Things might have continued indefinitely like this if not for an event that changed everything. The king of Ajilenko peacefully passed on to join his ancestors in the hereafter. The whole village had their normal life suspended as the burial rites were observed and countless rituals performed. That took a lengthy twenty-one days. After the burial, it was celebration time as the Crown Prince, Erinmade ascended to the throne of his fathers.
On the day of his coronation, not even the birds were left out. Everything that breathed was to be found at the palace grounds. People came from far and near to rejoice with and pay their respects to the new king. Each sex and class and age group was not left out as they struggled to outdo each other in their performances. It soon got to the turn of the maidens to dance for their king. I know the outcome of that dance needs no telling especially as Omoboja was one of those dancing maidens. The Kabiyesi, Erinmade, Elenko of Ajilenko laid eyes on the village jewel, Omoboja and so my story really begins.
Whatever you call it now – love, lust or infatuation, I do not know but from the moment he saw her, a fire began to rage in Erinmade to possess this pearl of a woman. His two wives who were by no means without their own merits paled into the background as he determined to have Omoboja for his own. This was not surprising in itself. What red blooded man would be immune to such beauty and grace?
Whilst getting her might be difficult for other men, for a king it was an easy task. As we all know, in those days, kings were second only to the gods. Their words were law and their desires granted without question. A married woman desired by a king could be unapologetically taken from her husband’s house and given to the king to sate his desire till he tired of her or not and chose to return her or not. And this would be considered an honor by the woman, her family and her husband! They would of course be rewarded for their ‘selfless service’ to gods, king and land.
In Omoboja’s case, it was supposed to be even easier. She was neither married nor betrothed. Her father was looking forward to such an opportunity and landing the king would be a scoop beyond his imagination. The mother would be ecstatic and what girl in her right mind wouldn’t jump at such a chance? All things considered, it was fait accompli. Or was it?
Remember I said it was ‘supposed’ to be easier, not that it was ‘easier’ or even easy. It certainly turned out to be far more difficult than anyone could have envisaged.
Many people noticed the king’s fixation with Omoboja and many a mouth whispered this observation in many an ear before the celebration was over. It was therefore no surprise when a team of the king’s personal guards was sighted in the village going towards Ige’s compound later that evening. What was surprising was that the king’s mother was with them. This revealed the fact that the king was not going to exercise his right and authority and just take her (In hindsight, this would have been the smart move); he actually wanted her as his wife. The presence of his mother was a guarantee that all traditional marriage rites and customs would be observed and honored. Ige and his family had struck the mother lode! More than one family was green with envy that night.
That evening, nothing was discussed but the message was passed on nonetheless. Gifts were simply brought as “thanks to the parents of the graceful flower who made the king’s coronation such a memorable one”
Ige and Adunni rejected the gift, the king mother pressed it on them; they said it was their honor to please the king, she said such an honor must be rewarded; they demurred, she insisted. After all the customary hemming and hawing, the gifts were accepted, thanks offered and prayers raised for the welfare of the king and his household. The king’s mother finally departed with her escorts leaving the rapturous parents to weep with joy at the good fortune visited upon them by the gods.
The next day, there was another royal visit, this time by the two Oloris bearing more gifts. A sign that the king was impatient to marry his newly chosen bride-to-be and wanted everything done hurriedly. Now, if there had been any doubt about the king’s intentions, the appearance of the two Oloris had laid that to rest. Wives were not a required presence in the lives of their husband’s concubines. A new co-wife though was a different matter entirely. Omoboja had indeed been chosen to be the new Olori.
This made Adunni swing into immediate action. She decided it was time to start training her daughter on the proper behavior expected of royalty. Though how much she knew of royal behavior was doubtful considering that the closest she got to royalty was limited to palace yard gatherings and kneeling to greet the Oloris when they pass through the village. But she was determined to make her daughter Olori-worthy. Ige was not to be left out. As the proud father who had made all these possible by not giving in to pressure from lesser suitors, he also had a lot to teach his daughter. The two of them called Omoboja to the front of her father’s hut for a little parent-child talk.
Hardly had they started when Omoboja who wasn’t ignorant of the entire goings on and who had been shoring up her courage for her own announcement, blurted out that she did not want to marry the king. Both parents smiled fondly at their little girl and reminisced aloud about their own apprehensions when they faced leaving their parents and making their own homes. They encouraged her that she was going into a good home, better than the one she was leaving – A Royal Home! Omoboja shook her head and rallied her flagging courage to explain. No, it is not fear. She really doesn’t want to marry the king because she is in love with another man and wants to marry him instead.
Now I want you to remember that in those days the concept of love was as foreign as the thought of people with white skins. Nobody fell in love talk less of marrying for love. Men married based on family status; beauty; character; childbearing hips; hardworking helper; financial status; anything but love! Women married whoever their fathers chose for them and fathers chose men for their daughters based on family reputation and ability to pay the required bride price. It was all a factual, formal, unemotional arrangement. And before you say cold blooded, remember there was ZERO divorce. So much for your modern marriages based on love! In those days, ‘ife’ was simply a name like Ogunnifeeyi or Ifafemi. It was not recognized or known as a feeling or emotion that dictated life decisions.
So you can understand why Ige and Adunni stared at Omoboja askance and simply decided to ignore the explosion and move on with their advisory litany. This didn’t go down well with Omoboja who burst into tears and ran out of the compound leaving her dumbfounded parents to stare in shock at the exit of their erstwhile perfect daughter.
Slowly, the future royal in-laws gathered their scattered wits and at last began to have an inkling that there might possibly be a ripple in their new found ocean of bliss. The father’s way of handling that ‘ripple’ was of course the neanderthally masculine way. As we all know, any and every bad child is the mother’s and his or her disobedience and waywardness is the due to the mother’s irresponsibility, bad mothering, or bad maternal genes. Ige wasted no time in letting loose on Adunni for how her lenient and free handling of Omoboja had turned her head and caused such behavior. He raved and ranted for sometime before finally winding down with “You and your daughter better get your heads straight. No woman or her child will undermine my authority as the head of this house!”
Summarily dismissed, Adunni spent a restless evening awaiting her daughter’s return. The whole village had already retired for the night when Adunni observed her errant daughter creeping stealthily into the compound.
“Omoboja”, she called.
Omoboja jerked in surprise and turned. Spying her mother’s silhouette in the darkness at the entrance of the food store hut, she gave up her clandestine walk and went over in resignation.
“Omoboja! Omoboja!! Omoboja!!! How many times did I call you?” Adunni asked.
“Three times, Maami” Omoboja mumbled.
“Am I not your mother?” Adunni continued. “Did I not carry you in my womb for nine months? Did not these arms cuddle you? These breasts suckle you? This back carry you? Have I not always been your mother?”
“Maami . . . . .” Omoboja started
“Have you not always been my daughter?” Adunni interrupted. “My own Omoboja. The only one of all my children who took my beauty and the beauty of my mother and grandmother and wore everything like iborun? My pride and joy. Has the bond between us not transcended ordinary mother-daughter bond and crossed over to daughter-mother bond? You are the reincarnation of my dear departed mother and I have always treated you with the proper reverence befitting a heavenly guest, have I not? Why would you hide anything from me?”
By now, Omoboja’s breath was hitching as she fought against the threatening tears.
“Omoboja mi. Omo pan bi aro. Omo rewa bi wura. Ododo ile Ige. Okin ile ewa” (My Omoboja. Child as glossy as dye. Child as beautiful as gold. The flower of Ige’s house. The peacock in beauty’s home)
With much pleading and prodding, Adunni pried the whole story out of Omoboja. They say ignorance is bliss; Adunni was to learn the truth of that statement that night.
It turned out that Omoboja had met a man named Ihielele. What kind of name was Ihielele? Apparently the kind of name borne by a man from a strange tribe in a strange land with foreign culture and foreign language. A strange people from a distant land across the big river. It got worse. Omoboja had met him on one of the monthly market days.
He was a trader!
In those days in Ajilenko and environs, buying and selling was a strictly female venture. Men did men’s work – hunting, farming, fishing, fighting etc. Men simply did not do market. Men who did, either villagers or foreigners were looked down on as effeminate and emasculated. It was the height of shame. Yet, it was this kind of man who Omoboja had struck a relationship with.
Ihielele’s long years of trading in these areas, according to Omoboja, had given him a working knowledge of the local language so communication between the two had not been a problem.
Watching her daughter’s glowing face and body gestures as she talked about that man, Adunni had to ask the question she feared the answer the most – Had they met intimately as husband and wife?
Omoboja’s vehement denial did not assuage her mother’s fear. If anything it magnified it. What did an unmarried and unbetrothed girl know about husband and wife intimacies that caused her to deny the question so passionately? A girl was only tutored in such days before going to her husband’s house.
Revered mother-daughter / daughter-mother relationship forgotten, Adunni pinned her daughter to the ground with her ample body and forcefully examined her for physical evidence. It was soon revealed that yes; Omoboja’s virginity had indeed been compromised. Adunni fell back in shock, pain and fear, allowing the squirming girl to regain her feet then suddenly reared up and grasped her hand to drag her in mounting panic to Ige’s hut. Breaching years of inbred training and culture, she entered her husband’s hut without being summoned.
With her hand wrapped in a vise-like lock round her daughter’s arm to prevent another flight, Adunni knelt beside her husband’s sleeping mat and begged his pardon in a stuttering voice as she woke him.
The whole story was then retold to the man of the house including the horrifying discovery of their daughter’s impurity. The said man listened placidly till the tale was told then suddenly exploded in rage and proceeded to vent the force of his fury on both mother and child. After exhausting himself on the two women, Ige announced that come morning, the so called Ihielele would be dispatched to the world beyond and Omoboja’s wedding to King Erinmade would go on without any hitch even if Adunni had to sew back the torn hymen herself. With that proclamation the enraged father threw out the two.
There was nothing more to be said so Adunni sobbing quietly hobbled back to her hut ignoring the weeping girl who had brought shame and disgrace to her in her husband’s house.
Early the next morning after a sleepless night of planning and scheming, the hurting mother made her way to the girls’ hut only to be met with another heartbreaking shock – Omoboja was not there. Yelling at the younger girls yielded nothing. They had no idea what had transpired the night before and had slept the sleep of the innocent throughout. Searching the back of the hut, rummaging in impossible and ridiculous places for her missing daughter led to another discovery. Not only was Omoboja gone, so also were her wrappers and jewelries. In fact, all her meager worldly possessions were gone.
Omoboja was not missing; she had run away!