Everyone comes to Uselu during the Igogo festival including Bambalu, the famous son of the village’s wealthiest chief who lived in the city. The drums were beating in a distance, summoning the villagers to an evening of excitement and pleasure. For Oladuti, the night held a promise of pleasure beyond the Igogo dance. It had been months since she had seen Bambalu.
The Igogo festival held yearly in Uselu in honour of ‘Orosen,’ the legendary spirit- wife of Uselu’s first king. Today was the seventh day of the festival. The king had made his traditional outing through the village, and his chiefs had danced. In the evening, the climax of the ceremony would hold at the village arena. The village maidens, dressed in their special dance wrappers popularly known as ‘kowojo’ and adorned with special beads will perform the famous ‘Igogo’ dance in honour of the goddess of beauty. Then the priestess of Orosen will pray the blessing of the gods, and the new yam will be eaten.
As Duti dressed up for the dance, her mother could sense her feverish eagerness for the special evening.
“You are very happy tonight.” Her mother observed.
“Yes mother.” Duti replied. “The moon is very cheerful. It will be a great evening.” It was true. The moon was full and bright, shining somewhat magnificently that
evening. In the distance, the dirge in honour of the goddess of beauty could be heard being chorused by the village women, accompanied in slow mournful rhythms of the talking drums. Soon the drums will break into a frenzied tempo, capturing the energy and charm of the celebration dance. Then the ‘Igogo’ performance will begin. Moni got up from the low stool to help her young daughter tie her dance wrapper firmly in place.
“Your eyes shine brighter than the moon my daughter.” She said to the young maiden. “Perhaps there is love in your heart.”
Duti lowered her eyes, her heart slamming rapidly against the doors of her chest. Her feelings for Bambalu were undeniable, but this was not an issue she wanted to discuss with her mother. She pressed her lips together and let silence reign.
“You answer me with silence my daughter.” Moni accused mildly.
“Mother, when I wish to marry, you shall be first to know.” She replied. With that, she slipped the last of the bead bangles into her right hand. “Good bye mother.” She said hurriedly as she made to leave. Her mother touched her arm softly.
“If this will be your last Igogo dance, then so be it. I was a year younger than you are now when I performed my last Igogo dance.”
“Mother no!” Duti replied fiercely. “I want to dance next year. I want to finish my schooling and go to the city. You know I want to become a teacher, not a farmer. I don’t want to be poor!”
“Are you certain of what you are saying Duti?” her mother asked softly.
Duti understood the reason her mother had to question her resolve. It would not be easy to perform in the ‘Igogo’ dance after this year. The Igogo dance was performed by maidens from fourteen years. Duti was already sixteen. Tonight, the village square will be filled with prospective suitors and many of the girls who would perform would be betrothed. It would be difficult on any girl who would be left out. Some of Duti’s childhood friends were already married and returning to watch the ‘Igogo’ dance being performed by younger girls in the company of their husbands and children.
“Yes mother. I am certain.” Duti replied all the same.
“Then dance only for your dreams.” Her mother counseled. “Shut your eyes in that square and see only your future. When the drum stops, hurry home. Speak to no one my child. I shall be waiting for you.”
“Yes mother.” She promised solemnly.
Once out of the hut, Duti hurried across the courtyard and out through the back entrance. Rounding the bend into the path that led to the village square, she bumped right into Bambalu, the son of Adeyeri. She shrieked in fright.
“Shhh” He hushed, laughing.
“What are you doing here?” she queried.
“I have been peeping at you through your mother’s window.” He replied. “What?” she screamed. “You peep on a naked virgin?”
He laughed again. Everything seemed to make Bambalu laugh, even the gravest of issues.
“I peeped on a virgin who was dressing up, not on a naked virgin.” He replied. “Bambalu, should I report this to the elders…”
“I shall be forced to pay your bride price,” He interrupted, “and that is the very thing I wish to do tonight.” He paused. “Duti, I have never seen you so beautiful.” he finished. Duti lowered her gaze. Sometimes, she was not sure what she felt for Bambalu. One minute he was flippant and even proud and she thought he was the most infuriating suitor in the whole of Uselu village. The next minute, he was praising her to the skies, his eyes aglow with wild fire of ardent love.
“I have to go now.” She said weakly.
“I love you.” He said passionately. “Dance for me.” Duti broke free and ran blindly towards the arena. She loved him, but tonight’s dance was not his… yet.
The night dance was memorable. There were several maidens dancing for the first time. Their excitement and feverish anticipation was infectious. The night was typically led by Dola, the plump middle-aged woman who was reputed to have the most sonorous voice in Uselu village. Whenever Dola wasn’t singing and dancing, she was typically a pain; peddling meaningless stories, begging for clothes and food, or doing anything else that added only nuisance value. It was different however when she was singing and dancing. Dola alone could raise one chant after another without faltering, capturing the exact sequence of the special dance gathering, sustaining the deepening euphoria as the evening wore on, and taking the dance to the climax where the exhilaration was unrivalled. When Dola sang and the drumming reached a crescendo, the maidens renewed their vigour. Bending lower, they twirled rhythmically, with skillful leg movements and deftly spinning their horsetails. There were many suitors in the square that night, including those who had come home from their work or study in the city. They stood in the sidelines with the older men, swaying softly, teasing one another and relishing the distinctive entertainment of the Igogo dance. Duti caught Bambalu’s eye a few times and they exchanged a smile. She felt flustered each time, then an unsettling feeling washed over her. She really loved him and she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her, but she also loved education and wanted very badly to finish school. She was top of her class and the head-teacher already promised her that she would go to University if she worked hard. She was not willing to let go of that, but how does it fit with Bambulu’s love? Would he wait forever? She was confused and unsettled. Finally, as the evening dance came to an end, she found herself deliberately avoiding Bambalu. She talked with her friends and a few other suitors, but she always consciously made sure to be at the other end of the field from where Bambalu was. She could feel his eyes on her sometimes, and once while she talked with one of his friends from the city, their eyes met. She saw his jealousy and perhaps some anger. Finally, he walked up to her and shoved her into a corner.
“What are you doing?” he queried
She jolted free from his grip. “Why are you pushing me that way?” “You were meant to come to me!” he insisted.
“Why?” She asked “Other suitors are going after the maidens they want. Why should I be the one to go after mine?”
He relaxed. “You know very well that I love you Duti. Why are you running away from me?”
She lowered her eyes. “I am not running away.”
“Then come home with me tonight.” He said passionately. “No… No I can’t…”
”Duti if it is your mother, my father would find a way to talk this through with her.” He said confidently.
“You think my mother does not want us to be married?” “Your mother does not like me, I know this very well.”
Well, she gave me her blessings to be married if that’s my wish.” Bambulu’s eyes shone in delight. “She did?”
Duti nodded. “But I don’t want to be married…” his countenance fell unmistakably. “Now.” She quickly added.
“You think I’m not good enough…”
“No… No… I’d just like to finish my school and if I marry you now…”
“Well, you have had enough of school!” he screamed. “How many of your mates are still in school?”
She looked round nervously. “Bambalu, keep your voice down. I really want to go to the university… please understand.”
There was a brief pause. Bambalu stood with his arms folded, an angry scowl on his face. It was clear this was quite disappointing for him. He had been so sure. Duti entreated him.
“Please just give me a few more years…” she pleaded.
“Soon it will become shameful for you to dance in this village and you will not be able to return home during Igogo. How do I explain to my father that I am waiting for a bride who will be stale and parched by the time she is ready?”
Duti’s eyes stung with tears.
“Why are you using these words on me?”
“Can I taste of your suppleness and bloom now?” he demanded almost carelessly. “Bambalu!” what he asked was unmistakable.
“Why should I wait in vain? If we will be together in future, there is nothing preventing us from sealing it now.”
“But I will be shamed if I am neither in the Igogo dance nor in my husband’s house.”
“But you just said that you would leave the village? Besides, no maiden of your age will be in the Igogo dance next year. Most of all, we would have the promise of one another’s love. Duti, don’t you want to be with me?” he finished ardently.
There was another brief pause. Duti knew what he was asking, but how could he even ask that? He was asking her to give her pride away and risk dishonor and scandal.
“Bambalu, I do not wish to be married in that way…” she implored
“Alright.” He said stubbornly. “Suit yourself. Sometimes, I wonder why I am so consumed with your love anyway.” He walked away. Tears stung Duti’s eyes. She wanted to go after him. But she could never do what he wanted either. Maybe she would go and see him tomorrow before he leaves for the city. She felt deeply sad and did not want to remain in the arena anymore. She left for home. For some reason, it had felt like Bambalu was walking out on her for good. And he was right, she was getting older and her chances were slimming. By the next year, she would definitely be the oldest in the dance. As long as she was in the village, she would have to dance anyway, except she was no longer a virgin. Not being in either the Igogo dance or a man’s house as his wife was the worst manner of disgrace a maiden could bring on herself and her family. All the same, dancing after a certain age would be weird in Uselu. People would snicker and mock her mother. Stories may begin to emerge about why no suitor was picking her up. She would stand a far less chance each year because there would be even more beautiful and younger girls coming into the dance. Bambalu said she would be ‘staled and parched.’ She winced and swallowed a rising lump. If she let Bambalu go, would she ever be married? Would anyone ever want her again?
She reached the house and walked quietly through the darkness of the courtyard to her mother’s room. It was the last on the far-right wing. Everyone was out in the square, so there were no fires or cooking, not chit-chats in the open air tonight. When she neared her mother’s door, she saw that the oil lamp still burned. Her mother had not gone to the square! Why? She changed her mind about going in and sat quietly on a mound in the courtyard. If she went in, her mother would query. She did not wish to talk. Her thoughts consumed her. Why did she even want an education at all cost? If a girl wasn’t married, she had no dignity or respect in the community. It bordered on waywardness for the people of Uselu and neared an abomination for a girl to not be married by a certain age. It was acceptable for the boys to be ambitious and seek big dreams. The girl’s pride was in subjection to her husband, and a household full of children. Besides, Bambalu came from a famous and respected family. His father held one of the highest chieftaincy titles in the land and was the wealthiest. Duti’s mother was the fourth of the five wives of Ogundele, the blacksmith; and Duti was the last child of her mother. Usually, such families do not marry across one another, but Bambalu wanted to marry her and he had been prepared to take her home to his father and his kinsmen tonight. Of what use would all the education be if she let this opportunity slip by her and she remained in the humiliation of singlehood for the rest of her life? Besides, she could plead with Bambalu to let her return to school after they were married. Bambalu would have enough money to send her to any school of her choice. Perhaps she did not have to choose one or the other after all. She suddenly brightened for the first time that evening and there seemed to be a solution. She had to see Bambalu right away. They could still be together. They could find a way. She got up from the mound and made quickly for the exit. Moni peeped through the lattice and saw her daughter hurrying out. She knew when Duti came into the compound and had waited in vain for her to come into the room. Then she heard her daughter’s footsteps hurrying away after sometime and she had gotten up to see what was going on. She sighed. This one night could make or break everything. If Oladuti could make it through this night, then she was going to be alright.
Duti returned to the arena, but Bambalu was not longer there. She enquired from a few of his friends, they could not say particularly where he was but one or two said that they had seen him leave. So Duti decided that Bambalu probably got angry after their chat and left for home. She decided to go to his father’s house in Oke-Ogun quarters to look for him. The large compound was bustling when she arrived. By this time, many people were home from the dance. Bambalu’s father also had a very large family. He had two wives, but almost as many children as some men who had more wives. There were also many servants and several relatives living in the large family house. Duti enquired. No one had seen Bambulu come in. She bore their probing and critical looks. After all, no maiden came home to look for a suitor. It had always been the other way around. But this was very important. After she had spoken to Bambalu, everything would be alright and he could present her to his family at any time he wished. Word reached Bambalu’s mother that a maiden had come home to look for her son. She reached Duti just as she was about to leave the compound.
“Oladuti.” She called deliberately.
Duti turned. “Good Evening Mama.” She could see the contempt with which Bambalu’s mother was looking at her, even through the darkness. She should have thought this through. It wasn’t a good idea to come here after all.
“I hear you are looking for my son.”
“Yes, we were together in the arena… so I…” she got stuck on how to tell the story. That they had somehow missed each other on their way home?
“He is not home.”
“Alright Ma. Thank you Ma.” She responded hurriedly, waiting eagerly to be dismissed.
“And… does your mother know that you are here? It is bad-luck for a maiden to go looking for suitors on the night of Igogo. If no man takes you home tonight, go back to your Father’s house. Next year will be better.”
Duti swallowed a hard lump. “Yes Ma. May I go now Ma?” “Greet your Mother.”
“Bye Ma.” She walked away clumsily, her legs knocking into one other. She wished the ground to open up and swallow her in that moment. She had never been so embarrassed in her life! Bambalu’s mother did not like her! Why did she never think
of this? Of the possibility that Bambalu’s family may never accept her? Tears stung her eyes and splashed down. So if Bambalu wasn’t home, where was he? She decided to take a longer route home, just to wander around alone with her sad thoughts for a little while before returning home. She had never been the type to be all over a boy. Everyone in the village talked of her brilliance and good sense. But of what use was a girl’s brilliance and good sense if she could not even marry into a highly reputable family when the time came? She took the path that lead to the stream. She could still hear the chit-chat from the arena in the distance and a few people walked past her on their way home. She managed a greeting or two. As she walked through the primary school field just across her own living quarters, she heard some laughter coming from somewhere in the buildings. She froze. Then there were soft voices. No doubt, two people were having an intimate time in the classrooms; on the night of Igogo! This was an abomination. What wicked man would lure a maiden into this on such a night? What foolish maiden will allow a man bring her here rather than take her home to his family?
She tiptoed softly towards the sound, and climbed unto the corridor of the classroom block. Crouching beneath the windows, she crawled up to the classroom where the voices were coming from with great care. Then she carefully lifted herself and looked through the slightly open window. The sight before her made her gasp aloud before she could control herself. Bambalu got up from Dola in a flash. “Who is there?!” he roared. Duti leapt off the corridor in a second and rounded the back of the block. She made a mad-dash for the house. He pursued hotly. When he grabbed her and thrust her to the ground; she screamed. Her house was just a few meters away. Her mother’s window was open.
“Oladuti!” her mother’s voice boomed.
Bambalu left her and fled. Dola was nowhere in sight.
Duti gathered herself and ran into her mother’s arms panting. She shook and sobbed and panted for a few seconds, and even found it difficult to walk.
“You saw them.” Her mother said softly.
Duti pulled away, her mouth agape. She gaped at her mother in utter disbelief. She knew this all along!
“Mother…” she sobbed painfully. “You knew this and you didn’t tell me…” “I did.”
“You didn’t!” she insisted. “If you had told me, mother you know I would never have continued to see him…”
“Oladuti, a word is enough for the wise. If I had to tell you Bambalu was sleeping with Dola in order for you to stop seeing him, it would have torn us apart.”
She just continued to sob as they walked quietly home. Her mother knew she was suffering from the shock of her discovery and Bambalu’s attack, the humiliation of it all, the deplorable betrayal, so she just let things be. Once home, Moni prepared a hot bath for Duti, and prepared her some medicinal soup so she could relax, but Duti could hardly eat. When others returned from the arena and asked of her, her mother simply said that she returned early from the arena a little indisposed and would need some rest. Duti could not sleep. She could not take her mind off the entire drama of the evening, but more especially her mother’s words.
“Maami.” She called from her mat. “My daughter.” Moni responded.
“You said you told me about Bambalu and Dola, but you never did Maami. You never told me about them. If you had told me, I would have stopped.” She cried.
Her mother sat up and placed her head gently in her laps.
“Oladuti, you were drunk on the wine of love. I tried to make you drink it slowly, but you drank too fast and too hard.”
“How did you try to help me Maami?”
“I encouraged you to speak to me more. Remember, I have once been young. And the wisdom of age is now with me. Instead you avoided me.”
Duti knew her mother was right. She just wept.
“Oladuti, I told you to dance for your future. I told you to shut your eyes. You opened them during the dance didn’t you?”
“But Maami, how was I to know you meant that literarily? How do I close my eyes and still dance?”
“Wisdom speaks and hears in few words. Folly speaks many words and would not heed any either. But some things teach us wisdom, like all that you have seen tonight. When you have seen some things, your eyes will be shut forever to certain other things.”
Duti cried herself to sleep on her mother’s laps.
The next morning, Duti’s English teacher was the first visitor that Duti and her mother received.
“Was she betrothed last night?” Duti who was in the room, overheard the teacher ask her mother eagerly, as they stood talking on the verandah.
“No. Not that there were no suitors, but you know that Duti is focused.” She finished proudly.
“Ah-Ah!” the teacher exclaimed, excited. “I just wanted to wait to see the outcome of last night before I showed her this letter that arrived this morning.”
“Oladuti!” her mother could not read, so Duti knew she would call her.
She came out and greeted her teacher warmly. He handed her the letter. She screamed and literarily hopped on her mother after reading the first few lines. “Maami, it’s a scholarship! I am going to the white man’s land, it’s a scholarship!” she screamed. The teacher beamed. The family gathered. Oladuti and her mother suddenly became the cynosure of all eyes. In the midst of it all, the young teacher called Oladuti and her mother aside and had a private talk with them.
“I have loved Oladuti for some time but being so young and very brilliant, I did not want her to lose focus. I have scholarship to further my studies in the same place as Oladuti. If she wishes and you consent, I can take her home to my people. I will pay her bride price to you before we leave for the United Kingdom in six months. When she is done with her studies and ready, I shall wed her.”
Oladuti fled inside. When her mother went after her, she found her weeping. Teacher Bode had been just like a favorite elder brother. He had always done everything to encourage her. He was firm and kind, and had always made sure she was at her best.
“Mother, I would have missed all of this.” She sobbed as her mother came in.
“Duti, this is what happens when you have been to a tough and painful place and you have taken good lessons. There would be a better thing waiting.”
News of Duti’s morning-after betrothal spread fast in Uselu, especially the part about the white man’s land. No single girl had left Uselu village for the Queen’s land. Duti would be the first. Suddenly, all the girls who had been betrothed on the famous Igogo night would give anything to have waited until the next day and be the teacher’s bride.
A night before their departure from Uselu, Duti wept almost all night. “Mother, how will I live without you for such a long time?”
“How I have taught you to live my daughter.” Moni replied firmly. “Live for values, not for vanity. Learn to always be patient. Whatever cannot wait, don’t force it, let it go. Learn to fix your gaze on things that are lasting, and to shut your eyes to the things that may seem appealing but do not lead to where you are going. Remember, the future is greater than the white man’s land. It is in the task and desires the creator has carved in your heart.”