Poetic skills and mystical powers provide entertainment in a rural community, Irele Ekiti, where GBOYEGA ADEOYE witnessed the traditional hunters’ festival called ‘Ijala Are Ode’.
The local hunters converged, forming a great ring around the bonfire glowing in the dark village. Not far from the spot of the huge bonfire at the frontage of the head hunter, Chief Adeleke’s residence, assorted drinks, kolanuts, bitter kola and boiled dog and bush meat were displayed on a large table. Chattering housewives, some of them scantily dressed, strapped their restless infants firmly to their backs. Boys with funny nicknames: Tobonko, Jaloo, Assuming, Netooo, Zutooo and even Wicked, posed stylishly at standout points to attract young ladies, most of who had just freshened up with an evening bath inside makeshift bathrooms after the day’s hectic farm work.
For the first time in the last twelve years, one could perceive the odour of the legendary “Bintu perfume”. Welcome to Irele Ekiti, a village located some kilometres away from Ikole-Ekiti in Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State. Irele is also the border town to the Yoruba speaking tribes of Kogi State
Night owls, and bats, hurried across the dark sky: female termites perched on every gleam of light, far away inside the bush; echoes of the howling barks of the hyena pierced the stillness of the night. Revered ageing hunters whose lives are devoted to hunting in the wild forest, formed their own world. In their various homes, earlier in the day, hides of tigers, leopards and even lions were seen on display. The hunters’ gathering a forthnight ago was held in remembrance of one of their colleagues, who died at the tail end of last year.
On the eve of the festival which they refer to as “Isipa Ode”, the hunters had gone to the forest as a team and killed various animals for the occasion. Abayomi Omotayo (Otolo), killed a fat leopard. Some brought rodents and various kinds of animals while Nide, who combines palmwine tapping with hunting as profession, returned with a robust 10-foot long snake.
Akinwumi Oluwafemi, an insurance broker and resident in Lagos, who is an indigene of the village, was the reporter’s guide. “You have come to see the greatest display of native wisdom, fantastic blend of language and lyrics”. According to him, “the most interesting aspect of the show is the mystical display of black power.”
Oluwafemi, introduced this reporter as a journalist from Lagos to his friends and relatives. And suddenly, everyone became interested in him. A journalist to the village folk means a man who is close to the corridors of power. One who knows a lot about politics and power. When he spoke, everyone listened.
An old man who called himself a great advocate of June 12 and genuine democracy, offered this reporter the chance to interview him. He wanted to tell President Mohammadu Buhari and the newly elected governor of the state, Dr Kayode Fayemi about the bad road leading to the village, from Ikole and the one that links the village with Ajaru, a farm settlement. He also wants to talk on the menace of the rampaging Fulani herdsmen that have made farming, the mainstay of the residents, a herculean task in recent times. To prove that he is bold, confident and being a man of his words, he wanted the story published as a cover story with his picture and those of his numerous children boldly featured along with the story. Every attempt to explain how a newspaper operates failed and at last, he branded the reporter “a traitor”.
Another man wanted an interview with all his children who he describes as ‘whizz-kids’, on the need to make education free “front page or nothing” he insisted.
How would one imagine that the reporter’s presence will deal a blow to the ego of a village champion? There was a man, Borokini, who anchors a “greeting programme” on the state radio and had been feeding the villagers with fairy tales concerning the ongoing democracy. No sooner had he been introduced to the reporter than the latter disappeared into thin air.
In the night of the main event, mystical objects and dane guns ruled the setting. A lanky man in a traditional hunter’s attire came forward and shot into the air. The earth and heavens quaked, villagers ran helter-skelter but later regrouped. A young chap then began to display his poetic wit and mastery.
Termites are tiny insects without sense, yet they build tents that house the million member termite family. Venom of the viper does nothing to the tortoise shell. The soil will never slide the snail.
The flute, the talking drum, characterized the festive mood. The hunters danced. The villagers immersed themselves in the air of celebration. Later, waiters served the people with palmwine and dog meat.
Then more poetry: I look at the stars, the rainbows, what a worlds!
Puerile it is, yet so meaningful
The world is salt, the greatest of all things.
The world is water, the greatest of all things.
What then is the world?
Can someone tell me?
One after another, the hunters came out celebrating the beauty and profundity of oral poetry.
When they seemed to have exhausted themselves, the drummer who was giving occasional hype to the seemingly drama was called to order. Servers were beckoned at, and in a twinkle of an eye, assorted bush meat with fresh palm wine began to go round and served in order of seniority among the hunters.
An ageing hunter waved at a young lady standing close to the reporter. She hesitated for a while and then moved closer to the man who offered her a piece of meat which was later discovered to be dog meat. Scarily, the lady stepped back and screamed as if she had just seen a ghost. Her scream attracted the attention of her peers who were quick to deflate her antics. They loudly disowned her and bluntly told her to bury her pride and collect the meat, which according to them, is a special delicacy, admired by all the village folks.
Stylishly, the lady, who seems to be interested in the reporter crept into the dark and never returned to witness the show again that night.
Fatigue and sleep took away this reporter late in the night and he missed the display of mystic powers.
The next morning, the light of his vehicle illuminated the villagers amidst the mist on their way to the farm. On the way to Lagos, Mrs Folusho Olorunjuwon (Nee Faleke), who accompanied the reporter in his car, narrated how some of the hunters displayed their mastery of voodoo and even metamorphosed into various animals the previous night.
Since the reporter was fast asleep when those hard-to-believe “miracles” were supposed to have been performed, he merely listened to yet another mystic tale of our world.