As a young child I didn’t like poems. I preferred stories. Poems seemed to give you a taste of a story when you wanted the real deal. My interest in poetry began in my early teens. Precisely the day my Literature teacher recited Abiku by Wole Soyinka. That poem gripped me with fear and curiosity. I was raised in a westernized Nigerian household where English was the main language sprinkled with affected Yoruba. My father didn’t and still doesn’t believe in superstitions or fetishes. My mother never told us any such stories so I lived in Enid Blyton’s blissful world where fairies strutted their stuff and goblins were bad creatures, the ones responsible for the stubbing of your big toe against a stone. This is the same world where little girls hair formed pigtails, and not scrunched up bunches that resembled tangerines that had been left out far too long.
Back to the poem. An abiku is a child believed in some Nigerian cultures that is born and dies at will, only to be born again. Typically such children are marked physically so that they either remain, or are recognized if they do come back. It filled me with fear because I had heard about such stories in boarding house but no real confirmation that it was true until our teacher- can’t remember her name- read the poem out loud. It is a harrowing poem especially when you had classmates that claimed to be one of those and your mother wasn’t there to chase your fears away.
Yet I was curious because I wanted to believe there was a supernatural world. Not necessarily a bad one but something out of the ordinary. I wanted to believe ‘Grace’s’ mark on her face had indeed shrunk like she claimed as she got older because she had “come to stay”. I’ve changed Grace’s name- just in case. With facebook and others you never know.
As an adult I actually don’t know what to make of the whole abiku shenanigans because I know demons are real. But could a child really come and go at will? Perhaps its familiar spirits? What do you think? A friend told me of an aunt that was born with two missing toes. She had apparently come and then died as a child and they cut off her toes in order to recognise her if she came back. Behold the next child born after she died had two missing toes.