Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Because ogbanje stories are demonic (a tribute to Elechi Amadi)

Elechi Amadi, Soldier and Storyteller
Whenever, the theme song came on for Revival Ministries television program, she would rush out of the kitchen with her garri laden ladle. The worst of it will usually be that I was just flipping channels. ‘Chai…Baba is on. Baba is on.’ She would scream just before snatching the remote control from me.
She loved Baba. The almost always sweaty Nigerian pastor who always insisted on wearing tight fitting suits for his television outreach programmes even when it was obviously too warm in the studio. Half the time, I did not understand what he said because he spoke too loud, and I feared that his suit would rip any minute. He was nothing like the calm Anglican priest I saw in church on Sunday, Reverend Bola. He never talked about ogbanje spirits. He never left the pulpit to pace about the church like Baba did. The best of all, she would never come with us. My elder sister, Anwututu. He was named the ‘the morning sun’ because of her very light skin. She was in the University and far ahead of me in age. It was almost difficult to have a conversation with her. How would I when she was always chasing me about for house chores or homework or bed time? Initially, I thought she was, like mum, dad and every other adult in my life, just fulfilled by caning me. Then one day she said that my  mickey mouse balloon, which I had cried my eyeballs out in order to be given at a friend’s, birthday party was demonic.
Kai! ‘like seriously?’ I thought.
Of course, I could understand that nothing was realistic for her outside Baba’s ranting. But Mickey Mouse?! Mickey Mouse?! What would she then say if she saw my Mathematics textbook which I had bedazzled with Little Mermaid stickers or my Health Science writing pad which had more Terminator stickers than diagrams? Anyway, something had cracked. And it was neither my love for Disney creations or disdain for Baba’s sermons. Had we not been Anglicans, I would never have thought that God was peaceful and capable of serenity. I was 8 when the Mickey Mouse episode happened.
Iyanga from Rising Sun
Four years later, I received a back to school gift which among other things included Elechi Amadi’s Concubine. I did not like that it had a bright orange cover, un-disney-like cover illustration and no pictures inside. It was practically shoved down my throat with the Passport of Mallam Ilia, Drummer Boy and Things Fall Apart. Ughhh. I could not be bothered. I stacked them all on the reading table in my room. At this time though, I had developed a keen interest in James Hardley Chase’s An Ear to the Ground and Sydney Sheldon’s The other side of midnight. They were quite erotic and I enjoyed how I had to lay flat on my tummy while reading so that the ‘Eiffel Tower’ does not frighten unannounced visitors whose heads popped into my room at irregular intervals.  I had also started falling in love with Nigerian romantic films like Ijele,  Power of Love,  Love without Language, Rising Sun.  Somehow they idolised womanhood. They made the Nigerian woman a person to be worshipped, fought for, loved and desired. These movies, among others, portray the Nigerian woman as priestess, princess and dictator of communal fates, servant girls with rich exotic destinies of ‘priestesshood’, lovers with unbroken and unquestionable faith and resilience. I can remember how everyone wanted to be ‘Juliet’ from Power of Love, or ‘Iyanga’ from Rising Sun. Most of us, however wanted to be ‘Emmy’ from Love without Language, the sophisticated hot black American  who had a kick-ass knack for karate and fell in love with the simple village girl, Oluchi. Then Oluchi, all of sudden becomes the only girl in the village and the attraction of every man, beast and spirit. Being a well-sought after woman is hot and all but who would want that in reality?
Well, the most reason I did enjoy the movies was that our parents saw them too, so even if Baba was given out free akara, Anwututu who had refused to stop demonising everything , would have to chill. And yes. Baba had been part of our lives for these four years. More ‘Baba’s had been added to the itinerary as well, I had lost count.  I had become an usher at our Anglican church, and she had stopped coming to church with us. So while we were both becoming more Christian, I could relate with her versions of how these love stories were demonic and filled with idol worship.  As such we would always have verbal combats of whose version of Christianity was better.  As if it was a competition?
Nnanna Ikpo
She told me that the movies were about ogbanje stories, about people who bowed down to evil idols. She also said she had heard testimonies of people who got possessed by ogbanje spirits and had spirit husbands. She always refused to see these movies with us, because ‘ogbanje stories are demonic’. She had even told me that women who use make-up are ‘ogbanje’. And women who wear high heels are ogbanje. Women who are unmarried are ogbanje . Women who drink alcohol or did not know how to cook or had men cook for them are ogbanje. Women who dance to secular music or were too beautiful and attracted all the men are ogbanje. However, I had later come to learn from Things fall apart that ogbanje were very fragile children who could not stay alive for long and could not help being reincarnated.  I also learned in Biology class that when a couple that has the AS or SS genotype conceived an offspring there were chances of giving birth to a fragile child who had slight chances of staying alive for long. And this fragility recurred as often as the couple conceived.  Wole Soyinka also wrote of this fragility in Ake as one that made a child special and beyond retribution and somewhat beyond discipline unlike other healthier children.
With time I also read Elechi Amadi’s Concubine, a phenomenal Nigerian love story, about a drop-dead gorgeous Southern Nigerian maiden, Ihuoma, whose fate, was believed to be tied to a jealous male sea spirit. All her attempts at matrimony failed because this spirit always killed the men who approached for marriage. ‘Ogbanje!!!’ I heard Anwututu scream in my mind. I never questioned the authenticity or the inspiration behind this story because I understand that a story teller struggles to be objective in the face of his/her own history and expectations. The present does not mean much because he/she never really exists in it. So perhaps, Elechi believed in ogbanje stories, and he chose to tell them anyway. He chose to touch and think them. Audaciously too, he chose to tell the story of Nigerian women who are more than they seem. He chose to celebrate the resilience of women in the face of difficulty of unquestionable uncertainties. Like Ola of Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood who powerfully and unconventionally had more than her own fair share of men, simply because of the ‘hurricane’ behind her, her father. Or ‘Iyanga’ of Rising Sun, whose blue eyes, beauty and unusual fate earned her the world’s mockery. Our women, ‘ogbanje’.
‘Ogbanje’ the label for every woman who breaks the norm and stands out for whatever reason.
But really, why haven’t we had a male ogbanje?
No one calls a man ogbanje. It is a one gender name.
When a man attracts too many women, he is a ‘dimkpa’ or ‘fresh-boy’. When he is too handsome , wealthy or influential, the same. When he is delicate in any way he is termed ‘woman wrapper’. Not that it is a demonic possession but simply seen as a character flaw. And then these boys are strangled with pressure until they develop thick biceps that serves no real purpose, that changes nothing really. But the girls, women. Ugghh..
And the most hurtful of this is that Anwututu, as beautiful as she is the chief labeller of other women. She can’t stand a woman who speaks her mind. She has to be an ogbanje, and needs to be delivered from demonic possession by Baba. She can’t stand girls who would spend more time studying and socialising than move permanently into the church like she does. She sickens me!
The day Anwututu she got married, her face was baked thick with foundation and bronzer. Her eyelids saddled with wood-thick plastic eye-lashes. Thick strings of red corals from the very sea adorned her neck, waist and ankles. Dark long silk weaves flowed down her back to her waist, spreading across royal blue damask fabric, one big wrap  her burst and a skimpy  around her waist failing to touch inches just before her knees. She looked like an African rendition of Disney’s little mermaid, oblivious of everything she had said about make-up. And she went on her knees to present her groom with palm wine, after she had tasted it first, oblivious of everything she had said about alcohol. Afterwards her and her groom danced to Mavin’s  ‘Dorobucci’ oblivious of everything she had said about ogbanje.

#RIP to an exceptional storyteller, Elechi Amadi, Thanks for shining. You struck hard, you struck differently.

 (Iyanga's image sourced from
(image sourced  from
(Elechi Amadi's image sourced from

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