Ìyàwó: Wife of Fortune
It was an open Saturday at our hostel.
On the way to my grandparents’ house, I ran into a wedding party.
I met Iya Oyo curiously inspecting a large, covered bowl when I arrived home.
“The wedding party brought the food,” she said.
The delicious aroma from the dish left me gasping for air. From the aroma, I could tell it was jollof rice.
Iya Oyo was glad to see me. She opened the cover of the bowl and stared inside the bowl with a scowl, mistrust clearly written on her face.
“That food smells great,” I remarked, hungry.
“Perfect,” Iya Oyo said. “God-sent is your first name. I would have thrown the food out to the free-range chickens outside. They eat anything thrown at them.”
“Why?” I was surprised. Jollof rice is food to die for. She was going to throw it away?
“We don’t particularly like rice,” Baba Oyo said. “And this one looks and smells funny.”
“It’s jollof rice, Baba Oyo,” I said. “That’s why it looks like that. Taste it; you’ll like it.”
Baba Oyo pulled a face.
“Okay, you like it,” Iya Oyo responded, “it’s all yours. Give me amala and gbegiri any day. This one looks fit only for the birds.”
I jumped at the bowl. It was a lot of food meant for several people. But I was hungry enough for ten diners. In minutes, I had far into the large bowl but wasn’t anywhere near the bottom.
Iya Oyo looked at me with wonderment. She brought me some water to drink. I gulped it down and gave up on the food. It was too much even for a wolf like me.
“Comfort is finally getting married,” Baba Oyo said. “Everybody was getting worried that she might be getting rather late—“
“You were getting worried,” Iya Oyo interrupted. “We are not gossiping about her.”
“Why do they call wedding Ìgbéyàwó?” I asked, after belching.
“Ìyàwó is the woman you married, obviously,” Baba Oyo said.
“Why is it not Ìgbọkọ–ọkọ being a husband?”
Baba Oyo smiled and shook his head, then cleared his throat and launched into an explanation. “In Yoruba, there is a story about Iyawo. It means Ìyà Ìwó. The interpretation is, ‘This is the reward for all the suffering and troubles I went through in the town of Iwo.’
Iya Oyo grunted as if had a problem with that story.
“It is a long story,” Baba Oyo continued. “In short, this particular groom went through all manners of endurance tests, competing with other suitors, before he finally succeeded in landing the beautiful princess of Iwo as his wife. When people congratulated him, he would sigh and say, ‘She is the reward for all my troubles (Ìyà) in the town of Ìwó. She is my Ìyà Ìwó.’ That is the meaning of Iyawo.”
Iya Oyo waited patiently for him to finish his story, before grunting, “That’s the sorry tale you men like telling each other.”
“What do you mean?” Baba Oyo snapped at her.
“We women have a totally different narrative,” Iya Oyo said.
I glanced up. Iya Oyo never disappointed me.
“In those days, before weddings,” Iya Oyo began, “the bride’s friend spent quality time with the bride for at least a week before the wedding. We told stories, shared cuisine tips and discussed things important to women. One of the stories we shared was the meaning of Iyawo.”
“Who shared the Iyawo story to the others?” Baba Oyo wanted to know. “Who authored the story?”
“I did,” Iya Oyo admitted. “It was a story-telling session, it was my turn, and I came up with a story to share with the others.”
“That’s what I thought,” Baba Oyo said, reaching for his tobacco pipe before settling on a chair to listen.
“Tell us the story,” I clamored, not interested in its authorship.
“There was a young and very poor man called Àpọ́n,” Iya Oyo said. “He was miserable because he was lonely, poverty-ridden and depressed. He approached Ifa to find a solution. Ifa advised him to look for a crowd-pulling attraction, a compelling ‘all-come-and-see’ (that is, an ì-yà-wò ó in Yoruba).
“The man was smart. He thought, ‘Get something so compellingly attractive that people cannot resist gawking at? What else is that but a maiden?’ Later, he saw an attractive maiden and approached her to be his Ì-yà-wòó, his compelling come-and-see.
“She agreed and moved in with him. For three months, he kept her in a special room in his house. He told people, ‘I have in my house someone so compelling, you just have to see her.’
“Everybody in the town did. As crowds came to yà wá wòó, they brought gifts. Some brought clothes, shoes and bags of money as gifts as they stopped by to see the attraction. Soon Àpọ́n, the poor man, became wealthy. He named her Ìyàwó–the crowd puller.
“Ìyàwó turns a poor fellow into a fortunate person. Without the Iyawo, the life of a bachelor is miserable. Iyawo is the wealth of a man. Ohun tí gbogbo èèyàn ń yà wò ni ìyàwó. Other bachelors followed Apon’s example, saying among themselves, ‘Go and find yourself an Ìyàwó to rid yourself of poverty.’
“I got a standing ovation from my friends when I shared that story,” Iya Oyo said, nostalgically.
“Nectar-tongue,” Baba Oyo concluded. “Tomorrow, visiting farms to check on workers. Coming?”
“We go together,” Iya Oyo said. “You are clueless without me, your Ìyàwó.”
She packed the leftover food in a plate, and place it in a bag.
“You,” she told me, “take the leftover with you when you return to your hostel. You seem to like the jollof rice, or whatever you call it.”
As I completed this painting last night, I toasted all Àpọ́ns and potential Ìyàwós.
Èdùmàrè will answer our prayers.
I thought Iya Oyo’s story’s about Iyawo made more sense than Baba Oyo’s version.
What do you think?
Happy Birthday to Me, a joyful Àpọ́n grateful to Olodumare, at 66.