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“A woman who holds her head up too high, is trying to breathe from her own pollution.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

 

Abike, you remembered Olajumoke in the story don’t you?

Yes, she remembered it as vividly as her grandmother told her one moonlit night in the palace with other children. One, she would never forget because an incident led to the storytelling. Abike protested sitting beside one of the palace servant’s child while they were playing because she thought she was more beautiful than her. Her grandmother chided her.

Abike, beauty is good but vanity is bad.

What do you mean Grandma?

Well, I ‘ll tell you a story.

Story, story, Grandma said.

Story, Abike and the other children chorused.

Once upon a time…

Time… Time, the children chorused.

A long time ago, when animals talk like human beings, in a far away land there lived a beautiful girl called Olajumoke. In the whole town, no one was as beautiful as she was. Olajumoke was very beautiful and an example of a radiant young girl. In addition she was the only girl among the king’s children. She was pampered and spoiled. She had slaves who ministered to her every need. Very good looking, many suitors like butterflies to a beautiful flower, came asking for her hand in marriage. The rich, the poor, the handsome, the ugly, the princes, kings, chiefs and ordinary men flocked to the palace in quest of her hand. She rejected them all. They are too tall, too short, and too big or too thin, ugly or handsome and too presentable or not presentable. Her parents warned, cajoled, pleaded and at last left her to her whims. With time, all her mates got married but Olajumoke remained unmarried.

One early morning market day, Olajumoke went to the market and saw a very handsome and richly dressed man in the market. The market women and men begged her not to go with the handsome man but Olajumoke stubbornly refused. She said she had seen the person she wanted to marry. Her parents came, begged, cried and implored her not to go away with somebody without history or pedigree. They asked her to wait a little bit until Orunmila* had been consulted and the background of the handsome had been confirmed. Olajumoke refused and started following the handsome man. As they moved further from the village, the man pleaded with Olajumoke to go back. She refused blatantly. She kept on following the man. A long distance from the village and almost a day since they started from the village, the handsome man who was from the spirit world reached a big tree and knocked on the tree. An armless spirit came out of the tree and the handsome man thanked him and took out his arms and gave it to the spirit. The spirit put on the arms and went back into the tree. At this point, Olajumoke became very afraid and wanted to go back but it was no longer possible. It seemed a force had taken control of her. The went on their way as the less than handsome man started giving out parts of his body until what was left of him was a grinning skull.

At this point, the limbless skull entered a town of skulls with Olajumoke. She became afraid and the skull, the king of the town, put her in a room with a skull as her guard. When Olajumoke thought the skull-guard was sleeping she tried to run away but the skull started singing:

Solo: Orí Orí o, Olajumoke nlo*   –        Skull, skull, Olajumoke is going

Chorus: Olajumoke, Olajumoke nlo-      Olajumoke is going

Solo: Orí o l’apa –                                            Skull does not have arms

Chorus: Olajumoke nlo –                                Olajumoke is going

Solo: Orí o l’ese  –                                               The skull has no legs

Chorus: Olajumoke nlo –                                   Olajumoke is going

Solo: Orí Orí O –                                                      Skull, Oh, skull

Chorus: Olajumoke nlo-                                       Olajumoke is going

Solo: Orí o lehin-                                                    The skull has no back

Chorus: Olajumoke nlo-                                        Olajumoke is going

Immediately other skulls heard the song they rolled after her and through spells brought her back to her prison. Olajumoke tried to run away many times but was always brought back and that was how she lived all her days in the land of the skulls.

Grandma, you mean Olajumoke remained unmarried and had to live in that horrible place?

Yes, my dear Abike. That is what happens to those who refused to listen to advice and are vain.

I will always listen to the advice of my parents…

Abike looked at her mother. She remembered her promise but then this situation is different she thought. Abolade is different from the handsome man in the folktale and she is in love with him.

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