Let me tell you a true story. It is the story of a village called Ajilenko. You might say there is no village by that name and you will be right. The village doesn’t exist anymore. But once upon a time, it did exist. It was a great village; prosperous and full of wise old men and women and valiant young men and beautiful young women. And of all the beautiful young women, there was one who stood out like the sun amongst the stars. Her name was Omoboja.
I cannot tell the story of Ajilenko without telling the story of Omoboja. In fact, their stories are one and the same.
Omoboja as her name reveals was born on a market day in the market ground. Not the weekly village market day but the once a month joint villages market day. It was a special market day organized by the people of the five villages of which Ajilenko was one and the villages rotated the hosting.
That particular market day, it was the turn of Koroko village to host and Omoboja’s mother journeyed across two villages with her protruding belly and a load of products for sale on her head. She was accompanied by her two eldest daughters backing their younger brother and sister and also laden with more products for sale.
This should tell you a little about the home Omoboja was about to be born into.
Her father, Ige was a farmer and hunter like almost all the men in their village and her mother, Adunni was a market woman same as almost all the women in the village, trading in the things grown on her husband’s farm and in the animals he hunted down.
Between the two of them, they had five children and were expecting their sixth – Omoboja.
The eldest child was a son who had been left at home on this market day with his father. The next two children were girls and were brought along to help their mother in the market and to teach them about buying and selling which they would in turn grow up to do and of course to help their mother with the two youngest children, another little girl and boy.
The female part of this still growing family started their almost two hours trek well before sunrise and as soon as they got to the market square of Koroko, unloaded their wares and Adunni settled in with the other women for the day’s business of haggling.
In those days, there was no money, no form of currency. Goods and services were exchanged for other goods and services. It was a simple matter of trading what you had for what you wanted. Other traders also came from other lands to take advantage of the opportunity to make brisk business. It was therefore not unusual to see people of strange different languages and tribes peddling their own wares with only hand gestures and sign language to pass their message across. Some traders went round to show what they had and see who was willing to exchange what they wanted for it while others like Adunni sat with their sales and waited to be approached.
Soon, the market was teeming and bustling with people and raised voices as the day slowly wore on. Adunni was just getting started with two purchases of a basket of fish and a large hen when she felt the fist labor pangs. She at first dismissed it basing her estimated time of delivery on her past experiences but an hour later, she had to admit this baby was far more eager to be born than any of her older siblings had been. She tried to get up from the mat she was seated on when a particularly severe cramp had her choking back a cry. Gasping for breath, she reclined back on the mat. When the pain receded, she sent her eldest daughter to get her friend and neighbor, Ayelaba. The little girl soon returned with the woman. Ayelaba accessed the situation and immediately swung into action. She gathered a few women to help take Adunni to the edge of the market away from prying eyes. Once there, she was laid on a mat with wrappers tied to hanging tree branches to provide a modicum of privacy. With two other women assisting, Adunni was soon delivered of another little girl.
When market came to a close that day, the women of Ajilenko returned home with two people less than they came with. Adunni was left in the care of a kind widow of Koroko who offered her home to the new mother till she was strong enough to return to her own village and Adunni’s eldest daughter stayed with her mother.
On the sixth day, Ige came bearing thankful gifts for the widow and to take his wife and daughters back to Ajilenko. Two days after that, on the eighth day, the newborn child was christened Omoboja with the required traditional rites.
The circumstances of Omoboja’s birth was a well known and often retold story in her village and the other villages and this alone was enough to ensure her fame in the village but Omoboja turned out to be her own personal ticket to fame.
As she grew and her features developed, everyone began to see signs of the great beauty she would become. Not only was she a beautiful baby, she was also a charming one. Full of dimpling smiles and chortling gurgles for everyone. She hardly ever cried and had a love of life exhibited openly with her enthusiastic claps for anything new. She became the village darling in no time. It wasn’t long before Adunni had to be moving from house to house every evening to retrieve her daughter from one home or the other.
When Omoboja grew old enough to start helping round the house, her beauty of character revealed itself. She was obedient and eager to help, never turning down a chore and often volunteering to help others. Every mother wished she was their daughter and every mother wanted her for a daughter in law. Needless to say, she was the pride and joy of her parents. Even though Adunni and Ige went on to have five more children bringing their entire brood to eleven, Omoboja was the center of their home. Life in their house gravitated and revolved round her. Yet none of her siblings begrudged her that. Despite the love and attention showered on Omoboja, it was hard to hate or be jealous of her, especially as they also loved and cared for her.
When she started following her mother to the monthly market days, the family practically had no need to purchase anything. There were always gifts of foodstuffs and household items and clothing materials from the market women and traders for Omoboja. She brought honor and relative prosperity to her family. And so this special child grew and her beauty and character soon achieved legendary fame in Ajilenko and the surrounding villages.
In those days, a girl was usually betrothed from childhood and her dowry paid. By the time she had her first woman flow, the traditional wedding would be celebrated and the new bride escorted to her husband’s house. But Omoboja was different. She was no ordinary child and things could not be done normally in her case. Not that she didn’t have offers, far from it; her father had offers from almost all the families in their village and beyond. However, Ige was smart enough to know that he had a goldmine in his sixth child and he could get a king’s ransom for her dowry. So he gave no one his word or blessing and remained noncommittal to all the marriage offers for his daughter’s hand.
It was therefore no surprise that Omoboja reached her woman’s flow without being betrothed. At this time, Adunni started pleading with her husband to accept an offer. Other girls Omoboja’s age were either married or betrothed. The concerned mother feared her favorite daughter remaining a spinster despite her beauty. But in that, Ige was worldlier than his naïve wife. He knew that when a woman had the looks and body and grace that his daughter had been bestowed with; men would always fall over themselves to have her. And he was right!
And where was Omoboja in all these? She was happy with her life. It gave her no concern that her age mates were becoming wives and mothers. Or that her elder sisters were married and out of the house leaving her as the eldest girl at home. Neither did it worry her that even her younger sisters were already betrothed. She simply went on living and enjoying her life in all its innocence. Though as we will soon see, it was a not so innocent life, neither was her contentment without cause