I am part Yoruba and part Esan and I love my dual heritage. I like that I share genealogy from these two great nations and cultures. Don’t ask me to choose which side I love best because I can’t. I love both sides and can only hope to imbibe the best of both worlds and chuck the ugly. The sensibilities of both sides are different even though they share certain similar names for people, places and things. For instance Eko is still Eko which in Esan means a camp (lending historicity to the relationship between Lagos and the Benin Empire). Ogede (Plantain) is Ogede and yes Esan people bear the name Ojo too.
The Esan in me despises the Yoruba-type diplomacy or what I might also call ‘eye service’. Indeed the Yoruba have a proverb, ‘Eniyan fi eje sinu, o tuto funfun jade’, which simply put means deception and I could write a whole treatise on that but essentially that’s an ugly I could do without. Also, it irks me when my Yoruba fam lump every non-Yoruba speaking nation into one word, ‘Omo-ibo’.
But hey the Esan also have a term, amongst others, with which they refer to the Yoruba and it sounds something like, ‘the ones for whom excreta mean nothing,’ alluding to toilet hygiene. Actually it literally means, ‘People who have toilets in their homes and can be found doing it in the living area and in full view instead of having separate quarters outside for doing it.’
So I guess ‘Omo-ibo’ is by far benign.
I love the Yorubaionysian zest for life and ease of life with variants reflected in words like jaiye-jaiye, owambe, jeunsoke, mi o le wa ku. I cannot come and die; terms that point to an easy take on life as opposed to the sometimes acerbic, austere, seriousness that I have found in some Esan men – ust be why many Esan people are in the police force? By the way, you don’t want to mess with an angry Esan man. I could go on and on and though some of these might be stereotypes that were garnered from personal experiences, I am intrigued by them all.
I like that two of my three middle names are Esan. I like that my parents made Adesuwa my official middle name as it appears on my birth certificate. I like to think they didn’t even need to discuss it. I like to think that it came naturally to them and my father didn’t feel his Yoruba being diminished in his daughter. Growing up in Benin-city, my sister once asserted quite proudly, as a kid, that she was not a Yoruba girl but an Edo girl much to the consternation of a paternal aunt.
And though I had friends with names like Abieyuwa, Ehigie, Braimah and Taire, I didn’t see difference. I wasn’t conscious of my Yoruba-ness as I am now that we’ve moved to the West. In fact I loved and aced Edo language in primary and secondary school than I did Yoruba language when I was sent to boarding school in the West, though I later redeemed myself with a C5 in WAEC. I can still count in Edo Language today.
I am not gung-ho about marrying a Yoruba man simply because I am Yoruba and while I have never dated an Esan man before I fell deeply in love, once, with one. I have had one Yoruba boyfriend and possibly an equal number of Yoruba and non-yoruba toasters probably because I attended university in the West, served in the East and worked in that melting pot called Lagos.
Both sides are so rich in culture and history you cannot exhaust the wealth of them. For instance, I love the hilarious Esan proverbs that come out of my mum now and then as occasion demands and how they somehow always get translated into a mishmash of pidgin and English:
‘Dem dey see where we no dey get to inside person.’
‘Like say person dey know the goat wey go fall down and die, e for sell am quick.’
‘Person wey say vulture no go make market, wen he comot, vulture go come down come trade.’
‘When farmer leave a particular land e no dey come back to ask whether the land dey produce good yam.’
They say after I was born and my maternal grandma wanted to give me a bath, my paternal grandpa (who used to call me ‘Lady’ just as Fela pronounced it in the song) would sit quietly watching her. When she was done, he would assist in clearing the bath area. It was routine. Thing is they each didn’t understand the language of the other and neither of them had the common ground of the English language. In fact my grandpa didn’t even speak pidgin whereas my grandma knew a little of it. So they never communicated verbally. I like to think they found many other non-verbal ways to communicate.
We marry ourselves and live amongst ourselves so we can and should have as many ties as can be. Yet while I think it’s a crying shame that tribal sentiments and fears (real and imagined) hold sway, the complexity of human nature shows that it’s idealistic and simplistic to expect to unify seamlessly just because.