By Anote Ajeluorou
He’d wondered aloud and asked plaintively when news of his mother’s passing reached him while rehearsing for his latest dance drama Because of 1914, ‘how does a poet send his mother home?’ The answer didn’t take long in coming. Quickly, he began to gather his ilk in the writerly world for a poetic feast in his hometown of Iruekpen, Edo State.
For poet, public intellectual and essayist, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, the passing of his mother, Elizabeth Onomonresoa Ofeimun, could not have been more momentous. Against the grain of orthodoxy, the old lady had named him Frederick, a non-biblical name, after that legendary man, Lord Frederick Lugard, who changed a people’s history by the famous amalgamation of 1914 that yoked the Northern and Southern Protectorates that produced a nation still in search of its soul some 100 years after.
Now, Ofeimun was rehearsing a dance piece that gives a affirmation to that historical fiat some 100 years ago when the woman who saw some affinity between his son and that white man joined her ancestors. As Ofeimun himself put the coincidence of his mother’s passing, “It suggested a poetic conjuncture requiring a second look at my personal mythology in relation to national history.
“As it happened, I was named Frederick Lord Lugard, the thug of he Royal Niger Company transformed into a statesman by his amalgamation… The poems being rehearsed for dance drama on the day she died turned out to have a lot to do with Frederick Lugard and the amalgamation. Evidently, she had something for the amalgamator, which made her return to the ancestors on that day virtually a matter of fate. Whether it was whish, will or accident, she had cornered the dance drama for the celebration of her life… In my personal mythology, Lugard has always featured as an indelible notation of origins”.
Indeed, Ofeimun’s mother, Onomonresoa, an Esan word, which means ‘daughters who will be, or are, outlived by, and celebrated, that is, taken home, by their own children’ became a focal poetic celebratory point at her death, with the gathering together many Nigerian poets at her graveside. And so she was taken home by her many ‘poet children’, who serenaded the passing of a poet’s mother.
On Thursday, at Edo State University, Ekpoma, near his Iruekpen town, the performance of Because of 1914 was held, which, according to its writer, Ofeimun, is a drama that enables a people “to reason out their space in the enigma of history, how a people reason out their space in order to have a good life – no matter how defined; it’s the dance drama which I have given poetic accreditation”.
But the dance drama became an inkling of what poetic gesture was to come in celebrating a mother. A collection of poems, Onomonressoa, also in honour of his mother, was put together by fellow poet and teacher, Dr. Obari Gomba of English and Literary Studies, University of Port Harcourt; he was longlisted for The Nigerian Prize for Literature 2013. It’s an anthology of Nigerian poets on mothers and motherhood and features a fine blend of old and young writers.
Even the dedication of the collection is telling in its mastery of subject, “This is to you/Mama Elizabeth Onomonresoa Ofeimun/Mother of Poet, Odia the Owanlen/Mother of minstrels and minstrelsy/We have gathered our songs/To take you home”.
According to its editor, Gomba, Onomonresoa “is the first in a series examining the triumphs and travails of our times within a venturous pursuit of a thematic approach to the appreciation of poetry. Although only Nigerian poets are represented here, the evident ambition is a comprehensive coverage of a theme – in this case, the theme of mothers and motherhood – in the spirit of an international festival of creativity that proudly gives centrality to poetry.
“The suasion is simple: to celebrate one mother in the context of other mothers and motherhood in general. The result is this wide-bodied, rambling and supremely self-engrossed anthology, dutifully and artfully put together”.
After the internment of Onomonresoa in the house her son named after her, poets gathered again in the evening to properly serenade her home in a festival of songs and poems. Although her only son, Ofeimun could complete the house he built for her nor take her to see it before passing, it nonetheless became a symbolic place of songs for mothers, who have been, who are and who will be remembered by poets.
The role call was modest but impressive – Prof. Kole Omotoso, Canada-based Prof. Onookome Okome, House of Representatives aspirant, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, Dr, Obari Gomba, Deinbofa Ere, quo Diana-Abasi Eke, Monday Michael, the all-girl musical group, Topsticks and, of course, Odia Ofeimun among others.