Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 197th good thing about Lagos: Halloween brings people to the door bringing treats

Happy Halloween! There was a Halloween party at the American Club tonight, but we wanted to avoid it, so we didn't expect any celebrating. But we just had a knock at the door, and some treaters brought us some beautifully decorated cookies! Thanks Josie, Kelsey and Jeff! They're almost too pretty to eat (but we'll manage to get over that...).

The 196th good thing about Lagos: Visiting a (maybe faux) Fulani village

Whew -- I'm finally at my last post about our Osogbo trip -- I really wanted to finish before the month was out!

Before we left Osogbo to come back to Houston, we had a lovely little walk down the road from the guesthouse and across some fields to an area where there was a settlement of Fulani. Last fall when we traveled to Northern Nigeria, we had a really interesting visit to a Fulani village. On this trip, we were advised by one of our group leaders that he called this settlement of people "faux Fulani." He said they lived much like the Fulani, though they were mostly a mixed tribe. They weren't nomadic, but they raised cattle and lived a lifestyle much like the Fulani. We found them very friendly to visitors and we really enjoyed passing through their little village.

This little hut with the overhang had a storage area for corn and a place for a goat to be tethered in the shade.

These cattle were tethered to the ground in a place where there was no grazing. I didn't really understand that, but I guess it wasn't eating time for them.

I thought it was nice they had shady areas for many of their animals. No such luck for the cattle, though.

It was quite a well-kept little village with some very pretty land around it.

We saw lots of women and children and some older men, but none of the dads of the children. I guess they were off working somewhere. But the women were hard at work at home.

They were happy to pose for pictures.

There were lots of healthy crops around.

The children were helping, too, when they weren't distracted by the oyibo visitors.

Their children were so cute!

They were following us around, singing this little song and clapping. They loved to see their pictures in the camera.

This one is still learning the balancing things on the head trick.

This girl wanted to show off her really neat sunglasses.

The 195th good thing about Lagos: lots of African dance and music

While in Osogbo, we had several opportunities to observe cultural performances. Our first night some dancers came to the open patio above Nike's guesthouse and there was some wild drumming and fast dancing. Look at the motion in this picture!

They did some displays of small controlled motion, as well.
This guy has some muscles!

The program ended with a kind of magic show -- something I hadn't seen here in a cultural performance. This guy did some serious fire swallowing -- I really hope he didn't damage anything!

And then he did something that made it appear he was swallowing glass. I'm pretty sure it was just an illusion....

When we went to visit Chief Muraina's compound, we were greeted by some musicians and dancers. He had arranged a performance for us. I like how this picture gives an indication of the motion of the drummers. In these performances, I'm always amazed at the stamina of the drummers. They drum continuously so hard and long -- I know I would never be able to do it!

There were some good acrobats in this group.

And some very flexible dancers!

This girl danced now and then in the performances. She was a really good little dancer, but she always had such a sober face. I really wish she was enjoying herself a little more!

There were a number of masquerade performances like what I've seen elsewhere, where the masquerader does some kind of transformation from one costume to another.

I didn't get a picture of it, but one of the young masqueraders in this picture was wearing some socks with the Adidas logo displayed -- it reminded me of the masquerader in Badagry who was wearing Nike tennis shoes under his elaborate costume. I wonder if they're getting any endorsement support for their product placement?

Then back at the guesthouse, we had another night of masquerades and dancers.

This is one happy drummer!

This guy was a really serious and special masquerader -- he seemed pretty professional about it.

The 194th good thing about Lagos: Visiting an authentic Yoruba traditional religion shrine

The shrines we visited in the groves were authentic Yoruba shrines, but they had been augmented by an artist. So I was pleased that after our visit to Chief Muraina's compound in Irigbiji, we were given the opportunity to view the site of a traditional shrine and place of ceremony of initiation.

We drove to an area outside the city, where there were some large boulders.

We had a brief walk in between the boulders and over a little stream.

The elder that led us there told us that when a man felt called to be a priest in the Yoruba religion he would be brought here for a ceremony of initiation. He said that no women would be brought to this place (but Wenger had been initiated as a High Priest in the Yoruba religion, so it was possible for women to attain that rank, but maybe she was a special case). The initiate would be back behind this palm screen for 3-7 days doing ceremony and receiving instruction. We were not allowed to look behind the screen, and he didn't fill us in on what would happen behind it.

So we didn't leave with a lot of insight into the process, but it was interesting to see that these places still exist in their natural state and are used. It was a pretty place.

The 193rd good thing about Lagos: Visiting an oba is nothing new

During my time in Nigeria, as I've had occasion to visit different places in the country with the Nigerian Field Society, we've always had the opportunity to visit the local oba, or king. So I was glad to again have this opportunity in Osogbo to make comparisons with other obas, though I confess to feeling about bit blase' about visiting the king. Been there, done that.

I find it interesting that many obas have their own unique title. The Osogbo oba has the title of "Ataoja" which means "he who stretches out his hand and takes the fish." This comes from the traditional story of the founding of Osogbo where the king went to the Osun river to appease the goddess after her pots were broken by the falling of a tree. The legend says that a gold fish jumped up out of the river and was caught by the king. So now, the fish is the symbol of the kingship -- and it is used decoratively all around the palace compound, which was quite large. I was sorry I didn't get pictures of many of the interesting buildings.

This covered patio area in the compound but outside the main palace held a group of musicians. Our driver said they had to be on duty very early each morning because they had to play to wake the oba. So, being the Ataoja of Osogbo -- also called the Kabiyesi, though I don't know where that title comes from -- means that you have a living alarm clock.

There were a number of buildings with interesting mosaic pictures decorating them.

The oba can't go out without an umbrella over his head, so they were waiting at the door.
We waited in one elaborately decorated waiting room while we waited to be ushered into the throne room. That room was lined with photos, a TV, and various objects.

We didn't wait long before the Ataoja Oba came to visit with us. We had quite a nice conversation. He made us a gift of a crate of juice (which later went to our drivers) and we gave him a gift of a DVD movie about Osogbo and the groves.

He talked about his long history with Susanne Wenger and what she had brought to Osogbo. He mentioned the difficulties of his job as leader of Christians, Muslims and followers of the traditional religion. He plays an important part in the Osun festival each August, receiving the offering of the virgin and paying homage to the river goddess.

The foundation helping to raise money to preserve the grove and Wenger's house is concerned that the Ataoja understands that it is to Osogbo's benefit to protect the area. It is within his control to decide to use the groves for development, though with its designation as a World Heritage Site, that would be more difficult to do. But I think he realizes that it could be a tourist destination that would benefit his city. At last years Osun festival he said "Ours is a living culture and enduring heritage, which must be shared with the global community and people of all races and creeds.” He assured us that he would try to protect this heritage and he wanted us to help promote Osogbo.

He stood with our group to pose for a picture (which has not been a common thing with my oba visits).

As we stood outside waiting to leave, some young musicians ran over to us to play us some music and receive their own offerings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The 192nd good thing about Lagos: Interesting encounters with animals

While in Osogbo, we stayed at a guesthouse belonging to the batik artist, Nike Okundaye. She is a very talented and dynamic artist and person, one of the contemporary artists of Osogbo. She has a fabulous gallery of fine arts and crafts in Lagos, and a gallery and her school in Osogbo. When she spoke recently at an American Women's Club function, she talked about her marriage as a young teenager -- she was the 16th wife to a man who also became well known as an artist -- Twin Seven Seven. She was talking about how much she learned from American women when she came to Lagos; they taught her how to quilt and a lot about sewing, as well as how to speak English. When she went to the States to learn more about fabrics, she learned that some women just have one husband, and they don't have to give all the money they earn to their husband. She came back to Nigeria and shared this revelation with the other wives. Sometime after that, she got rid of her husband and she's done very well for herself.

The guest house was nothing fancy, but quite comfortable, with an open upstairs patio where we had an evening meal and entertainment,

an inside sitting room and shared bathrooms.

There was a lovely garden outside, where we had breakfast and lunch. It had birds of all sorts, including some lovely peacocks.

There was a very large tortoise. When I first saw him in the garden, he gave me this look like he really didn't want me there. I went over to the table and asked our group leaders, who were there often, what was up with the tortoise, because he seemed really annoyed at me, and all I did was walk past him. They said that the tortoise was very curious because he really had a strong personality and it wasn't very pleasant.

After a few minutes, the tortoise (don't remember why, but we started calling him "Charles") made a beeline for our picnic table and proceeded to harass us. Charles set a speed record -- he was amazingly fast. And you may not think tortoises can bite, but I wasn't about to get caught between his jaws.

We led him away from our table with a banana, but he saw this duck pulling on a banana and went to take away that one, before he pursued ours. He swallowed the banana peel and all -- I don't know how the thing managed to choke it down. The duck knew better than to protest to Charles -- the tortoise was bigger and meaner.

And then it took another couple of bananas to get Charles away from us.

My next animal encounter was also a bit unsettling. First, an introduction: Down the street from the guesthouse was this cute school with alphabet pictures painted on the wall. I've read many alphabet books in the States to my children and grandchildren. Here in Nigeria, there are often different words for the letters than are typical in American children's books.

Q will often be for Queen, but it's not often that R will be for Rat. I've been subbing for a kindergarten teacher the past few days and we were making words with the ending "-at" the other day. Mat, cat, pat, and, of course, rat. Then the kids -- almost all of them -- were telling of their encounters with rats in their homes. And all the kids going to this school are expats or rich Nigerians -- so it's a common problem here. We haven't noticed any in our flat (where's some wood to knock on?)...yet.

Well, when I checked into my room at the guesthouse, there were animal droppings evident, so I knew that my room had been occupied. I hoped that the rat would recognize that a paying guest had checked in and would leave me alone. But, alas, one night when I returned to my room after dinner, there was a startled rodent jumping out of the closet and hiding behind my suitcase. I called for a staff person and she chased the rat, as it followed its familiar path out behind the air conditioner vented to the outside. She just shook her head and said, "Those rats --sorry." I was amazed I got to sleep that night.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The 191st good things about Lagos: Visiting artists' workshops

I really enjoy looking at art, and meeting artists and seeing where and how they work is an extra-special treat, so I really enjoyed this aspect of our Osogbo weekend.

Oshogbo has been a city with artistic energy for many years. Starting in the 50's, Susanne Wenger and her one-time husband, Ulli Beier, were a spark that lit the creative fire in many people. The artists that "Mama" mentored became known as the New Sacred Artists of Oshogbo. They were at one time largely non-commercial, creating art for spiritual reasons, and mostly stayed in Oshogbo, but most are now are selling their art through an artist's cooperative. The German Ulli Beier taught at the University of Ibadan and had a pioneering role in Nigeria in drama, literature (serving as a mentor to writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka) and he worked to help train artists, dancers and musicians and expose their work internationally. These artists are known as the Contemporary Artists of Osogbo. Many of these artists travelled and have shown their work abroad. Still still live in Osogbo at least part-time and some have left the country.

When we visited Wenger's home, we saw this textile artist working on some adire cloth. This is a dye resist method using cassava paste.

We walked across the street to the home and workshop of this artist who works with tin sheets, pressing a relief with a repoussé technique.

He worked very quickly and freely -- each piece is unique. I bought one of these works -- a really neat image of a masquerade with lines of musicians and dancers.

Next door to Wenger's home there is a stone carver who was her very close companion, who did many of the works in her house and the groves.

We drove outside the city to the home and workshop of the wood carver Kasali Akangbe Ogun, who has shown his works outside Nigeria. He works now with his son. They lifted up the very large sculpture that is one of their current projects and talked about the spirit and power of the wood and the finished figures.

This was their "showroom."

I really liked the lines and craftmanship of this work. I first bought a little figure, but then decided I really wanted to buy a large one as well. Kasali's son carved their name to "sign" the pieces I purchased.

Posing with my works and the artist and his son. The small figure depicts Oramila, the God of Wisdom and Divination and the large one is Ososi, the God of Security.

After some time in the creative energy of Osogbo, I was seeing art everywhere. In a short walk from our guesthouse to the workshop of another artist, I loved the look of these pink clothes drying on the porch railing of this blue house.

And these 3-in-a-row boarded up windows on a building we walked past looked like art collages.

We visited the workshop home of Adebisi Fabunmi, called Bisi. He is a very inventive artist, working mostly with woodblock prints.

I loved seeing his workshop, where he sold his prints on canvas, as well as these carved logs which were really cool.

This little boy was posing next to Bisi's stack of woodblock plates. He showed us some of the plates which he has from the 60's. He is frustrated because the wood he used years ago is much stronger than the wood he can get currently, which is of much poorer quality. He can't get many presses from the wood block as it falls apart.

Bisi was invited to dinner with us at Nike's guesthouse that evening and we had a very interesting discussion about Wenger and Beier and the influence that they had on art in Osogbo. We wondered if they had gone to a different place in Nigeria if the same artistic movements would have happened there? Was it their influence, or was there something about Osogbo and the creative people they found there?

I really loved a really big print Bisi had that had a musical theme -- it looked like jazz to me. But I just didn't have a place to display it.

I bought a small piece and he signed it for me.

I really loved the beautiful batik of Shangodare, Mama's adopted son, who was our guide through the groves.

We went to the shack/workshop of a brass caster. He demonstrated his technique, molding a wax turtle that he would put on a ring base.

With a finished mold, he would encase it in "mud."

After the clay dries, it would be fired and the wax would be poured away, leaving a mold for the molten metal.

After the metal cools and hardens, he cuts away the excess metal and files the finished piece of jewelry. I asked him about using the lost wax method, which is the ancient technique that he is using for his craft. I don't know if it was a language thing, but it seemed that he had never heard the term. He said he used the method that he learned from his father.

Nike, the well-known batik artist who has galleries in Osogbo and Lagos, has a school and training ground for artists and craftspeople. We visited her workshop where techniques are demonstrated and a woodcarver told the stories behind some of his totems -- a large one told the history of Osogbo.

We saw people decorating cloth with batik -- wax resist.

We saw the indigo plants they use to make the dye and the pots for traditional indigo dyeing.

We met some metal workers who made chairs and metal figures -- I bought this cute little bird to put in a garden.

We drove to the village of Irigbiji and visited palace of Chief Muraina Oleyami-- an artist and member of Ulli Beier's branch of Contemporary Artists. He had gotten to know Beier through a drama company and then started as an artist. He had just gotten back from Lagos where he had attended the premiere of a motion picture he had a small part it. He was excited about going back to his beginnings with an acting part. He had only one of his paintings on display -- he mostly works on commission, but he had some works of different younger artists who he was mentoring. I found an oil on paper that I really thought was great. He had a small museum of art and artifacts on his compound.

Right before we left Osogbo, we visited the home and gallery of the very talented artist Jimoh Buraimoh, who has pieces in some major museums and has exhibited works in many countries. He talked about how he started working with mosaic and he first made tabletops -- he showed us one that was really lovely. But he got tired of transporting them to Lagos to sell, because they were so heavy, so he started working on canvas. He was a pioneer in the method of stringing tiny beads and glueing them onto the canvas to form a picture -- there are many artists who now use his technique. But he does a lot of interesting things now with texture on his canvasses. I really liked many of his pieces, but I'm sure whatever might have been for sale would have been well out of my price range.

It was very kind of Chief Buraimoh to welcome us into his home and spend time visiting with us. I found it interesting that he travels to Houston regularly, as two of his children have settled there -- one living in Richmond, the same suburb where our son and his family now live. It's funny to think of the possibility of our paths crossing in Houston and then meeting in the far away city of Osogbo, Nigeria.