Category Archives: Drawings


I’ve been pretty run down this week; fever, headaches, cold and cough. I thought that after yesterday morning when I had the last bout of fever that we’d simply parted ways. I was on the mend. The fight was over. I rarely get sick anyway, so, you win this one viruses! We were done.

Not so, friends.

I woke up this morning with a left eye that refused to open and when it finally did, would only budge in the middle – the ends of the eye still held fast with yellow gunk. Through this ghastly, spiky curtain, my blackened eye peeped out at the world, like a demon in search of a soul to devour.

It only took all thirty-ahem! years of my life, but finally, finally friends, I have experienced the dreaded Apollo. (That’s conjunctivitis to you non-Nigerians). Dreaded because kids that dared contact Apollo when we were growing up were shunned and heckled by other kids in school. Home would have not been much fun to be in either, my parents were very strict on what we were and were not allowed to catch. I only had chicken pox at twenty-two, living in London, far away from their disapproval.

It’s hard growing up with two doctors in the house; I never had the sweetness of wearing a filthy, itchy cast because I was not allowed to break any bones, never had lice until I was in boarding school and quickly got rid of that myself (ground camphor in the hair, combed through and washed out. Someone taught me) or boils that required that special inky-blue liquid dressing that never seemed to repel flies. There were plenty of scrapes and bruises but they never allowed us to have plasters, just wash it in stinging soap and water (ow!) and leave it open because the air made it heal.

“But I want plaster!” we’d wail, when our mother was out of earshot.

“Com’ on, mechie onu gi ebe ahu osiso! You want plaster, that’s why you wounded yourself,” she’d say from upstairs, listening in with her bat hearing.

I never ever got out of doing homework.

Having such knowledgeable parents was a bother. We never got to stay home from school even if we had malaria – they’d inject you with chloroquine and send you on your merry way. I can only remember being home from school once and by the end of the day I wanted to live in school, I was so bored. No TV, no getting up to go to the toilet (you had to shout for one of the maids to come and bear witness that you were not really playing), just a lot of sleeping and hallucinating and sweating as the chloroquine kicked the shege out of the malaria and out of you.

.Being ill was never as fun for us as it was for other children, so we simply stopped. I simply stopped falling ill until I could find someone to pet me. Except, I found out how much I loved being well. As a ‘habit’, it stuck. It doesn’t mater what The Hubster and Tot catch, I never seem to get it, mainly because I avoid them, starving them of hugs and kisses until whatever they have is gone.

Easier to do with the Hubster than the Tot. Which is why I’ve had this cold and cough kicking the shit out of me for the past week. But I cannot help kissing the little petri dish. It’s those damn cheeks!

Anyway, turned out to be good training my mother was giving me because life is really about about taking your chloroquine like a good girl, and just getting on with it, if you can.

And I might have the flaming eye of Sauron, but I also get a rather lovely drawing of myself from Tot, which is not bad going at all.

This is how Tot sees me. He always says I am orange.
This is how Tot sees me. He always says I am orange. Notice the big red eye!

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;
‘Ugo n’acho nma’ carved figure;