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Tade Ipadeola


Fiditi is a town I can claim by birth. I was born here, in 1970. It is a town almost phantasmagoric in its postmodernism. For example, because my parents were both teachers in the small town, we lived in a rented house that the absentee landlord fancifully called Agnes Cottage. The last time I checked, the yellow house was still there on Iware road, still yellow, still a cottage named after a mysterious being called Agnes. As a child, with neighbours so polite they greeted even four-year-olds with the respectful Eku
Most Yoruba people would greet a child, if they greeted at all, with the impersonal, reverence-neutral Kaaro. In my childhood recollections of Fiditi, the natives greeted you just as they would an adult and thereafter promptly engaged you in Yoruba conversation like any other adult. I woke up each morning from my ‘English’ bed, a laddish individual, Monsieur Ipadeola’s son, and got immersed into a  complex Yoruba universe in which the very pronoun used in greeting me was plural, generic, and vested with undefined responsibilities.
Midlife, and with some mileage in travel on the African continent, I realize that the E ku… might very well be the oldest form of greeting in the Yoruba language. In Sierra Leone, Yoruba folks are called Eku people to this day.  You will be greeted in Fiditi in this fashion because you will be, regardless of your age or genealogy, verbally assimilated as a native.  It is not a conscious act of assimilation. It is something the collective unconscious of the people, or is it the place, makes happen. The world, after all, is a dangerous place, demanding that we form human company, and in this place so laissez faire, brown and supine, your person, whoever you are, is valuable.
Once, before man conquered nature to the extent to which he now has, and before law and order took root in our rainforest society the way it now has, a tiny band of men settled on a nameless knoll, named the knoll, found themselves women, had children, died and got buried. The original expedition that came to rest on the knoll was typical in that it was called, in Yoruba, ajorin ( a wayfaring – or journeying –  band). It was foolish to travel alone in those days. 
The name that the band gave to the knoll was Fiditi, literally, where men came to rest, sitting down. From the original knoll, a hamlet emerged, then a village, now a town. By the time the Fulani wars pushed the old Oyo Kingdom further down south from its northern enclave of Oyo-Ile to its present location, circa 1840, Fiditi was already a thriving town, with a tradition of fruit farming and big game hunting.
Without radiocarbon dating machines to examine the bones of the first settlers, without written records, relying entirely on oral tradition and the very name and praise-names or oriki of the town, we know the town was settled very much the same way the surrounding towns of Awe, Ilora, Iware and Akinmoorin were settled - by travellers who found this place-on-the-knoll hospitable enough to settle in. 
Today, if you looked hard enough, you may find a clan of doomsayers pondering the outcomes of the large Hadron collider, in a palm-wine joint, in the cool of a Fiditi evening. You will find young lovers strolling hand-in-hand on the asphalt streets, you will encounter what appears to be endless elementary school compounds and a few secondary schools, you will see the aged, quietly talking into their cell phones with unseen partners who may be anywhere on planet earth. It is that kind of town.
Fiditi smells like food. Indeed, the oriki of the town begins: Fiditi ilu iyan…  (Fiditi, place of pounded yam). Fiditi also smells of fruits and vegetables. My favourite food stop in the town is a shack ambitiously named Iyan Palace. It is located at the central bus park in the town. The manager is a middle-aged lady whose specialty is pounded yam and wild game stew. It’s a small, brisk enterprise, employing two besides the manager.
This town is, more honestly, a village, with a population of about 4000, mostly farmers, artisans, teachers, taxi drivers and students. But it’s a village with a lot of technological gear in it. It has four functional cell phone masts and a fifth under construction. It has a cashew-processing plant and a planned tomato-canning facility. When you get talking with the natives, you get a sense of their perception of time. They don’t live by the clock, they can talk forever.
A lot of men and women have lived and passed through this town, the most famous being the poet and classicist Christopher Okigbo, who taught English and Latin at Fiditi Grammar School in the late 1950s. Many years after I took to writing, I wondered if that poet found the name Fiditi evocative of Idoto, his river-muse, and whether he found Fiditi itself an alternate muse. It is not a wild idea. Okigbo’s method of writing poetry was mainly musical and Idoto and Fiditi, both tri-syllabic words, do sound alike.
Apart from poetry and teaching, Okigbo coached the school football team. That team was so successful that it won the Champions Cup twice, year on year, and proceeded to beat the University of Ibadan football team. Whenever I can, I urge writers to visit Fiditi to observe for themselves the field that Okigbo’s boys practiced on. It has a gradient, of between 6 and 9 degrees, rolling away from the spine of the gentle knoll on which the town was first founded. It would have been very expensive to do the civil works necessary to make the field a level playing ground and so the school just let it be. Yet that field produced phenomenal footballers of that time. The field still does – I suspect, because a certain man proved that it could be done.
But what is most intriguing to me is how, in its most famous wayfaring-dweller, Fiditi enacts her essence as a place. Here is how I mean: Alex Olu Ajayi, himself a non-native of Fiditi, needed intellectual company in his assignment as school principal at Fiditi. He spent a week importuning his friend, Christopher Okigbo, then resident in Lagos, to come teach in this place scarcely on any map. Here was classic ajorin.
Okigbo’s poetry flowered in Fiditi. Fiditi flowered with the poetry and Okigbo’s person. Influential members of the Nigerian elite like Abdul-Aziz Atta, Okigbo’s friend, would drive all the way from Lagos to Fiditi to visit, buy fruits by the baskets, shoot partridges and game, drive back to Lagos. Fiditi became a place on the map. It is no surprise that Fiditi became one of the earliest towns in the Oyo province to have a working telephone. Even as a child, I noticed that the students of Fiditi Grammar School carried themselves with such grace and elegance, like they were already members of a privileged circle.
Fiditi is a town in love with schools, there were, over time, seven primary schools, viz: Alafia Oluwa Primary School, Methodist Primary School, First Baptist Primary School, Ebenezar Primary School, Catholic Primary school, Orilongbogbo Primary School and the now defunct Holy Flock Primary School, owned by the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, a ‘white garment’ church. The town fathers welcomed you as long as you brought a school, it seemed.
There are other things I could write of about this town that was my habitation on the earth of my childhood. It was here I discovered the insomniac innards of a clock and its mesmerizing motion, it was here I first witnessed a plane crash, a bi-plane that must have run out of fuel, flying so low it could have been caught by an athletic boy and it was near here that during operation Iron-Fist, the Nigerian Air Force lost a Mirage jet that cost millions.
In the mid 1990s, a series of grotesque murders shattered the idyll of Fiditi. All the victims were women, all were discovered with their breasts removed, all were working on their farms. The murders were never solved. About four women were murdered in this way. Those murders changed many things about the staple industry of the town, fruit farming. The murders also signaled the beginning of a now palpable atrophy in the public spirit of the town. The fruit stands of Fiditi today are ghosts of the fruit stands of my childhood. And there is a guarded reception to the visitor.
I live in Ibadan now but pass through Fiditi each time I visit my village of Akinmoorin. I can’t help feeling kinship with this place which some have nourished with their sweat and blood and which some have elevated with their genius for words and friendship. It is still a great town to visit for surprises and for fruits and for clues to the mind of probably the greatest poet from Africa, Christopher Okigbo, whose ghost, I can swear, walked down the field with me one day, as a child, just old enough not to be afraid of ghosts, telling me of everything that can be told in plain words and in glossolalia, that the world is a place for ajorin and that this place is Fiditi, Fiditi.

Map of Fiditi

Tade Ipadeola
is a Nigerian lawyer and poet. He practices law in Ibadan, and his published collections include The Rain Fardel (2005) [Khalam Editions].


Chris Okigbo

Chris Okigbo

Chris Okigbo's old Residence at Fiditi
Okigbo's old Residence at Fiditi
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