Adeyipo women poets

One of the enduring aspects of Yoruba culture has been the place of chants and songs laced with deep connotations. These chants—with various manifestations—have been the delights of the Western world. One would have expected that the Yoruba women poets of Adeyipo— a community in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital— renowned for their expertise in these chants would have carved their names in gold and wealth. But YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE after a visit to these remarkable Yoruba poets, reports their poverty and lack despite the rich heritage they carry.

 

They looked aged, stressed out by the vagaries of life. With the bare necessities of life at their grasp, it was obvious that their needs had been diminished by their long nights of lack and disadvantages. But there is a remarkable twist to their fate. They are the custodians of the rich aspects of Yoruba more, culture, tradition and customs. They are Yoruba traditional poets whose stock in trade has been plied over the years. Many of them appeared tired, exhibiting wrinkled smiles and depressed aura.

Poetic chant is an organized combination of poetic words in verses that is melodiously rendered to achieve specific objectives. The person’s lineage, achievements, pedigree, good qualities background etc are combined in a seamless manner and recited in an entertaining fashion to entertain and lift spirits or lighten moods.

In the beginning, rara and ewi were just for family and community entertainment; something to occupy the women while the carry out their daily chores, an entertainment mode for men after the days job while playing games or drinking palm wine with friends, the means through which the bard keeps the palace lively and the source of entertainment at community events. But later, it became a group thing with people who are known to be verse leading others to perform at events.

The head of the female chanters in the village, Ayannihun Adebowale, is a woman of over 100 years of age and the widow of the late village head, she told Nigerian Tribune that civilization has eroded many aspects of the culture, adding that it is rare to see young ones engaging in chanting now because no one asks for their services.

Also speaking, madam Mojisola Eniayewu, told Nigerian Tribune that when men engage in rara, the use musical accompaniment like sekere to encourage their spectators not only to listen but to dance, adding that there is a special type called ekun iyawo which all ladies must know before their wedding.

“Women gather during weddings to chant  rara for the couple, they trace the lineage, teach them of attributes to keep the home,  and pray for them while the bride also chant rara to thank her parents and family, extol the virtues of the groom and appreciate his family. All these add glamour to wedding rites,” she stated.

The women during an interaction with Nigerian Tribune

The chanters hold the collective belief that civilization is the major challenge of poetic chanting. One of them who identified herself as Adebisi, a woman in her 50s stated that civilization is the major factor as it is the cause of every other challenge faced by the craft. She added that many in her age bracket do not know half of what their mothers knew or taught them.

The chanters also stated that religion has nothing to do with the way the chanting art is being threatened by extinction, adding that a great percentage of them are Christians and they use the art to praise God during worship in church.

And on whether the art is affected by the rural-urban migration, they believe this may be a reason but added that it is not a major one. “Rather than be a problem, it has helped because our educated children in the city use the art to propagate culture, education has widened their horizons, so they know how to market the art, propagate it and make money.

“In fact, they will tell you that it is a lucrative venture because they deal with foreigners. That is the beauty of education; they know more and are better equipped to propagate the art. Because foreigners appreciate this more, they have more knowledge on how to connect with the foreigners and get good money,” they stated.

What people charge for this depends on each individual and the person interested in their services. They told Nigerian Tribune that many just do it for free while those that appreciate the art spray them money. But for the enlightened youths that know where to market themselves, charges depend on the manner of transaction; that is the market and the party interested in the trade.

They further expressed the belief that the erosion of the culture of poetic chanting by foreign culture is responsible for the loss of values and diverse deviant attitudes in the society today.

“Through chants, we teach our children the value of hard work, a good name, rendering help and emulating good character and when it was acceptable, we had youths that were satisfied with what they had and believed in hard work and God’s blessings but when the channel became dormant, see the kind of attitude exhibited today by youths. What we used to teach them early in life is no more because our children are now taught with foreign cultures,” Madam Ayannihun Adebowale concluded.

In spite of the continuous erosion of the culture of traditional poetic chanting, it is still a lucrative business for those that know the right market and those that have the required education to market their skills. And like other aspects of the Yoruba culture, foreigners appreciate what the original owners take for granted.

“It is shameful that our people have in their quest to emulate the white man thrown all the important things away. Knowing your culture does not mak3 you a lesser being or an illiterate, it is because we forgot our origin and our beginning that we have so many educated illiterates. We need a change of orientation,” she said.

Indeed, in times past, poetic chanters are as important at events as musicians and disc jockeys are today. From the court of the palaces of kings, to the village palm wine spot and at functions; weddings, naming ceremonies, burials or chieftaincy coronations, there must always be chanters to liven the mood.

Poetic chants are the creative metric means of passing diverse forms of messages to a listening audience in an entertaining manner and sometimes subtle mode (if the message isn’t for general consumption and the environment is crowded) which often is used as part of other art forms like drama or singing and is accompanied with some musical equipment like light drums or sekere. And in Yoruba land has various classes; ewi, rara, ijala, oriki, ekun iyawo and iwi egungun  with each class dovetailing into the other in a way that there is a merger and a chanter can start with ewi and end the presentation in rara.

Speaking on poetic chants, the traditional head of Adeyipo and founder of African Heritage Research and Cultural Library, Bayo Adebowale, stated that Ewi is for both sexes while rara is predominantly a female thing.

Poetic chant is an organized combination of poetic words in verses that is melodiously rendered to achieve specific objectives. The person’s lineage, achievements, pedigree, good qualities background etc are combined in a seamless manner and recited in an entertaining fashion to entertain and lift spirits or lighten moods.

In the beginning, rara and ewi were just for family and community entertainment; something to occupy the women while the carry out their daily chores, an entertainment mode for men after the days job while playing games or drinking palm wine with friends, the means through which the bard keeps the palace lively and the source of entertainment at community events. But later, it became a group thing with people who are known to be verse leading others to perform at events.

This could be said to be the beginning of showbiz as people started inviting such groups to their events and were paying them for the job just like people invite musicians today. And this went on for so long. Today however, the story is very different as ewi, ijala and other form of poetic chants are a thing of the past. Only old people understand what it is about and the few do not even show interest in it. But in some communities, ewi and rara are still very much a way of life though not for commercial purposes, for the people of Adeyipo like some other rural communities, the only form of entertainment is poetic chants but this may also not be the situation for long as only the old people still engage in chants, the few young ones that know how to chant are educated and do not practice the craft.

Yeye Akilimali and Dr Bayo Adebowale

In an interaction with Nigerian Tribune, 72-year-old Mrs Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade, an African American named Michelle Paul at birth left the United States of America over 38 years ago for Nigeria, spoke of her enchantment with traditional Yoruba poetry and her enduring allure to Adeyipo women poets. According to her, “I love the message, the melody, the varying voice inflection and everything about it because it is the essence of the Yoruba people. I am a cultural person, I know what it means not to have an identity, when you lose your culture, you lose your identity and you are no one. I love every part of our culture because it defines who I am. The Yorubas don’t know what they are losing by throwing their culture away.”

Dr Adebowale added that for an individual to be a chanter, the person must not just be creative but must have descriptive powers that can assess a situation and adapt to it quickly.

“Aside talent and creativity, a chanter must know history, the oriki of almost every lineage in that community and the characteristics of surrounding communities, he must possess the ability to think fast, adapt to evolving situations, possess descriptive powers and be interested in the art. But voice quality is also very important as there must be movements and modulations for the message to be passed across effectively and for emotions to be aroused. Chanting plays on the emotions and the person who doesn’t get swollen headed at your chants will not bring out money,” he explained.

He further added that a chanter must have a photographic memory, high imaginative powers and high level of information retention.

Dr Adebowale added that the major problem facing poetic chanting is cultural imperialism. “Today, people like things that are from the outside world, many believe more in foreign products than their own and when the interest in a particular thing wanes, definitely supply will dwindle with time.

“The truth is that poetic chanting is still lucrative but that is for people that have an education and can relate with foreigners, white people pay so much for these things that we take for granted here. The only people that make money from chanting today in Nigeria are those involved in culture and tourism, those engaged in movies, professional theatre practitioners and those in the academic world of language.

“Many youths have travelled abroad just because of this chanting. Foreigners come to this village just to record our people and it had been the subject of the thesis of many.

“Foreigners know the value of what we abandoned, they come to our rural communities to learn, then make more than we can imagine from these crafts.  We need to repackage our culture and be proud of what we have,” Dr Adebowale said.