OLAYIOTAN ABEJOYE

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Abejoye. Abejoye. Abejoye. The king-maker. The movie I have watched three times within the past week. This movie was released in Nigeria in December 2017, and I have patiently waited for the past three months for it to launch on YouTube. And it has. I don’t expect anyone reading this to have heard of the movie; many Nigerians haven’t even heard of the movie (at least those who live in a cave and do not know Mount Zion Films and the legendary Mike Bamiloye). But I do want you to know why I have watched it three times in one week.

All of my grandparents died before I had an opportunity to travel to Nigeria to meet them. I’ve only spoken to my nne nnem (maternal grandmother) over the phone, which comprised of short awkward conversations: me struggling to understand her native Igbo language, and her struggling to understand my American tongue.

Nne nnem: Ada, kedu? (Daughter, how are you?)
Me: O di mma (I am fine)

And that was it. Then the awkward silence. Then I hand the phone back to my mom.

The character of Olayiotan Abejoye, aka Baba Abejoye, is the embodiment of all four of my grandparents. His son, Bamidele, gets him a VISA and flight ticket to spend time with him and his family in the U.S.

First thought: why didn’t any of my parents think of bringing their parents to the U.S.? Maybe I would have been able to see them. Maybe they wouldn’t have died of grief, stress, and loneliness in the village. Or maybe they didn’t want to leave their home…

Baba Abejoye does not speak English, only Yoruba, my mom’s second language, another native language in Nigeria alongside Igbo. Bamidele’s children are the embodiment of my childhood. They have no idea what Baba Abejoye is saying. They stare at him with blank expressions as he speaks to them in the language of his people.

Second thought: why didn’t my parents teach me their native language? Why didn’t they teach me other Nigerian languages? Maybe language isn’t valued to them. Maybe colonial languages hold more prestige. Maybe they believe that I’d be better off without an accent. I still have an accent anyway. Thank you Nigerian movies.

Baba Ajeboye sings a song for his grandchildren as they sit on his lap.

Bata re a dun ko ko ka (You will be successful)
Bata re a dun ko ko ka (You will be successful)
Bi oba ka we re (If you work hard in school)
Bata re a dun ko ko ka (You will be successful)
Bo oba ka we re (If you do not work hard in school)
Bata re a dun pele beni ile (You will walk in shame)

Suddenly I’m transported. I feel like I’ve known this children’s song all my life. Like it’s a familiar lullaby. It’s in Yoruba, not Igbo, but it’s my mother’s second language so I can call it my own too.

I’ve watched this movie three times for countless reasons, but within each viewing it reminds me of this: my grandparents are dead, but my heritage is not lost. Their memories are not forsaken. I see them through Baba Abejoye. I learn more and more things from his songs and stories. I soak up the language like a sponge in the ocean. I see them through my friend’s grandmother when she visits from Nigeria. When she blesses me in her language, I feel like my spirit understands. I see them through the elders in my church. I can recognize my mother’s Igbo tongue. I can articulate her adopted Yoruba language. I can revive my culture internally.

Then hopefully, one day when this life is past, I can meet nne nnem and our conversation can go past the “o di mma” stage. Then I’ll sit on her lap and say “nne nnem, buru m abu, biko (grandmother, sing me a song, please).”

Eshe gan Olayiotan Abejoye. Dalu.

(Thank you very much Olayiotan Abejoye. Thank You.)

*****

-Fortunate Ekwuruke

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