Wande Abimbola @91: How An Abíkú Decided To Live (2)
By Tunde Odesola
Truth and justice are badges of honour Ògún, the god of war and iron, proudly wore when he walked the earth. Unquestionably, truth and justice define the essence of Ògúnwándé. Right from childhood when he became the disciple of Ifa, Wande’s life is a script written and directed by the supernatural; it is a life lived in honour of truth and defence of justice.
When he was about six years old, his three-year-old sister had strayed into a room he warned her not to go into. “Fàránsèté, did I not tell you not to go into that room?” Wande thundered, spanking the toddler on her buttocks.
Their mother watched the unfolding scene in shocked silence and wondered where on earth Wande got the name Fàránsèté, for that wasn’t the name of her daughter. The mother was just returning home from a neighbouring farmstead after leaving Wande to take care of his sister in her absence.
Fàránsèté is the ultimate eulogy for a princess resplendent on a velvet throne. “From that day, she became known as Fàránsèté; no one called her by her first name again. I don’t know how I came about the name. I just opened my mouth to rebuke her and Fàránsèté came forth. I loved her so much but we lost her before she was 10; I can’t even remember her first name now,” Wande recalled with nostalgia.
Despite being an ambassador of the gods, Ògúnwándé was almost beheaded at 9, like a dog tied to a stake at the shrine of Ògún Lákáayé. That sunny afternoon, farmboy Wande, along with two of his age-mates, decided to go to the bush to fetch herbs for ringworm. As they were about to set out, Wande discovered his machete wasn’t sharp enough, and he decided to whet its blade on the big rock in the family compound.
He bent over the tool and sharpened it. One of his two playmates looked at Wande as he bent double, honing his machete against the rock. The friend saw the back of Wande’s neck. It was black, beautiful and slender. “Can my sharp machete cut Wande’s head off in one strike?” the age-mate thought.
Wande was oblivious his envious friend preferred his tender neck to the stalks of ringworm leaves they were about to go and fetch, raising his machete high up and bringing it down in one maddening moment of murderous megalomania. “I writhed in agony. The compound looked like an abattoir at peak period; the whole farmstead turned upside down with people running helter-skelter. I was rushed to an old woman in the neighbouring farmstead because my father, the great Iroko, wasn’t at home.
“One thing I learnt from the incident is never to use hot ointment or hot cream on deep cuts. The old woman didn’t use hot ointment or hot cream. She mixed palm oil with the latex of wild rubber called wáwòn in Yoruba, and applied it on my wound. The blood had stopped. When asked why he tried to behead me, my friend said he only wanted to see if his machete was sharp enough to make my head thud and roll on the floor. If the old woman didn’t know about traditional medicine, I would’ve died. I was lucky.”
But Wande’s luck didn’t prevent him from being paralysed for six months as a result of the attack. He could neither walk nor stand up. After he relocated to the US in 1996, he did a scan on the neck and was told he was less than an inch away from being beheaded.
Contemplating what wisdom is, the third American President, Thomas Jefferson, penned these words in evergreen ink, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next. Skill is knowing how to do it. Virtue is doing it.”
Every second counts in dying minutes; rescue is meaningful only before the final breath. As last-gap rescue came Wande’s way before his coffin slammed shut, providence, similarly, used Wande to rescue a snake-bite victim in school years later.
On the fateful day, death walked bare-chested on Wande’s primary school farm as a big snake bit a student, sending panic waves among staff and students. “He is dead!” “He’s been paralysed!” “He’s blind, deaf and dumb!” The rumour mill was awash with falsehood. Wande fled towards the scene of the bedlam on a rescue mission.
“I can heal him, I can heal him, I told the authorities. They knew the reputation of my father, so they made a way for me to reach the victim who was crying. I chanted some incantations and he fell asleep. I told them to leave him, and that he would wake up soon. When he did, the school roared in jubilation,” Ògúnwándé said.
A few years before Ògúnwándé openly exhibited his prowess in school, the Agric Science teacher had defied the warning by Ifa forbidding anyone to beat the young boy. Fellow students chorused: “Ha, it is forbidden to beat Wande!” “Nobody beats Wande!” “It’s a taboo!” But the teacher wouldn’t listen, on Monday, he beat Wande for not waiting back on the school farm on Friday. The explanation by Wande that he had to go to the family’s farmstead cut no ice with the teacher. The teacher wasn’t seen in school for three weeks after he developed a sudden illness the next day.
Asked what sickness afflicted the teacher, “Ń ò mò o; I don’t know,” Ògúnwándé said. Asked if the teacher knew where the sickness came from, Wande said, “I don’t think he knew. If he did, he probably would’ve gotten in touch with my family.”
Expressing his view about corporal punishment, Wande said beating doesn’t make children better. According to him, beating kills the sense of initiative in children, making them wallow in self-doubt. “It makes them fearful, unsure in making decisions, always seeking validation from a higher authority. In my case, I was daring, I felt everything was doable,” he said.
Commending the standard of primary school education in his time, Ògúnwándé said someone with a Standard Six Certificate rose to become Head of Service in the western region after returning from the Second World War.
With a tinge of regret in his voice, Ògúnwándé, who is a Professor of African Languages and Literatures, explained that no people or culture anywhere in the world had as many literary stories as the Yoruba, saying Ifa is a literature with 256 ódù which means books, adding that each of the 256 books has 800 stories! “No other literature in the world has 15% of what Ifa has. Sadly, our people prefer foreign ways of life to our own culture which is far better,” Wande bemoaned.
Specifically, he condemned the meaning ascribed to Ibadan as an embarrassment to the Yoruba race, saying Ibadan was never a derivative of ‘Eba Odan,’ which connotes a city founded ‘by the roadside’. ‘Ibà’, according to him, is a place of rest.
Ògúnwándé said, “The South-West has two types of vegetation. One is the thick forest called ‘igbó’ in Yorubaland, where you have mighty trees that grow in large densities in the same area. The forest is heavily wooded. The other is ‘òdàn’, which is the type of vegetation that is cut between a forest and a grassland. That is, it has grassland and not too dense trees. This is the main type of vegetation you have in Ibadan to Oyo areas. ‘Ibà’ is a place where climbing tree stems form a massive shelter by matting themselves into a canopy using upright trees as support. The underneath of the canopy is ‘ibà’, where harmful and unharmful animals rest – as the case may be. This is where the name Iba-Odan emanated from, before morphing into Ibadan. An ibà can be bigger than a football field.”
Calling on stakeholders to rescue the Youba language and culture fast, Wande said many Yoruba proverbs had been bastardised. Particularly, he said it is wrong when people say, “Owo fun ni, ko to eyan,” to connote the meaning that giving out money isn’t as important as respecting an individual.
Ògúnwándé said ‘owo’, which is cowrie, in the context of the proverb, is white, adding that ‘funfun’ (white colour) in the proverb is shortened to ‘fun’ to take the form of ‘owo fun ni, ko to eyan’, meaning that ‘money is only white’, ‘it is not as important as a human being’.
To be continued.
Written by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Friday, January 12, 2024
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola