cleared his throat playfully. He nodded at the two boys, Gabriel and Abdul-Salaam, cradling gángan talking drums under one arm and holding the sticks with the opposing hand. Signaling the commencement of the storytelling event, they started beating the gángan talking drums, gifted to them by the neighborhood Àyàn (professional drummer). The children responded with bobbing heads, shoulders, and flailing arms and hands in rhythm to the familiar melody. Alhaji signaled, and the drumming stopped. He started.

Ààlọ́ ooo (Story time).”

Ààlọ́!” They crowd replied in unison with the drums.

Alhaji stretched the sound like an elastic band.

Ààààlọ́!” The audience and the drums, following Alhaji’s cue, replied louder and longer. Young giggles and deeper chuckles accompanied the response backed by a series of drum beats.

Àààààààlọ́ ooo,” he elongated it further, enjoying the impatience of the little ones, whose eyes were nearly popping out of their sockets.

Ààààààààààlọ́!” The children surrendered to wild excitement, knowing that the suspense was over and their adventure was beginning. The drums infused the air with thrill.

Ní ìgbà kan (Once upon a time) ….”

Ìgbà kan ń lọ; ìgbà kan ń bọ̀; ọjọ́ ń gorí ọjọ́ (Time goes; time comes; day overtakes another day).” The audience recited the familiar response.

“Thousands of lunar months ago…” Alhaji paused for effect. His amused eyes once again danced over the listeners. He smiled, basking in their full attention. He rested his gaze longer on the usually fidgety seven-year-old Kúnlé, who had been nicknamed Ara-ò-balẹ̀ because of his hyperactivity and inattentive disposition. Alhaji smiled at Kúnlé and gave him an approving nod. Kúnlé returned an ear-to-ear grin and remained as calm as omi àmù, water stored overnight in a large clay water vessel, and as attentive as the elderly village mediator.

“And many, many tortoise generations ago…”

Làbákẹ́, as usual, raised her hand, requesting permission to speak. Alhaji gave a knowing smile, looked at her, and glanced at the pastor. They exchanged smiles, thinking, we know she’s going to ask questions for sure. Alhaji signaled to Làbákẹ́ to proceed.

She stood up, respectfully placed her hands behind her back, and cleared her throat importantly. “Daddy, sir, why do you always say ‘Many, many tortoise generations ago,’ sir? We all know that each lunar month is twenty-nine or thirty days and one thousand months equals eighty-three years. But we don’t know how long a tortoise’s life or their generation is.”

“Good question, Làbákẹ́.”

Làbákẹ́ grinned happily and curtsied at Alhaji; she glared ọ̀ọ́bì at a couple of boys who had accused her of interrupting the storytelling to get attention. They glared their ọ̀ọ́bì back at her as she sat down on the mat. “You just want people to think you’re smarter than everybody else, right?” They had often complained. “That’s not true!” Làbákẹ́ retorted.

The feudal exchange between the boys and Làbákẹ́ didn’t go unnoticed. “Thank you, Làbákẹ́; no question is a stupid question. It gives everyone the opportunity to gain deeper knowledge on a subject. Well, we say that because tortoises are among the animals that live for a long time. Many of them live longer than a hundred years if not killed. By the way, do you know that the longest living tortoise in the world right now lives in Nigeria?”

Several eyebrows were raised. “Really?” Many voices responded. “Where in Nigeria? Lagos? Ìbàdàn zoo? The north?”

“Really! Yes, in this very country of yours.”

“Which State and City, sir? Please, please, sir. Tell us, sir,” pleaded the younger children.

“In Ọ̀yọ State!” Alhaji announced brightly. Those whose native hometowns were located in Ọ̀yọ́ State broke in loud cheers while the rest of the children made a pseudo-disappointed sound.

“What part of Ọ̀yọ́ State?” they wanted to know.

Alhaji glanced at his friend who was beaming. “It is not living in a zoo. This particular tortoise is considered royalty because it lives in the palace of Ọba Ṣọ̀ún of Ògbómọ̀shọ́. It has been living there for about three hundred years. History tells us that it was brought into Ṣọ̀ún’s Palace in the 1770s by the third king who resigned after the kingdom of Ògbómọ̀shọ́ was founded, Ọba Ikúmóyèdé Àjàó.”

Suddenly, the audience heard another voice interrupt Alhaji, and their heads turned in its direction. “Can you children guess whose native hometown is Ògbómọ̀shọ́?” It was unmistakably the familiar voice of the pastor.

Following the rules of storytelling participation, several hands flew up, including Alhaji’s and the pastor’s children. “I know, I know,” several voices shouted.

Alhaji’s lips spread like an elastic band, lifting his high cheekbones into two oblong buns. Pastor pointed his index finger at a child that did not belong to his household nor Alhaji’s. He picked a boy who lived at least a seven minutes’ sprint from Alhaji’s residence. “Tell us!”

“You, sir,” he replied tentatively.

“No. I am not from Ògbómọ̀shọ́. I’m from Ìbàdàn. I know your guess is because of the tribal marks on my face.” A broad smile spread across the pastor’s face. “It is my good friend here,” he pointed at Alhaji. The children who knew Alhaji’s hometown nodded while those who did not know made an “ah!” surprised sound.

“Thank you, my dear pastor. Yes, indeed my father is from the Láoyè Dynasty, which is one of the ruling houses in Ògbómọ̀shọ́. Like I said earlier, the tortoise Alàgbà has been part of the palace household for almost three centuries.”

Làbákẹ́ raised her hand again but was too eager to wait for the permission to speak to be granted. She asked, “So, why do tortoises live for such a long time?”

“That’s a story for another day, Làbákẹ́. You know I have told you so many stories of Ìjàpá the tortoise, right?”

Bẹ́ẹ̀ni sà! Yes, sir!” chorused the children.

“One day, I will tell you all about Alàgbà, all right?”

The drummers signaled the end of the digression with a series of talking drums, instructing the continuation of Olúróunbí.

Alhaji, who was nearing fifty years old, couldn’t resist the calling of the drum; he sprang to his feet effortlessly. His shoulders started to jump up and down, curving and rolling in response to the dictates of the gángan. His jacquard agbádá, bùbá àti sòkòtò (three-piece Yorùbá men’s flowy garment) rustled and whirled by the power unleashed from every joint of his arms. Most of the children jumped to their feet and joined Alhaji in the baata dance. He danced with the virility and agility of a twenty-year-old man.

Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́, a soccer and a ping-pong table tennis player in his younger days, looked thirtyish. There was no visible fat on any part of his body. Even though he no longer played soccer, he played table tennis several days a week and often beat most of his opponents at the commercial table tennis spot across the street from his house. Whenever a player from other neighborhoods came and won every set of the game, the neighborhood youths would go and complain to him.

“Daddy! There’s a boy from another neighborhood who had put our ‘area’ champions to shame. He beat all our best players mercilessly!” they would report with indignation.

“Who is the boy? How could you allow someone from anywhere to come here and beat us?”

“Our boys tried seriously ooo, sir, but this man was good, fast, and ruthless. He beat every challenger.”

“Well, then invite him over next weekend and we’ll see how good and fast he is.” The conversation with the neighborhood emissary usually ended on that note. The ping-pong table tennis champion would come over to Alhaji’s “area,” engage in a fierce game of several sets, and Alhaji would win without much sweat. Most of Alhaji’s efforts were centered on his wrist and his long arms. He hardly ever ran helter-skelter after the tiny egg. His opponents usually did the running around. His good-natured smile hardly ever left his face. He remained the undefeated champion until one day when he was defeated by his own sixteen-year-old son, Ìyàndá. It was a historic day in the neighborhood—and beyond. News seemed to have traveled at the speed of a raging forest fire when Ìyàndá won two of the three sets of the game. Spectators surrounding the players blocked the roadway. Other spectators of all ages and gender lined up on the balconies and terraces overlooking the street. Ìyàndá had mastered his father’s style and techniques. Neither of them sweated, however, Ìyàndá’s youthfulness gave him a tremendous advantage over his father. It was a Saturday, and neither father nor son was willing to be the first to call for an end to the game. Eventually, after several hours of playing, the owner of the ping-pong table called for the end of the game. At that time, the game stats were 7 to 3 sets of three in favor of Ìyàndá. He approached his father, bowed, lowered his entire body to the ground in prostration, and congratulated his father for what he called the greatest game of his life. Alhaji placed his hand on his son’s head lovingly, then pulled him up to a standing position and pronounced him the new champion of Èbúté-Mẹ́ta amid wild cheers and applause.

Alhaji’s firm lanky body surprisingly moved like a professional dancer just as it did at the ping-pong game with ease. The children, having scattered the mats on the ground with their frenzy dancing, rearranged and settled back on the mats as soon as the drum roll combination signaled the end of the round.

During the story time, Ìyàndá sat beside his fifteen-year-old friend, son of Pastor James.

Back on his chair, Alhaji continued with the story. “Ìyàwó àti ọkọ kan wa. (There existed a woman and her husband).” He heard the unmistakable squeaky anticipatory excitement of the young children as he introduced the characters of the day’s story. He knew their individual minds were wondering if it was a story they had heard before or a new one. Although the adults were calmer, they did not try to hide the pleasure readable on their faces.

Wọ́n wà bí ẹ̀wà (They exist like beans exist).” The young drummers showed off their prowess in enunciating each syllable in sync with the audience.

Ààlọ́ mi leri, o leri, o leri isele kan ni ilu kan nile Yorùbá. (My story is about an event that occurred in the town of Yorùbá land).”

The younger children crouched closer to the chair, even though, they knew that they would be redirected.

“My children, you know the rules, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” their sullen voices did not prevent the instantaneous obedience of inching back while measuring the peripheral range of an incidental fall of a ripe coconut. Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ always insisted that they sat outside the fall of the coconuts to avoid coconut-inflicted head injuries. An impressive number of all male young and older adults had also assembled behind the children, each having brought his own folding chairs along. After a satisfactory safety inspection of the children and ensuring that he was seated close enough to the tree trunk where a falling coconut could not reach, Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ cleared his throat playfully. He nodded at the two boys, Gabriel and Abdul-Salaam, cradling gángan talking drums under their arms and holding the sticks with the other hand. Signaling the commencement of the story telling storytelling event, they started hitting the gángan talking drum drums that were gifted to them by the neighborhood Àyàn professional drummer. The children responded with various movements of the heads, shoulders, flailing arms and hands in rhythm to the familiar melody. Alhaji Ọlọ́mọwẹ́wẹ́ signaled and the drumming stopped. He started …


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