UNTIL IT’S CLOSE TO HOME

Note: While homosexuality is an orientation I don’t just ‘get’, homosexuals are still human beings and I find it difficult to label people by their sexual orientations alone. I do not hate people (I don’t think I like people very much either) but I’ve learned to keep my nose out of people’s bedrooms, lest I be branded a voyeur. However, I’m wholly against this silly, haphazardly drafted anti-gay law as well. That won’t change.

I’m not keen on going through this gay debate wahala again. Unfortunately, a lot of people still stand firmly on a wobbly foundation of ignorance and hate. That’s what gets to me and it scares me shitless that people don’t realise that this new law has given fillip to the prevalent mob culture in Nigeria. I pity that straight girl who get’s wrongfully arrested for being a lesbian – or even a lesbian – and what the Nigerian police might do to her in the course of their ‘investigations’. Hate crimes just might be on the rise. I’ve even have to re-evaluate the stance of some of my Christian brothers and sisters on this, because they conveniently forget the phrase: “what would Jesus do?” Condemn yes, definitely not jail. But that’s not what this is about.

See, my world’s probably bigger so I tend to see things differently. But then again, I’ve seen a lot in my very short time on this planet – which the ‘majority’ thought was flat at a point in time (hope you get the point). In one of my arguments on social media, some people felt my thoughts had been clouded by ‘western’ logic. I found that funny, considering that I haven’t visited a foreign news website – minus ESPN – or watched cable television for the better part of three months now. I hardly ever base my views on what a white man says, except it makes sense. Much funnier is the fact that we blame everything on foreign influence now, but ignore the fact that these countries do their best to cater to the needs of the weakest as well as the strong in their society.

Almost two decades ago while I was in secondary school, a couple of students in the hostels then were caught engaging in homosexual acts. There was hardly any cable television back then or even private terrestrial TV, so I wonder where those kids got influenced from. Foreign influence? I’m not so sure.

A few years after I graduated, one of my closest friends came out and told me his sexual orientation – which differed entirely from mine. Up to that point, I thought he liked just girls, but he likes much more than that. I was a bit taken aback when he told me and I told him he was crazy. Still, I sat with him and enjoyed my ice cream. Did I hate him? No. I’ve known him for close to a decade and that this new information wouldn’t change our friendship. Even though I hope he changes and told him I believe it’s wrong, I love him like a brother. This dude has come through for me so much that I’d be crazy to now dismiss him. He’s tested my resolve – as per my sexual orientation – once but when he saw we were completely different, he didn’t push.

These days, if we’re making plans to hang out, I ask if he’s coming with a boyfriend or a girlfriend. He laughs and tells me I’m nuts.

Over the years, I found out that quite a number of his friends were also ‘gay’. Some are married now – to women – just to satisfy societal expectations but they still have their lovers. They will have children with their wives. Everyone will be kept in the dark, save for a few. But we’ll believe we have a law that’s working simply because gay people aren’t getting married. The truth is, they probably weren’t even thinking of getting married knowing the kind of society they’re in. Now I wonder if our attempt to preserve ‘societal’ norms isn’t worsening it.

Most times, we make pronouncements from our moral high horse, having never come in contact with a particular situation. I’ll ask these questions again: what if your brother/sister came out of the closet? Will you wish jail on him/her? What if the bestman – your best friend – at your wedding suddenly tells you he’s gay? Jail? I’ll wager on the opposite. As much as we’d disagree with their ‘abnormal’ orientation and want them to change or see the ‘light’, there’d be no takers if the slammer is ever presented as an option. It’s not about emotion or sentiment, but the understanding that what they do with their bodies in the privacy of their bedrooms is their business – so long as there is no underage or unwilling participant involved.

This is when it hits home. When we come in contact with someone ‘different’ – the difference in this case being their sexual orientation. That’s when our empathy should kick in – assuming you have a capacity for it. That’s the only thing we need in this case, nothing more. If you don’t have, get it small… it’s two for N5.

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THE MASQUERADE CLOTHIER

Note: This post is purely academic; it’s a field note actually. But it’s fun if you care to know a little about history of African culture…

So we took a Postgraduate course last year at the Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan: Indigenous Communication Systems. Towards the end of the course, we were asked to do some research in town using a method called ethnography. Ethnography is basically a technique used by anthropologists (and others) and there’s little or no data; it involves a lot of observation instead. The researcher then reports whatever he sees without drawing conclusions. Just thought it would be fun to post some here so you can get a glimpse into what you normally wouldn’t see. Here’s one such report by a friend and classmate of mine, Akintomide Alo. Expect mine later…

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The ethnography takes the form of an interview conducted at the house of ‘Baale Sango’ popularly known as ‘Baale’. He says he is the chief priest of all worshipers of ‘Sango’, a deified king of the old Oyo Empire. Sango is now worshiped as the god of thunder. Baale Sango designs and sews costumes worn by masqueraders during the ‘Egungun’ festivals. This is known as ‘eku eegun’ in Yoruba Language.

My mates and I arrive at Baale’s house around 10:30 am on Tuesday 21st May, 2013. The residence is a typical ancient Ibadan duplex, built with mud but plastered with cement. After a few moments of waiting (because he is not at home), he arrives wearing ‘ankara’ fabric clothes. We exchange greetings, introduce ourselves as students from the University of Ibadan and tell him why are at his house. He welcomes us and leads us into an average sized room where the costumes are made.

In the room, there is a large table in front of one of the windows. There are two windows in the room but only the one facing the table is open. Apart from the table, there are other furniture items like a bench, stools and shelf in the room. On the table, there are piles of clothes of different fabrics and colours (red, yellow, gold, silver, and some shiny fabric). There are also a number of wooden carvings (the form of a man’s head), thread and scissors on the table. There are also piles of clothes on the bench and shelf which are on the left side of the door. Empty containers of gin and schnapps litter the floor.

There are two sewing machines in the room; both near the table on the right side of the door. Other noticeable items are the small earthen pots that that are tied to the door post. There are calendars on the wall, tree barks in various corners of the room and an egg in a tray in the far corner on the left. One of the wood carvings is deep brown and glossy (unlike the other one that looks dry). When we ask Baale, he says the wet carving has been soaked in 21 different herbs for eight days and now it has spiritual efficacy. He says the carving can now be worshipped as a god and sacrifices can be made to it.

It is only the ‘Baale’ we meet at the workshop but after a while, another man joins us. He’s an ‘Ifa’ (divination) priest and he also joins in answering our questions.

When asked on how many years he has been in business, he says he has been involved for about fifty years. He says he was born into the trade and his father introduced him to the art at an early age. So rather than go to school, he has been with his father learning the art. He says that although no family is known peculiarly for sewing costumes, his family has been in the business for as long as he can remember. His grandfather was a masquerader and the masquerade ‘Olukoyi’ was passed down from previous generations.

When asked about the state of things pertaining to how well the next generation is receiving the art, he says he is not keen on making his sons take up the trade. He however adds that his sons know about it and they assist him once in a while. They sometimes go outside to get jobs but he is not keen on making them take over the business from him. He has a son at the Polytechnic who is also involved in local politics but still engages in the art. When the time comes for the ‘egungun’ festival, the young man would design his own costume, sew it and go out for his performance.

‘Baale’ feels bitter about how the younger generation uses masquerades to perpetrate evil and violence. He says as much as he would have loved continuity, the younger generation does not truly understand the essence of masquerading. He mentions the different types of masquerade as ‘Alagangan’, ‘Alabala’, ‘Apidan’, etc depending on their purpose.

Concerning the rituals that should be done for the ‘Egungun’ festivals, he says the festivals usually begin in the sixth month of the year and that is around when the rituals also start. Solid pap, bean cakes, and ‘moi-moi’ (beans ground with pepper, wrapped in leaves and left to steam in a pot) are prepared and distributed for people to eat. Then the blood of a rooster will be sprinkled on the staff (isan eegun) of the masquerade. This is to renew the spiritual efficacy of the staff. The staff itself can be used to settle disputes among people and can be used to catch liars. The ‘isan’ is a bunch of sticks of the same length tied together. ‘Baale’ says that there are nine different species of trees there and a bunch can be used for up to twenty years before it becomes obsolete. The caveat is that it must not be used to hit a person because the consequences are grave.

He says business is at its peak during the festival. At that time, apprentices come around to work for daily pay and his sons also assist. They usually drink gin or schnapps before work is started because of the hectic nature of the job. There are times that the workers or assistants may be required to wear the costumes themselves especially when the design requires it to be sewn upright or when finishing touches are to be done. Some of these apprentices are also masqueraders and they come around to assist in designing costumes.

He further explains the usefulness of the masquerade, saying that they serve as dispellers of diseases. As they walk or dance through the streets, they wipe diseases off the streets. Epidemics like cholera, chicken pox, small pox and all kinds of fever are expelled. The Ifa priest also contributes by saying that the ‘Egungun’ has a way of contributing to the general wellbeing of the state. It has a way of bringing both spiritual and environmental peace to a town, city or state. And it is good that the government and the people are giving the necessary support. The ‘Ifa’ priest says that ‘Egungun’ is an indispensable part of our culture. He recounts the story of a masquerader who converted into another religion and got blind while praying. It was when he wore his costume again that his sight was restored. He says that there are other stories like that of families who have suffered losses because they abandoned their masquerades.

When asked about ‘Baale’s’ concern for his reputation in the society (because of the masquerade, “Sango”, etc), he says he is not particularly bothered. He says although there are times when people distance themselves from him, those that are close to him know his value. The ‘Ifa’ priest also contributes that “it is only those that know the herbalist that will enjoy his herbs.’

After the questions, ‘Baale Sango’ takes us into another room where he keeps his own masquerade costume and the already completed jobs. We are asked to remove our shoes as we enter and I took the extra pain of entering left foot first (call it superstition). This room is not as well lit as the previous one. It is also an average sized room with a clothes line in the middle of the room on which used costumes are hung. In the far right corner is the costume of Baale’s masquerade- Eegun Adinimodo or Eegun Olukoyi. It has a large wood carving on top. It is the carving of a man’s head, with about four other heads around the neck. There are layers of fabrics of different types stemming from the head. These fabrics also have different colours. He then shows us some other costumes belonging to other masqueraders.

Finally, a little gift is presented to him (schnapps), prayers are said and we leave.