ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Meeting Pablo

One of the most memorable things from my trip to Italy a month ago was meeting Pablo, the first child born in that village in 28 years. It was doubly memorable because it wasn’t expected.

Booking our trip and then hearing the announcement felt surreal at first, and then started to feel like the beginning of a pilgrim’s journey. A meeting with itinerant shepherds earlier in the week should have intensified this second layer of significance. As with the famous biblical magi coming from thousands of kilometres just to meet this new arrival, I approached my trip with an added delight: Here we come, all the way from the South-East (in West Africa), bringing small gifts and greetings to meet the earth’s significant new addition.

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Serendipity is a weird and curious thing, for there was no other way to explain the perfect collision of a planned trip to a remote and relatively unknown town in a country one had never been before with the birth of a new baby, the first in 28 years, in that exact same town, at around the same time as one’s trip. And what – if not for nature’s unfathomable mischief – could have arranged that the parents of this famous baby would be the employed managers of the mountain refuge where the event organisers chose to lodge us?

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With Pablo, his father (Jose), sibling, and Nigerian writer Lola Shoneyin and daughter.

Sylvia, Pablo’s mom, is the manager of Rifugio Galaberna, a lovely mountain refuge with lodging and feeding services for travellers, tourists, and paying visitors. She speaks English, Italian, and some French. Her husband, José, is a physiotherapist who also helps out at the refuge, but works on his practice in Ostana and in neighbouring towns. As a couple, they presented a model of cooperation, friendliness, and grace. They were gracious enough to let us take as many pictures with the new child as we wanted.

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The birth of a child is a wonderful thing. Wonderful, also, is such an arrival in such a beautiful place as Ostana. On some level, I’m jealous that he gets to develop some of his earliest memories in such a place, taking in some of the most delightful sights and sounds, of mountains and cow bells, and among such charming people.

Most wonderful, of course, is the privilege to have shared some of those days in this kind of delightful company.

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Photos by blogger and Lọlá Shónẹ́yìn.

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NEWS: Artmosphere to Host Two Nigerian Writers

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Artmosphere, one of Nigeria’s leading culture, music and literature events, will host Tanure Ojaide, Poet Laurete and Winner of the 2016 Folon Nicholos Prize, and Sam Omatseye, writer, columnist and Honourary Fellow of the Nigeria Academy of Letters. The event will engage the authors on their most recent works-‘Song of Myself’ by Tanure Ojaide and My Name is Okoro by Sam Omatseye. Other works written by these authors will also be discussed at the event.

‘Song of Myself’ is an offering from the Udje poetry tradion and the stylistic vision of the poet laurete, it talks about a myriad of themes including love, culture, politics, environment amongst others.It also speaks to the history of destruction of the cultural values of the Niger Delta. My Name is Okoro is an alternative narration of the Biafran war from the point of view of the Niger delta. It is the 49th anniversary of the Nigeria civil war,  and yet it remains a ‘no go’ area in national discourse, the novel prods us to take a look at our nation and negotiate the ethnic relations of our landscape.

The event will hold at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan on Saturday, 23rd of July,  2016 by 3pm. It will be moderated by Femi Morgan, curator of Artmosphere and Adémọ́lá Adéṣọlá, a public intellectual, literary critic and book editor. Entry is free. 

Artmosphere is curated as a social enterprise since 2011. It is a book,  arts, music and culture event that has engendered artistic and intellectual, social and political conversations and creating a community of readers and writers. It has hosted the likes of Niyi Osundare,  Victor Ehikhamenor,  Efe Paul Azino,  Túndé Adégbọlá, Chuma Nwokolo,  Aýeọlá Mabiaku, Tádé Ìpàdéọlá, amongst others and has organised creative writing workshops in the city of Ibadan.

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Paging Bill Gates! (And YOU Can Help)

This time last week I got an interesting, and pleasant, surprise: I’d been listed along with 31 other fantastic people around the continent in the Quartz Africa’s Innovator’s List. Thank you, thank you, and thank you! Two days ago, I got another one: Bill Gates, one of the world’s innovative (and richest) icons had shared the Quartz List on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

My wife who had called my attention to it was half exhilarated that I was getting this kind of recognition, and proud of me, and half desirous of same for her absolutely wonderful and important company currently saving lives in Nigeria through her work with a small team (in cold chain supply of blood) and in need of serious funding support.

Her perspective and excitement struck a chord with me and I have decided to spend some effort trying to get Bill’s attention both on twitter and on Facebook, because having his clout and support for many of the ideas and work we’re doing will give way more practical mileage than just the exposure of a list (great as it is). His Foundation, for instance, has supported hundreds of great ideas around the world that have then gone on to thrive and change lives. We’d like to have that too.

So, I would like to have a conversation with him, wherever, whenever, possible. Here’s one more reason:

Screenshot (39)One of the motivations for my work on YorubaName.com and other language-related work we’ve been doing over a decade comes from an early frustration with Microsoft products which always drew this red wriggly line under names that it considered foreign, even when they were not to the local environment. When Microsoft Word was used in a Nigerian environment where Yorùbá is spoken as a first language along with many others, the red line never lets the user forget who made the rules. It created a feeling of exclusion, or not being recognised. It was similar to the attitude among teachers in Nigerian private schools who scolded children for speaking “vernacular” in the class. It had the, perhaps unintended, consequence of keeping users (and students) feeling constantly inadequate – second class. Thankfully, this part of my motivation was highlighted in the profile for Quartz.

Screenshot (40)In any case, I am interested in talking with Bill Gates about the work I’ve committed myself to in increasing the African language content in technology. His help will be greatly appreciated and I will appreciate any help in being able to reach him. My last employment was at Google (Nigeria), if this helps. One of the things I did there, apart from my primary assignment, was help improve the Nigerian language currency in Google Translate and some other Google products, for mobile and for PC. I would like to do the same for Microsoft, if possible (I’m currently unemployed, you see). But more importantly, I’d like to explore partnership opportunities between Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and our Yorùbá Name Project.

One of the things I was pleased to discover while going through Bill’s Gates Notes blog is that he’s also a fan of Dr. Richard Feynman who is one of my biggest inspirations. Feynman’s book/biography Surely You Must Be Joking is my all-time favourite book showing how one can be smart, motivated, and still have fun at the same time. His follow up work, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is one book I’ve always returned to. It’s a collection of essays, thoughts, lectures, interviews, on a number of fascinating pursuits and thoughts. Dr. Feynman was an easy man to love, and to listen to.

So, maybe this collision is a good sign.

How you can help:

  1. If you have direct access to Bill Gates (or if you ARE Bill Gates), and/or you’d like to connect us, please send me a mail at kt AT ktravula.com.
  2. If you know any other way I can reach him, other than the grant application processes on the Gates Foundation website, please leave them in the comments below.
  3. If neither of the above, please help retweet my tweet to him, and upvote my comment on his Facebook page. It might work (or it might not). Who knows!

Thank you.

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NLNG Releases a Shortlist of 11 for 2016

According to the Advisory Board for The Nigeria Prize for Literature, led by Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, 11 Nigerian authors have been shortlisted for this year’s Literature Prize for Prose Fiction, worth $100,000. This initial shortlist was drawn from 173 books.

Here are the authors (resident in the country and outside) and their work in the shortlist:

  • Chika Unigwe (winner of the prize in 2012): Night Dancer (2014).
  • Ogochukwu Promise (author of over fifteen novels): Sorrow’s Joy
  • Yejide Kilanko (a writer of poetry and fiction): Daughters Who Walk This Path.
  • Ifeoma Okoye (a writer and author of children’s literature): The Fourth World
  • Sefi Atta (author of Everything Good Will Come): A Bit of Difference
  • Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (writer and journalist): Season of Crimson Blossoms
  • Ifeoluwa Adeniyi (radio broadcaster): On the Bank of the River
  • Elnathan John (lawyer and writer): Born On A Tuesday
  • Aramide Segun (winner of an ANA Prose Prize): Eniitan Daughter of Destiny
  • Maryam Awaisu (radio presenter): Burning Bright
  • Mansim Chumah Okafor (author of two previous books of fiction): The Parable of the Lost Shepherds

The list was presented by the chairman, panel of judges for this year’s prize, Prof. Dan Izevbaye, well-respected literary critic and a professor of English Language at Bowen University, Iwo. Other members of the panel of judges include Professor Asabe Usman Kabir, Professor of Oral and African Literatures at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto and Professor Isidore Diala, a professor of African Literature at Imo State University, Owerri and first winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism.

“The Nigeria Prize for Literature has, since 2004, rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara (co-winner, 2004, poetry), Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2004, poetry) for The Dreamer, His Vision; Ahmed Yerima (2005, drama) for his play, Hard Ground; Mabel Segun (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her book, My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008, prose) for her book Yellow Yellow; Esiaba Irobi (2010, drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book Cemetery Road; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011, children’s literature) with his book The Missing Clock; Chika Unigwe (2012, prose), with her novel, On Black Sisters Street; Tade Ipadeola (2013, poetry) with his collection of poems, The Sahara Testaments and Professor Sam Ukala (2014, drama) with his play, Iredi War.”

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Ibadan: Of Towers, Hills, and Neglect

There are many stories in every step up Òkè Àarẹ in Ibadan, each as diverse as the other, but each visibly telling of the city’s ancient but colourful past. One of the notable things the city is reputed for, other than its famous brown rusty roofs all of which can be seen at a glance from here in its old glory, is its imposing hills and the lasting reputation they have on the city and neighbouring towns, stretching even into lore across generations. Òkè Ààrẹ (the chieftain’s hill) is just one of such hills, named after its most famous resident, Ààrẹ Látòòṣà whose old palace lay behind a prominent courthouse on the hill. Òkè Ṣápátì (Shepherd Hills), Òkè Páàdì (The Padre’s Hill), Òkè Màpó (Mapo Hill), Òkè Àdó are some of the others, each with stories of their naming and history.

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A view of downtown Ibadan from Òkè Ààrẹ on the way to Bower’s Tower.

Some of these hills have increased in reputation over time because of modern (or colonial) additions, in structure, that have cemented (no pun) their statuses as more than just natural attractions. Mapo Hall, for example, is a town hall/courthouse built to Victorian style, in 1925-1929, right on top of Màpó Hill, from where the visitor can see almost all of Ibadan to all directions.

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A view from the top of Mapo Hall

Its reputation as a symbol of colonial justice where tax evaders were jailed has transmitted into culture and lore. As the popular song says about owó orí (taxes) goes, “Awọn àgbà tí ò san… wọn ń bẹ l’átìmọ́lé ní Mapo.” Over time, its role in post-colonial Nigeria has evolved, now remaining only as a vintage venue for occasions of private citizens, weddings, and other public events, most notably the coronation of every new Olúbàdàn, which is perhaps the biggest event it hosts at least once in every few years.

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Mapo Hall: a view from the front.

From deep in the neighbouring valley in Bẹẹrẹ Market, reputed for its throng of market men and women selling their wares almost onto the road in defiance of coming traffic, Mapo Hall is visible at a distance, perched on top of the hill to the left like an ark. In colonial times, when it was perhaps the only visible structure of its colour and stature, one can only imagine the psychological imposition its presence alone had on citizens’ mind.

The only other notable sight from this spot is the Látòòṣa Courthouse – on the opposite end of the horizon, even slightly elevated than Mapo itself.

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On the horizon to the left, on Mapo Hill, is Mapo Hall. Top of the hill to the right, on Òkè Ààrẹ, is the Látòòṣa Courthouse complex with an accompanying tower.

This courthouse structure was opened, according to the plaque on its walls, on June 13, 1937, making it slightly younger than Mapo Hall. Certainly less grandiose, but not less imposing especially on surrounding areas. It does boast of something that Mapo Hall doesn’t, however. That is a tower that has made a lot of people confuse it with Bower’s Tower which is located about a mile away. On this visit, and as one assumes on all visits to this place, there was no guide present to inform visitors of the role of this tower courthouse in the administration of the city. One had to only assume, from its size and location, that it was built for a significant administrative purpose.IMG_6331

Worn out by time and mismanagement, the walls tell a story of neglect. There are signs on the building informing users of the current use of the house: “Oke Ado Grade ‘C’ Customary Court”, “New Bodija Grade ‘C’ Customary Court” “Ibadan North Local Government Tenement Rate Collection Centre”, “Ayeye Grade ‘C’ Customary Court”, etc. For a building of such multipurpose use, care has certainly not been taken. I think back to a recent experience, in Italy, where tourism has built a thriving industry of restaurants, malls, and gift shops around notable structures that tell the country’s history, real and fictional, and how much value that attention (and tourist dollars) has brought to the country. Old churches and abbeys, ancient arenas in Verona and the Colosseum in Rome, among others, are all just ruins of a certain past. But they have been preserved and well branded in order to attract foreigners and their resources. Even a fictional character, Juliet, from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, has a touristy structure built in her honour, called Casa di Giulietta.

We haven’t done anything similar with ours, and it doesn’t look like we care.

The location of the Courthouse couldn’t be more auspicious. Right at the back of the building is the site of Ààrẹ Látòòsà’s old palace, now nonexistent, replaced with a modern but still crumbling edifice.

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IMG_6335 IMG_6342 IMG_6347 IMG_6345IMG_6337 IMG_6344Who was Ààrẹ Látòòṣà, and to what did he owe the fame that got him to have had a whole hill named after him? According to Ibadan history, Ọbádòkè Látòòṣa was a generalissimo of Ọ̀yọ́ empire from 1871 to 1885 (not to be confused with his son Ba’ale Shittu Latosa who reigned as head of Ibadan from 1914 to 1925). Like most Ààr̀ẹ Ọnà Kakanfò before and after him, Ààrẹ lived and died fighting, conquering or being conquered. He was noted to have been the person who curbed the excesses of Ẹfúnṣetán Aníwúrà, a notorious slaver who ran roughshod over Ibadan in her days. But Látòòṣà’s reputation was cemented fully when he committed suicide after a certain dishonour had befallen him in the presence of his subjects. More about that here.

Bower’s Tower, further down into Òkè Ààrẹ, was opened in December 1936 in honour of Captain Ross L. Bower who was the first British Resident and Travelling Commissioner from 1893 to 1897. Along with the Courthouse, the Tower is the only second vantage structure from which one can observe all the city’s land areas. The similarity between the tower structures are notable as is their differences. Bower’s Tower was constructed with an observer in mind, perhaps with a pair of binoculars at hand, looking on at the majesty of the land spread before him/her. The Courthouse tower, placed right above the court itself, seemed removed from visitors to have been constructed as a place for regular access. It looked more like a clock tower than a viewing point.

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Bower’s Tower

The view from on top of the tower is sublime, but getting there is usually the first challenge. It’s spiral staircase, built into such a small structure, could easily repel a claustrophobic guest. Also, the wear and tear from decades of neglect has turned it into a disaster waiting to happen. That won’t happen, I was told by a middle-aged man who now runs the place and guides visitors around the premises. The Tower has been commissioned for repair by the state government. Before the end of the year, the new private management would have taken over and made some significant changes.

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The common Ibadan word ‘Láyípo’ comes, among other things, from the spiral staircase within this tower.

There are many more structures around this old Ibadan that tell stories of its ancient and modern past. Finding, curating, and branding them for the reinforcement of culture, history, and tourism, will be a worthy endeavour for both private and public initiatives. But will it ever come?

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What would one need to do, as a private citizen to support the work of the state government in turning these sites of historical significance to self-sustaining money-making ventures not just for commercial ends but also for the sustenance of important stories and the encouragement of sight-seeing as an important part of modern/city culture?

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