By Lasisi Olagunju

Persons who answer Ijebu typically party as hard as they work. They sweat out their heart to make money; they rock their money in ways that add value to their personal and group existence. Their pitch could be high, it could be mid or low; what they choose depends on what point they want to prove. In doing these, they skillfully walk the thin line of balanced responsibility. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo transited to immortality in May 1987, Fuji mega star, Kollington Ayinla, sang about Ijebu’s unmatchable ability to balance their acts. He said “the yams of the Ijebu are six. They sell two; they eat two. The remaining two they give to their gods (Isu méfà ni’su Ìjèbú/ Wón nta méjì; wón nje méji sí’kùn ara won/ Ó l’Órìsà tí wón nfi méjì t’ókù bo…”).

I find them a fascination. I am writing this not because I am Ijebu; I am not one of them. I am a proper Òyó-Yoòbá. Never poor players too; but we are a people who can be loud and subtle at the same time. My lineage is Ìlòkó, Erúmosá omo aj’óbalólele/ Tètù o j’óba l’óhùn èrò (offspring of forebears who never answered the king softly). If you think not speaking softly to the king should have consequences, it means you’ve not heard Oyo say: Màá wí, màá wí/ oba kìí mú òkorin (speak out, the king does not arrest the bard).

Malawians say “life is when you are together, alone you are an animal.” I don’t know if the Ijebu have an anthem – old or new. But I know their oríkì glides with their gait: Oni mi je nu’bu omo Olúweri/ Omo Aj’ebu j’osa de Igbobini/Omo As’ale jeje booni nobinren/A b’aya kun’le tititi (Rovers of the deep sea, offspring of Oluweri/ Rovers of deep waters as far as Igbobini/Whose forebear indulged concubines as if not married/Whereas his home is packed full of women). If you want more of this, my source, Ayinde Abimbola’s ‘Poets as Historians’ has the oríkì in full.

Flavour, the musician in his ‘Big Baller’ asks: “How much is money?” He goes on to assert that “it’s nothing.” Flavour has probably not met them – the Ijebu. They say they are money (Kékeré Ijebu owó/àgbà Ijebu owó). They are wealthy because they don’t walk alone; they bond, holding hands in life and in business. They band in dancing too. They lace their drumbeats with sèkèrè – the netted, rattling gourd which does not go on outings of shame. Their drums, in shrill and mellow tones, remind them of their forebears who had been spending dollars before the Oyinbo man arrived these shores. For them, it is “premium or nothing.” Their neighbours secretly envy them.

Three days after the Ileya festival last week, the Ijebu-Yoruba, home and abroad, staged their annual breathtaking Ojude Oba festival. Their paramount ruler, the Awujale, Oba Sikiru Adetona, aged and glorious, sat at the event receiving the tens of age-grade groups of his male and female ‘children’. Those ones, the ‘regbe-regbe’, gaily dressed, came around to pay homage to their oba. They do it every year and there is no sign that they will ever get tired of doing so. On horse backs there were ‘aristocrats’ said to be from warrior families in Ijebuland. Others from other illustrious and not so illustrious segments of the land staged their own acts in colours that dim the rainbow. People danced; horses pirouetted; the ground quaked.

They came out heavier this year than they ever did, and so heavy have been the reviews. There have been ‘disputes’ and ‘fights’ on several internet platforms on the event. Some question the ‘sanity’ and the ‘wisdom’ in spending so much just to show how wealthy a people are. Some of the critics insist Ojude Oba is nothing more than an annual display of ostentation and flamboyance. Some say they only come home to party, they don’t build factories and set up businesses at home; others say they should spend on renewing the rust of their city. I reacted in a Yoruba leaders’ WhatsApp group at the weekend that the bonding across age groups that we see yearly at Ojude Oba, to me, trumps all charges of ostentatious display of wealth.

I ask if the value of everything should be calculated in naira and kobo, brick and mortar? One of the greatest bequests of Ancient Greece to the modern world is their art – their drama and festivals. But the drama and festival-loving Greeks were sternly rebuked for investing generously in these ‘wasteful’ items of art. Read David Pritchar’s ‘Costing Festivals’. Pioneer economic historian, August Boeckh, attacked Athenians for “squandering away public revenue in shows and banquets…” Plutarch accused third-century Athenians of spending more on the production of tragedies (drama) than on the maintenance of their empire. Plutarch, in his ‘On the Glory of Athens’ wrote that: “If the cost of the production of each drama were reckoned, the Athenian people would appear to have spent more on the production of ‘Bacchaes’ and ‘Phoenician Women’ and ‘Oedipuses’.