Some time had passed between the time I first heard about DNA fingerprinting for tracing ancestral roots and when I completed a story on the issue for my employer, WJLA-TV (ABC) in Washington, D.C. In that report, Howard University’s human genome lab traced my male ancestry back to the Yoruba section of Nigeria. This is the second of two parts that recount my recent trip to the land of my ancestors. WJLA also aired a report on this trip.
Read Welcome to Nigeria Part I
The town of Ile Ife is said to be the home of all Yorubas. It is the home of their religion and of more than 200 shrines to various historical and religious icons. Yinka, our guide, took us to the shrine of Opa Oranmiyan. Tradition has it that Oranmiyan founded the army of the Oyo Empire, the powerful Yoruba kingdom that dominated much of what is now Nigeria during the 1700s and the early 1800s.
Opa means staff or stick in Yoruba. The caretaker, Chief Mo Akinyemi Owa Eredumi, arrived carrying his own opa. He told us that the shrine, consisting of a concrete 20-foot high staff, was the weapon of the great warrior Oranmiyan, who was big enough to use it, and that the warrior had stuck it in the ground where it now stands. He told us that the warrior was still alive despite the centuries that had past, but was invisible to all but himself, the chief, and a few others.
Since many consider Ife as the source of the Yoruba people wherever they live, I asked him whether that included me? He said he was taking me as a Yoruba man, who came from North America where my ancestors had been enslaved. “It was a hard path,” he said. “You need to come back. Not with cameras and such, but you need to come back home and settle in your father’s land,” he continued.
Later, we visited the home of Timothy and Doris Adewumi. They are born-again Christians. Timothy is a businessperson and says he spends 70 percent of his income on school fees. But, he says among Yorubas like himself, education is a valued treasure.
Timothy and Doris each have a car. They conserve electricity by air conditioning only the living room-dining room. Their kitchen and bathrooms have running water for bathing. The drinking and cooking water come from a well outside the house. Each of the children has his or her own room. The parents' room has its private bath. Their living room was full of family pictures. The TV was tuned to a gospel program with the preacher shouting and dancing across the stage.
There is no social safety net such as welfare or Social Security in Nigeria. The best safety net parents can have is lots of children whom they hope will take care of them when they are too old to provide for themselves. It is also common to take in children of less fortunate relatives.
I was surprised that Timothy, a Christian, has multiple wives. “That is our tradition,” was his response to my revelation. “Are you friends with the other wife?” I asked Doris. “No,” she responded, adding that her husband should treat his families equally.