Once upon a time, in the land of sighs and silences, light and shadow, dawn and dusk, there was a girl named Ọmọlétí whose kind of beauty the world had never known. An exquisitely shaped piece of Nature’s work, she was a subject of supreme enchantment. Her skin glowed like polished ebony. Her lips were sculpted by Seven Winds and Seven Whispers. Her black face pronounced the whiteness of her teeth, set and rhymed like the beadwork of an accomplished craftspirit.
Rainbows played in the sky above her roof; gold glowed in the dust beneath her feet. If there was a human being who came to this world without a physical blemish, that person was Ọmọlétí. But there was a great problem: Ọmọlétí’s village had been afflicted with silence, their tongues utterly locked up in their mouths. This spell was bound to continue until Ọmọlétí found a husband.
Suitors came in all shapes and forms. Some were handsome and absolutely gorgeous; some were hunch-backed and repulsive toads. Some were princes from distant kingdoms; some came Proclaiming their wealth and power by their extravagant presence. One even came with a cap decked in diamond, and slippers made of gold. Behind him were a thousand porters, in front another thousand all laden with gifts of rarest immensity. Ọmọlétí saw them all, but her answer was a resounding “NO!”. And yet Ọmọlétí was growing older, her village steeped deeper and deeper in silence.
Then… from the far far land
Of Something and Nothing
From the Darkness of Noon
And the dazzling Light of Night
Dwarf and Giant
Maker and Breaker
Haloed by Seven Rainbows
Over Seven Crossroads
Ọ̀rọ̀ walked into town one evening
And Ọmọlétí swooned helplessly into love
The day Ọmọlétí wed her groom
The world was loud with indescribable joy
(The Word Is an Egg, pp. 88-89)
To this day, no one can say for sure what it was Ọ̀rọ̀, (Word), whispered into the ears of Ọmọlétí. All the village remembers is that no sooner had this extraordinary Being proposed than Ọmọlétí consented; no sooner had he parted his lips than Ọmọlétí’s face broke into a paradise of smiles. It all looked like the story of two companions from the other life meeting again on this side of the Great River, and locking up in a long-suspended embrace. But Word did not come empty-handed to his in-laws’ domain. He opened one of his bags, and Song emerged, followed by Drum, then Dance, then Laughter, then seven orógbó, then a gigantic tuber of yam, then a pot of wine. He opened the other one and out came wisdom, memory, knowledge, the proverb, and other facilitators of reasoned eloquence. Ọmọlétí tied her nuptial knot, the land broke its own knot of silence. Ọ̀rọ̀ gave the land its tongue. Joyful songs took over the village. The wind scattered its joy to the seven corners of the earth. Shall we conclude our story by saying. “And everyone lived happily and eloquently ever after?
Excerpted from Poetry and The Human Voice, being the text of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) Laureate’s lecture, delivered by Professor Niyi Osundare at the Annual Forum of NNOM Laureates, Abuja, December 7, 2022. TO BE CONTINUED…