Now Bola Tinubu, the effervescent politician and former Governor of Lagos state has the title of Asiwaju. Though his politics has always been dogged by controversy, his Asiwaju title is not in doubt. But Wole Soyinka, that doyen of African literature and Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, once had a controversial Asiwaju spat with Chinua Achebe, the father of African literature, when the latter remarked, “The fact that Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize does not make him the Asiwaju (Leader) of African literature.” Soyinka, ever ready for an argument, sarcastically retorted: “It is not my intention to be the Ogbuefi (leader) of African Literature.”
Well, unless you’re not Nigerian, it is obvious that Asiwaju and Ogbuefi roughly connote the term leader in Yoruba and Igbo respectively. The two sages have held us in untrammeled awe since bursting on the stage decades ago, inundating us mortals with their quarrels, their poetry, and their stories. Stories, of which my most famous the Ogbuefi himself narrated in his epochal Things Fall Apart, of guests who were demolishing a mound of foo foo – that staple Nigerian food – so high they did not see their fellow eaters until the mound had come down. A nonsensical story at best, but Achebe spun it a la Lewis Carroll and the ‘everything is nonsense saga.’
So I arrive at this traditional Igbo wedding last Friday, and modernity, that evil Rousseau warned us all of, has reduced the mounds to wraps (in polyethylene). Foo-foo eating has become personal, eschewing the communal effort at Umofia. Maybe that is the bane of all ills in society. Maybe, you think am joking? No I am not. If the Jews can raise a hullabaloo over the spelling of the food Knaidel, maybe I can pontificate on the cause of the ills of Nigerian society.
An African traditional wedding is not the right place to theorize. The music is loud – pretty loud tunes of high life and Afro Pop, and the dancing is vigorous, styled after whatever is the latest step in the dance clubs. But the colours…vigorous, variegated and va va voom. Very few sights are as rich as middle class Nigerian women decked out in aso ebi – read George, Ankarra and the other funnily named but beautiful Dutch Wax prints that have become more African than its origins.
Igbo Weddings are dramatic. And not only because of the hip swaying and money spraying that goes on, but the theatrical and sometimes fractious negotiating which goes on with the men before the bride is handed over. The bargaining – best seen with your own eyes – is over the exact number of yam tubers or kegs of palm wine, the quantity of stock fish and right amount of tobacco powder. Since stock fish (dried cod) and tobacco came with the Europeans, one wonders at what point such items sneaked into the ‘traditional’ marriage rites. Just like asking, how did Okonkwo get the gun that cost him the Ogbuefi title?