THE DRUM MY VILLAGERS BEATS; WE ALL DANCED, AND NOW IT FADED (UMUDOM — UMUWIRE)
by CHIDIEBERE A. OKOROJI, M.ED
Rough Tough and Enough
I was born into a community where pride means a lot. We boast about it in almost everything we do: In songs, we sing about it. In dance, we boldly step on it. In meetings, we speak firmly about it. In everything, we cherished it. The Udom, Wire Ancient village, where lion once lived.
I grew up knowing that traditions and norms are well protected and cherished. My father cherished it, same did his forefathers. He embraces it so golden, but after he died, civilization came and swept all that away. I don’t know if it was civilization or sloppiness, or something else, but it was definitely an upend. Probably, everyone got tired, or the scoundrel among them killed the culture, or death or perhaps, people left the city where this event happened. I can’t really place it to what really happened, how something so pivotal, could be damned forever. And it erratically became a memory.
The village life as I see it, is one that is accustomed with so much respect and pride—so colourful that you might start asking; this love, this joy and happiness, this bold laughter, could actually prognosis the future. The ballasted serenity, it was truly a bellwether of somesort. It was days when men and women never truly felt betrayed or bittered, or living with grudges after grudges. It was days where everything was built on family, brotherhood, peace, progress and love. You could see a brother having a squabble with another distance or immediate brother, and, in a twinkle of eye, they’re all jollificating, smiling and laughing with each other as if nothing happened. Elders influenced this by making a jab of one another. Remembering of past events was what kept this bond alive —when men of substances gathered, they discussed the life they had before now and how such life, influenced them today and made them who they are, some, felt bittered— a kind of pangs of conscience, but after a long discussions or talks— one will notice a bold and comforting smile from both faces. It was what my village represented and it was precise. This was how I saw those who gave me a memory worth keeping and having. I saw these things, and I was filled with strength and guts. It was evaporating— the joy and also the fun, filled with so much life, something to live for. Even in death, my villagers mourn in happiness. Someone’s death couldn’t kill the joy in them. They make sure the deceased, who was once part of this circle, enjoyed the privilege of being, and giving such individual a thoughtful burial as everyone is made to contribute for this course and some will also travel a distance to attend this burial. In the same burial ceremony, they make fond of the past events of the dead, not to mock him, but a way to make sure his best, or worst memories, lives. My village wasn’t influence by riches, not what I saw growing up, it was influenced by brotherhood, love progress and tranquility.
I remember one time in Lagos, during the end of the year’s party which, at as that time, was hosted in front of our compound in Lagos; Olushola street, lawanson, Surulere to be precise. My family then stayed in a rented apartment. It wasn’t rosy as we know it, but it was pleasing and comforting because we had each other. The end of the year’s celebration came with all manners of accolades. So fulfilling as everyone, even those who didn’t lived in Lagos, came to merry with the Lagos branch of our village meeting. Native food was the order of the day, with palm wine and all sorts of drinks. Women were in their usual uniform dresses, while the men were on native wears. Although, some wasn’t! The drum sets or musical instruments, are all ready. My father, very muscular, with his thick voice and stern face— I think I inherited that part of him— was making sure everything was in order. He was wearing one of those thick dresses, that’s in resemblance with those army wears.
Always serious about everything. We were afraid of him sort of. Being the host of the end of the year’s celebration, and a lover of tradition, not the fetish aspect, he has arranged all the musical instruments with the help of those villagers who lived closed but in Surulere. They all made sure everything was in order. Everyone who was to beat those drums were around, drinking, eating and discussing. It was joy, happiness because at the end, “it’s what we do for ourselves.” They way they fondly say it. After everything, and the sunlight is gradually fading away, everyone were positioned; my father sat in the middle because he is to beat the Ekwe (slit drum). It was big and very loud when beating, and the sound coming out of it was electrifying as well. He beats when the song or lyrics had reached a high note, it was magic in the end. I remembered Late Dee Lawrence, with his lovely voice, he was the lead singer and we have other people in present also who handled other equipments. My uncle, my father younger brother, Dee Li, was in charge of the Ogene (Gong). We also have the Igba (cylinder drum) and other musical equipments handled by other professionals. The styles and manner in which everything rhyme, is incredible and candor.
The songs were actually based on events. As relatable as they could sing it, it comes with its own message. One of those songs I remembered was one sang about my uncle, my father younger brother, Dee Li, and how he, “used pride to get married to his wife” there is one, about a man who was heading to Benin, but because he doesn’t know the road, he ended up in Sapele.”
Everyone could dance to this. The married women could shake their waist, and when it got to my mother’s turn to dance, I was shy for her, but she actually impressed everyone, she was definitely young not as old as she is now. My sisters and everyone present danced and danced to the songs, as those who were in charge of the musical equipments didn’t disappoint. It was a moment worth remembering. We wished this moment won’t depart but time took everything away. I felt I will become my father’s surrogate, but that didn’t happened. As beautiful as the moment was, it never happened again.
I saw that functionalism was the problem, but how can that be when functionalism is the idea that social and cultural cohesion are a function of interdependence and interaction of the institutions of the society. It is a way to find balance, coexist with the environment and embrace life’s potentiality. This ruined the collegiality and instrumentality of societal pride and prestige.
I thought at first it was because we’ve all grown but, I later realized that our elders, didn’t passed this part of life to anyone. It died with those who invented it. No one wants their children to be seem doing such barbaric things as it was perceived or seen. Religion also contributed largely, and education made it even worse. This lovely memory and event, faded and never talked about, not since I’ve grown. Whenever I remember my dad, I pictured him beating the drum, and it was one legacy I’m proud I saw in him. To him, it was everything; the zeal, the love, the brotherhood and the joy. Those were days, traditions were worth something significant. Almost everyone who was part of those moments are all gone. People, especially young ones, have had a different views about this tradition and it’s disturbing, because, it is the subterfuge of such events. One day, I will be gone too, I don’t know what I will hold firm to, but I know within me, I wished I kept this tradition alive, but who will join me, when all my brothers are fleeing to another’s man’s land in search of unending riches at the expense of our traditions, values and norms. The effusive and janky trend of events among young vibrant boys, myself inclusive. I feel we should calibrate, but time will or, shall tell!
May the soul of my father, John N. Okoroji Rest in peace, and all the souls of those who died making my childhood fun even when they didn’t know it also keep resting in peace.