This is part 2 of an ongoing series. In part one, Moyo wrote about his early years in London and his father’s decision to take the family to Nigeria.
I come from a huge family, a country bordering three continents and my experiences are vast. I will be sharing them in time. In the great tradition of Alex Haley, one of the greatest writers America has ever seen, I continue this series.
When I returned to Lagos, Nigeria (in West Africa), I was only five years old and spoke only English. My father’s reasons for returning to Nigeria — he had been living in England where he had been working and studying for some 15 years — were numerous. The Nigerian “Blafran War” had ended. It was a Nigerian version of the American Civil War. My father had finished his electrical engineering degree and had obtained a good job at the famous Pinewood Studios. He had worked for directors such as Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby).
Nigeria had been independent from British Colonial rule for 10 years and my father was homesick. This is the reason my father wanted to return to Nigeria. But he had met my mother in England. I affectionately refer to her as “The Baroness Elizabeth” from Germany, a Hanoverian. Recently I learned that Britain was ruled by the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, royalty going back many centuries (the DNA results are pending in that department).
My father was, quite simply, the proudest person I knew. He never asked anybody for anything throughout his life. He was a master of corporal discipline and regularly beat me and my sisters with a cow whip when we misbehaved. His favorite saying was “You will not disgrace the family name.” In fact, years later, when I had an arranged marriage in 1990 to a lady I affectionately called the ‘ballerina’ (because that was what she was), it was my father’s reputation as a fiercely proud man that sealed the marriage agreement. She was an upper-class lady.
Then, in 1970, I returned to Nigeria with my mother, the German aristocrat, art historian and theatrical costume designer. As a white woman, the early years of her life were difficult. There were few white people in the country, so I, my sister and mother were constantly taunted while on forays to the market and to the village. One of the favorite sayings of the locals was “White person, if you eat pepper, you will become whiter.” I hated that.
Then, in 1990, we moved to Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. In those days there was a lot of bush along with snakes, malaria and other threats to existence. My father immediately enrolled me in grade one. I was five years old. The school was called the Maryland Primary School and was a Catholic school. There were people in grade one that were 12 and 13 years old and had come from the villages to be educated in the Capital. I was the youngest.
My dad was adamant that I should learn how to speak Yorusa, the native African language of my tribe, hence he took me to the village at every opportunity. As a result, I speak and understand Yorusa and still interact with all my relatives and, of course, my school friends.
After I ran away from home at the tender age of 16 I went back to England. It would be 6 years until I returned to Nigeria and my family. My mom had long since returned to Germany with my brother, someone who spoke only German. When my mother died at the age of 58 in 1998, I was in University in England doing some more college. This was when I noticed the Hanoverian coats of arms on certain family artifacts and old books, some centuries old. I remember many incidents during my lower grade school years, and if I don’t, my sister will surely remind me.
I must have been 11 or 12 years old when I first heard my family history on the talking drum. I was on the first floor of the 22-room family mansion, in the center of the village looking out from the balcony at the drummers, Mas Quesadas, and the crowds gathered below.
The name of my village is Isd Ago Odo and it is less than a mile from Africa’s most famous landmark, the Olumo Rock. My family has lived in this village for centuries and the Rock has been here for millennia. Every time I went to the village for ceremonies and holidays I used to play at the Rock or climb to the top. Now they have steps, but if you cannot climb, you could be carried up to the top.
The Rock is unique for many reasons. At the top sits a tree, solitary I might add, with leaves that have not withered for 200 years. It was at this Rock that the slave traders from Dahomey were defeated in the early 18th century by the Yorubas. It was at this Rock that rumors began about three Europeans who fell to their deaths when they tried to drive stakes into the Rock and some kind of liquid burst forth, throwing them off the mountain. Three metal plaques now mark the spot at the very apex.
There are numerous caves existing within the Rock and it has something to do with the coronation of the Yoruba kings called Obasast but not least, there are numerous shrines littered with African carvings and artifacts by Yoruba master carvers. This includes the Olowe of Ise, who carved the centerpiece of the African American Museum in Washington. A lot of pregnant African women visit this Rock because they believe it bestows spiritual and physical gifts on their babies.
It also appears there are certain attributes of greatness that go with being Yoruba! My brother, Folawiyo “Fola” Onibuje, is a famous soccer player. One of Africa’s most famous musicians calls me when he is in America on tour. My son, Lgoge Onibuje is in the U.S. Air Force.
Now, how then did I become “homeless?”
This is a completely alien term to me. I was well into my forties and my efforts to educate people and help them, not just in the area of homelessness but particularly poverty, will be continued in part three of “My Name is Moyo.”
(to be continued)