A name can be described as “a word or a combination of words by which a person, place or thing, a body or a class or any object of thought is designated, called or known. We often hear about instances when children grow depressed after constantly being called ‘names’ by their peers. Such children derive their pain from the idea that these names are their identities; ‘tags’ by which they are classified. Obviously, I feel compelled to sympathize with such children. However, I find it diminishing to describe a name as a tag. Is there not more behind this label with which we identify ourselves?
I find it fascinating that in our beautiful country, Nigeria, a name goes far beyond a random combination of letters which sound pleasant together. For example, the Yorubas strongly believe that one lives out the meaning of their name while Igbo names usually summarize or re-tell the events leading to a child’s birth. By way of explanation, Nigerian names serve as instruments which mark different phases in a child’s life, be it past or future.
The Yorubas especially take great care in naming their young in order to depict a bright future for them. Normally, it is the responsibility of the oldest member of the family to assign this prophetic tag to the new-born. Nonetheless, other family members are offered a chance to give their chosen names to the child after presenting gifts, often in the form of money and clothing to the parents. The ceremony is usually help seven days after birth if the child is male, and eight days if it is female. In addition to the foretelling role of Yoruba names, the naming ceremony itself is adorned by symbolic materials such as honey which represents a sweetness to be found in the baby’s life, kola, liquor and salt. Obviously, the Yorubas take great care to secure a blissful life for a new-born through its naming.
Moreover, the Yorubas have several types of names, some of which are the “Oruko Amutorunwa”—Preordained names, “Oruko Abiso”—Names given at birth, “Pet” names and “Abiku” names, with most classification titles being extensively self-explanatory. However, the Abiku names are more peculiar to this movement.
Abiku in Yoruba land is “believed to die early and reincarnate to be born by the same woman, only to die and return again”. This phenomenon is what leads to the name “Abiku”, which is derived from the phrase, “abi iku”, meaning “predestined to death”. Just as most Nigerians, the Yorubas believe that deserted areas of land are inhabited by evil spirits and demons. It is easy to assume that these entities often suffer from starvation, thirst and the cold as there is nobody to offer them sacrifices. As a result, the spirits possess the bodies of new-borns in nearby villages in order to improve their living conditions. One should expect there to be great competition between Abikus for such a comfortable position as only one Abiku can possess a child. Therefore, as one of such spirits possesses a new-born, it must vow to share its luxuries with its companions.
The Abuki’s main goal is to leach off the food with which a child is provided, therefore making the child malnourished. Ordinarily, the compromised health of the child is manageable as the child is only sparingly unwell. However, it is the excessively demanding nature of the ‘outside Abikus’ which causes the in dweller to drain the child of all forms of nourishment and possibly even kill it. By the same token, it is the outsiders’ intention of punishing an in dweller that its carrier is killed as it is believed that any pain afflicted on a child is also afflicted on its Abiku.
Accordingly, in such a case where a child’s health is slowly declining, its mother is often led to conclude that it is possessed by an Abiku spirit. She is then driven to give a food sacrifice which is to distract the Abikus inside and outside the child as she puts iron rings and bands on the child’s ankle, and iron chains around its neck which are to jingle in order to keep the spirits away. However, if this method if ineffective, the mother must cut the child and put peppers or spices into the wounds in an attempt to hurt, and hopefully chase away the tenant. In unfortunate cases, the child passes away even in the face of its mother’s efforts. It then becomes her duty to pound and mutilate her child’s corpse, directing every curse imaginable to the Abuki to prevent it from returning in another one of her unborn children. Normally, such children are not buried upon death in the natives’ attempt to shame the spirit child.
A more subtle method of handling the Abiku spirit is to give it an “Abiku name” such as “Malomo” meaning “don’t go again” and “Banjoko”—“Sit with me”. In addition to driving away the evil spirit, these names reflect the frustration of the spirit-child’s parents, with “Yemiitan” which means “stop deceiving me” as an example. John Pepper Clark’s ‘Abiku’ perfectly reflects such defeated feeling in the parents as they beg the spirit to “stay out on the baobab tree…if indoors is not enough” the persona’s dejectedness which is further buttressed as the Abiku is begged to “follow where you please your kindred spirit” causes me to sympathize with the parents of a possessed child.
The persona goes on to indicate that it is “true, it leaks through the hatch/when flood brim the banks”, creating an image of a leaking roof, and conveying the parent’s poverty to me. I feel an endless wave of pity towards the struggling parents bear the burdens of both poverty and having a spirit child.
The concluding lines of the poem are a sorrowful plea for the child to “step in and stay” as the mother’s body is “tired” and her “milk going sour”. It is quite obvious to me that having such a child is indeed traumatizing.
Clark carefully conveys the pain a spirit child often causes in a way that makes me sympathize with its parents. In the same vein, Ben Okri writes about an Abiku in The Famished Road, revealing that “our country is an Abiku country”. Like a spirit child, it keeps coming and going”. Okri’s striking point pushes my thoughts towards the unsteadiness of Nigeria’s development. Every four years, our country improves for a period of about six months, leaving me ecstatic and helpful for a better future for Nigeria. Unfortunately, this hope fades away along with the excitement of the new leaders and the development of the country. The average Nigerian has heard promises “to revive the rail system of the country”, “to deliver stable, constant supply of electricity”, “to diversify the economy”, “to invest in petrol chemicals, mining,, research and development” as quoted form Goodluck Jonathan’s 2011 manifesto, times without number, and is always disappointed afterwards. I am upset that our leaders have been unable to provide these simple luxuries to Nigerians as we have the capital, the resources and in the innovative minds to accomplish such simple goals. Moreover, it disheartens me that our leaders understand the problems in Nigeria and do nothing to resolve them. Goodluck Jonathan once said that “we need a country where people will be less greedy. Where people will know that the commonwealth of Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians, where people’s wealth depends on the people around you”, yet, he is now being accused of embezzling funds. The fact that this leader could not eradicate there problems annoys me. Will this Abiku nation never tarry?
As it is said that “one who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom”, my perspective of the situation of Nigeria has changed. Instead of believing that it is hopeless and frustrating, I now understand the motivating role it plays in the development of the country. Moreover, the African proverb that says that “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito” symbolically reflects the necessity of the efforts of PERSPECTIVE to me. Take the problems in Nigeria as a broken window, PERSPECTIVE as a mosquito and a resident of the building, as the government. Ordinarily, the resident might not decide to repair the window, the way Nigerian leaders refuse to fix our problems; or might not even be aware that the window is broken. However, after being perpetually disturbed by the mosquito, the resident’s attention is called to the broken window and he is forced to fix it.
Furthermore, Ben Okri encourages me in my endeavor to change Nigeria as he writes that “one day, it will decide to remain. It will become strong” in The Famished Road and PERSPECTIVE pushes for this kind of positive, permanent change in Nigeria. However, despite the fact that Okri identifies Nigeria as an Abiku nation, the writer fails to assign her an Abiku name. As I see the hopefulness this nation, I believe “Kukoyi” is most appropriate—“death has refused this one”. Surely, the Abiku nation will fulfill the prophecy in her name.