Thursday, February 4, 2016

Exploring Historic Epe and Sungbo's Eredo

I joined the Nigerian Field Society last December, and on my first trip with the group we explore historic Epe and the mysterious Sungbo Walls. Here’s my account of the trip.

On December 31, about 20 of us met up at Lekki Conservation Centre in Lagos between 8.00 – 8.30 AM and left for Epe at 8.40 AM. During the 80-minute drive to Epe, Ed Keazor, brilliant historian, lawyer, author and filmmaker and our guide for the trip, provided us with some background on the land development around Lagos Island and extending all the way toward Epe, from colonial times to present day. He talked about the intricate ties that Ancient Benin had (and still has) with Lagos and a large part of Western Nigeria, highlighting some of the influences of Bini culture and history in Lagos and Epe. Ed also answered questions on land sale in Lagos, discussing its somewhat precarious nature and some risks and pitfalls to avoid.

As we arrived Epe, Ed discussed the past economic and religious tensions between the 'Eko Epe' – the settlers who arrived Epe with Oba Kosoko in 1851 when he fled Lagos after being deposed by the British colonial government – and the 'Ijebu Epe', the Epe locals. The Eko Epe were mostly traders while the Ijebu Epe were largely fishermen. We learnt that Epe is about 80% Muslim, and that the town got its name from the large number of soldier ants in the area. Ed pointed out trademark Afro-Brazilian architecture, a lot of which can also be found in parts of Lagos, as we drove through the town.

At 9.57 AM we reached the First Epe Central Mosque, built in 1862 and rebuilt in 1930 to accommodate the expanding Muslim population. We met the Chief Imam of the mosque and, with our feet bare and heads covered (for females), were allowed to see the inside of the mosque. (Only then did I realise, to my surprise, that this was my first time ever inside a mosque.) We took in the ancient rafters in the building as the Chief Imam spoke (in Yoruba, with Ed translating) about the significant role of the central mosque in the community, for information dispersal, for guidance and leadership; and also about the ways in which religion and tradition interface in the community (for example, the traditional leader of Epe is turbaned in the Central Mosque by the Chief Imam).

Chief Imam (centre) and Ed Keazor (right)

Inside the First Epe Central Mosque

We left the mosque at 10.40 AM and drove to the Fish Market. There, we explored the market, buying fish, taking pictures and watching the local fisherwomen work. As it was a Sunday the market wasn’t in full swing, but we got a good enough sense of its scale and its economic significance to the town.

Man on canoe

Fish kept alive in water so it stays fresh for long

More fish

Baskets and berthed boats

We left the Fish Market at 11.50 AM and arrived Eredo at 12.25 PM, where we headed to the home of the Baale (community leader) to make our presence known and pay our respects. Next, we visited the caretaker of the Sungbo walls, Chief Sunny, whose dedication and personal devotion have kept the Walls open and accessible. Chief Sunny has had virtually no support from any quarters in maintaining the walls. Since he fell ill about a year ago the Walls have deteriorated even further, and as we walked our guide had to clear a path for us through the forest with a cutlass.

Walking the Walls

As we walked, Ed told us about the history of the Walls – which were commissioned by Bilikisu Sungbo – some of the myths and speculation surrounding them, as well as some amazing facts: for example, sections of the Walls can be seen from space, and about one million cubic feet of earth was moved to create the Walls. Ed pointed out that there are still many unanswered questions about the Walls: its purpose (it is thought to be protective or spiritual, or both), its extent and its shape (circular or otherwise) are debated till this day.

It was saddening to learn that there is very little study being undertaken to uncover the mysteries behind the Walls. Some of the most notable research on the Sungbo Walls was done by British archaeologist Dr Partick Darling. According to our guide there is some talk about some government involvement with the Walls in the near future, but only to the extent of building (much-needed) staircases to allow for safer ascent and descent to and from the trenches, and to build a gate at the Eredo entrance to control access. So essentially, the government involvement will only be concerned with revenue generation, and not research into or preservation of the Walls. The Eredo Walls are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

We emerged from the Eredo at 1.28 PM, and walked about 20 minutes to a nearby spring where we had lunch. We left Eredo at 2.50 PM and arrived the lovely and serene Epe Resort and Spa at 3.10 PM. There, we had drinks and admired the grounds of the resort. We left the resort at 4 PM and arrived back at the Lekki Conservation Centre compound at about 5.20 PM.

The Nigerian Field Society is a national organisation founded in 1930 to:
- encourage interest in and knowledge of the fauna, flora, history, legends and customs, arts and crafts, sciences, sports and pastimes of West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular;
- support their conservation;
- co-operate with organizations with similar interests.

NFS is active in a number of cities in Nigeria. For more information on the organisation, as well as how to join, please visit the NFS website.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Theatre Reviews: Wakaa and Kakadu (Musicals)

Happy New Year, everyone! Here's wishing us all the very best in 2016.

The musicals Wakaa and Kakadu are still showing at Muson Centre, Onikan, and will be on until January 3. I saw both shows and reviewed them on Curtain Call Naija, my new blog dedicated to theatre. Please read, like and follow Curtain Call Naija for theatre news and reviews going forward. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas on Memory Lane

It’s about 40 kilometres from where I now live, in Lekki, to my old neighbourhood in Isolo/Okota. But not all distance can be measured in miles and kilometres; sometimes distance is measured in memories.

This Christmas, my mother and I drove to Okota to celebrate with this family of our friends. The Christmas party is an old tradition with this family, and as kids we would go in our best clothes, always excited, until the ennui of youth set in. It’s been over eight years since I last attended one of these parties.

In 2007 my family moved away from Isolo, from Papa Adeyemi’s house where we’d lived as tenants since we arrived Lagos about twenty-three years ago. It was not a sad moment when we moved; it wasn’t even bittersweet. We were moving to Ikoyi! Fast forward eight years and we’d moved house twice more, each move taking us further away from our very first neighbourhood. But when you’ve lived so long in a place you carry it with you, no matter how far away you move.

Hello... from Young Me

We get in the car on the 25th and the CD player whirs to life. It’s not quite old school music; more like mid-school: J-Lo singing her love don’t cost a thing; TLC being adamant about wanting no scrubs; Mary J Blige urging us to dance for her, Michael Jackson and Akon asking that their hands be held. These songs are the perfect soundtrack for this journey back in space and, in some ways, in time. My mother says the songs remind her about her first trip abroad, and I remember too: the things she brought back, how foreign they smelt, how very international; my teenage elation at touching something that had touched America. Even my mother had seemed brand new to me then. I remember the red and blue Virgin Atlantic blanket she’d somehow brought back. I cherished that blanket for years, despite relentless teasing from my sisters.

I can’t really follow the route or all the turns my mother takes on the drive, but when we reach Isolo and drive past Olufemi Peters Street I perk up. I look out the window at where St Monica ‘Montessori’ School used to stand and six years of my life pass before my eyes. We go past Apata Memorial, that school that had seemed so posh and dazzling and out of my reach as a child. Its walls are no longer white, now some peachy colour that renders the school less imposing.

We drive down Ago Palace Way, and to my right I see a Kingston Jo with its signature red and white. Kay-Jay Burger, we used to call it; there was one two streets away from our old house. It’s where the cool kids hung out, and my oldest sister was the coolest, at least in the eyes of Young Me. It’s where the boys would take the girls when they wanted to impress. I am surprised and inordinately glad to see Kay-Jay still in business.

We pass by Word Base Assembly, one of the churches we’d attended with my mother as kids when my dad was away working in the east and my mother was on a kind of spiritual odyssey. We visit my aunty who had been seriously sick for a year, twenty one days of which she’d spent in a coma. We marvel at the pictures of her 30-something-year-old self sickly in an 80-year-old’s body and praise God for the miracle that is her life today.

We get to the party. We greet, we hug, we smile, we eat and we play games. I like that even though the host family has moved to the Lekki area, like us, they come back to Okota for their Christmas parties. The tradition is comforting. The family now has a different house than the flat of old where they used to throw the parties years ago. This one is huge, it is beautiful, it is theirs. I think about the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same. Okota, same with its perpetual coating of dust. Ago Palace Way, wider now than I remember it, and smooth with its fresh pavestones. I wonder about Pillar of Fire Bible Church, another stop on my mother’s spiritual odyssey. It used to be on a nearby street.

The memories go through my head. Church services at Word Base Assembly; visiting the home of my classmate, Fola, on holiday and feeling slightly better about ours; my sister stealing money from our dad because some ‘prophet’ had said something dire would happen if she didn’t get him money to pray and avert it; St Mary’s and my First Holy Communion, hundreds of Hail Marys and fake ‘confessions’ because even then as a child it didn’t make sense to me to tell Father Faceless the truly appalling things I’d done; night vigils at Pillar of Fire Bible Church; St Monica School and Uncle Daniel, Uncle James, Tunde and Onyedikachi, writing stories, getting caned, marching in front of the school gates to ‘The Brave Old Duke of York’ and other imported songs I didn’t understand; the school’s anthem, whose stolen tune I would only this year come to recognise from a hymn in church one fine Sunday morning; Kembos Private School and the many evening fellowships with fiery prayer said by gentle lamp light. Ire Akari Estate Road: the provisions store just by the market, where the mighty Prince Ebeano started; shopping for school supplies in Aswani Market on Tuesdays. Aina Street, me and my sisters calling out Bisi’s name from our window in her grandmother’s voice and laughing at her confusion as she looked around her every time. The Onwatus on Okeho Street.

Nostalgia is a sepia-toned feeling, and in the hazy harmattan air it’s hard to shake off.

We drive toward Third Mainland, home-bound, our mid-school music still playing our way. My mum says with a sigh, ‘Okota is still in my head.’

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Theatre Events for the Holidays

It's a great season for theatre in Lagos, with two major musical productions coming up between December 29 and January 3. I will be watching and reviewing both, but not on Truth and Fiction. I recently started Curtain Call Naija, a blog just for theatre; so please follow it for all that good theatre stuff going forward. Also, please show us some Twitter love; we're @CurtainCallNaija.

So here are the coming musicals.

There's Wakaa, which is from BAP Productions, who brought us the highly acclaimed Saro (I and II). Wakaa tells the story of six young graduates as they struggle to find their feet.

Dates: 30 December 2015 to 3 January 2016
Times: Various (1 PM, 3 PM, 4 PM, 5 PM, 7.30 PM)
Venue: Shell Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos

Then there's Kakadu, produced by The Playhouse Initiative, which tells the story of Lagos in the sixties, with vibrant music and costumes.

Dates: 29 & 30 December 2015, 1, 2 & 3 January 2016
Times: 2.30 PM & 6. 30 PM 
Venue: AGIP Recital Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos

See why I'm loving the holidays?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Danfo Chronicles: When Passengers are Jerks

Not every time driver did this, conductor did that. Sometimes, passengers, behave yourselves.

One day, on a bus from Obalende, the conductor was collecting fares. At some point, he received a one hundred naira note from a young pregnant female. He asked where she was going and she said Lekki Phase One, and the conductor said her fare was short of fifty naira. She immediately began screaming, saying she had only one hundred naira and he could take it or leave it. The conductor pointed out that he had called out his prices clearly, and so she shouldn’t have entered if she didn’t want to pay. The girl, still screaming like a banshee, said, ‘Can’t you see I’m wearing earpiece?! I didn’t hear you!’

Passengers began piping in: and whose fault is that, they asked. One woman said that she’d noticed the pregnant girl almost get hit by a keke a few minutes ago while they were standing at the bus stop; the pregnant girl hadn’t heard the keke coming because her ears were blocked by the earpiece. An elderly man said with a solemn voice that he’d witnessed an earpiece kill a young man once.

The conductor asked the girl to come down from the bus, but she refused to.

‘I’m not going anywhere!’ she screamed. ‘If you want to beat me, come and try it!’

When the other passengers tried to talk to her she turned on them, and soon she started a fight with the man in the passenger seat in front.

‘I wish you were going to Ajah,’ the man kept saying. ‘You for reach Ajah, then you go know who I be.’

I wondered who exactly he be.

The driver suddenly decided he’d had enough. He stopped the bus to remove the pregnant girl bodily. But he stopped short when his eyes fell on her protruding stomach. He stood silent for a moment.

‘This one na devil temptation,’ he said finally. ‘Touch am now, she fit die.’

‘Na you be devil brother!’ the girl shot back. ‘And na you go die. Bastard!’

The driver got back into the bus and drove off. The pregnant girl carried on, cursing everyone who had spoken to her, and their grandmother.


I was on a bus from Yaba to Obalende. The ride was uneventful, hardly Danfo Chronicles Material. Until we got to Obalende. As the bus came down the bridge, with its door open, the driver and conductor spotted four uniformed policemen, complete with rifles, scanning the approaching buses with hungry eyes. They were looking for buses that would begin letting out passengers before they’d reached the bottom of the bridge and Obalende proper. Both driver and conductor knew what was up, and the conductor quickly shut the door. The policemen eyed our bus as it passed by. 

A few metres ahead there was a slight build up of traffic and the bus slowed to a stop.

‘No open that door o,’ the driver barked at the conductor, who nodded.

We were in traffic for a only little while when the other passengers began to get impatient, urging the conductor to open the door. He refused; the policemen were watching. Next thing, we looked up and one of the men sitting in front had opened the passenger side door. He and the passenger next to him got off the bus and sauntered away, with the driver and conductor yelling insults at them as they disappeared amongst the bodies. 

Before we knew it, the policemen had swooped in. They commanded all the passengers off the bus, even as the driver pleaded and we explained that it wasn’t the driver’s fault. But the policemen weren’t having it. They were settling into the bus and making themselves comfortable as I walked away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding Home

I began to think about the idea of home after listening to writers at Ake Festival talk about what home meant to them. Is the idea of home tied to a physical place? Is home the people we love the most, or is home something abstract and intangible that we (can) carry with us wherever we go? Is it neither? Is it all?

Whenever I go away from home for a while (‘home’ here meaning the house where I live with my family), I’m often a little sad to return. As a child, the places I visited outside home often held more appeal – the friends’ houses where I visited and slept over were always a little better: better bathrooms, or better toys, or seemingly more liberal parents, or cable TV. The only times I imagine I was ecstatic to be going home was when the place where I’d been was horrible – like boarding school. Of course, each time I was home on holiday and someone annoyed me, I’d think, ugh I can’t wait to go back to school. Still, home always trumped school. By university this had mostly changed, maybe because of the independence that came with university life; maybe because after six years of having lived away from home for months I had become just as comfortable away. Maybe because I had a boyfriend who lived in Port Harcourt where I went to school.

So as I returned home after four nights in Abeokuta, I wondered again at this sadness linked with returning home. Am I sad at the idea of returning to ordinary, to normal? If so, does this mean I am dissatisfied with my normal? Am I sad at the change; and if so why am I never sad on my way out? Or am I sad because my ‘home’, the house where I live with my family, is not really home?

What, then, is home? Everyone has their own answer. I think the definition of home that ties it to a house, a place, is probably the most simplistic. It is an easy definition that sometimes ignores the core of homeness – belonging, the feeling of being in a ‘place’ that you know, that knows you. For some people, this place could be the place where they live, with (or without) their family. For others it is not. For others, home is the people that matter the most to them, which may or may not be family. For yet others, home is wherever they find themselves, and it is these people who I think carry their homes with them on the inside, and whatever space they occupy they populate with little invisible pieces of them that remind them of who they are, who they’ve been. I wonder if people like them ever feel lost. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Theatre Review: Colour Me Man

It was with some ambivalence that I decided to get a ticket to see Colour Me Man. But I ended up having a really good time at the show.

Produced by GbagyiChild Entertainment and The NakedConvos and directed by Najite Dede, Colour Me Man is 75 minutes of pure enjoyment, with an ending that you will not see coming. Colour Me Man is inspired by the play For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and is based on a series of monologues, by men, published on The Naked Convos.

The play opens with six friends – Black, Blue, Red, White, Grey and Yellow – meeting at Black’s bar. It’s a casual guys’ night out, and the men wind down and begin talking. Grey goes first, disclosing the secret of his extramarital affair – the model couple is not so model after all. After a good dose of ribbing, and some frank talk from White and Black, Grey is left rethinking his infatuation with his woman on the side. Next up is Yellow, who it turns out is insecure about his poor background, and is unable to be with a woman who is way beyond his league and who neither needs nor is impressed by him. White is the quintessential good guy; a virgin who has developed tunnel vision from so intently looking for Miss Perfect. He is Mr Perfect after all, and he deserves nothing less. His friends quickly put him in his place; his perfectionism, they tell him, can keep him from finding happiness.

Blue is the workaholic who has little time to spare for anything or anyone else. Accused of being a snob, Blue’s family money, his father’s unrealistic expectations, and the wariness that comes from being the rich guy everyone wants a piece of, have made Blue somewhat aloof. It is at this point that things start to get heated. Red provokes Black into revealing a secret plot against Blue, as well as his (Black’s) loss, the guilt and shame that have haunted him for so many years. Harsh words are traded and things get even tenser between the six – with Blue and Red coming head-to-head. In an impressive show of self-awareness, Red reveals his sadness, his dissatisfaction with his life, the fear of failure that dogs him, paralyses him even when he knows he should act. He admits that he has done a lot of wrong in his life. His friends try to reassure him of the grace and forgiveness that is available to everyone, but Red is not done yet. In a shockingly graphic fashion that leaves me frozen to my seat and his friends turning away in revulsion, Red reveals the extent of his depravity, and it is clear that there will be no grace or forgiveness for him here.

All the elements of this production come together nicely. The actors had me convinced from the first line. Timi Charles-Fadipe (Red) gives a particularly stunning performance; the last few minutes of the play are pure brilliance. I enjoyed seeing Toju Ejoh (Black) who is one of my favourites, as well as Seun Kentebe, who I like even more each time I watch perform. All six actors were wonderful to watch. I liked the intuitive lighting and the lovely set (although that red settee was a bit distracting; I was worried it might collapse). All in all, it was an evening very well spent.

Colour Me Man is showing for just one other day, tomorrow, at Terra Kulture. Should you go see it? It's a huge yes from me.

Date: Saturday, November 7
Time: 3pm (N3,000) and 6pm (N5,000; command performance)

Black - Toju Ejoh
Blue - Seun Kentebe
Red - Timi Charles-Fadipe
White - Deyemi Okanlawon
Grey - Olarotimi Fakunle
Yellow - Simi Hassan
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