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Olajumoke - In The Lair Of The Monster

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Angelique Kidjo is a very soulful singer. Out of all her work, the hit song “Agolo” from her AYE album quite stands out to me. Much of the Yoruba lyrics is like a love song - a ballad about the importance of letting the world be bound together by love. The melodic chorus gives more power to the rendition. But I am sure these days nobody really gives a damn about what the chorus mean as long as the music remains dance-able.

Ori Ori O , Olajumoke nlo
Ori Ori O, Olajumoke nlo
Those of us who grew up on nights of folktales at the feet of parents, uncles and aunties could still be familiar with the story behind this one. Oh, well old age and the ravages of life may have robbed some of these memories. I remember that I thought initially to include the story in my book of Yoruba folktales – The Kini-Kini Bird and more Yoruba Folktales, but I think I dropped it because there were already a couple of similar stories in the anthology. I may well include it in a future compilation. Nevertheless when researching The Foofoo Tree and more Efik Folktales I did observe that that a similar story existed in Efik folklore , and which did include in that volume. In any case, let me at this time dwell on the Yoruba instance of the story abridged as follows.
Olajumoke was very vain girl, who spurned the advances of all the hard-working young men in the town, and never listened to her mother. One day she went to market as usual and there met the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life, and obviously was a stranger from another town. She resolved that this would be the man she would spend her life with, and would follow him to the end of the world. Her mother pleaded with her not to takes such a rash decision, but she turned a deaf ear and vowed to follow her newly-found lover. This she urgently did even in spite of repeated admonishment by the strange man to turn back and return home.
Alas, the handsome stranger was from the land of evil spirits; who before coming to this market in the country of human beings had borrowed body part from several vendors along the way. And as he progressed back home he returned the parts to the owners - legs, arms, body, head until all that remained was just an ugly bare skull. At this point it was no more possible for the petrified Olajumoke to return home, and thus she became wife to the skull.
In any case she still resolved in her mind to run away. However , the skull has placed a tortoise to watch over Olajumoke all day whenever it goes to the farm. And whenever Olajumoke thought she had an opportunity to escape, the tortoise would raise the song which we are now quite newly familiar with:
Ori , ori o . Olajumoke nlo
Ori, ori o , Olajumoke nlo

Which Translates :
Skull, Skull. Olajumoke is running away !

At which the Skull will hasten back home to prevent his wife from escaping. This went on for several months and perhaps years. But one day Olajumoke experienced an encounter with Wisdom. She made friend with the tell-tale tortoise whom she then made a great meal of ekuru (steamed bean pudding), which she knew was the tortoise’s favourite food . While the tortoise feasted greedily, Olajumoke fled. But this time, because the tortoise had its mouth full it was unable to sing the song to alert the skull that Olajumoke was fleeing. And that was how Olajumoke was able to return home to her mother, now quite contrite.

I have always, as a folklorist, asked: where did those tales come from? Most had indeed been handed down to the current storyteller as a child in the same way that we had also received them as raptly attentive children. I would imagine that sometimes the story are so old that the storyteller, no more able to remember how it originally went, would add embellishments of his own crafting, and sometimes in such a proportion that an entirely different story is consequently produced. I confess that I have myself sometimes, appropriated such creative license while retelling long lost stories to a children audience.

Why are these stories told? As in every part of the world, the Yoruba folktales would generally derive from the daily experience of a people, their environment, their predominant occupations, their aspirations and of course their moral rules. Indeed as an academic discipline, folklore shares methods, and insights with literature, anthropology, art, music, history, linguistics, philosophy, and mythology. I say people, even though
, I must also add that the story belongs more to the storyteller rather than to the community. Depending therefore on the immediate disposition of the storyteller, stories can end up funny, fascinating, ridiculous or thought-provoking, . The constant purpose of the typical Yoruba folktale often remains to teach young children important lessons about wholesome values. We should read more folktales to our children than we permit them watch television. Indeed, much of the Old Testament tales of the Bible derive largely from Hebrew folktales, whether we want to believe that or not.
Now folklore is not about what happened hundreds or thousands of years ago ; it is also about contemporary events and encounters . For example, even though completely unrelated, I see the story of Olajumoke , the Lagos bread seller who became a popular icon as an unfolding folktale. Young ambitious girl meets with a monster called Fame and resolves to follow it to the end of the world. But as time goes on, will she find fame divested of all the fine parts and reveal at last in its prime ugliness ? And will Olajumoke be able to return home (to sanity) if she finds a great mistake has been made along the way somewhere ? Indeed the monster called Fame never lets go of anyone nicely – it imprisons and destroys and it is only the wise that knows when to escape its brightly-lit lair and flee back home. Such is the stuff that folktales are made of.

The Kini-Kini Bird and more Yoruba Folktales -
The Foo-Foo Tree and more Efik Folktales -
King Chameleon and more West African Folktales -

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