PREYING ON THE DEAD – CULTURE & THE ODYSSEY OF MY DAD’S FUNERAL

Final Logic

Never live your life to please anybody is one of the logic of my late father. People who do not live in our world believed we should go into debt to satisfy societal dictates. Well, if I could have acquired money to do anything in my life, it would have been to have a lavish celebration in the year 2000 when I calculated that my father clocked 100. It would have been a lovely thing to slaughter cows, call a musician, have a lavish church service and invite friends and well wishers. It was something that I personally would have loved to do, except that there was no means to embark on such a venture. Besides, it would have been obvious to Dad that I was getting into debt to do something.

When I bought my first car, a Toyota Corolla and came home after a trip, my father would not sit in his parlour to be ‘congratulated’. No. He welcome me home and as soon as people began to troop in, he excused himself went to his room and closed the door behind him. My mother understood the gesture so well, she asked me to quickly go in and talk to him.

It soon became obvious that my Dad was not going to congratulate me until I had explained to him how I made money to buy a car. Here is the story, I had gotten a facility tour from an embassy. I had a feeding allowance, which allowed me to save. I saved a lot but not enough to buy the car, I returned to town and spoke to the only person I knew who gave me (not loaned me) but gave me money to get my first car. After explaining this to Dad, he was convinced to accept communal congratulations and to pour spiritual libation for my safe drive.

Dad always reminded us that we did not have to please anybody else but our conscience and to live by the values we were raised with. It is not particularly shocking to hear the grumblings and complaints that we have acted ultra vires tradition by refusing to ‘celebrate’ the life of the oldest person in Okeagi. It was assumed that, having lived that long, his exit was not a sad one. If I had the money to throw a party, there would be a building in my name in Okeagi and my Dad would have died there in the luxury he never had. Such money would never have fed the people who did not care a hoot whether he lived or died.

Of course, none of those I aptly described on Facebook as ‘culture voltrons’ ever knocked on my father’s doors to find out how he was faring. To do that would have been the tradition that Okeagi was known for. The only exception was Uncle Olawale Lot-Ajayi, who took care of my father more than anyone else among us. When he first cranked his generating set, he extended electricity to my father’s house; it is a gesture that would stay fresh in my memory. As a pharmacist, he never returned home without medications – he knows that Dad loved to pop pills – sometimes I would say – needlessly. The rest of town walked or drove past his kraal without as much as a salutation. It baffles me to hear that they had hoped to feast on his burial party.

Dad lived the last two decades of his life in incredible health. He was blind for most of it, and later lost the use of his legs after a bed fall but to my knowledge, he never charged anyone who needed the services of his memory. He paid his dues to community and to Church – that is all that mattered to him and the things that mattered to him matters to me.

Our elders say that if you want to pass a message to the deaf, send it through his child. So I got all the feedback but I am bigger, better and stronger than those who insult me and try to impugn the character and contributions of the Asajus to their community because they did not get that wasteful passport to prey on the dead.

A Broke Orphan’s plea

I had a conversation with Chief Samuel Balogun, the Asiwaju of Okeagi. I implored him to intervene on our behalf and allow us a simple burial. I promised that when the capacity to ‘celebrate’ comes, we would do all that is culturally required of us. There is no way of knowing when a jobless person gets a good job and start to save for ceremonies. There’s no date when the widowed among us would pick up the broken pieces of their lives again. I also said that the Okeagi I grew up in, is a community of valour where nobody goes to bed without food and that lavish burials should not be paramount because the dead do not return to pay back.

Instead, I suggested a change the rules and charge funds to projects to enhance the community. I pleaded to prevail on the Oba-in-Council to change some of the demands from children of the diseased. I suggested that rather than levying goats, cows and drinks, the Council should ask people to contribute to a development fund project. I love Okeagi and I would like my community to grow. In my mind, it wouldn’t grow through lavish ceremonies in which people eat, drink, puke and return to what they were before then.

I got a feedback through one of my cousins, Tubosun. A day to the proposed burial, he snatched the phone from my younger brother to relay the Council’s message to me. Our elders warned us not to attempt burial until we have paid in full, all that custom demanded of us – a litany of things including drinks and at least one live cow. The youths, who dig graves and carry out burials made their own demand. Our clan is yet to be settled. It was not surprising to get that feedback. It is however disheartening that the Council asked him to tell me that my father used to get his share of anything they received of other people’s funeral rites as the eldest person in town. Succinctly, it was payback time.

The message was well delivered and the nuance is well taken. To God’s glory, my siblings rallied and managed to meet the demands and finally Dad could go home in peace. This brought tears to my eyes because in my last encounter with my Uncle, Rev. Asaju, he had warned that on the day my father died, we would be shaken to our bones. Not knowing that perhaps he had premonition that I would not return home to meet him, I had looked him straight in the face and said ‘where would you be when they shake me to my bones?’ Well, he left before the clouds began to pour rain – it was a graceful exit but reason enough not to spit on his grave with a lavish burial.

Dad rests in a cemetery in Igboayin. We refused the new culture of digging grave, laying it with cement and tiles and dropping an expensive casket in, covering it with a slab. We bought a cheap coffin, laid Dad in, put him back to mother earth and returned home to live, because life is for the living. Okeagi would be great and we all have a part to play in making it great. May God grant us that capacity to contribute our quota to that greatness. Amen.

Guilty As Charged

To those who mock our low economic fortunes, who swear that we are rich pretenders; to those who say we have contributed nothing to the development of our town in spite of our incredibly great capacity, I plead guilty on behalf of my siblings. By God in whom I live and serve, I plead guilty to all and more and I quote Suratul Ar-Rahman from the Glorious Quran.

  1. Whosoever is in the heavens and on earth begs of Him (its needs from Him). Every day He has a matter to bring forth (such as giving honour to some, disgrace to some, life to some, death to some, etc.)!
  2. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinns and men) deny?
  3. We shall attend to you, O you two classes (jinns and men)!
  4. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinns and men) deny?
  5. O assembly of jinns and men! If you have power to pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, then pass (them)! But you will never be able to pass them, except with authority (from Allah)!
  6. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinns and men) deny?

The Okeagi that nurtured me instilled in me virtues – diligence in work, dedication to duty, faith in God, respect for the culture of progress. These are the guiding principles to which I strive every day. They were the values bequeathed to us by MB and MT Asaju, they are the virtues we teach our children, the banner we hope they shall carry till their last breath and teach their own children.

The times, as they say, they are changing. I believe that Okeagi would outlive us all but its subsistence and glorious future depends lies in subscription to those values that have grown other communities. It does not lie in the show-off of vulgarious materialism or wantonness. There is no future for a society whose youths are blighted by hard drugs and alcoholism. I have paid my dues to my parents. My Dad’s favourite song of praise to himself is – apata nsalubo o, koi gbe ni. It is too early to write us off. I am not running on anybody else’s clock.

2 Corinthians 10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they show their ignorance.
                                                                      Berean Study Bible

I do not strive to be better than anybody else on planet earth. As Paul said in Phillipians 4:12

I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.
GOD’S WORD Translation

I have embraced my uniqueness in all situations. There is no one on this planet created by God that I envy. I admire values in others, but I do not mirror my life after anyone. My parents have left great shoes that fit no one but their own feet; I am constantly modeling my shoes to suit my feet. I strive with each breath I draw, to be a better person than the idiot that I was the second before. My faith in God helps!

In spite of all the politics, I am grateful to Okeagi that nurtured me. To Odio and the Oba-in-Council we are grateful for that piece of earth to bury our dead. We are grateful to the Iyajakan clan and all those, who in spite of our inadequacies through calls, personal and social media messages commiserated with us on the passage of our Dad. The vacuum, as anyone who has ever lost a loved one would testify; is a gaping bottomless hole. We know that wounds heal but they leave scars. May God be with you and may you find help in your own hours of need.

To my siblings, it may look like I am carrying the curse of the Pharisees in

Matthew 23:13: –
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
NIV Translation.

Thank God you all know that we have all been ‘redeemed from the curse of the law’. Nevertheless, I am sorry for blocking the doors of favour against you with my writings. I have always felt that journalism is a duty to nationalism, to a better society in which the needs of everybody is met. Dad’s passage is teaching me vital lessons.

Acknowledgement

I won’t even try to thank people exhaustively by name. But I am forever indebted to the Jolasinmi Family of Olukolo Compound, Edunabon – they raised a daughter who became my friend, my wife, my mother, my confidant, my heartbeat. Her siblings drove from Lagos, Zaria and Warri, despite my plea not to bother – you guys are not my in-laws, you are family! To Professor Pius Adesanmi your moral and financial contributions lifted me beyond your understanding. To those creaking-bone angels and spring chickens of Bible For Missions, BFM Ottawa – keep on hugging – that’s what Jesus would’ve done! Walter Hammond, Abu and John – when are we doing the chicken and beer next? To my cell leader, Deaconess Aanu Iyaniwura and her lovely husband, Dr. Iyaniwura and the entire members of my cell-group, to Pastor Veronica Adu-Bobbie and All Nations Ottawa, words do injustice to your financial and moral support, love and and care. To Dr. & Mrs. Audu – ajose wa ko ni baje o. To Dr. Nduka Otiono, Lolo Onyisi and Kika, thank you.

Anti Oluremi Asaju, my nephew Olasunkanmi Asaju who dropped everything they were doing to travel to Okeagi without hesitation. To Mrs. Tina Mohammed-Kpoga (Mummy Oyoyo), Shade, Dupe Adegboro, Mr & Mrs Rafiu  Oyesiji, Mr. Peter, and the crew who came from Abuja and elsewhere for whom we could not even provide proper feeding or accommodation, thank you.

Journalism has brought me close to a few people – moral trump cards I could use when utterly needed. One such person is Olufemi Aduwo, the man I fondly call the Olu Omo of Ikaleland,  thanks for the huge cheque and support for my siblings. To my friend, brother and family here  in Ottawa – Dr. & Iyaafin AG Ahmed – sai godiya! Mr. & Mrs. Oluremi Oliyide (who left his own father’s burial plans to give moral and material support– e seun sir! Alhaji Idris and staff of the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa; His Excellency, Ambassador and Mama Ojo Maduekwe – Dad would’ve been looking at that bottle of wine to share with you; Ambassador & Mrs. Charles Onianwa – thank you. God made me a Yagba man by birth, but my encounters show that I am a spiritual Ibo man – thanks to Mr & Mrs Cyril Onyemaechi Oleh and family.Thanks to freshly minted Dr. Bolade Anjorin for that long trunk call. Mr & Mrs. Joe-Momoh and Alhaji Yusuf and friends from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  friends from the USA, the Media Trust Family, and my Facebook family – to everyone else who have kept faith with this long, winding and obviously boring threatise with all its grammatical imperfections – I’ll continue to write for you. Big thanks.

 

Epilogue

 

For now, Adieu Pa Mark Balogun Ogunrinde Oloke Asaju.

 

Omo jakan ajiri / Son of the one worthy of being met at dawn
Iwere onitogun / Relative of the one who fights wars
Ogbayin Ote a mon jidho / The one who backs rebellion without remorse
Omo biyhonnu yhomgbagoodi/ The hated one who is posted as sentry
Omo biyhonnu e jalupa/ The hated one is not to be murdered
Omo olile li pokete / The owner of the land in Pokete
Eja gbigbiigba / He cultivates them in thousands of heaps
Okunrun arigbodo se / The sick one that you dare not cross
Omo oloshe l’Isado / The one who owns the baobab tree in Isado
Esakeke emu rangundanrangundan l’Isado / Displays his large palmwine calabash in Isado

 

Omo asimoko – Son of Asimoko
O simoko gbarugbaru – You totally exiled them from the farm
Onikedo toun toun – Your bared chest roars like peels of thunder
Afeyhee re hanlu ramu – As you go to Isanlu to bring home your lover
A se fee w’ogun baawodi – You saunter saunters into war with the ease of an eagle

Until we join you on yonder shores

E re booni ti ku, – Let’s go to the  house of mourning
Oran itan, oran itan – When its time to relay their valour
E re booni ti ku – We go to the house of mourning
Oran itan, oran itan – Time to recall their past deeds.

(Literal translations mine)

I am proudly Asaju, proudly Laofin, proudly Okeagi and ever so proudly Naija.

So now, which of the blessings of my Lord would I deny! By His grace I have lived to bury my parents, not the other way round. Which of the blessings of my Lord would I deny?

Dad with his grandchildren
Dad with Dolapo & Abimbola

 

 

 

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