I Sha Learned English!


Feb 15


When was the last time someone told you they were proud of you?

abobaku – a person who dies with the king. 

The week after I turned 14, I looked out of the window of my father’s house as the Palace Officials came visiting the 5th time that week. Normally, they sent a palace attendant to visit once a week with foodstuff but this week had been different. When I was old enough to ask why it was only our family that received gifts and visits from the Crown, my father mumbled something about how we’re a chosen family, when I asked why we were chosen, he said, ‘For our bravery’. I did not quite understand but my father did not like too many questions so I refrained from asking. This day, however, when the Palace Officials came visiting the 5th time that week, I looked at my father’s face from where I stood and I saw fear like I never had in my life. When the officials left, my father called me outside to where the men and woman (Iyalode) had been. Walking gingerly, I began to clear the cups and plates they had barely touched when my father, placed his hand on my hand and asked me to sit. 

‘Omo mi’, he said. My father only called me ‘omo mi (his child)’ when I was angry with him or when he wanted to apologise for something my mother did. ‘Baba’ I said. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the skies – weird. When he finally looked at me, his eyes had tears in them and I looked away. I could not bear to see my father like that. It was while I looked away I heard him say, ‘The king would die soon. The gods have said he doesn’t have much time left before he rests with his fathers’. I turned sharply and looked at him. Yes, the king dying was a very interesting news to me but I wondered how it concerned our family, most especially my father. Then he said, ‘Do you know what that means son?’ I shook my head. Then he said, ‘Come here’ I walked to him. He propped me on his laps and said, ‘Our elders have a saying, he who cannot face his family cannot face death and he who refuses to face death cannot face Eledumare (the Creator/Maker of Heaven and Earth). My son, since your great great great grand father, our family has produced the Abobakus.’ He waited for it to sink in before he continued, ‘When the king dies as the gods have declared, I would be buried alive with him also.’ He must have felt me go stiff on his laps because he quickly added, ‘It is the wishes of the gods, and I always knew that I’d be the one to die with him someday. It is for the good of the land – to avoid terrible calamities befalling the land’ 

I found my voice through tears and questioned my father on why he had to be buried alive; what happened if he died before the king; if they had actually ever had any calamity befall the land because someone was not so buried etc. My father patiently but unsatisfactorily answered my questions and ended this father-son moment by breaking the big news to me – ‘You are next in line

The king died two days after and although they did not let my mom and I see them bury my father with the king, they told us when the deed was done. The men told me about how my father was brave to the end and the women hid their tears and pulled my cheeks, probably already mourning my own death. The queen mother invited me to the palace and after asking me if I was hungry or I needed anything, told me point blank that I was the next to be initiated. It all happened so fast that I think they actually intended it to be that way – to initiate me as the next abobaku just when I was so absentminded that I couldn’t think of anything else but my father’s death. They told me that if I received the incisions, I’d be forever bound to the covenant, they told me that I’d have to get married as soon as I started seeing my male dreams so that my family line may be preserved, they told me that my family and I would be given special treatment by the palace, they told me that I couldn’t just leave the village anytime I wanted.  I just nodded. 

That night, my father appeared in my dreams and told me he was proud of me. 

Now, I’m in a prison room staring through rusty bars and unfolding the events of today… still amazed. Shortly after my father died, the oyinbos came to my village with their carrot noses and wall gecko skin. They said they had come because they were our new leaders and had come to help us be more like them.They needed an interpreter and so I figured that since I couldn’t really amount to anything in life, I’d learn English and follow white men up and down. That seemed like a lot more fun than waiting to inhale sand when some king dies. So I learned a little English and travelled about with them. Apparently, I learn really fast and so my English got good and the Oyinbos fell in love with me. And for a while, I forgot my doomed future. 

Just 6 days ago, the oba died. The idiot (may the gods have mercy on me) had died on top of a woman who was not even his wife. That’s the ‘king’ I was to die for. If he had died in battle, maybe, just maybe I would have been enticed. I was having a meeting with Thomas and Philip, my good oyinbo friends when the Palace officials scurried to my house all half dressed. They said that they had not come to bundle me, but had just come to notify me that I would soon be needed by the chief priest. In bewilderment, I explained to Thomas and Philip who looked first amused and then scared. They went away and promised to take care of this ‘nonsensical culture’ 

The day after, early in the morning, the police came to my house and dragged me out. They said I had stolen a goat and that I had to be locked up for that. None of them could look me in the eye…so I knew there was a catch. I followed. I was locked in the most secured cell and only the white people could come in to see me. They told me that the whole village was in fear and were demanding that they release me if we all wanted the land to be in peace. They needed me badly as I had no son or seed anywhere.  

After a lot of back and forth, they told me that the chief priest made an emergency decision to bury the king with the carcass of the largest cow in a village. He said that since it was the 6th day, the spirit of the king had journeyed too far into the spirit world without an aide and that even if they buried me with him, I would not be able to find him. He said that they’d have to keep appeasing the gods until the new king dies, then I’d be buried with him (if I was not already dead by then). He said that the only reason why the village could not storm into the prison and drag me out is that every abobaku has to walk eagerly with his legs and with a ready mind to the grave. He said this was because humans could only control what the abobaku did on earth, in the spirit world, he could decide not to assist the dead king and nobody here on earth can stop him (except a strong appeal is made to the evil spirits in the spirit realm, and no one likes to deal with evil spirits as they demand for too much in exchange and their punishments are too grievous)

My father appeared in my dreams this night again, but scolded me and told me he was not proud of me. While he scolded me his faced changed to that of the dead king and I started to run. When I looked back it was a big white cow chasing me. I woke up drenched in my own sweat, panting as I quickly rushed to the bars of the prison for some air. 

I finally caught my breath, shook my head and said out loud ‘Baba, I’m sorry I let you down. But I’m proud of myself – if not for anything, for the fact that I learned how to speak the white man’s language’.


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