By Adanze Asante
I stood on the edge of a cliff ready to be born. Earth was beneath my feet and I could have chosen anywhere in the universe, but my choice led me to one woman: Titilayo Achebe Osa. Olodumare, the Supreme Being, held my hand as we watched her and the possibilities of Earth before us. Quelling Titilayo’s sorrow had been my goal, and if I were careful and listen to Olodumare closely, I would be born to her and Baba Obadele Osa on May 5, 1476 in the Bight of Benin. The brisk air fluttered my cheeks as I bent over to get a closer look at Tumora, a small village of West Africa where my future mother dwelled and walked the roads of barrenness. I so desired to become Baba Obadele’s 18th child and Titilyo’s first to survive. I had been watching her for some time now and witnessed how her 7 previous attempts bore her children who lived no longer than 12 full moons.
Olodumare offered me other parents. She tried to dissuade me not to come through Baba Obadele and Mother Titilayo. However, I chose these parents because they had powers I must inherit. My future father, Baba Obadele had the gift to summon the rain and my mother Titilayo had the gift of sight. With their blood, I knew I could continue my work and ensure happiness to their kingdom.
“If you choose these parents, you will deal with a great deal of pain,” Olodumare warned. “Yet you will be very powerful.”
My future mother, Titilayo – which means eternal happiness – enabled me to foresee evil and my future father, Baba Obadele – which means the king arrives – enabled me to manipulate nature. Besides, I knew I would get to greet those who killed me centuries ago. My father didn’t read minds, but he had a great talent with nature. If the village people needed rain, they called my father. When a hurricane was near, he smelled rotten fruit. When he tasted tamarind, a sand storm was near. When he felt unusually warm, usually thousands of locusts swarmed nearby. Sometimes he could even summon the wind and rain. Without Baba Obadele, the village of Tumora’s crops would falter.
Together my father and his seven wives headed the village of Tumora and ensured its greatness. Mother Titilayo instructed various villagers to make offerings to calm spirits. She would ask them to get a sheep’s tongue and stuff hot peppers in them to silence a person. Or she would ask for a live chicken to spread the blood on one’s door to ward off enemies. Mother Titilayo’s keen insight foresaw the future. Mother Titilayo needed Baba Obadele and Baba Obadele needed Mother Titilayo. I, however, would inherit both their powers and would need no one.
Receiving their gifts of inheritance weren’t the only things that mattered. I wanted to give Mother Titilayo hope and encouragement. She cried every night asking why she had not successfully borne a child. Eventually Olodumare concurred with me in my selection because of Mother Titilayo’s steadfast faith.
I knew I would be her last chance. Although she was my father’s first wife, she was also known as the woman with the sticky womb. Soon she would develop the title of Mother of Spirit Children. The medicine man had told her that the children my mother tried to give birth to were selfish. “These are the children who choose to stay on earth for a brief moment,” the medicine man said. “They come only to torture their mother.”
While I was waiting, I knew the medicine man’s words were nonsense. I had been warned of the forces against my birth and those of my siblings’ birth. Many of my past brothers and sisters never had a chance to cry their first cry, never had a chance to laugh at the sun. My last sibling had died of a violent fever. She was the only one to survive the birthing process. But after six moons, her body had been racked of convulsions.
No midwife wanted to help Titilayo, for they feared their reputation of being a good midwife. They mostly feared the rumors of the dead-womb curse seeping onto their hands and spreading to other mothers to be, or it could cause a serious life threatening illness. One midwife that worked on my mother three siblings ago, claimed she received a curse of bad luck – no matter what she did she was doomed.
The only one brave enough was a stranger named Mawuzi from Jenne, the capitol of Sudan. Olodumare summoned my mother’s midwife, Mawuzi, who was raised in Songhai to protect me. She was a beautiful woman with cocoa skin and almond eyes. Mawuzi was renowned for her healing hands. She appeared in the time between silence of the night and a dawning of a new day. She knocked three times on my mother’s door. As my 9-month-pregnant mother teeter-tottered to answer the door, she wondered to herself who would be so bold to knock on the queen’s door so early. She tried to use her gift to read who had come to visit her, but it was someone she hadn’t recognized.
As my mother opened the door, Mawuzi quickly introduced herself.
“I am Mawuzi and I am a midwife,” she said, looking deeply into my mother’s eyes. “I can help you and most of all I will not desert you in the time of need.”
My mother had heard a great deal of nonsense of midwives boasting of their talents. Even if my mother did have the gift of sight to read minds, she always took a chance on any midwife that dared to help her. However, by this time she had had enough of midwives with faint hearts. She wanted to close the door, but Mawuzi blocked the door from closing with her foot and said, “Most of all I know how to work against the forces.” And with my mother’s gift of sight, she knew Mawuzi was telling the truth.
My mother didn’t know what worked against her and why Olodumare had forbidden her to have a child. Rumors in the village of Tumora had pointed to Baba Obadele’s six wives, who were said to be responsible for Mother Titilayo’s dead womb. These women were quietly known as Owodunni’s Disciples. If only Titilayo had known that the women of Songhai celebrated her stillbirths, for they knew their powers were potent. They worked diligently for Owodunni. They had to drink blood to receive the mystical powers of animals. They carried around the bones of a powerful priestess. Within their huts and under the stillness of a black moon, many sacrifices were made. They practiced Owodunni’s twisted spells. They met with him in secret and traveled through the night wind to find him.
Walking around the village with sadness in her heart, Titilayo always rejoiced new life, yet when it was time for her to go into labor, it was a time of imminent death. There were no celebrations. Hardly any doun douns were played. No dancing or singing was heard, just silence – the type of silence that reeked of sadness.
In the midst of my mother’s sadness, happiness still emerged. My father still became a very fruitful king. Asra Begum had two children. Atira three, Durriya four, Fariah four, Hadil three, and Nuriya one. Mother Titilayo always had gladness in her heart when a new baby was born. She was always happy for her husband and knew he would be destined for success with so many children. Yet she didn’t know why she was denied motherhood. Mother Titilayo tried to use the gift of sight to discover what was wrong, but failed; Owodunni’s medicine was too strong and it veiled Titilayo’s sight. Soon Titilayo thought it was her own selfishness and pride that clouded her powers to have a child.
I had to work fast. Before descending to earth, Olodumare gave me careful instructions. “If you want her to be your mother, you must be careful,” my guide told me. “There will be forces that will work against you. The wives know how to work with those forces very well.”
Before spirits descend to earth, they take on the form of a human body. We are still in spirit form; however, our spirits are human. I could have been male. Nevertheless, I preferred the female sex. I knew I could accomplish more work with this body. Women in this society were often seen as weak and fragile, my most powerful weapon: the image of a weak woman. Men have a tendency to allow their egos to dominate them, especially when they confront women.
I was ready and standing at the edge of a crag, before Olodumare ordered me to open my mouth. I obeyed. I never question her. She placed something on my tongue. I could not taste anything. Then she ordered me to swallow. I wanted to do whatever it took to return to Earth. I had a great deal of work I needed to do. I had unfinished business.
“This should ensure your birth,” she continued, “There are two pathways. Be careful, they both are light. One will excite your keenest pleasure.”
This is when I looked at my guide a little strangely. I didn’t want to leave her; her strong arms always comforted me. Her muscular stature signified strength and endurance. Her long think coiled hair twirled around her body. She is a woman of all women and of course man. No one would exist without her.
“Darkness is the gift of birth,” she said.
“This is how your other siblings became confused. They thought the pretty light, the dancing one, was the way. You must not be tricked. It is very enticing. You have to feel the light, not see it.”
Remembering this, I jumped down the winding tunnel. I knew I would cause my mother a great deal of pain by being careful. I had to make sure I would not be attracted to the other light. I had to wait to feel the light. It took a great deal of time. I thought we would both die in the process. But somehow my mother’s determination would not let her quit. She tried too many times before and she gave everything to see me walk this earth.
“Push! Push! Mother Titi!” Mawuzi, yelled. She touched the crown of my head between my mother’s legs.
My mother was in labor with me for 24 hours – 24 grueling hours. I had to make sure the pathway was clear. A great deal of darkness awaited me – the curse I had to avoid. The curse I had to work with. There were two pathways. I had to choose one. One was very alluring. If I wasn’t careful, I could choose the pathway my late brothers and sisters had chosen. I knew I had to be wiser.
The attractive light visited me. It was so alluring and bright. It danced from side to side. It spun quickly and I looked at it with awe. It exploded into many different colors and then merged into one huge light. I wanted to reach out and grab it. It tried to make me follow it. It tried to lure me in. But I remembered my guide’s words, “You have to feel the light, not see it…” This light I did not feel. So, I shut my eyes tightly and let go.
Soon I felt a warm pulsating light upon my skin. It felt warm and safe. I felt loved. I knew this was the correct choice. I slipped between my mother’s legs and Mawuzi screeched, “Eeee—eeeee – eeee!”
“You have a very special one Mother Titilayo,” Mawuzi continued, “She is born with the gift.”
My mother was so exhausted. And when she turned her perspiring face toward me, “Aaggghhh!” she yelled uproariously. “What’s wrong with her face!”
“Oh, this?” Mawuzi asked. “This is just a Caul. It’s like an onionskin. As soon as I cut it off, she would look like a normal baby. Don’t you worry.”
“But why – does she have that on her face?”
“Oh, because she will be able to see the other side.”
“Ha, ha, hee, hee,” Mother Titilayo laughed, because she too remembered she was born with a Caul. She wasn’t as powerful as the other wives, but she knew with me she would be the all knowing. She held me in her arms and knew I would be the one to laugh at the sun. She named me Orishabiyi, The Deity Brought This One.
“Baby, baby you are the one,” my mother sang, rocking me gently in her arms.
“The silk lands into your hands.”
I heard her strength and I felt safe and warm. I had succeeded in my first task on this earth. I awaited my next task in my father’s village of Tumora.
Three months had passed. And when my father’s wives visited me, I saw their hidden fangs beneath their smiles. I knew who they were before I met them. When I looked at them for the very first time through my earth eyes, they scurried away. Many of the wives came up with excuses of tending to household duties or making special meals as opposed to visiting me. The truth was that they couldn’t stay around me for too long, because they felt a terrible sense of guilt.
“Oh, Mother Titi what a lovely child,” Atira feigned. “I wish I could stay, but I must skin a goat. You know how Baba loves curry goat!”
Atira was the only one who dared to visit me without her sisters. The others decided to send gifts.
Luckily Mawuzi was there to receive those gifts. The woman from Jenne felt an evil presence that lurked around our home. She knew the Songhai sisters were there and she had to work fast. And when the gifts arrived, especially from the Songhai women, Mawuzi performed strange rituals.
One gift she licked then spat into a fire. The fire roared a red flame, and she immediately threw the gift into the fire. With the other one, she poured a libation of palm wine, and the gift completely dissolved into acid. She knew not to give these gifts to Mother Titilayo. If Mother Titilayo had met Mawuzi earlier, I would have had four brothers and two sisters. After three months, my father walked into our hut to see me for the very first time. I knew that he would change my name to Fulasade, because that was the name of his grandmother, the one who told great stories. And as soon as he saw my face, I reminded him of her.
“She would be the one that leads directly to my heart,” my father said, holding me in his arms. “She is the gift I’ve been asking for.”
Bowing before Baba Obadele, Mawuzi beseeched the great Babalawo to allow her to stay in the village of Tumora.
“Why, of course you can stay here,” said my father, as he bounced me in his arms.
“We have plenty of room for anyone who could protect my loveliest wife and daughter.”
“Fulasade, you and I have so much to share and learn,” he exclaimed, looking deeply into my eyes.
“Her name is Orishabiyi,” my mother said indignantly.
“Oh yes, I believe she is directly from Olodumare herself. But when she gets older I will rename her Fulasade, because she has dancing eyes like my Nana.”
My mother laughed and together they laughed and hugged each other in joy while the other wives of Songhai cringed inside their cold huts.