Yesterday I made significant strides to becoming more Yoruba. Keegan and I went to the Cultural Center of Ibadan where we are supposed to be a month into our internship. When we arrived yesterday afternoon, the directors of the government-run center had no work for us not to mention a plan of what we are going to do for the next month and a half. We spent 30 minutes deciding that we will split our work into working with the performing arts department for 2 weeks and the visual arts department for 2 weeks. That was our ‘work’ for the day. Outside of the center we stumbled upon a dance troupe practicing for a competition later that day. Keegan, my teacher Segun, and I stood around, pretending to play a ‘bata’, watching until Sango (pronounced Shango) commanded me to join the team’s practice. I seized the moment and tried, somewhat unsuccessfully to follow the sharp, fast gyrating movements.
The girls and 2 men in the team didn’t seem to mind my presence and befriended Keegan and I after. I became fast friends with a 20-year-old girl named Precious. I recited a few proverbs, told her my Yoruba names (which she did not believe) and after 2 minutes she was stuck to my side, her arm interlocked with mine the rest of the day.It is common for girls and boys to hold hands here. Strangers are always touching me or holding my hand for a bit longer than is culturally accepted in the U.S.
After the dance rehearsal we went to the competition with the team. We sat and talked with them while they got dressed in traditional Yoruba clothes to perform, speaking Yoruba the entire time. This was so exhilarating for me because it was the first chance I had to speak Yoruba comfortably with new people my age outside of University of Ibadan walls. We sat down outside under the shade of a tree to watch the performance.At any Yoruba gathering, it is customary to invite the important guests up to pray before the event starts, give a few greetings and opening words. The MC asked Keegan and I to do a greeting. I took the mike first and welcomed people then said a Yoruba phrase “Laisi ilu, ko si ijo,” translated to “without drumming there is no dancing,” then encouraged us to watch the dancing. This resulted in the MC making me dance for the audience. The drums played and I danced…
All of the introductions, prayers and greetings took much too long and we had to leave before the dancers performed. Dance is a big part of Yoruba culture and knowing how to dance well, in addition to knowing the language and proverbs, is really impressive to Yoruba people. Shango is coming to our center to give us dance lessons and we will also learn at our internship at the Cultural Center. For now I might be making a fool of myself, but they will respect me soon enough.