Igbo dance, desirability and the legendary Theresa Ofojie.

I know it seems like I have only logged in to put up another video but I think some things should be shared. This is one of them.

I remember when we were in nursery and primary school, how traditional dance was a VERY BIG DEAL. I mean cut-a-bitch big deal. My arch-nemesis was called Ekene; she was fair-skinned, a fantastic dancer and a major pain in the bum because of her low centre of gravity. All the big girls loved her. The teachers adored her and she was made obu uzo egwu till I left for secondary school.

Once, determined to outshine her I brought three necklaces to school for a dance. Someone important was coming, some commissioner or something. Those necklaces were imitation pearls, plastic and much loved. One was cyan, the other peach and the third was white. My mother bought them for us before we moved back to Nigeria and as such they were a link to our former lives in the UK.  They were supposed to set us apart. The teachers and some of the big girls made me hand over two of them to Ekene because she was obu uzo and in front where everyone would see her and I was in the middle-back due to my  height and ability. Heck, until one of the senior girls intervened, they wanted me to hand all of my plastic pearls over! Sacrilege!

I didn’t see Ekene for the longest time because I went to boarding school outside Awka but when we did meet as teenagers on holiday – I was about fourteen – I remember being  enraged by her very presence. I answered all her questions curtly and looked off impatiently to signal that I had places to be. I was struck by how much shorter than I she still was. It pleased me. Absurdly so.

Unfortunately all my drama went unnoticed. She was born again and so profoundly oblivious to the world that she wouldn’t have noticed anything but the Rapture.

The whole thing taught me a very important lesson. It was just pointless disliking Ekene because everyone is good at something.  I am good at telling stories and that suits me just fine.

Enjoy the dance. This isTheresa Ofojie.

Uli on my mind.

I have always regretted that drawing uli patterns fell out of fashion.  It annoys me when I consider the rather flimsy reason they did, the same as a lot of traditional Igbo stuff; because the church disapproved and thought it fetishistic.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Igbo women often wore uli painting on everyday occasions as well as during important festivals. At the same time missionary schools were discouraging women from painting uli on their bodies and instead taught them to embroider the designs on textiles. Uli artists were asked by missionaries to record their designs on paper. These were then used to make templates for the embroideries.

From here.

Now a lot of scholars suggest that uli was not really a mode of communication, not in the way nsibidi was. It’s supposed to be more linear and abstract, a way to beautify spaces as opposed to nsibidi’s ideographic/logographic  - i.e. used to transmit concepts or ideas – form. But maybe in the process of getting ridding of the more-feared nsibidi (which was used in its sacred forms by the literate secret societies), it might also have come under attack.

Note, I use secret societies to mean titled and Leopard societies not Living in Bondage type scenarios. 

Recently I have become interested in finding as many designs as I can and in creating a few of my own. I toyed with the idea of getting the one from my grandfather’s mud walls made into a tattoo for my back.  I also briefly considered getting patterns tattooed on the soles of my feet but I do not fancy the thought of spending great amounts of money for something that would fade pretty quickly due to friction (walking around, wearing shoes, etc).

Sole tatPlus according to sources, it hurts like crazy.

As for putting it on my back or anywhere hidden like my bum, I am worried about it fading and/or the ink bleeding and how it will look on my skin when I am old and my bottom droops to the backs of my knees.

I think one of the things that is so beautiful about uli is the impermanence of it all. The dye fades after a few days so that you can draw an entirely fresh design on; one suited to the occasion or event, or even just one that takes your fancy. Tattoos do not afford me the same option.

Uli seems the way to go. Nsibisi is enjoying a resurgence so hopefully uli too will come off the better for it.  Thanks to people like the Nsukka Group and many other interested bodies and individuals, a lot of the designs are not lost. I reckon I will try out a few designs with henna and see how that works out. I’ll also try to find some camwood dye (African sandalwood) in some villages back East when I get to Nigeria and try out its reddish colour as well.

The front wall of my grandfather's compound, Ezelle, Oba. Use with permission.
The front wall of my grandfather’s compound with what looks like uli patterns; Ezelle, Oba. © Chikodili Emelumadu.
'Ugo n'acho nma' carved figure; ukpuru.tumblr.com.
‘Ugo n’acho nma’ carved figure; ukpuru.tumblr.com.

 

I am tired of this hair, hair, everywhere.

Maybe I’ve always been a bit blasé about hair because mine grows so easily; I could always switch from natural to permed and back again.  But lately especially, I find myself tiring of the natural versus relaxed hair debate.

I understand all the connotations of having relaxed hair. Believe me, I do. I too have had weave itch, the sort that leaves you slapping your head repeatedly in public, with no thoughts whatsoever as to how mad you look.  No care either. Nothing but the desire to scratch that unreachable, infuriating, itch.  The near soporific effects of scratching it cannot be matched by anything in this world.

I have suffered the sores that come from digging too deeply with a pen or other handy pointy object under dandruff and sweat encrusted wefts. I have had my hair fall out from too much relaxing and traction from braids. It was not pretty.

Still it’s such a shame that black women’s hair is so highly politicized. I understand why it would be but it still is sad that it is so.  Because the truth is that I didn’t change the way I wore my hair because of any movement but because relaxers affected me really badly. It was just not worth it. To ME.

And that’s what hair boils down to in the end: personal choice. It doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks. Of course it is entirely possible that had I not been in Newcastle where African hairdressers were few and far between, or were not properly trained and expensive to boot, I might have continued with the weaves and the braids and the creamy crack. It is possible. After all, it costs twice or three times as much to have natural hair made in the market in Nigeria – unless it is isi owu. And even then,  chances are that they will use the wrong  comb  and complain so loudly about their fingers hurting  that you will feel you have serpents for hair like a gorgon.

The way we wear our hair is not only an expression of how we feel, who we are. It is also purely functional. With the hustle and bustle of daily life, not everyone might choose to have natural hair. Some women might prefer to wake up and run a fine-toothed comb through their hair before they leave for work. Others might polish their gorimapa with coconut oil and bounce. Because let’s face it, hair is work. Natural hair is work, even our ancestresses knew that. Hence the wigs and head-dresses they wore to give their own hair a rest in between styles. Relaxed hair is also work; anti-breakage this and placenta that and hair burning and sores and picking the scabs on your scalp and money, money, money.

So, I guess what I am asking is, can’t we all just get along? Shouting abuse across the (not-so) great divide isn’t really the way to be heard. That girl with long flowing Brazilian/Peruvian/Chinese hair might secretly wish she was another race. She might have received negative messages about her hair her whole life.  Or she might not even consider herself any less proud of her race. That woman with dread locks/an afro/bantu knots/a twist out might have her hair that way to prove she is a Sister. Or she might simply prefer the peace of mind that comes from knowing she can walk under the rain or swim any day without a huge freak out session being involved. (Or that emergency plastic shopping bag, shoved over her face like a masquerade!)

It’s a shame one side is considered more ‘professional’ to the other’s ‘creative’ and ‘political’. Does having weaves mean I can no longer write poetry and fiction? No. Would having locks mean I can no longer wrap my head around facts and figures in financial institutions? I don’t think so. And yet that is the way it is seems now. People are being forced into these boxes by corporations, society and even by themselves.

Let it be. Live and let live. [Insert choice of cliché here]. This post was not supposed to be deep (or even particularly well-writen, har har). I am just a bit tired of all the slings and arrows. How a black woman chooses to wear her hair should be her choice. She is entitled to it. Just like she is entitled to change her mind about her choice. That’s what it means to be truly free and that can only be a good thing.

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So I am into Phyno now.

I am always the last to know anything, living in my own head for a majority of the time and all. But last year, I discovered Phyno with ‘Man of the Year’ and I have been asking myself how I did not feel the earthquake that must have happened when he came on the scene.

Phyno: Image from bellanaija.com

 

Anyway, I know now and I am about to give him the same obsessive treatment as I give anything I like. Expect a few weeks of this. I am not sorry!

First of all, I have absolutely no desire to see Phyno without his shirt – and not because I suspect he might look a bit reptilian (he reminds me a bit of all those crested lizards. I wouldn’t want to mess with him). But because I heard him before I saw what he looked like and I do not wish to objectify him, at all at all. You all know I am a bit irreverent but this boy has TALENT in spades. You can tell he is extra serious about his art. Respect.

I have never heard anyone make such mincemeat of Igbo in rap before. He shreds it. He just plays with the language; tossing it out, deftly applying puns, flipping the language on its head like a pancake before he devours it.

Nwanne look into my eyes/ Ego di m n’obu/ Money on my mind/All you need is owe me/Egbutego m the money/Now your chic wish she knew me/A dighi m agbo ncha/But my nigger I do me/ …If you go against me/Ntuo gi down ka alusi. (‘Man of the Year’.)

Brother look into my eyes/There’s money on my mind/All you need is owe me/I’ve eked out the money/Now your chic wish she knew me/I don’t lather soap/But my nigger I do me/…If you go against me/I’ll throw you down like an idol.

Looks simple enough, right? Wrong. Igbo can be difficult to rap in and rhyme which probably explains why not a lot of people are doing it. Those bits in bold are one of the ways you can tell someone who learnt Igbo from speakers because you won’t really find those in books – at least not the first one, which is a reference to male masturbation (frothing, ejaculating). The second is a nod to the Igbo way of showing displeasure in personal gods. In the old days, personal gods who disappointed or did not perform as expected could be disposed of or burnt aka ‘thrown down’.

There’s a lot of English in this verse and in the whole track in general and I for one wish Phyno would never speak English again, but it serves as a modifier for the Igbo, in a way a lot of us would speak it casually. He even calls it by its popular name: Engili-Igbo.

I am not a music critic by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t tell you anything about the beat or the arrangement or anything like that. But I know what I like: poets in any language, people who make language fresh to the ears. In this, Phyno gets my vote.