ILE IFE, 1781
Adio stormed down the path to Baba Ifa’s compound in a huff, oblivious to the brilliant midday sunshine and the cacophony of birds in the nearby bushes. How dare he? He thought furiously. That useless son of a mere slave!
“By the gods, I will exact my revenge,” he swore to the shrubs that flanked the footpath.
He was so enraged that he barely noticed Ifatope, Baba Ifa’s son who greeted him respectively before jogging past.
Adio was small in stature, only about 5 feet or so and this made him very sensitive to comments about his height. The greatest sin one could commit against Adio was to call him a dwarf and that was exactly what Arire had done.
Adio shook his head. The stupid Arire was easily the tallest man in Ile Ife and that was why he was so pompous. But then, he had some Fulani blood in him.
“Bastard son of a thousand fathers,” he muttered. “He may have forgotten that his father and grandfather were captured as slaves after our victorious campaign against Gwandu, but I haven’t. Only the gods know why the Alafin pleaded for their freedom. If he hadn’t, goatherds like Arire wouldn’t even exist let alone insult a full son of the soil like me.”
When he got to Baba Ifa’s compound, Adio carefully removed his raffia slippers and stepped into the divination hut. He did not need to bend at the eaves like most other visitors.
“Owner of this compound, I greet you.”
“Visitor to this compound,” the priest replied. “I greet you also.” He was an amiable looking man, with straggly beard and a thin voice. A white cotton wrapper adorned with cowrie shells was tied around his waist. He sat cross-legged on his divination mat with white beads arranged neatly in front of him. A white bowl held water to his left.
“Adio, hope there is no problem?”
“Baba, there is a problem.”
“Wait, let me consult Ifa.”
The priest gathered up his beads and cast them down. He studied the arrangement for a moment and nodded knowingly. He carefully carried the bowl of water and placed it directly in front of himself.
“Serere, Ifa knows.” He took up the beads and cast them down again. “Serere, Ifa sees.” He gazed into the calabash for a long time and his face slowly contorted into a frown.
“You argued with Arire, the son of the Fulani before you came here,” Baba Ifa stated. “Does Ifa lie?”
“Baba, Ifa is right on point,” Adio replied, his anger welling up again. “The idiot said his father once saw a white man in Ibadan. I said true enough, we have heard of oyinbo people from Ingilandi and Potogi. However, when he said the white man had fire sticks that can kill a man within seconds, I disagreed. I said there is no such fire stick on Eledumare’s earth. But the slave son of a slave father retorted that…” Adio’s voice faltered. He was now trembling with so much rage that he had to stop for a moment to regain his composure. His wide nostrils flared with each troubled breath he took, his thick chest heaving up and down.
Baba Ifa waited patiently for his visitor to continue his narrative.
“He called me a dwarf,” Adio finally said. “And there’s more, he said I was too short to see right in front of me, let alone as far as Ibadan. I promptly reminded him of his heritage of slavery and the animal had the audacity to slap me. Me! So I decided to show him that while it is true that the child’s hand cannot reach the high shelf, it is also true that the adult’s hand cannot fit into the gourd.”
“Hmmm,” Baba Ifa grunted. “It is a big insult indeed. What do you want to do now?”
Adio’s face broke into an evil grin. “Baba, I want him punished. I want him to regret the day he decided to come to this earth. I want him struck with illness, a disease so terrible his own family will run from him.” Adio paused and looked into the priest’s eyes. “I want him struck with smallpox,” he said with an air of finality.
The Ifa priest nodded. “That can be done. We will carry out the sacrifice tonight. All you need is palm oil and a he-goat. No problem, your enemy will be struck by Saponna, god of smallpox.”
“Thank you, Baba. I will return at night with the materials.”
Later that night, Adio returned with the only he-goat he possessed, leading it by a rope. In his other hand, he carried a large calabash filled with red palm oil. He and the priest headed for the forest on the outskirts of the town immediately with the latter chanting quietly. Before long, they entered the forest and the sounds of the night enveloped them. Crickets chirped loudly while the frogs croaked ominously. Adio thought he heard the howl of a hyena but he couldn’t be sure. He followed the priest closely while trying to mask his fear of the night.
Baba Ifa suddenly stopped in front of an ancient Araba tree and stretched his hand for the goat. Adio handed him the rope and the priest carefully tied it to the tree. Next he collected the palm oil and placed it gingerly between two large buttress roots. He motioned for Adio to step back before raising his voice in a renewed chant. He circled the tree three times, calling on Saponna to accept the sacrifice and strike Arire. After the third trip around the tree, Adio heard an eerie whopping from the tree. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and his head swelled. He could feel the presence of Saponna and would have bolted if not for fear of the black night he would have to travel through to get to the safety of his hut. He took another step back and waited in trepidation. The whooping sound stopped as suddenly as it started and Adio relaxed a bit.
“It is nearly done,” the priest announced. “I will escort you back to the edge of the forest before I come back to finish the incantations.”
“Thank you, Baba.”
Baba Ifa saw Adio off and was soon back to the tree.
“You can come down now,” he said. “He has left.”
Baba Ifa’s son, Ifatola climbed down the tree, holding the rope which he had swung through the air a few minutes earlier to make the whooping sound.
“Good thing I heard Adio and Arire arguing as I answered nature’s call. If not, obtaining a goat from that stingy dwarf would have been as difficult as pulling nose hair.”