In my country, Nigeria and among the Yorubas, (one of the three major Ethnic Groups) who live in the Western State of the country, Yoruba is the indigenous language and is widely spoken outside English which is the official language. I was born and raised among my parent’s people. One thing you‘ll give the Yorubas credit for, is that they ensured that their children were brought up with Yoruba as the first spoken language, right from the home-front. That was then, don’t ask me what goes on in different Homes these days.
l grew up with my siblings speaking and writing Yoruba, fluently. It had a big advantage for me as you would soon discover if you are patient enough to read this piece to the end. I am tempted to tell you a little more about ‘me’, so we’ll get to know each other and this will help you understand where l am coming from. By the way, l belong to ‘the Old School’ and l love every bit of it. What wonderful experiences we had, growing up! You want to know my age? Too bad, because that is one secret l don’t share in the Media, so we’ll keep it out of our discussions. Okay? Good.
I witnessed a particular tradition, culture or call it a way of life which puzzled me for a long time as l was growing up in Yoruba-land. There was always this very strongly emotional out-cry coming from grieving women whenever a family tragedy or trauma befell any family, in any section of the town and people had gathered to empathise , offer condolences or sympathise with the grieving family.
With their two hands clasping their heads, hot tears running down their cheeks and voices tired and husky from painful shouts and agonised cries, one often heard a peculiar and an all-important question (mostly from women in the crowd) either at the bedside of a very, very sick orphaned child or at a family gathering recently faced with a tragic situation on hand.
Let’s look at the case of a motherless child gasping for and fighting for his/her dear life already orphaned by the death of the mother, or other children who survived delivery but lost their mothers in the process of childbirth when the children were in their infancy or early child hood “.Oh, mama Foluso (Foluso being the name of the sick or ailing child, mama of course is a universal word for Mother including Yoruba language,) then follows the question)…Are you sleeping?”
Let me explain a little interesting cultural norm here among the Yorubas, especially among the rural dwellers, though some city-dwellers became highly emotional at the loss of very close relations, so they sometimes also manifested their sorrow in similar way.
Yoruba couples(and sometimes among other tribes also in Nigeria, like Ibos or Igbos )another major ethnic group ) are usually addressed by using the names of their first children , so if your first child is named Ayo, Kunle, Esther, James or as in my case Bisi, people familiar with my family will always ask a neighbour who wants some information about my mother( before she went to be with the Lord,) “ Is mama Bisi at home, l plan visiting her later today” or “are you a relation of mama Bisi whose house is not too far away from the Anglican church down this street…?”
So it was a very normal practice for sorrowing relations to weep, wail and shout in their moments of grief… mama Olu ( or whatever name the first child of the departed mother’s child was given at birth) “MAMA OLU, ARE YOU SLEEPING?”.
In my late teens, l once took the trouble to find out from one of my elderly Aunties, why on earth, grieving relations or friends will ask such a strange question when the mothers in question had long been dead and had no power whatsoever to help the children they left behind.
My elderly Auntie answered my question with a warm smile and told me that, among our people, most mothers realise that no matter how rich, poor or deprived they may be, as soon as their (children) are put in their arms, ‘natural mother-love closeness’ bonds mother and child together and from then on, the new mother hardly sleeps soundly with both eyes closed ,but more with one eye partially open watching and waiting ready to address the needs and requests of the helpless baby. I want to believe that this must be a universal bond of love between mother and child, worldwide.
My Auntie continued with her answer to my question , “So, before Christianity spread widely in Nigeria, many elders who were probably non-Christians believed that maybe , mothers who had departed the earth, were permitted by divine providence to still keep an eye open interceding for their off-springs on this side of eternity!
I was very surprised by my elderly auntie’s interpretation of the cry “…Olu’s mother, are you sleeping?”. The meaning or interpretation of that cry, as my auntie concluded suggests,” how can you forget to keep an eye on the young children you left behind even if you are no longer alive ?”
As l grew up, I soon forgot all about it since such scenes have naturally been overtaken by developments and expression of grief now take different forms and dimensions in the towns or cities where I have lived in my adult years .
As a Journalist, I’ve since then heard of, covered and reported dozens of stories and written articles relating to broken hearts, dreams and strange societal happenings including family tragedies befalling innocent people in different countries, including mine.
For about four years now, an uprising bearing the name of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East of Nigeria has left over two-million people displaced from their homes as l write this piece.
This is as a result of the killings, maiming , destruction of homes and properties and separation of hitherto happily united families who have been displaced and are suffering and sorrowing from the agony unleashed on millions of people , as a result of the unfortunate war.
The plight of the Displaced population now labelled Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is in the front-burner of concerns and challenges in Nigeria today. The group mostly affected are women and the Girl-children who are widely reported to also suffer physical abuse and soul-rendering torture by their abductors or kidnappers.
The world is familiar with the plight of the 200 + secondary-School Girls in Chibok, a village in North East Nigeria who were abducted from their dormitory after writing one of their examination papers (almost three years ago) on 14th April,2014. Sadly, In spite of global concerns and calls for their release, nothing was heard of them for years, until a couple of months ago -19th May 2016 , out of the blues burst out an exciting Breaking News of the rescue of a Chibok girl, still in her teens, but now nursing a baby, (yes, you’ve guessed it) fathered by one of the captors.
You can imagine the thrills, the joy, the warm sentiment that engulfed the nation with this unusual rescue of a Chibok girl.
How tragic and sad that the other missing 200+ Chibok girls seem to have gone for good, or what do you think? Could there be hope, that some day, in the very near future our nation will burst out in cries of PRAISE GOD! THANK YOU LORD! When more than one other Chibok girl will be rescued alive, hopefully without a baby or babies to show as the ‘fruit’ of their captivity?
My request is that every woman, worldwide, who is still alive today should recall the agonised cry of the grieving, concerned Yoruba woman (many years ago) and pray for the return of the missing girls. Let’s not wait till the mothers of these abducted girls begin to die gradually out of sorrowing for their abducted girls, before we begin to cry and wail….mama Grace, Aisha, Zainab, Florence, Mariam, Ngozi, Esosa, Salamotu, Oluyemisi,…etc, are you sleeping? Our joint prayers can indeed answer the call for their return to the warm embrace of their mothers while they are still alive!
Is there efficacy in prayers and can they move Mountains? 100% YES is my answer. Even if you don’t believe, join in praying for the return of the Chibok Girls all the same. You are asking whether l am a Pastor or an aspiring one? Absolutely wrong. That is not part of my calling, l am doing just what l enjoy doing best, writing!
I’ll be seeing you
ABOUT ME: BISI AMAGADA
Journalist, former columnist, Editor of a National weekly, Author and a Media Consultant. Founder- MEDIA AND GENDER EMPOWERMENT INITIATIVE(MEGEI) – A non-profit, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).