Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The 285th good thing about Lagos: Scarification is out of fashion

At the lecture at the museum this morning, we learned about scarification in Edo State. The capital of Edo State is Benin City, which has a rich culture of sculpture and bronze casting. They had a couple of masks on display which show a variety of markings.

It's kind of hard to see in the first photo, but there are vertical pegs above the eyebrows to indicate scarification markings.

These markings are called Iwu.  The practice of Iwu goes back 5 1/2 centuries.  It is said that the Oba (king) at that time designed the markings and declared that everyone should wear them as a badge of identification.  Every adolescent was supposed to be marked.  Not to have markings was a proof of "foreignness."  Young people were marked before they were married.  It was done individually, not in a communal ceremony.  In this culture, babies were circumcised, but the scarification was done as a young adult, except in the case of royalty.  There is an adage that "royal children see blood once in life," so they are both circumcised and marked when they are young adults.  Sometimes being royal is not a fun thing.

The scarification is not just done on the face, but there are markings vertically down the torso.  Men have 7 marks on their torso and women have 16.  These are long marks with proscribed positions and names.  It does not look fun to have this done!

The Iwu surgeon is called the Osiwu.  To learn his craft, he has served an apprenticeship that lasts over 7 years.  The job is dominated by males, but a female can also serve as an Osiwu.  The tradition of Iwu began to die out over 50 years ago during the colonial era.  There are still groups of people in remote locations who practice Iwu, but it is more unusual today.

I do still see some people with facial scarification.  I had heard that during the Civil War in Nigeria in the '60's that mothers would have their babies marked to make them easier to identify should they be separated.  But I do see some children with facial scarification and I think among some people the marks are more there for beautification rather than identification.  There was a museum staff member who stood up in the sharing/Q&A time after the lecture who pointed out the marks on his face and said that they were there because he was sick as a child and they cut the marks in his face to let out the bad blood.  So he added that sometimes scarification is done for a curative purpose.

I'm sure to some people that scarification is no different than the tattooing or body piercing more common in Western societies.   But I personally would prefer a less permanent method of decorating my body.  And for identifying with a group, I'll go for a group T-shirt any day.

The 284th good thing about Lagos: tow truck drivers get a workout

When I was going out this morning, there was a vehicle about to be towed from our complex parking lot. From the pictures, it may be hard to tell which vehicle is being towed and which is doing the towing. The towing vehicle looks like it's about to fall apart, but it was hitching up the newer vehicle to tow it away. Now, tow truck drivers in the States have a quite sedentary life patrolling the highways for accidents or vehicles in trouble. But once they have their customer, it's a pretty easy process to winch up the car to be towed -- it's all done mechanically. But this morning the towing vehicle had a chain on a pulley and, after the guy attached the chain to the car to be towed, he had to physically pull on the chain to winch up the SUV.  It took a lot of chain pulling and huffing and puffing to lift the back of that SUV.

And, I'm no expert, but isn't it going to mess up this SUV to be towed with its rear wheels up in the air?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The 283rd good thing about Lagos: So far I haven't been harmed by the Sigidi!

These little figures look pretty harmless and even kind of cute.  The tall one is maybe 8 inches high.  But to followers of Yoruba traditional religion, these sigidi are very powerful.  I learned about them at a lecture at the National Museum, where they displayed these two examples.  Sigidi are orisas, or demi-god figures with the power to do evil or harm.  We were told they belong to the sub-diety category of medicine, which differs from other orisa.  These belong more to the realm of magic rather than the sphere of religion.  But every respectable Yoruba priest will have at least one of these in his shrine.

When a sigidi is fully "developed," the spirit that it houses can be sent out to do evil deeds.  The speaker said that the sigidi is used to be sent out on an evil mission. They are never used for good deeds.  They can be used for revenge, or used to settle scores, or to know the truth in a conflict.  After an aggrieved person makes an offering to the priest with a plea for the power of the sigidi, the priest will offer an incantation which gives the sigidi's spirit the power to inflict injury to the designated recipient. 

When I left the museum, I asked my driver if he knew about the sigidi.  I was relieved when he said he had never heard about it.  I think it's best if this one is kept on the down-low.  In fact, why am I writing about this at all?  You're all my friends, right?

The 282nd good thing about Lagos: varieties of flour with instructions

Grocery stores in the United States usually stock a variety of flour -- white, whole wheat, unbleached, cake, self-raising, etc.  In stores here there are the usual white and whole wheat (at times -- we cannot count on any store having in stock what we need -- there are constant supply issues), but also totally different kinds of flour than I would find in the States -- yam flour, rice flour, bean flour, cassava fufu flour.

I thought this bag of flour I bought was interesting with the list of uses.  It "Can be used for the following way:  Baking of Bread, Baking of Cakes, Baking of Meat Pies, Baking of Fish Rolls, Baking of Chin-Chin, and For any hardened of food."  You don't get that comprehensive a list on any bag of American Pillsbury flour!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 281st good thing about Lagos: helpful people around the embassies

Visas are always a frustrating issue for expatriates in Nigeria.  I don't know how many pages of my passport are taken up with Nigerian visas, but I know it's plenty.  Getting a multiple entry visa that lasts a year is like the Holy Grail.   Often there are issues with expatriate quotas and work permits and when our visa expires, we are only allowed a short-term, and sometimes even just a single entry visa.  In the month I've been back, the guy who handles this with the company has had our passports and he's been supposed to be getting us new Nigerian visas, as last time we just got single entry visas.  He still hadn't gotten them, but we had to ask him to give us our passports back.  We are looking forward to a trip to India in a couple of weeks and we needed to get our Indian visas, which takes a week.  Our apartment is right next to the Indian High Commission, where they issue the visas, so it was an easy walk over there one morning this week.  I had my application forms completed, with passport pictures attached.  As I walked up to get in line, I was approached by several Nigerians asking if I needed passport photos.  "No, I have them," I told them.  They then asked me if I had my yellow card showing my immunizations.  I hadn't known this was needed, as it wasn't listed on the application -- and I'm not sure it was, though most Nigerians waiting had theirs in hand.  The guys held out a completed yellow card ready for purchase, with immunizations already stamped.  I told them I would just walk home and get my accurate yellow card, and my neighbors in line agreed to hold my spot for me.  When I returned, the helpful Nigerians asked if they could help provide me with a copy of an airline itinerary or hotel reservation.  Luckily, I had those already in hand.  But it's interesting to know that they could provide any documentation necessary right on the spot for travellers trying to get a visa!  Maybe they could help our company visa guy, who will have to get us new Nigerian visas in a week after we get our passports back from the Indian High Commission, something he wasn't able to do in the past month.  I'm afraid it's going to be a nail biter, getting our passports back in time...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The 280th good thing about Lagos: Balogun market

I had a spontaneous trip to Balogun market when a friend invited me to go there with her after the museum lecture.  Her son was in Lagos visiting and she wanted him to have a real Nigerian market experience.  Balogun market is very nearby, but we are advised to go their with security, as it can be a rough area.  So it takes some organization to get there, and I jumped at the opportunity to join with them.  There's a big variety of goods available in this market area, but the big attraction for us is fabric.  But I did take some pictures of things that we didn't go for -- like these dried fish, which were really long.  I hadn't seem them quite like this before.
 Need any cow stomach?
 Here's how we usually see dried fish -- curved into a circle with a skewer and then dried.
 And then there are some hoofs.  Really don't know how they will use these.
 The streets are full with lots of people carrying lots of things on their heads.

 The white people always get lots of cries of "oyibo."  There are so many thousands of stalls with so many fabrics.  I don't know how they stay in business.  There are areas of the market for different kinds of fabric -- for juvenile fabrics, men's clothing fabric, upholstery fabric, glittery fabric, etc.  I'm sure I haven't explored even a small portion of what's available there.

 Plenty of purses hanging for sale in this shop.
 Kind of hard to see in this picture, but there are lots of coral beads for sale in this shop.  There's a whole area of the market for beads.
 After we got our fabric purchases at Balogun, my friend wanted to go take a look at the Yaba Market area.  I had a visit to Yaba Market four years ago.  At that time, we were commenting on how this building was a fire trap, as it had floors of cloth piled high and kerosene lamps all over to light the building.  Well, about 6 months after our visit, the building burned down.  I had heard that they were rebuilding the market building and it was amazing to see how huge this market will be.  There are plenty of sellers all spread out around the market that is being built.  We didn't get out of the car, but just looked from the windows, so my pictures have the glare from the car window.  I don't know if we'll still be in Lagos when this market is finished, but this will be another really interesting shopping experience when it opens.

 We decided not to get meat for dinner from these guys chopping it up.

You can't really tell from these pictures how enormous this market will be, but it is several blocks wide in each direction.  I hope they finish it soon! 

The 279th good thing about Lagos: learning about the talking drum and a fond and caring farewell

When I am free, I enjoy going to the museum for a cultural lecture on Wednesday mornings.  This is designed to be kind of an in-service training for museum staff, but they open it up for expats to attend to allow us to have our own cultural learning.  The first lecture of the fall season was on the talking drum in Yoruba traditional society.

Here's some of what I learned:  The talking drum was originally created as a means of communication.  It was used by the Alaafin, the royal head of the Oyo kingdom, to motivate his army during war.  It was used as an alarm clock at the beginning of the day and a signal at the end of the day.  The morning song for the Alaafin basically tells him "wake up and put on your trousers," meaning, your responsibility cannot be delegated.  The talking drum was also used to preserve the history of the people.  Stories were told, accompanied by the drum, and then the melody of the drum would remind the people of the histories, so the words of the stories weren't necessary.  They believed the drum had a magical power, as it could evoke emotions.  Other drums were made to address only one god, but the talking drum could speak to many gods, and also address royalty, deceased ancestors, and a drum for politicians.  It is believed to be the youngest drum, but also the most powerful, because of its ability to imitate tonal language. 

The drum is shaped like an hourglass, with two heads sown together with leather.  The strings that circle the two drum heads are squeezed and pulled to give the drum beat a different tone.

The talking drum is the mainstay of Yoruba drumming tradition. It is used to praise God and "highly placed people." It adapts to accompany all styles of music. The speaker closed by saying the drum is a gift from the Yoruba people to the entire universe.  Doesn't that make you feel special?

At the museum this day there was also a special ceremony saying goodby to Melissa, who has been a regular and long-time attendee and supporter at the museum, as well as the Lagos expat community in general.  Her husband passed away suddenly in August and she is getting ready to leave Lagos.   I was touched by the warmth and caring the museum staff showed to her.  They gave her a nice gift, spoke a beautiful prayer asking for God to watch over her, sang "For she's a jolly good fellow" and another farewell song, where some got up to dance her a goodby dance.  We wish you all the best as you move forward, Melissa!

The 278th good thing about Lagos: market shopping in Abeokuta

Abeokuta is known for its indigo dye pits and fabric design.  We had a nice walk through the fabric market and fabric dying area.  Lots of fabric was laying on the ground or hung on lines in various stages of the dying process.  Tubs of indigo dye were all over the place and the draining furrows in the ground were stained blue. 

 I loved the painted illustration on this maternity home.

 The market area of town was busy on this holiday.  Of course, we couldn't get away without buying some fabric!

 I couldn't get to my camera fast enough to get a close up of the lady in this next picture, but she has quite a load of plastic ware on top of her head, plus a baby on her back.  I'm always amazed at what they can balance!
 On our drive out of town, we had to stop after we passed our church's building in Abeokuta.  We were kind of envious looking at this building that looked like an oasis in the bustling, ramshackle city.
 We wish our church building was like this one!
 On the drive home, I had to stop and buy another yam pounder.  One really isn't enough!