Nothing sucks like being at the mercy of the elements. There’s no way around it. You just have to wait it out.
That’s basically what it feels like, with the rain. The Rain is our traffic warden. We move when the rains give us the go. And stop when they tell us to.
Today, we returned to UNIBEN. The sole purpose today was to speak to some art students again. There was just too much going on here to disappear just like that.
To be honest, it was worth it.
I met a bunch of amazing students. There was Richard who had so many interesting stories to share.
He talked about the struggles of dealing with parents who believed that his work would never earn him a living. None of his stories struck me like two he talked about.
The first was when he made some works in 200-Level. He hung them in the living room proudly and travelled to school.
But when he returned home, a blank wall was waiting for him.
“Come lemme show you the gutter where they threw everything is,” his brother said.
It filled him with so much sadness that he poured all of it into this melancholic Soyinka.
You know, your loved ones are the only ones capable of killing your dreams in the name of “your best interests.”
So a parent would rather their child be an engineer “for his own good.” Instead of letting them finding happiness in this miserable world. Tragic.
The second story was when he wanted to pull of a solo exhibition. He went to tell one of his lecturers. The lecturer said;
“Your work is not good enough for exhibition. It can’t succeed.”
The most amazing part is that, before that meeting, the lecturer had never seen any of his works. Never. So when Richard brought them, he was shocked.
For most of his works, he uses charcoal.
We even challenged him on the spot, and told him to draw Chris in 15 minutes. Well, he did.
I imagine what this would eventually look like if he had this for 3 more days.
I also met Chimezie, who said the boy he was currently drawing reminded him of what a Nigerian education really feels like.
More amazing is that, he’s currently working on a painting illustrating the Aba women’s riot.
He promised to let me know when it’s done. Plus it had me thinking, maybe when we get to Aba, we should find people who know the story as it happened.
We left UNIBEN and were supposed to head for Warri, but then we thought, have we truly come to Benin if we haven’t visited the palace?
So off we went to the palace that has housed the kings of the city for centuries.
The first gate of the palace is accessible to just about anybody.
As long as you’re not wearing black, like I almost did a few days ago. Or you’re not a baby less than three months old.
We had no idea who took speak to, so we approached a policeman we found at the gate house and told him why we were there, and he laughed.
He laughed at our “we’d like to see around the palace.”
So he took us to a palace worker who seemed to know his way around. This guy, let’s call him Wilfred, told us stuff we’ll probably never forget.
In the palace are dedicated virgin boys and men, who volunteer to serve their Kingdom at the Palace. Some of them dedicate their lives to the throne for as long as 14 years.
In that time, they won’t be able to touch women physically, not even their own mothers.
We asked him to show us around a little, to see where is permissible for people like us. He asked us to drop all of our bags and phones. No photos.
Meeting an Omueda.
He smiled a lot and even tolerated all of our foolish questions. Let’s call him Osaro.
Like why he decided to spend over 11 years of his life in the palace.
“I’m proud to serve my kingdom,” he said with so much ease.
He wore a light brown sleeveless shirt and matching shorts. Around his neck were tiny white beads, and on his ankles were metal bangles.
He hasn’t been outside the palace since he signed up 9 years ago.
I asked about people forbidden from entering the palace. Like people dressed in black.
“It is an abomination. You can’t try it. The security at the gate will stop You.”
Okay, but let’s paint a hypothetical scenario. What if someone forces himself and makes way to the office of the Oba.
He laughed. He laughed well.
“It depends on the Oba’s mood,” he said. “If he’s in a good mood, the punishment will be mild. If not, whatever the person sees, let him take it.”
He said it so gently that we didn’t bother to ask what type of punishment.
“What about your mum,” we asked. “How did she feel?”
“She was happy. Don’t you understand?”
“It’s a thing of pride and prestige for someone in your family to serve the kingdom. Every day little boys come here trying to get in.”
But what exactly do the Omueda do, we asked.
“They are like the eyes of the king. Everywhere the king goes, they always precede him, carrying the symbols of his authority.”
There had to be more, so we asked.
Osaro just smiled. A smile that told us there are a gazillion things we’d never know because we were just random passersby.
By the time we were leaving, it was no longer the “Oba’s Palace’ to me. It had become a fortress. One that has survived for over 800 years.
One that, despite the fast-changing world outside, has managed to keep the traditions thriving. Not thriving in the sense of completely abandoning new ways.
They simply take from the outside, solely to increase the power and influence of the throne.
I noticed that throughout our conversation, the past Obas weren’t referred to as dead. They simply said, “They went to join their ancestors.”
It’s like when Benin people say ‘Oba Ghato Kpe e’ (Long live the king), they don’t just say it as a greeting. They say it because they mean it.
Obas don’t die. They just return to their ancestors.