When he was well, he returned home to question those traders who were also the rulers. One day after his return, his intuition granted him insights through the unlookable face of the sun full of images. He had a vision: when you put a bowl of water on the ground and look into the eyes of the sun, ‘Laifa Adigun told Dunbi in the dark, you will see a rainbow. He saw rainbow and communed with the god hidden behind the white mirror. It was possible, he said and launched into what Dunbi, recalling the encounter so eloquently he and everyone else were convinced he too was possessed, into what he called incantation:
Urgent like a fit of sneeze
Is the zeal to happen on the god
Soaked in his tricks, his tricks soaked in him.
Every god or goddess is first a wizard
Or a witch
Scarcely a genius
Then a sage, then a medium.
Maybe finally a genius
And when the people have dipped him in his tricks and
Stoned him to kiss the foot of the mirror
They swear it is sweat from the sun.
The god with inspired fury
And furious inspiration
Dabbles in a wicked trade
And trades wickedness
Always living in the minds of the people themselves
Living under the spell of an imaginary god.
Through the bowl of water
One sees it, all unwise.
The god feared because he exists
Not if the people are free and few
The people are never free
Because they fear they never exist
Unless the god wills it.
Sango was not a man of the clan
Never a friend of his people
He lived in his strength and died in his tricks
So did Ogun,
Ogun of the forge
Whose virile jaundiced eyeballs betrayed
An indulgence in evil smoke
The fellow looked hooked on marijuana
But men never learnt
For men never learnt
And one of the drenched tricks of the gods
Became the god of tricks. The gods forbade…
There remain like time the chattering images on
the unlookable face of the sun. There is a man,
three men and many men. Through the water in
the bowl with the rainbow the medium says one
can spy on the gods in all their wisdom and folly.
The three groups of men to the left
The group of three men to the right
Are the trouble of the world, this world without rest.
The one is god, the three his acolytes, the
Rest the fodder.
The three build the god in their likeness
And name him founder of the many men.
In return he gives then wealth, power and knowledge
Those strict weapons by which humans
Are subdued or freed…
Ah, on the Day of Atonement
Sango would curse,
Till his saliva turns to smoke
Each god would with his tongue
Clear a path swearing:
All the goats and guts
That make a feast,
Neither the blood nor the hide
Is ever shed in our name
Men wish to desecrate their tongues
And spill blood.
Gods eat no flesh; they drink no blood.
They merely confer.
Sango, again Sango, is the first to speak;
Making a speech in a gathering of men, horses and rats.
This god is first a pathetic sight
Then a redundancy:
The world was wrong in our time, he announces,
Pompous like the pope. We
sought to make it straight
But then remembered our world was let down
On a chain,
A chain, a crooked piece of technology.
We stood at the edge of the world
And found nothing to lose
The whole world was a vast jungle, uncharted, untried.
We tried to know it
But found it ended the day before,
This world without order or rest.
He breaks down and weeps blood
No flame nor smoke.
Oya steps forward and flings
Her man’s damp arm pit over her broad shoulders
The couple walk out the ring defeated and limping.
Orunmila who speaks next spins a chant challenging;
He stows his sad story
In a shroud of proverbs:
And such was the ordeal
Decreed to the group of three
At the beginning
The very beginning of the world without dimensions
When they were headed for the world
Ifa selected for them the prime offering of their
Eyes in the service of secret things
What they had to give away should not be denied
What merited holding back must not become trifle
For the world would see with their eyes
Their pioneer eyes.
And who were the gods,
The first to step on the earth?
Ifa the Wise One
Ela, the Heir of Providence
And Ori, the… the…
Orunmila soon finds this strophe unwieldy
And comes down to earth himself
Instead of sending the gods
He is not as stiff and pompous as the god
Of smitten thunder
He is not plural but earthy, pedestrian, journalistic
The essential Orunmila
Shorn of Ifa’s grandiloquence:
This, this myth of creation, this
Story of world beginning…
Yes, I know of Ela sent down on a chain,
He of infinite wisdom armed with a handful of earth,
A cockerel and a chameleon
But who came to Ife before
Or after the Muslums
Had unleashed a religious war
Many centuries after Aristotle
Had written The Poetics, The Politics
And Homer The Odyssey?
Where did our world end and our end begin?
Ifa has not spoken?
In which my numbers live in amnesia
I see in a blur
Obatala, you moulder of Human Souls
You can settle this unsettling riddle
I have never in my life long like a thread,
Never been in a worse want of word.
Ela whom they called
The god of whiteness is shaken with rage
He trembles on his staff like a man ravaged by spasm
And his lips twitch like leprous ears:
There are deities, there are divinities
There are classes even in the kingdom of the gods.
We call a conference of horned animals
And the snail rides gleefully on his slimy feet
Proclaiming his strength
To insult our genius
Sango was a mere family fear
When I was already administering the world
At whose behest was this conference called?
I wish to know
But wish is one thing even with gods, and attainment another. The gathering grows so silent the deafening sound of a needle falling immediately stirs the dozing gods.
Sango should not have spoken before me,
It is an abomination; I detest it.
Esu, friend of neither and
Enemy of none,
Thinks this god is fussy
And tells him so:
When people are too grown in years
They should take least offence
Old age is like an egg suspended
On a string; a mere breeze smashes it.
Obatala is not one to ignore a caustic tongue,
But he lets the insult pass:
If I’m the Moulder of Human Souls
Does that place me beyond water and earth,
Fire and air?
The earth indeed was bare
When I landed
But you all know that story.
There is no
The world which myths explain, is various and round
Myths create lives
Which create myths out of the blindness of a new
Out of the tyranny of the elements
And those strict weapons by which men are freed or
And, good friends, use your heads.
There is, there must be difference,
However slight and subtle
Between what you are told
And what really happened
History would not tell
That people shat or fornicated
If Orunmila is confused I am not
Oduduwa was a man of myth, of history
But there was life before both
In myth people do not exist
So love does not, life does not
Nor lies, nor countries, nor tribes nor hopes
When I left, man without country
I left behind Agbonniregun and Setilu,
Man without bone,
Absolute Air, capable as storm one moment
And breeze the next
The one was history
The other nature
And where do you place Atunda
The Rebellious One, Remoulder of Human Souls
Who scattered me as
Power, knowledge and wealth
Use your heads, good friends,
See between the tale.
Even if the first god who speaks last has not
Signified his helplessness by a wave of hand
The crowd can see that his anger has gotten him.
When people are heavy with years,
they should be light on their mind.
Is this story complete? wonders Esu
Hypnotising the gathering with his gaze of cunning.
This god whose great gifts are wit and style
Also wonders if no one no longer remembers
Such names as Oreluere
(From the lineage of Agbonniregun)
And the rivalry between him
And Oduduwa, from the lineage
On a stage erected with
Questions, Maybes, Perhapses and Possiblys
He enacts a story of competing hegemonies:
A ruling Oduduwa does not recognise
Oreluere who is older and more rooted,
And so, wiser in the ways of elders;
He’s a priest as well, and one with a measure of
Who afflicts his rival’s home with
An incurable malady that does not kill
Oduduwa searches all the corners of this known world
And several others unknown
For a cure to this strange malady
All priests pay homage to Oreluere
With whom resides the first word and the last
Finally this powerful man of wealth lacking in vision
Calls a truce, and yields leadership to Oreluere
He honours him with a sacrifice of goats, palm oil and
To buy happiness and health for his home.
But he buys other things as well (he’s got the funds)
And the magic of winning even if you are wrong,
Is the one Esu remembers.
With the three weapons that all men run after, you could buy right and write a story of how you think the world should look.
Excerpted from Roots In The Sky, a novel by Akin Adesokan. Published by Festac Books, Lagos, Nigeria, 2004.