The woman took the baby wrapped in ivory wool from her father. She nodded at him and turned to look down at the baby; she murmured softly to her in a local dialect. Holding the baby securely with one hand, she walked to the far corner of the room. She bent slightly and picked up a small wooden bowl that was on a round three-legged wooden table.
Earlier, she had mixed all the herbs she needed for the ceremony. She used the tip of her forefinger to scoop up a little portion of the mixture and put it into the sleeping baby’s mouth. The mixture had been finely ground with honey so that it would be easy for the seven-day-old baby to lick and swallow.
The man who had brought the baby sat down on one of the straw mats littered throughout the room. He watched as the woman, dressed only in a white cotton wrapper secured tightly around her ample breasts and tied under her left armpit, went through a series of rituals.
She walked back and forth in front of the altar set up at the end of the room. White cloths lined three sides of the walls and another white cloth was laid in front of the altar.
After a while, she handed the baby to the man. She took the divination tray from beside the altar, chanting as she made some marks on it. The man stood up with the baby. Each time she made an invocation he raised the child in the direction she turned. They did this six times and after the last time, the man touched the feet of the baby to the centre of the divination tray.
In the room, sitting quietly, was an old man in a wheelchair. His face was weathered with age. He looked frail and was sitting slightly stooped, watching the proceedings. His eyes were sunken in the sockets but alive with the wisdom that came with age. The baby was his first granddaughter. He was an Ifa - priest.
He had been indoctrinated into Ifa Yoruba traditional worship as far back as he could remember. His father had been an Ifa priest, likewise his grandfather. This was a hereditary tradition that had been passed down from father to son.
Unfortunately, his own son had not totally committed to taking over from him after his studies abroad – for which he cursed the white people every day. It was during his son’s sojourn in the white man’s land that he resorted to training his cousin as an Ifa priestess – Iyanifa. She was the one now performing the ceremony. His son might not take over from him one day, nevertheless he was determined that his first granddaughter would be initiated before she was old enough to rebel.
He had prepared for this ceremony with his assistant and had gone through every aspect of it with her. There must not be any mistake or the repercussions would be disastrous, not only for the child but for the family and future generations as well.
A bead of sweat glittered on his forehead. It was hot and humid. The only window in the room was covered with a dark curtain, which was drawn together, leaving the room in darkness. The only illumination was from a couple of candles lit by the mud altar. There was a fan in the room but it was not switched on because of the lit candles. The eerie silence in the room was only broken by the chanting.
The invocation lasted for about two hours. Once in a while, the baby moved her hands and licked her lips, unconsciously swallowing all the mixed concoction that the Iyanifa had put in her mouth.
At a point, the baby was handed to the old man and he made some incisions on the inside of the baby’s right and left hands, the heel of her feet and the bottom part of her stomach just below her navel. All the while she slept peacefully, unaware of the declarations and proclamations that had been made over her life.
Outside the room, there was celebration with drinking and eating. The baby’s mother was attending to visitors, ensuring everyone was being catered for. She knew her child was with the father and was fine. What she did not know was that the future of her child was being decided in ways that would change her life forever.
BEAUTY FOR ASHES
Out Dec 2015