IS YORUBA CULTURE POLYGAMOUS?
The secondary school rusticated me for being part of a riot that the students organized and carried out with meticulous sagacity.
Flabbergasted, I traveled to Ile Ife where we lived, from Oyo, where I schooled.
“Did you really participate in the riot?” my father asked.
“I did not,” I answered.
“I didn’t think you were capable of doing that,” my father said.
“I would be impressed with myself,” I told him, “if I could actually participate in a riot. I can’t stand the noise, for one. And the rowdiness would make me demophobic. It’s simply a psychological deficiency in me. I see a large gathering, and I automatically move in the other direction. I prefer to watch from a distance.”
“I know,” my father responded. “Really worried about you. Seems like you’ll be alright.”
“I’m fine,” I assured him. “I’m just bothered that my solitude largely earned me the rustication. You-don’t-know-what-he-is-doing-or-where-he-is-therefore-crucify-him sort of mentality. Why can’t they just lay off me? That’s why the school authority is trying to get rid of me. They can’t seem to figure me out.”
“Don’t worry about them,” my father concluded. “What’s your plan, now?”
“This is February,” I told him, “and the West African School Certificate exams are in June. I’ll just sit down and study. The principal said I could return in June to take the exams, with strict conditions. I couldn’t stay in the hostels. I would come in on any day I had a paper, and wait by the main gate. The security would take me to the exam hall, I would take the exam, and be escorted out to the gate immediately after the paper. I was not allowed to interact with any student.”
“Sounds fair,” my father concluded. “Will you need private tutoring?”
“Nope. I’ll be fine,” I assured him. “Just food, water and books, and I should be okay.”
“Fine,” my father said. “I believe you will get your three requests here.”
“In May, a month before the exam,” I continued, “may I return to Oyo and stay with grandma and grandpa? I can do the final lap of studying at their house, and from there go and take the exams.”
“It’ up to you,” my father said. “If you think that’s better than staying here until June, it’s your decision. I must warn you, your grandparents are some odd couple.”
“I know,” I said. “I take after them perhaps more than after you.”
That was how I ended up with my grandparents in May 1973.
They gave me a room, and I spent all my time locked up, studying for the WASC exams, as soon as the sun rose, and until it set.
In the evening, my grandpa would knock on my door.
“Moyo,” grandpa would say, “it’s enough studying for one day. Come and join us outside.”
And I would join my grandparents under the large tree in front of the house.
For the most part, we said nothing. We just sat there watching the progress of the moon, until grandma said “Time to go to bed.” And we would all go in for the night.
It is true that grandpa and grandma were strange as a couple. He was tall and fair, and she was short and dark. He could read and write, and she couldn’t. He was a Christian and she worshiped Orisa.
Yet they stayed married and lived together for more than sixty years until my grandpa transitioned in 1976.
They had three children. My father was the second child and the first male. His sister was the first.
My grandparents would sit in front of the house under the tree, smoking their pipes, hardly saying anything. I would also sit quietly with them.
All my grandpa’s friends married two or more wives and had many children.
One evening, as we sat under the tree, watching the moon, I broke the silence.
“Baba Oyo,” I said, “why do you have only one wife? Everybody has many wives.”
He chuckled. My grandmother said nothing. I couldn’t see her face clearly, but it seemed she was smiling.
“You want me to take a second wife?” grandpa asked.
“No,” I said quickly. “Just wondering. Doesn’t the indigenous Yoruba culture demand that you have many wives?”
“It’s too much stress,” grandpa said. “This woman here is good enough for me.”
Grandma cleared her throat. She said, “A handsome man like him. Lots of women love him. I even brought home one of my friends for him, and he refused to consider marrying her.”
“You mean Idowu? It’s still not too late,” grandpa said, joking. “Go and look for her and bring her.”
“She is happily married,” grandma said. “Tomorrow, when the young woman hawking cheese gets here, I’ll tell her to move in here, dirty old man.”
Grandfather chuckled. “Is she going to pay rent? I can do with some of her cheese money.”
“You can have all of her cheese too,” grandma teased him. “In addition to her money. She’ll happily hand over both to you, the way she looks at you every day.”
Grandpa turned to me, saying, “See how much trouble this woman is? Now imagine her trouble multiplied by two.”
“When you eat one piece of crayfish, and it’s delicious,” grandma said, “won’t you take another piece?”
“Moyo,” grandpa told me, “don’t let women give you constipation. Ifa, in an important Odu, insists that one-man-one-wife is the best way to be.”
“But no Babalawo follows that rule,” grandma reminded him. “Hey, it’s late, time to go to bed.
I had such a great time studying with my grandparents in their idyllic home, that I had Grade One in the WASC. When they released the result, the stone that the builder refused had the best result in the entire school.
Could I have done so well if my grandfather had several wives?
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