|Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu|
What is going on in this picture?
Well, you see, the inaugural Toyin Falola Annual Conference hosted by the University of Ibadan ended two days ago (more on that in another post). To complete the Ibadan experience, a party of conference attendants went on a really nice tour of the city of Ibadan, famed for its, well, rusted roofs...On our way back, along a major street, we encountered a massive commotion. Young men with unfriendly gestures were running amock as this male-only crowd surged, like ants, more or less swallowing up two open-roof security vans in which sat several menacing, heavily amored police men. There was no time to ask what this was about, except that our driver, an Ibadan native, quickly swerved our van into a side street for safety. In our van were several women who--instinctively obeying a riotous command from the male Ibadan grad students we were traveling, and from shouts of terror outside--ducked under the seats. Ayo my colleague from Dartmouth realized later that such incidents require action first and then questions later. Welcome to paradoxical modernity.
It happened so quickly. By the time I had the composure to pull out my camera, we were already in the side street. This woman trader with a heavy head load in the picture, miraculously jumped down from the Okada (commercial motorcyle) taking her to the market and fled the scene (the bike seat is visible in the left lower corner).
And what was it all about? It happened that the Oloolu mask was out that afternoon and no woman dared look at it. Whether or not you were in a car or out and about. What would be the consequence of such sight? Would such unfortunate woman turn to stone--like the poor Greeks who turned to stone under the Medusa's gaze? No. One graduate student in the van, and our driver pointed out that the woman who looks at Oloolu will just dry up until she died! But I figured that even before such perhaps slow dessication commenced, the woman would suffer a quicker punishment in the hands of the thousands of sweating, excited men. Isn't that why the police vans rode with the crowd. To help support the tradition that authorizes the aura of Oloolu that must walk the streets of one of Africa's most populated cities.
And by the way, although the Oloolu is described as a mask, everyone seems to know that it refers to a male character bearing a power calabash, but without any face covering or any kind of distinctive costume!