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Seeing Ogiame off to the stars (1)


Olu Of Warri

Olu Of Warri

Ogiame Atuwatse II, the 19th Olu of Warri, has begun his Long Journey back to the stars—from whence he, and the rest of us, came.

I attended his symbolic send-off December 3rd, at Ode Itsekiri (“Big Warri”), Delta State. Having worked as Palace Secretary in the 1990s, before shifting my base to Port Harcourt, this was a home coming of sorts.

But the sentiments I read into Ogiame’s gaze, fell just short of a warm welcome. He glared at me from a huge poster, across from where I was seated. Raised eyebrows and pursed lips, sent a cautionary signal from beneath his silver crown.
“J.K.,” the unspoken message said, “you’re free to join us. But let’s get one thing straight. I don’t expect you come here and spoil this occasion with all this your gibberish about ‘stars’ and ‘planets’. I know you very well; and I know what you can do. Don’t try it please!”
“Please,” from Atuwatse, when attached to an instruction, was not in the least plaintive. It was his way of emphasizing the gravity of the situation—a warning that it was in “your own interest,” as he once put it to me, to do exactly as told.

The Olu never scolded or handed down harsh commands. In fact, we worked in very close quarters, when I knew he was under tremendous pressure; and I never heard him swear or raise his voice. I have no explanation. But my guess would be “breeding”.

I sometimes tested his breeding severely. By the time I joined him, I’d become, not just an amateur astronomer but also a devout exponent—an “evangelist,” you might say.

Ogiame was not spared of my proselytizing zeal. On a couple of occasions, when I found the Olu sitting in the courtyard at night, (and gauged him to be in a good mood), I invited Ogiame to leave his chair and come where I was, so I could show him Venus, Jupiter or Mars.

Atuwatse was a staunchly fundamentalist Pentecostal. Like many other adherents of that denomination, he shied away from any discussion of astronomy—possibly because of its historical and cultural association with the esoteric and occult pseudo-science of astrology.

But humility was as fundamental to Atuwatse as his Christian faith. Despite suspicions and reservations, he’d come; and I’d point the planets out. Thinking I had him going, I fantasized about being invited to give a lecture to himself, Olori and the children!

Indeed, I even sent him a note once, proposing just that. As far as I can remember, he never bothered to respond. If he did, it was certainly negative. What I do remember clearly though, is the night I went to the well once too often.

A naked-eye planet, possibly Mars, was extremely bright and highly visible. In my excitement, I called the Olu and stood waiting. But he didn’t move. “Look J.K.,” he said, finally, in his characteristically soft-spoken manner, “I don’t want to hear anything else about this your stars and planets”.

Naturally, I was crushed. But that wasn’t the only astronomy round I lost with the Ogiame. I tried assiduously to interest him in the Awankere Festival (colloquially, “Okere Juju”)—one of the most important surviving fertility right in the world.

Actually Awankere is a lunar festival, as are most fertility rites, no matter the continent or the culture. Still, I thought I might go further with this, because the astronomy is not apparent. But the Olu never bulged!

J.K. Obatala

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