A true life story of my beloved uncle.
My late father told us the story of how one of our uncles, who was a pagan, embraced Islam. Some of his elder brothers actually had masquerades. They once caused trouble in the market square and beat up some Fulani men who refused to give them money during their Egungun festival. Fulani leaders went to the police station to report, and masquerades were rounded up by local police and jailed for seven days! They made sure they remained in their Egungun costumes for the most part of their incarceration in police custody.
Because of their blood relation to the Ado royal family in Saki, one of his brothers threatened the police that they would incur the wrath of the reigning king Oladosun if they put him behind bars. Perhaps out of respect for the reigning monarch, police treated him with some honours, isolated him, and took him to the Okere palace to report what happened to the king.
At the palace, after the police narrated the incident to the king, Kabiesi asked for the whereabouts of other masquerades. The police responded that they were in custody but only isolated him because they discovered he was from the royal family. The king’s reply changed the whole matter from that moment onward. “I used to think you, the police, knew your job very well. You know well that I don’t have a prison in this palace to keep a criminal, yet you chose to bring him here just because he’s my son. Is there no more space in the prison where you kept his accomplices?” The king then rose angrily from his throne and went into his inner chambers.
The police beat my late uncle, Blue, and Black, and dragged him on the floor for almost the entire period of their journey back to their station. He returned to other masquerades, dejected and humiliated. All their hope that the king would come to their rescue by virtue of my late uncle being of royalty vanished instantly; the palace rejected their impunity, and it dawned on them that they were in deep shit! They were beaten that night like a man caught stealing a pregnant goat in the town square on the sunny afternoon of a market day.
Elders in town began to visit the king daily, urging him to intervene and save Egungun masquerades from overwhelming shame and disgrace. The king bailed them out after a week of grueling time in ‘Gullak’. Egungun priests and the town pagans collectively threatened to punish the police after their release. They had meetings upon meetings in their Igbale (Shrine) and gave a seven-day ultimatum before the police would be beaten out of the barracks by some unseen demons.
On day seven, nothing happened, they were all shocked! It appears all their charms have become impotent against the law enforcers. My father was just a young lad who was curious about it all. The pagans extended the police’s doomsday by another seven days. On day three, my uncle threatened to leave paganism if nothing happened to the police. He was so embittered that the king humiliated him, and the “Alales” (ancestors) also looked away as if nothing had happened. He said if ancestors could not help masquerades, he would bid a forever good-bye to paganism.
On day five of the newly set ultimatum, the pagan chiefs got confused because nothing worked. They plotted to go physical with the police. After all, the elders do say that “when the oracle is cast, and it fails to speak favourably, it’s the prerogative of Babalawo to manually re-align Opele to the appropriate Odu”. They prepared some diabolic concussions, took it to a market square in the night, and kept them safe on the branch of a big tree at the centre of the market. It was a night market, and police officers used to come there after the closure of work to get groceries for their wives.
The plan was that two people would climb the tree after sunset and lay an ambush for the policemen. Once they arrive and pass under the tree, they pour some of the concussions on their heads. The occultic priests had assured them that all they needed was for the concussion to touch anyone’s skin, and he would instantly become leprous! They had planned on infecting as many policemen as came to the night market with leprosy.
All was set; two pagans had climbed the tree. The night wasn’t dry, as the sky had earlier showered some very light rain. The tree had provided them with a perfect hiding place in the thick, luxurious foliage of the season. They were waiting, waiting, and waiting for the unfortunate policemen that would show up at the market that night. While they lurked high above one robust branch, buying and selling went on smoothly underneath them. Under that tree, a handful of market women were so engrossed in overflowing gossip about their various homes that they couldn’t have sensed some imminent danger was menacingly dangling above their newly plaited heads.
The night thickened on and on, trading continued in the process, and as our elders do say, “Be cheated and I won’t be cheated, are the two arguments that produce all the noise in the marketplace.” There were occasionally some thunder rumblings that broke up the seemingly constant background noise of the traders. It is as if the heavens are sounding some note of warning that the early evening showers, which had slightly soaked the marketplace, were just a forerunner of a coming heavy downpour that might completely drench the whole town later that night. Even though the periodic lightning that ushered each episode of thunder brightly lit up everything in sight, it failed to expose the hiding place of the two pagans because they had taken shelter deep into the thickness of the old Odan tree.
Seconds rolled into minutes, and minutes into hours. They believed that the “mixture of vengeance” had found safety in a traditional gourd that one of its two bearers held tightly in his hand. There was no sign of a single policeman from the vantage point where they had been sitting for hours. They have now grown impatient, frustrated, and more desperate. The initial loud noise of the market had begun to wane, and as our elders do say, “When a strand is removed and another one follows suit, a bunch of brooms will soon turn empty.” People had started departing the market, and the crowd was getting dispersed and becoming gradually lean.
One of the concoction bearers suggested coming down from the tree to investigate further if any policeman could be spotted around. They agreed, and he stealthily climbed down, sneaking slowly and smoothly down the main trunk, virtually unnoticed by people around. He soon mingled with the remaining traders and began prying here and there, pretending to look for something to buy.
Suddenly, he took a cursory look at an approaching figure from a discernible distance. A young policeman clad in a white mufti was walking into the market square, clutching a small basket in one hand and a leathery office bag hanging on his alternate shoulder. He wore a very light complexion that easily gave his face away, even several yards from the reach of the faint light that several oil lamps in the market had collectively contributed to illuminating the night.
Due to his light complexion, he goes by the name Mr. Yellow in the entire town. It’s said that no one knows his real name except his police colleagues. He is described as a very charming young officer with dark curly hair, tall, and slim, but with a bit narrow waist and broad chest. His guttural voice infuses fear into his speech when he is met at his duty post, but when he is happy, a broad smile inadvertently exposes his frontal tooth gap, which casts some kind of love spell on all spinsters that ever come across him. He is forever an object of favourable gossip among ladies, and of envy among men. Mr. Yellow, therefore, is simply unmistakable to the belligerent duo that had come to that night market with the hidden commodity of leprosy.
The fellow who identified him from the ground instantly lost his composure and jolted away from the crowd, sprinting towards the tree, where his partner had waited patiently for the good news. He got under the tree and started screaming, “One is here!” “Make haste, climb down, and bring it on quickly.” In a bit of a rush not to miss the target, the fellow holding the diabolic concoction instantly rose from the tree branch and swiftly made his way toward a lower branch with one of his legs.
It appears his desperation impaired his judgment of the distance between the first branch and the second, or perhaps the night showers had moistened the second branch and rendered it too slippery. The main trunk of Odan tree is often coarse and climbers-friendly, but subsequent branches are often enveloped in snake skins. The branches appear to have taken some zoological oath never to forgive the missteps of any climber.
In this pagan’s instance, the tree branch wasn’t the only one in haste to punish that unfortunate violation of the arboreal concords; gravity also appears to have considered the man’s prolonged stay on the tree an unpardonable contempt against its natural force, power, and authority. After all, our elders say that “Laala that goes up is definitely bound to gravity reclaim”.
He first lost control of the gourd in his hand, which he accidentally smashed against another unforgiving branch, but that was not the real problem. He fell headlong on his partner waiting under the tree, and gravity made sure he reached the ground before granting the broken gourd express permission to pour its leprotic content in that same direction in a furious torrent.
You don’t want to ask me what became of their lot. My uncle renounced the pagan faith, deserted his masquerade costumes, and embraced the doctrine of monotheism Islam offers the world. The pagans mobilised all their resources to fight him in order to prevent others from following his path and losing their members. He underwent a lot of trials in Dunya and even lost one of his eyes in the process. Yet many fellow pagans embraced Islam, following in his foot-step.
He was also previously a reputable Ifa priest before embracing Islam. He was close to his 70s when he asked me to teach him how to recite Arabic. We couldn’t finish Qaidat when he died. He loved me like his surviving second eye. Help me pray for him today in your Sallah. We call him “Baba. Yusuf Fadeyi”. May Allah overlook his shortcomings and grant him Aljannah Firdaus.