Growing up in a mixed-religious home provided me with the confusion and perplexity that comes with my naive understanding of the difference between Christianity and Islam. I remember going sometimes to Ile 'kewu (Madrasah) during the week and to the Sunday school during the weekend. These activities plastered my young impressionable mind with a sense of dual personality. I am Abdul- Hafeez (or Hafiisu when stressed by my Yoruba-accented Arabic tutor) on Friday afternoon, and Oladotun on Sunday morning. However, I later realised that I was more influenced by my church-going Christian mum than by my nominal-Ramadan Muslim dad. A situation which was rather facilitated by the sweets and biscuits at the Sunday school and the spankings I endured whenever my coconut head couldn't grasp the Arabic recitals and alphabet (aleph, baa, taa........).
Although my mum, whom I have always nicknamed Yaayi (a name which my other siblings now call her) is now someone I can call a Charismatic-Baptist, she like most wives in Lagos in the 80s also flirted with the temporal comfort and escape from reality provided by the spiritualist church of the Aladura (particularly the Cherubim and Seraphim Church). I usually attended (or rather packed along to) these churches with her, where I enjoy the songs, dances and trance-like demonstrations of the Wooli (prophets) and Elemis (someone in a trance or in the 'spirit', a kindf of hallucination usually for weeks without eating). I remember the wooli as a cross between unkempt Rastafarian and an average ward captain at Aroo Mental Hospital in Abeokuta. In hindsight, I think Yaayi attends the church primarily because they confirm or reiterate her believe that her mother-in-law, my grandmother Àkeé is the alpha and omega of all her troubles. Àkeé, as confirmed by the wooli, is the witch who wants to convert all Yaayi's children into the ogbanje cult, particularly my elder sister who looked like her. In my pre-teens years, I could easily imagine myself as a part-time member of the ogbanje, the blood-sucking cult who flies into the nearby Iroko tree for their nocturnal meeting deciding on who to eat for supper.
But I am also the son of Alhaji, for my dad is referred to as one even though he has never been to Mecca. Alhaji is the title earned by Moslems in most parts of West Africa after their pilgrimage to the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. I reckon his friends thought he was too big not have any title, hence the honorary Alhaji. But his adherence to the Islamic faith is confined only to occasional recital of Quran, giving of Zakat and the Ramadan months when he is required to fast from dawn till dusk and abstain from his love of beer. He neither observed the five pillars of Islamic faith nor attends the mosque (except on Eid ul-Fitr and Id el Kabir). However, he has been influenced by his own mother, Àkeé, whose dedication to the five-time daily prayer and the totality of the Islamic faith is unshaken. During my stay with Àkeé when on holidays in Oyo (my dad's hometown and by default mine if I want to claim one), I couldn't help but struggle with the images of her as a dedicated Muslim woman juxtaposed with that of oyiboyi the witch-mistress from the Ajileye TV series. She looks old and that is enough evidence that she is a witch to me. And the Wooli confirmed it. I kept waiting for her to wake me up in the middle of the night and initiate me by the tree in her garden. But she did not. The only noise I hear from her whenever I'm asleep is when she wakes up to say her prayers...
Allaahu akbar, Allaahu akbar, Allaahu akbar
laa ilaaha illAllaah
Allaahu akbar, Allaahu akbar
Perhaps she is not a witch, l later understood. Àkeé and Yaayi didn't just get along with each other. Perhaps due to religious differences or the fact that Yaayi came from another town to marry her only son, without her permission. Whatever maybe the reason behind their dislike for each other, I know Àkeé is not a witch. The wooli is wrong after all and Yaayi has been wasting her time and money attending those churches. Probably she realised this when she later committed her life to Jesus and was taught the Bible in a local Baptist church.
I was influenced by Yaayi just as my dad was influenced by Àkeé. The son of Alhaji.
Ill continue this later..............