Oya Chronicles: ‘In Conversation With My Mother’ Starring Funmi Iyanda

In Conversation With My Mother is a vibrant and enchanting one night event, bridging spoken word, dance, art, and music, into the telling of an inspiring story. Oya Chronicles cleverly synergizes Funmi's haunting dialogue with her mother, with the artistic ...
In Conversation With My Mother is a vibrant and enchanting one night event, bridging spoken word, dance, art, and music, into the telling of an inspiring story. Oya Chronicles cleverly synergizes Funmi's haunting dialogue with her mother, with the artistic brilliance of Gbolahan Ayoola and his muse: The Blue Woman, which forms the foundational symbol of the evening. The evening includes a dance performance, the auction of a single Ayoola Artwork for charity, a dialogue between Funmi and Ayoola, a live vinyl mixer, and a spoken word poetry performance. Chronicles is a rare chance to see a very limited collection of Ayoola's masterful works, before his first UK solo exhibition; and the unique experience of witnessing Funmi Iyanda talk on stage. Oya Chronicles is taking place on August 27, 2017 at Kachette London, UK. Event Details

Theory of Death: In Conversation with my Mother 

Funmi: So, Did you die?

Yetunde: Yes.

Funmi: That’s a relief; I spent too long thinking you may be lost. Yetunde: Lost, how? Funmi: I knew you would not have abandoned us but since we couldn’t find your body and l didn’t want you to be dead, l imagined you lost your memory and was wandering the streets. I would look closely at those unfortunate souls led around in chains by white garment church healers checking that you were not one of them. I learnt the word amnesia, which was a big word for a skinny girl in primary four to carry around.

Yetunde: It must have been hard.

Funmi: It didn’t feel so initially, everything came later. So, how did you die?

Yetunde: l was just, no more.

Funmi: Do you remember the events of that morning?

Yetunde: Do you?

Funmi: I have no recollection of that day other than after dark when people started to gather and chatter around our house.

Artwork to be auctioned at the event.




Aunty mi Toyin told me years later that she had ironed your dress for work and you’d had a little quarrel with Daddy mi who didn’t think you should be returning to work so early after a difficult pregnancy and birth. She wished for years that she had somehow stopped you. Daddy must have beaten himself up about that too. I envied her memory of your last day alive.

Yetunde: What memories do you have?

Funmi: Only little snap shots, the clearest of which is you sitting outside our house in Onabola examining my bag after school to be sure there was nothing in there that didn’t belong to me. I was scared of you, you were the one with the cane. I also remember your laugh, your dance and that scar on your forehead from the accident in Ijebu. I allowed no memories for decades until recently when l started recalling moments of your tenderness. One of the most vivid is of you moisturising your skin and my fascination with the stretch marks on the stomach and buttocks of your lithe body. You‘d had eight children by age 39. I used to be sure l’d not make it to 40 either so l did everything like time was ticking away. Anyways, l’m talking too much which is strange because l hadn’t kept a picture of you for 35 years, l did not want to see you.

Yetunde: So, how are you Aduke.

Funmi: I don’t know Maami. I killed Aduke early on but kept Mary for a while, then I adopted Funmi until l discovered recently that Aduke hadn’t died. I’m trying to persuade her it’s safe to come out to play again. She’s pretty cool, that one, Aduke, so fragile. Why did you call her Aduke?

Yetunde: Because you were considerably loved, I already had four daughters from two marriages; l wanted a son for your father. You were not a son but you were so lively and beautiful, everyone fell in love with you so we called you Aduke. You are the only one of my children we called by her oriki because your oriki is your reality. Why did you become Funmi?

Funmi: I guess Aduke seemed to represent everything l wanted to leave behind, what l perceived to be my vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It wasn’t conscious. You and daddy had registered me as Mary for school so l was one person at home and another in school. School came to represent an escape so l preferred Mary till l got to university when l no longer felt like a Mary. There, one of my friends asked what my other names were, l said Funmilola, so we both adopted Funmi as l didn’t want anyone but daddy and aunty mi Toyin calling me Lola in that affectionate way of theirs which is too much like love. Not that l realised all this at the time. I just became Funmi, which my 20 year old self thought was funky, distant and safe. All my certificates are still to Mary Aduke. Anyway I am digressing. How did you die maami?

Yetunde: What does it matter?

Funmi: It does because it drove me mad imagining how you may have died. That madness didn’t abate till l became Funmi. Through my teenage years l wondered what it was like to be burned alive, seeing so many lynchings on the streets in Lagos didn’t help. I used to stand by and watch mobs set some randomly accused young man ablaze , l never saw them lynch women. I would watch the doomed man struggle then go limp as he loses the futile plea with the flames. The gnarled blackened corpse always seemed to point upwards accusingly.

Yetunde: What does that have to do with my death?

Funmi: No one ever explained what may have happened to you. Everyone thinks children are stupid, l did something similarly thoughtless. I did not allow my Morenike out of school for her aunty Remi’s burial. Remi was a mother figure to both of us. She later told me how bad she felt about that and how sad she was to loose Remi, I do let her talk and laugh about her Aunty Remi’s idiosyncrasies. I also let her talk about Daddy mi whom she called Grandpa Badagry, and Mama Seun our housekeeper. They all died one after the other and rather unexpectedly, although one really must think death a constant expectation. l let Morenike talk about everything she wants, I hope what l do suffices, you never know with children.

Yetunde: Why did you call her Morenike?

Funmi: I didn’t, her father’s father did, he was blind which helped him see everything. I gave her a name in resignation to the entrapment l had allowed myself into at the time. She likes the name because it seems choppy and modern. Boluwatife, as God wills. She likes Bolu or Tife , which seems very androgynous and cool but she is a Morenike, one to pamper and cherish. I think she’s happier with it now, Mo is an abbreviation that suits her personality. She doesn’t like small talk and girly stuff that fries the brain as she calls it. I have explained that intellect is not male or female, it just is. I told her that it’s ignorance or deliberate mischief that make people assign masculinity to clarity of mind and forthright speech in women. I let her know that intelligence is taught, as is ignorance.

Yetunde: Why did you have just the one?

Funmi: I actually didn’t want any, it felt like l had spent my life being a mother to many, l also didn’t trust life enough to bestow it upon anyone else. Does this make sense Maami?

Yetunde: Yes it does

Funmi: The irony of it of course is that what you run from becomes you as l went on to become mother to too many but we can talk about that later.

Yetunde: So who eventually told you l had died

Funmi: Nobody did. As a child you sort of eavesdrop on adult conversations, to be honest you don’t even have to because they just talk as if you are deaf. I imagine we must have been the last thing on anyone’s mind in the circumstance beyond ensuring we were fed, cleaned and sent to school. School became different because l was the kid who’s mother’s picture had been published on the missing persons’ page of the Daily Times. The teachers were kinder and the kids crueller, nobody was normal.

Yetunde: Who told you I had died Aduke?

Funmi: Please don’t call me that, it hurts in my chest. I just overheard the conclusion from the many adults, it may have been any combination of Aunty mi Toyin, Mama Shylon, Uncle Nat, Mama Sharafa or Daddy. They said you must have been in the Molue that caught fire on that functionally useless bridge in Jibowu, adjacent to old kalakuta republic. They said the driver had a jerry can of fuel in his compartment and had struck a match to his cigarette causing an explosion. A few people escaped but most others were burned beyond recognition. Nigeria has been problematic for a long time. I remember that daddy and some others had to go to the morgue to try to identify you but couldn’t. So the bus explosion death became the theory of your death. It makes sense because that was your route to work although you should have got off before Jibowu. Perhaps you were headed to Ibru fisheries at Ijora to negotiate bulk purchases for the restaurant you were finally going to start in Illupeju. You already had the land and furniture, you were finally done with child bearing. You wanted to build a business. All these l pieced together listening to the adults talk. It was a theory I sensed they didn’t fully believe because the search for you went on for another year with many false sightings yo-yoing our sanity. By the way, we never got your insurance pay-out because they didn’t believe the theory of your death.

Yetunde: I am sorry, who was taking care of you and the boys?

Funmi: Daddy, Aunty mi Toyin and Mama Sharafa but then Aunty mi left because Daddy and Mama Shylon had a big row, he drew a line across the yard and threatened to behead her if she ever crossed the line into our house again. I hear she did something horrible, I just thought it strange that she ate a lot and never seemed to cry. They said she sacrificed you, being a witch and all, because you were her only daughter for your father. She probably had a thyroid disease or ate in grief but those were horrible times and I saw a lot of it. Strange, I too am your only daughter for my father. We didn’t see my older sisters again for years nor Mama Shylon and the rest of your family for even longer. It was just Daddy, the boys and me.

Yetunde: How are your brothers?

Funmi: Mostly fine but you will have to talk with them as l have often wondered how it affected them, we don’t talk about it, we are a stoic lot and boys don’t cry. Daddy cried though, many times, although he tried to hide it.

Yetunde: You said you saw some horrors. What did you see?

Funmi: I’d rather not say now but I did see you. I clearly saw you. One day on the bus going to school, you sat across from me. I knew it was you, I’d recognise that scar on your forehead anywhere. It was you but you wore one of your Ibo double wrappers instead of a work dress. I wondered why you’d do that seeing as it was a workday. You were smiling across at me and l wanted to run unto your laps but couldn’t make my body move, I sat rooted and terrified because it was you, yet. I kept willing you to talk to me but you just smiled so I jumped off the bus scared. When l got home, l told Aunty mi Toyin l’d seen you so a search party went in that direction. They did not find you of course so Aunty mi broke down in tears, l laughed and told her it was joke. I said that to console her but they beat me for being flippant and stupid, l know l saw you. I also knew l wanted to help my sister feel better. l still tend do that sort of stupid to make people feel better thing.

Yetunde: Darling, it wasn’t me, it was you.
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    • Admin
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