OPINION: Ilorin and the Family House Thing by Tunji Ajanaku

Date: 2020-08-02

"When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so"* - Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Ilorin is a very unique community. A blend of cultures that still give a lot of Nigerians further down south of the River Niger difficulties in understanding. I lived in Lagos between 2000 and 2010 and down there, when you joined the Tabligh Janmaa to celebrate Sallah after only 29 days of fasting instead of 30, your neighbors would say jokingly that you have celebrated " Odun Malla", Sallah of the Northerners. And when it was time to travel home for the Eid Adha aka Big Sallah and they saw us going home, we would return the joke to them that if you don't go on pilgrimage to Mecca and you travel home to Ilorin for sallah, the spiritual reward is the same. That's the pride that pumps up adrenaline in the typical Ilorin man. 

Over the years, many of us reluctantly at first, have moved out of the family house system and have set up abodes in GRA and other outskirts of Ilorin. And by culture, when we buy our rams, cows, and goats, the only sensible place to slaughter the animals is the family house. Whether we spend 3 hours, 4 hours or the whole day in the family house, it's the place to be after Eid prayers. 

I saw video clips of very horrid things involving cows especially when they were about to be slaughtered. These cows went wild and were hurting handlers. Something tells me this is unlikely to have happened in the family house setting. The cows were being handled by inexperienced handlers and there were too many spectators everywhere that frightened the shit out of the cows, hence their going bananas. The scariest of these videos was one in which a frightened cow on the loose was dragging a young man on the leash along a very rough street. One can only imagine the injuries the guy must have suffered. I am certain none of these scary events took place in any family house in Ilorin. There are careful handlers and butchers around in each of these situations in a family house setting. We killed all kinds of animals, camels inclusive without any drama.

Dressing the ram used to be 100% a family thing. We would remove the skin, the intestines, legs and heads on day one and hang the carcass till the second day to complete the cutting of the meat. As economy improved and number of rams killed increased, the services of professional butchers became necessary. In those days we knew which brother or Uncle loved meat like wolves. The smoked skin of the ram or goat was a delicacy and the man holding the knife would cut that skin and throw into his mouth while dressing the carcass. When we, the small rats grumbled, he would cut small pieces for us. We called it "bata"(shoe). How this smoked skin came to be called "bata", I don't know till today. That's the family house setting for you.

It's not as if we do meetings per se or plan anything as such, but we eat, drink(not liquor), sit down, gist and review the past year. A lot of us may have not sat down to gist like this for the whole year or more. It's time to discuss family matters, politics, community, share news about our children, friends, news about town, the drama at the eid praying ground, if any, the palace horse racing and stuff. If anyone buys a new car and he hasn't brought it home before, this is the time to launch it. Everyone prays on the new ride. If anyone has moved to his new house, he still won't spend Sallah on that first day in the new house but at the family house. We go see him on day 2 to pray. If anyone had taken a new wife albeit secretly, he must launch the new bride that day because the new madam has to show up and greet her in-laws. This is the import of the gathering. 

The meals we consume on this day comes from different homes. While there could be tuwo rice from my house, I might end up eating the fried rice from my brother's wife. This is the kind of kinship that Chinua Achebe talked about in his novel, Things Fall Apart. 

One noticeable aspect of the gathering is the nostalgia our sisters who are now married have for this gathering. They would have to go to the family houses of their husbands on that first day of Sallah. To make up, since the Sallah always extend to the second day, they would return to their roots to celebrate Sallah with their parents. They bring their children to celebrate with grandmas and grandpas. This is the day they when thr grand children get some spoiling a little. It's beyond the meat thing.

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday morning and he was impressed by this family house thing in Ilorin. It's not as if brothers and sisters in Ilorin don't get to have issues with one another but in a lot of cases, the family house gathering is a good ground for settling those matters. The gathering in the family house either on day 1 or day 2 of Sallah more often than not is not for meetings to plan how to dig borehole, construct drainage and such things but in most cases, it's usually a time to commission or unveil such projects. It's also a time to submit CVs to the big men in the family or ask for an update on the CV earlier forwarded to the big man. This is because, somehow, tension is less and the holiday feeling is written all over the faces of everyone. That's the Ilorin family house spirit.

There may be nothing special about all of these as it happens in a lot of places but my community is a bit different. The blend of Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Nupe, Baruba and  almost every ethnic groups you can think of in Nigeria that make up Ilorin and the bond of Islam provided the ingredient for this family house thing. In Ilorin, for many that work and live in Ilorin, we still find time almost on daily basis to visit family house "assemblies" to update ourselves, gist, of course,  pray Maghrib, sometimes Ishai and head back to our GRA or Tanke or Oke Foma abodes. 

There's the "owo odun" thing - "Sallah money" which goes around. It's usually not huge bales of cash but little cash here and there that is given to the children and the young wives. While it is not compulsory, it's gratifying. It may get to a point that your purse becomes very lean or goes flat as a result but it doesn't hurt in anyway as you are gratified  by the fact that you have shared the cash among your extended family members. Its a lot of goodwill too.

One very important observation however is the condition of many of our family houses. Many of them don't bear the reflection of the eminent personalities that are products of such houses. In the last decade plus however, some are getting befitting facelifts. I know one where the floor of the entire compound is now in interlocking blocks with solar lights. The culture of constructing befitting kofar (main gate) is the new norm now. There are instances where, rather than build those mighty mansions in Mandate Estate or GRA 2, some have elected to build them in the family houses - commendable. Secondly, Human capital development is one of the greatest problems. Interestingly enough, many of the young ones in the forefront of raising funds for the renovations of family houses are in the front line of human capital underdevelopment. It's a big challenge indeed. The jobs are not there really but this is the time to think out of the box and look at becoming entrepreneurs that can also create jobs.

No place like home, the Ilorin family house sentiment epitomises this a lot. I agree it could be happening elsewhere, but I know my own beloved city well.

Ilorin ni, Wallahi Ilorin ni.


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