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On May 18th, we posted the full transcript of Funmi Iyanda’s Youtube video titled “Why Are Yoruba Men Demons?” Read it here if you missed it. Koyejo Adebakin has written a response to Iyanda’s provocations, offering new insights into what the fascinating concept of a Yoruba demon might mean. 

***

On a humid March evening of 1993, six glum-faced women, including my mother, are wearing identical grey and black aso-oké. They are seated on the front row. It is my father’s funeral.

Event proceeds as usual with a lying-in-state of his ashen body adorned in all-white agbada, hat and shoes. Hymns sung and prayers are recited. Loud cries when the undertakers, using blue twines, carefully lowered his sealed casket into the earth, and we his children— a lined up in long queue in descending order—take turns to drop fistful of sand upon the white and gold casket. The wives follow, then extended family, and friends.

Over the years I’ve had reasons to return to this day, for understanding. It was on this day that I discovered that the older brother I’d thought was my father’s first-born wasn’t his son. My Dad married his mother while she was pregnant with him, waited till she put to bed, and two years later, she would carry my father’s first child.

It was also on this day that I found out that my father wasn’t my mother’s first husband either. My mother’s first child showed up for the funeral. And only a few years ago, I’d pondered over what seemed an oddity, that two of the women on that front row had ‘new’ husbands with whom they had teenage children, both of whom were in the crowd on that day. Why did these women still identify as my father’s wives?

The Yoruba people say a person you’ve created a child with can never be introduced as a friend. Indeed, “I’m with him for our children’s sake,” is a common phrase Yoruba women use. A sentiment she may share with women elsewhere. Difference being that the Yoruba woman means it literally. Her child[ren], and not her husband, is her source of pride. The value she places on being a mother is higher than being a wife.

As contemporaries elsewhere may fascinate over their engagement and wedding bands, the Yoruba woman’s anxieties evolves around missing her menstrual cycle, and when she does, she glows as much as a European woman on her wedding day. Both women equally proud to navigate their respective societies using the acquired identities, evident by how they introduce themselves: Mrs [husband’s surname], Mama [first child’s name].

The historical Yoruba man was somewhat a sperm donor to the Yoruba woman. She was with him not because of “love”; she wanted children who carried his genes. In that Old Yoruba society the woman was a mother not a wife. A child-bearing woman was addressed as ‘our mother’ in public spaces. She was looked upon as one who sustained society’s existence. And this she did by reproducing with the ‘best’ of men from neighboring communities (the dangers of inbreeding known).

It was also thought that ‘over-or-under-achieving’ men could transfer traits to their offspring. Therefore, a historical Yoruba man would be honored when his advances were accepted, often by multiple women. In fact, multiple women in separate households within his compound attributed to him a ‘dominant’ status.

Upon the birth of their child, the Old Yoruba woman predictably transferred her affection from her husband to their child. She would cater for the child in her house with proceeds from her enterprise. The effect of this abandonment on the Yoruba man, who simply carried on with daily livelihood, barely considered.

That the Yoruba man of today feels undeserving of a girlfriend or wife until he has secured some level of personal achievement is past conditioning. The Yoruba man, in the agrarian past, perceived to be workshy, could never persuade a woman to have his children. He was laughed off and farmland withdrawn from him.

In that past of a man-and-woman bicameral monarchical Yoruba society, it was considered that society is happy when women-folk are happy. Christian missionaries who must’ve seen men geared in masquerades that had a woman’s bodily features (Efé and Gélédè) to appease their town’s women, would’ve translated in Anglo-Saxon thought, that the Yoruba man is a philogynist (assumed a mental illness in Europe at that time).

Yoruba Afro-pop musicians (men) who today, like their juju, fuji and apala progenitors, compose songs to flatter women, unconsciously carry on with an age-long tradition.

A lasting effect of colonialism is inauthenticity,  “double consciousness,” a term coined by W.E.B Du Bois. The Yoruba Daemon has a double consciousness. On the one hand, he knows that in a now capitalist Yoruba and larger Nigerian society, he’s better off having one partner, with whom he should nurture one, or, say, three children, and pass on an inheritance pot to better his children’s life chances. On the other hand he seeks concubines for validation to feel ‘dominant.’

In his childhood memoir, Aké, Wole Soyinka, writes of his mother Wild Christian and his aunt Beere. These were Yoruba women (although of aristocratic ancestry) who had morphed into the hybrid Western-Yoruba-woman “onikaba.” They could read and write in English, and their husbands were part of the colonial structure. Mr Soyinka nicknamed Essay is a teacher. Ransome-Kuti dubbed Daodu is clergyman.

Their women’s group, Abeokuta Women’s Union, unseated the Alake of Egbaland and stripped naked the Ogboni chiefs who had acted spineless over issue of British Taxes. These women had continued in the way of Efunroye Tinubu who, a generation before them, had arguably sold more enslaved persons than any other individual on the Eko-Abeokuta axis, and had assisted three men she favored to become Obas of Lagos in her lifetime.

Many Yoruba men stuck with Islam that had arrived before Christianity, and maintained polygamous lifestyles. Mavericks, like my father, claimed to be a Western-Yoruba-man, yet was polygamous, as accommodated by then Methodist Church.

None other than Beere’s son, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would years later reject this colonial worldview, insisting that “a Yoruba woman isn’t jealous,” marrying twenty-seven women on one day. His son, Femi Kuti, now declares: I will not be faithful to one woman!

Looking at those six women wearing identical aso-oké on the front row of my father’s funeral that evening, they looked like sisters. This would’ve occurred to many onlookers too. They gyrated together to syncretized ‘fuji gospel’ live band, and in weeks that followed, they gathered once more to relive memories: mostly their petty rivalries. They all owned a piece of my father. In them he was whole – that was the Old Yoruba man.

Being the object of his mother’s love from cradle to adulthood and exempted from partaking in the physical upbringing of his children, the Old Yoruba man may have been emotionally immature. My father and his elder brother migrated 50 miles from their birthplace in Abeokuta to Lagos. Their mother lived with them in turns, at times as frequent as weekly swaps.

Today’s “Yoruba Daemon” phenomenon might simply just be a self-absorbed man.

 

**********

About the Author

Koyejo Adebakin has had work accepted by The Harrow Observer. He is contributor to Remembering Oluwale, a collection of fiction, non-fiction and poems themed around life of David Oluwale who died mysteriously in Leeds in 1969, for which two British Police Officers were charged for manslaughter. It won Best Anthology at Saboteur Awards 2017.

 

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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

2 Responses to “Is the Yoruba Demon Just a Self-absorbed Man? | By Koyejo Adebakin” Subscribe

  1. Hannah 2017/06/16 at 08:43 #

    Provokes deep thought. i daresay the ‘Yoruba demon; phenomenon, can’t be attributed to just the Yoruba, if we’re to be honest.

    This line, though:

    “My Dad married his mother while she was pregnant with him, waited till she put to bed, and two years later, she would carry the brother I thought was my father’s first child.”

    Mistake? Or am I missing something?

  2. Koyejo Adebakin 2017/06/23 at 10:48 #

    Hannah, you’ve read right – though sentence should end “…she would carry my father’s first child” (which reads more outrageous right? But true). And indeed, the ‘Yoruba demon’ is limited to ‘Yoruba man’ here for context only.

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