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Ileya: the Joy and Memory of Reunion

For this equilibrium now in sight, let us trust that mankind, as it has occurred in the greatest periods of its past, will find for itself a new code of ethics, common to all, made of tolerance, of courage, and of faith in the Spirit of men.

To so many outside of the South West, Ileya may be a religious festival belonging to Muslims. But to those in South West and some others, Ileya is simply an opportunity for family reunion, a once in a year event when sons and daughters far and near would converge at family house or at any location chosen by the Head of the family and celebrate together. Sometimes, it is the bread winner or the most successful of the family or the oldest of the children (more common) that determine the location in the absence of the father. Ileya is a Yoruba word implying "Let's go home". Let's return to our root.
Ileya...a time the family would converge to remember the departed ones or the bond that tie the famity together. Be it parents or the grandparents... hence every year, people take that vacation to their preferred holiday spot and it is often in atmosphere of love. Whether Muslims, Christians and traditionalists, it was a bond of togetherness and love.

One striking memory that never go away was one of my experiences with my late grandfather. We had arrived the City in the night and the following day, the young me had to follow him early in the morning to his friends'. They are all older and the atmosphere was really cordial and fun. After the introduction and the lifting and pecking, I witnessed a short ceremony where dogs was slaughter and palm-wine shared. They were praying merrily and they were all happy. It was later as I grew older that I found that what I had witnessed was Ogun worship. I had no idea why they did but I was told it was normal. I also have memory of our christian family members joining us in the festivity mood. They came from far and wide with their children if they have any just to make that few days event. Except that they don't always join in Morning (Eid) prayer even though their children do. No one forced anyone and no one deprived anyone of the freedom to join or isolate. As a kid, I remember those years... few days toward to the D-day; I would follow my Dad around the shoe shops to pick up a brand new BATA shoe. BATA was the best brand of shoes in those days as far as I can think of.. And I have to earn my way to get the shoe. Mostly through my academic performance... The rule was clear, I must not drop below first and third and if that happened, I forfeited the right to get a new shoe for my ileya celebration... It was one of those moments we were proud of. You are rewarded for your school performance as well as your good works. Yes, those who are incapable of academic excellence were given different criteria to meet before they can get their new shoes and Aso Odun. At least in my family. Ileya offers time for fun, relaxation and excitement along with sharing of pure love among family members. There were ups and downs, every family want to make sure that everyone is okay. New clothes, healthy rams, new shoes.. and there is always a chance of your meeting someone new in the family tree. Either a new born or someone you didn't know existed. I had few of such memories because I mostly spent my own Ileya with grandpa, who unfortunately, I did not grow up to be with but whose few moments I spent with were some of my best in growing years, and I picked up a lot of things from him which has stayed with me to this days. ileya to me was an opportunity to be around grandpa.. Grandma was a regular face in our home in Agege just as parents are regular. So Grandpa in his typical fila Abeti Aja made things more refreshing especially going to the farm with him and watching him and his friends jovially show off their grand kids. He would proudly tell his friend I am his grandchild and the friends would stroke my head playfully. Some would lift me up while someone would ask me to "dobale" (traditional way of greeting elders). It was their own moment of pride and excitement to have kids from Eko around. After all the drana they would add prayers. i didn't even have to understand the prayer or whose name they prayed. Sometimes I didn't even hear the prayer. I just nodded and say amen and amen and when they are done I would extend my empty palm to demand my "Owo Odun" (Salah money). Oh what is Salah without Owo Odun in those days.? Better don't go home if you can't drop a few coins on children empty palm or else you would be spoiling a memorable day for a little kid and probably kill his mood. But this, to the best of my knowledge did not happen in those days. No matter how poor an adult, once he come for ileya he would drop a few coins. And if there is no coin, a drink would suffice. Naira was still strong, so were our humanity and kindness. Not once did I notice a child frown at a gift being too small. There was unwritten law of contentment. A feeling of gratitude around everyone. As early as the morning can reveal, we would go to the stream nearby (konga) and fetch water... to take our bath. Our destination is Lantoro playground in Abeokuta. It was not the prayers that exited me but the sheer number of the happy crowd and the various drama and sceneries. One of the spectacular events was watching these rich men doll out money in fresh mint to people and there are always enough people. Unfortunately for me, It was forbidden for me take money from strangers. And so people like me can only watch the drama. It is once a year after all. .

It was Lantoro that i first got to know of late MKO Abiola and a couple of rich men I can't remember again.. He always receives special attention as crowd mill around him to have a glimpse of him. I was not able to spot him one on one until much later. My parents would kill me to see me join any rush to take money from anyone. The eagle eyed man never got distracted enough to not watch our steps. To their credit, before we leave home we would be given our Owo Odun and are free do do anything we like with it. Perhaps this was why we were not desperate to take hold of a naira. But we had a heck of sightseeing...

People falling all over one another while some of us just listened to the myths surrounding some famous persons. There are always stories to be told whether you are listening or not however is up to you. Just pay attention. A valuable lesson that I took into adulthood... And these, are what actually made Ileya thicker. We believed every word from them. At one of the Eid, someone told me Awolowo was in town. Even though I never see him. I believed him. After all I was just a kid. And of course I picked up the myth that he lives in the moon and regularly dream of going to see him in the moon.

Back home, every night I would look at the moon hoping to have a glimpse of this man who alone live up there. A habit that metamorphosed into a passion for astronomy. Of course I found out they were all myth but in my ignorance I found knowledge. I can only thank the fantasy tale mongers in the end. They opened my mind to science. A day before Ileya, often evening, would go round and feed the rams with fresh grass "so that they would be bigger the following day". The adults do this actually, but we kids follow. There are hundreds of other people who gathered for the same purpose. And somehow, the exercise that was meant to be grazing of the animals often end up as sports. Ram fight was the main attraction that drew some of us and not the grazing. With the champion rams getting spectacular treatment and the owners received high respect too. Forget the fact that both champion ram and the losers were destined for the same fate few hours later. The pot of soup. And frypan. ileya... that special period of love joy and affection where families renew bond of brotherhood. Where religion differences mean nothing and love with tolerance was everything. Today, I remember. .. I cherish my childhood and my innocence. I cherish the love and respect that flow freely among the kith and kins. I cherish the warm affectation of elders most of whom I grew up not to know better as individuals but whom I picked up something valuable from. I cherish smell of leafs in raining season and the feel of harmattan when the season host the festivity. I cherish the moments when my ignorance turned into valuable wisdom. The joy of knowing is in the discovery. I cherish the sights of familywith diverse religion background coming together as one. I cherish the food and drinks and most importantly the few moment I spent with my grandfather. For all the time I knew him, he never call me Isqil and he used every opportunity to impress it on my young mind what my name should be. "Sodiya..." he would echo intermittently during our time. I couldn't hear everything he said but the little I heard, are invaluable treasures. I miss him a lot to this day. while at it...Albert Claude words echo into my mind " For this equilibrium now in sight, let us trust that mankind, as it has occurred in the greatest periods of its past, will find for itself a new code of ethics, common to all, made of tolerance, of courage, and of faith in the Spirit of men." Ileya.. it is time to return to our root!

I am Isqil Najim

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