The babes can’t stop talking about our Christmas holiday in Nigeria. We hadn’t been back since 2010 when Jed was just 21 months old.
This time we went for two and half weeks, spending most of it in the East. It was a special occasion as my sisters and I were joining the ancient and prestigious Otu Odu women’s society of Onitsha, my father’s hometown. We would become ‘titled women’ — sort of like a chieftaincy.
Our ceremony was being held to mark the 10 year anniversary of my father’s death. He was a titled man himself, high ranking in the Obi (king) of Onitsha’s cabinet. It had meant a lot to him that his daughters would take the Odu title, just like previous generations of women in our family.
Months of preparation led up to the ceremony which happened on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas. That week, our house in Onitsha was crammed with friends and relatives. And kids! Half of them slept on mattresses on the floor in my mum’s bedroom.
For the event, my sister-in-law had organised a stylist from Lagos to do make-up and geles (head scarves).
The tying of gele is an elaborate art that, when done right, results in a regal look (and a temporary face lift when it’s extra tight!). I’m not one for much primping and when she first did my make-up, I was taken aback — my kids were like ‘woah, who’s that!’
I’d never worn so much face paint, not even on my wedding day, but it was fun to get dolled up. Especially as day two of the ceremony, I ran out of time for makeup!
The first day was about presenting ourselves to the Odu ladies (about 200 came) and hosting them. On the second day we came out at 6am to present ourselves to the heads of our family, receive their blessings, and put on the traditional ivory cuffs that are symbolic of Odu.
We then had to visit various homes in our village, dancing and receiving gifts and blessings. Then we changed into the Odu uniform – whites from head to toe.
After being initiated and pledging to uphold the Odu values, we announced our new titles and were warmly welcomed into the Odu fold. My official title is Amalunweze meaning ‘you know this is the child of a king’. This is a popular Odu title that also reflects our family’s royal lineage dating back to one of the first kings of Onitsha.
Afterwards we sat like queens (rather sweaty queens in that heat), while even the Odu women in their 90s passed by to gift us with small sums of money. Then other guests came to ‘greet’ the Odu society with varying amounts of cash. And of course everybody feasted and we danced again to the beats of a highly enthusiastic drumming troupe.
My three-year-old niece stole the show, dancing her little socks off and even Jed did a few moves and got ‘sprayed’ (a Nigerian tradition where people shower dancers with money).
By evening, the celebrants had one more outfit change then, at last, we were free to hang out with friends. The boys were thrilled to see their granddad, my father-in-law, who had driven down for the ceremony and came for lunch the next day.
The event rounded off with fireworks and a party outdoors. My brother took over the decks and we grooved to a mix that included highlife, azonto, Kool & the Gang and Biggie Smalls. Cue the drunken selfies.
After just one day of rest, my sisters and I attended someone else’s Odu ceremony. As the new initiates we had to serve the other ladies food and drink, but we also got to join in the majestic Odu dance – a real highlight.
It was an unforgettable experience, one that I’ll always treasure for the spectacle, the physical challenges (everything from the weighty cuffs to the heavy coral necklaces), the laughs, the sisterly bonding.
Christmas 2014 will also be one to remember for the babes: from Christmas lunch with jollof rice and traditional bitter leaf soup served along with roast chicken and potatoes; to running around barefoot with bundles of mates. Quite sweetly, Ezra was starting to develop a Nigerian accent and when we left on New Year’s Eve, he cried all the way to the airport.
With so much negativity in the news, I’m glad the kids were able to reconnect with their family and their culture and rediscover the best side of the place I still call home. They absolutely loved their holiday in Nigeria and are already planning their next visit — better start saving towards those air fares, boys!
Some more memories from Nigeria:
Jed with cousin Nuli
My little sister Nwando joins in for her close-up
Day 2 of the Odu Ceremony, not looking so shabby for 6am!
Fun times with best friends
My big brother and his little star
Posing with my mother, the true queen of the day, thank you for everything Mum!
Joining up with Vicki’s wonderful Brilliant Blog Posts