Everyday things are not so boring, we just stop paying attention.
As you may have judged from the topic, I spent my Eid (Al-Fitr) in Okpella Town, Edo State (in Nigeria, for non-Nigerians). Edo is located in the south of Nigeria and I had never spent an Eid, in Nigeria, anywhere other than its north. I have been meaning to explore other parts of Nigeria so this time around I joined a friend of mine from Edo who was going back to celebrate Eid.
I got my camera ready and my mind became sharp for observation. We left Abuja, passed through Lokoja then Okene then finally my destination Okpella. It was interesting that during this four-six hour trip, there were remarkable changes in the architecture of buildings from Lokoja to Okene to Okpella. Unfortunately I didn’t capture this transition on camera.
Ohhh the road was interesting. I wouldn’t want to go into details but I can tell you this: we spent more than an hour extra on the road, we changed our road once and we had “encounter” with some pretentious cops (who by the way transformed to VIO officers in the duration of our dealings)
My destination at Okpella could be called premature by many who are familiar with the route because the next popular town ahead of Okpella is Auchi: I could have completed the trilogy of Lokoja, Okene and Auchi. However did you know that Okpella is larger than Auchi? Okpella is also 15-20 mins to Auchi; let’s just say I became familiar with Auchi even more than Okpella during my stay.
We arrived on a Friday, before the Friday prayers. We rested and headed to new central mosque of Okpella. Unfortunately I took only one picture inside.
The most astonishing view for me was that about half of the congregation were Fulanis (the Nomadic type). Keep in mind that Okepella is a Muslim-majority town and in the south. When I mentioned this to a friend, there was a surprising reaction but not quite my surprise. The surprise for my friend was that the Fulanis actually go to pray. Later on another was also surprised at their presence not their percentage. What does that say about the perception of Nomadic Fulanis by other Muslims? hmmm… (The Fulanis have been at the centre of my Eid experience last year which you can read and enjoy the pictures at this link)
Unlike most mosques in the north, the call for prayers had a traditional cadence to it. By that I mean it carries the history of Islam in Nigeria; Caliphate of Usman Bin Fodio. The Islam of the time (before Saudi became rich and it’s Islamic teachings dominant) was biased towards Sufism because the authorities in Islam were Tareeqah. Their Tareeqah may not be recognizable to today’s ritualistic renditions of it. The Quran was recited in the Warsh form of reading which is associated with Tareeqah of the past. After the prayers, the Imam led a congregational supplication in which he recites “Fatiha and Salat Al Fatih“. Now this recitation is an anathema to non-Tareeqah Muslims and so much controversy is around this… but that is not my point. The point is it gave away the community’s Tareeqa bias.
Talking with kids is always an enriching experience I find. I couldn’t help but observe some of their idiosyncrasies.
This group caught my attention because one of the kids was playing with a crude firework I used use and loved as a kid. It’s made of a bicycle-tire spoke, a nail, a string and a pice of wood; the flammable substance of a match stick is the fuel. I promised them a few shots and without my prompting they posed so well. Now that I think about it, my friend from Okpella is an expert at posing for pictures, perhaps posing is an Okpella thing.
Two more things. First kids in Okpella are fond of shouting “Allahu Akbar” unanimously after the Imam says the last “Allahu Akbar” in a prayer (mind you, the prayer still hasn’t finished at that time). I first heard it in the Friday prayer, then the next prayer, and after another one, I could predict it. Even the kids that are playing around in the mosque and not really praying somehow keep track of the progress of the prayer because the chorus is too planned to be a coincidence. I don’t know what to make of this, the adults couldn’t help me either especially since they can’t recall whether they used to do it.
Finally kids in Okpella like rice and stew, but not like you (hopefully) and I serve it. They load it in a plastic bag, mix the concoction, tear an end of the bag and squeeze it out like a smoothie. Similarly I saw too many kids doing it to be a coincidence… unless it’s an Eid thing, but I doubt it.
Tradition Lives On
Since this was Eid Al Fitr, it was preceded by fasting and so we arrived at Okpella during the fasting month and had a chance to experience fasting there. Before the dawn prayers (which marks start of fasting), Muslims are encouraged to wake up and eat. Today in the north, you hear the first call for prayers to warn you it will soon be time; better set your alarm right. In Okpella, it is the traditional style; the town-crier goes about hitting a drum to wake people up (this may be in addition to call for prayers). This is just cool. I hear some Northern towns used to do similar but not anymore.
On Eid day, 2:00am, I was woken up by crowd singing in front of my residence. It felt like a mobb at first, and confusing, I checked the time… then I was relieved to understand part of what they were saying; as my ears adjusted. I could here “Assalamu ‘laikum!” repeated in chorus in addition to much I couldn’t make because I don’t speak Okpella (Yes the language is also called Okpella). There is something similar in the North which we used to enjoy (and do) as kids; also during fasting. It’s called Tashe. We would dress up (not unlike halloween), knock on doors (not unlike trick-or-treat) and perform all sorts of arts. This one in Okpella, though sounds like Tashe, is more like a Christmas Carrol because they were welcoming Eid. After a while they moved to the neighbors.
Did I mention I recorded it from my room? Here it is below, have a listen.
Things were quite traditional for the Christians too. Sunday morning, I heard the church bells which sounded more like a gong. I didn’t see the instrument but it is either a church-bell made to sound like a gong or the bell was broken.
Eid prayers are usually performed in the largest congregation, even bigger than Friday prayers. Therefore hardly any one mosque is able to accommodate the congregation; and so there is usually a designated Eid prayer ground in most towns and cities.
The prayer ground, being for a town, was much smaller than the ones I ve been to in the north. But it gave a chance to gauge the population of males and females. That was a surprisingly a rough 50-50; unlike the North that I am aware of which is probably less than 20%. It seems females in Okpella are more present in congregational prayers. But that is not the best part. The ages of the females are mostly adults and parents. The few that go to Eid prayers is the north are usually the girls but rarely the women.
My friend pointed out that the reason there weren’t many young ladies was that they were at home working (cooking for Eid etc). Before feminists jump on me at this disclosure, my focus is not on cooking-instead-of-worshiping. Rather it is in contrast to the North where the mothers cannot leave (or trust) their female children to take care of Eid preparations. Profound realization.
Poetry Lives On
I am a fan of poetry; mostly spoken word. Let me take you back to the Eid prayers. Eid prayers, unlike Friday prayers, have a speech that comes after. In the North, the prayer is immediately followed by speech. Same thing appeared to be happening until a man stood up and started reciting poems praising the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). I doubt he was the author of that beautiful piece (in arabic). That made my Eid prayer! For fun I took a picture I thought was funny: that the holder of the umbrella for the Imam had no idea it had turned upside down
There is more I have to share but given that some of my readers have complained about the length of my posts, I will grudgingly stop here. I have procrastinated long enough before sitting down to write this anyway.