Though I was tired, the joy of spending the night in Abeokuta gave me no other option than the respect the croaky sound from my near-dead techno phone gave me as I woke at 4:30am as usual. I had planned on seeing the Ake’s Palace, the famous Idi Aba Museum, and the most horrific of them all – The Bilikisu Sungbo Grave.
I put calls through to those who had helped me the previous day as I promised, especially my tour guide at Olumo Rock, and the receptionist who gave me a few travelling tips for my stay at Abeokuta. I needed no one to tell me to head straight to Panseke after the normal morning rituals of cleaning myself and the room up.
Dare was still fast asleep and I didn’t need to disturb him as I now knew a little about movement around Abeokuta.
Onikolobo to Panseke costs 40 naira, and from there, I joined another cab heading towards the Alake’s palace. You really need to flag these cabs down or else they wouldn’t stop. You’d wonder where they are speeding to without passengers. Lol.
On getting to the palace, I met an elderly man who would definitely be in his late 60s. After prostrating and re-narrating my reason for coming, he told me to come back by around 4pm as there was a meeting of the most important personalities in the kingdom going on.
“So there is still a traditional congress?” I wondered while I subconsciously prayed that the most relevant of African culture would stand the test of time.
I wasted no time as I flagged down a cab which took me straight to the Methodist Girl’s High School where the Idi Aba Museum is located.
IDI ABA MUSEUM
As I approached the massive black gates of the school, I couldn’t help but wonder why a museum would be located in an “only girls” school. My pace reduced with each step towards the gate as I was torn between knocking and just going in directly. In no time, I found myself inside with no remembrance of which choice I finally made. The neatly maintained environment caught my fancy due to the soothing melody emanating from the whispering of the trees in the compound.
Whether it was morning devotion or a special environmental sanitation session, I don’t know, but what I observed was the gaze of the secondary school girls on me like I dropped from Neptune.
I proceeded to the reception of the museum after being directed by one of the teachers while the students looked on. There, I was welcomed by the staff who were visibly less busy, perhaps due to low patronage.
“Could it be because of the fees they charge?” I thought within myself before being jolted back to life by a dark complexioned woman (let me call her Mrs. xxx), who eventually became my guide at the museum. She asked if I had change and my jaw dropped as I was told the fee was 150 naira (mehn!).
I was told to read the instructions of the museum while I made payment. They include:
- Do not eat inside the museum,
- Don’t bring in a camera (this surprised me), and
- Do not touch or lean against any artifact.
I was so eager to see what a museum looked like because the closest I had gotten about them was through reading about it in one of my “reading books” in primary school where Edet was taken to one by an uncle of his – I can’t recall the uncle’s name.
DESCRIPTION OF THE IDI ABA MUSEUM
Right by the entrance are the portraits of Nigeria’s current president and that of the present governor of Ogun State. Both were guided by two Nigerian flags. The theme/motto of the museum ‘Traditional Norms and Values in Social Reformation’ was well spelt beneath.
We entered the museum which had different sections mostly comprising of transparent boxes and boards with red backgrounds. Mrs. xxx asked if I was ready and I gladly replied that I was as I brought out my notepad and pen.
Then we started.
The sections were:
The Governance shelves, Masks and Masquerades, Ancestral Figures, Drums, Dances, Charms and Medicines.
The governance box tells the different traditional governance mechanisms in the traditional Nigerian setting. The masks and masquerades’ box outline myriads of them available both in the present and in the past. Same applies to the ancestral figures, dances, drums, charms and medicine.
THE OGBONI CULT GROUP
This cult group is a secret society in the Yoruba land popularly affiliated with the Egba and Ijebu people. It is constituted mainly of the powerful elites in the land whose basic responsibility is to install or dethrone a king. Another of their function is to pass judgment on offenders within the land. The instruments used by the Ogboni cult group include:
- Ipawo Ogboni: A sharp metallic object which every cult member holds in place of a staff.
- Onile: This is another sharp metallic object given to the head of the cult. It is slightly different from the Ipawo (which is meant for the members). Onile shows the supremacy of the cult head.
- Edun Ogboni: This symbolizes the ones in the cult.
- The Ogboni Bracelet: A metallic bracelet worn around the upper arm by every member of the cult.
I was then shown a picture of two Ogboni members replicating the characteristics of a typical Ogboni. Their bulging eyes and sealed mouths, according to Mrs. xxx, inscribed that the Ogboni can see beyond the ordinary and that there is a very high level of secrecy within the cult. They don’t reveal secrets, no matter how severe the situation is. Their oneness trait was depicted by a thick chain which connected their hands. I heaved an audible sigh of relief cos all i just heard complemented all I knew about this cult beforehand.
Then I was shown other things
Note that the Masks and Masquerades were specifically used for entertainment and for the maintenance of law and order.
- The Ofo Masquerade: This is a masquerade that is found in Igbo land. And according to Mrs. xxx, this masquerade is believed to be a honest and trustworthy one, hence it is believed to have the right to pass judgment.
- Ulaga Masquerade: This is a mask usually worn to dethrone a king – popularly called Obi in Onitsha (in the eastern part of Nigeria).
- Ukhure: Found amongst the people of Benin, it is a staff of office used by the traditional rulers.
- Bows, Arrows and Spears: This is usually given to kings in the Hausa land to indicate their supremacy and honour.
- Oju Egwu: It is a fierce looking masquerade owned by the people of Igala (Kogi State). It is used to instill law and order in the land. It also has the power to torment offenders by mostly appearing to them in their dreams.
- Ekpe Society (Calabar): The Ekpe masquerade come out twice yearly – early in the year and in the middle of the year. It is a good acrobatic dancer with a stick in its hand and a bell strung to its back so as to attract people to come out to watch it.
- Afikpo: This is found in the Igbo land. Its purpose is for entertainment, and to maintain law and order.
- Ori Egungun: This is found within the Yorubas and is used for dressing masquerade’s head.
- Gelede: This masquerade is one of the most popular in the Yoruba land. It comes out only during the outbreak of an epidemic – especially small pox and measles. Gelede helps appease the gods.
Different families have their special gelede masquerade which is depicted by the different headdress of any Gelede masquerade. For instance, if a family is comprised majorly of hunters, the headdress of such a family’s Gelede will have different images of hunters on it. The one in the museum had drummers on it, that means that the family who owned that Gelede were drummers.
- Ekpo Mask: Found among the Ibibio people, it is used to pass law and also maintain orderliness. There are two kinds – the scary and the friendly.
The friendly Ekpo comes out to strictly entertain, hence, children and adults alike go to dance and play with it during festivals. On the flip side, the scary Ekpo masquerade can only be watched by initiated members of the Ekpo cult.
- Zangbeto: This popular masquerade predominantly is from Badagry among the people of Egun. It is a riverside masquerade whose duty is to entertain and maintain law and order.
Note: Maintenance of law and order generally implies that people anticipate the coming out of these masquerades.
They (the masquerades) while performing, abuse offenders by using a special tone to call them out and also narrate their offence to the hearing of those present in a bid to disgrace the offenders. This act will go a long way in discouraging others from doing the same thing. They go as far as singing these songs at the doorsteps of the offenders. They also pass judgment. Yeah! They are that powerful.
- Ofoe: Found in Benin and tagged the messenger of death, this masquerade comes out only when a death sentence is passed on an offender. This masquerade is also always present when the person is going to be executed.
- Osamasinmi (ram head): It is a fertility god that is worshipped to enhance the growth of crops and harvests.
- Mumuye: This belongs to the Hausas, Adamawa state to be precise. Mumuye is a protective ancestral figure placed on top of houses to prevent the house from thieves, buglers and robbers. It is also capable of identifying thieves.
- Inipe: This goddess is a naked craft with nicely carved breasts and pointed nipples with a very sexy body. It is a fertility goddess.
- Ekpu: Ekpu is a warrior from Akwa-Ibom who protects his people. They worship him before any war because doing this assures them of victory.
- Epa: Epa is from Ekiti and only comes out during the initiation of boys into adulthood. Due to its weight and power, the boys have to be fortified before being allowed to partake in the ritual.
Barren women also come out to dance around it so as to get the fruit of the womb.
- Egun Adaka: From Igala. Egun Adaka is a symbol of authority. It is a masquerade worshipped twice yearly during planting and harvesting periods alone.
Fact: Headdresses for masquerades are quite different from the masks they wear. Though, both are used to adorn the masquerades.
- Mgbedike: Found mostly in North Central Igbo Communities, this masquerade is believed to be very powerful as it carries along with it a strong medicine. Hence, people don’t go near it except the initiated ones.
- Bante: Popular among Tivs, this is worn around the waist to protect the wearer. It can also be used to harm an offender.
- Ayelala: It looks like a bottle, and its content is liquid.
Mrs. xxx paused to narrate to me a short explanation about this bottle-like charm. It is believed that if you steal from an Ayilala worshipper, you will swell and die. After your demise, if it is confirmed that you were really killed by Ayilala, all your belongings will be taken to Ayilala’s shrine to show gratitude.
Right beside Ayilala is Esu. My heart skipped a bit because I wondered why Satan will be residing in Idi Aba museum after God sent him away from heaven.
- Esu: Esu, as I saw, looked more like an octopus. According to Mrs. xxx, Esu is an intermediary between Orunmila and the people on earth. It has its own worshippers, especially those seeking children. Most sacrifices you see at juctions are prepared for him because it is believed that is where he resides.
- Bull Koerer (Ijebu): It’s a double ended sharp looking tool Used during the Oro festival. There is a hole at the extreme end through which a rope will be tied to it and it will be swung during the Oro proceeding. This will propel it to make a particularly different sound which is the trademark of the Oro.
- War Garment: Worn by the famous Ogedengbe Ogbogungboro – a very powerful warlord in the Yoruba kingdom. During wars, this garment gives him the power to disappear and reappear especially when the battle is getting tougher. It also shields him from gunshots and arrows.
- Broom (Yoruba): A protective broom placed at the entrance of the house to repeal robbers. In case a robber comes to steal, he drops all he must have stolen the moment he sees the broom, picks it up and continues to sweep till the owner of the house wakes up or returns back (in case he went somewhere). (… I wonder what will happen if the owner of the house had traveled. Lol).
- Ose Sopana: Sopana is a god of chicken pox, small pox and fertility.
“There is actually a story behind his existence”, added Mrs xxx. “Sopanna was known to be an unrepentant drunkard who leaps and also has a bent leg. His love for palm wine was so strong that he got drunk to stupor almost every day. In one of those days, after getting drunk, he started dancing and singing in a very funny way.
Beholding a drunken leper made people around to start mocking and making jest of him. Sopana got so angry that he cursed them and shortly after, they got infected by small pox and chicken pox. He was reported to the king and the king in turn wasted no time before banishing him from the village. After a while, it was discovered that the infected children were still sick. Therefore the king sent for him again. When Sopona got to the palace, he told the king and the villagers that for the children to be healed, they needed to drink the same palm wine that made them mock him and also rub it on their bodies before they could be healed”.
Till date, palm wine is the major medicine used in curing chicken pox and small pox. And it works.
- Dakakari (hausa): Found mostly at the burial graves of elites, chiefs and warriors. It is to show people their status before their demise.
- Ikenga box: Found mostly amongst the Igbos, Benin and the people of Igala. While the Yorubas believed the head is the head of the body, Igbos believed in the superiority of the right hand, that is, whatever one uses his/her right hand to do will prosper. Hence, Ikenga is called the power of the right hand. They are of different types.
The personal Ikenga: the owner appeases it on daily basis before leaving home but promises it a gift depending on his request.
Community Ikenga: The community appeases this type of Ikenga. Benin people call theirs Ikengobo while to the igalas, its Okega.
- Imole oloba (Yoruba): This dance is performed by virgins in honour of Imole Oba festival in Ekiti. The girls will dance with pots on their heads. The ceremony usually lasts for 7 days. Before the festival, the town crier will announce to the village with strong emphasis that all virgins should be at their best because the festival is the surest place for them to get a suitor. If any girl fakes virginity, her pot will fall while dancing and she’d surely die before the next festival.
- Nkim Nkat dance: Ikom, Cross Rivers state. This dance is synonymous to that of the Imole Oloba. It’s for the maidens to get suitors. After watching the girls, any interested man will go straight to the house of his most preferred maiden to meet the parents. He’d be instructed to bring the required items to them after they reach an agreement. This move will automatically make him the husband to this maiden. After this process, the bride will be kept in a special room known as the fattening room where she gets fed till she becomes robust so as to make her look good before the traditional wedding.
“Before we came in contact with the western musical tools and equipments”, Mrs xxx continued, “here are some of the musical instruments we used”.
- Zither: Looks like the present day violin. It is used by the Hausas.
- Talking drum: Used by the Yorubas.
- Metal gong: This is used by both the Yorubas and Igbos.
- Slit drum: It is made of wood and beaten by 2 thick sticks. It is used by the Igbos.
- Goje: This is used by the Hausas.
- Flute: This is used by the Igbos.
That was how we ended it. As we strolled out, I inquired from her how a typical day looked. And she replied “it’s mostly boring”. We only get busy when students come here on excursion. At other times we go to schools to tell them about the museum. On asking whether solo individuals like me come around, she replied “no” almost immediately. I felt bed a little bit. “But hey, there’s little I could do to encourage others”, I thought within myself.
We got to the reception, I picked my bag, collected my 50 naira balance and handed it over to a small girl seated beside her before dashing towards the gates which checking the time simultaneously.
“I need to get to Bilikisu’s grave today”, I mumbled as I flagged down an oncoming cab.
Featured image credit: fayemioye.blogspot.com)