Field Notes From Baale Sango’s House Beere, Ibadan

Hello folks, thanks for joining me again on this cool Tuesday morning. Today is not Thursday, but I  feel like doing a call back to some of the work I have done in the past. In 2013, when I was studying for a Masters Degree in Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan, we had to do some fieldwork as part of the continuous assessment for a research course I took. That field work took me to a certain Baale Sango’s House in the Beere are of Ibadan in Oyo State. After the work was assessed, I simply forgot about it, until sometimes during the weekend when I came across it again. Thus for the first time in four years, I have decided to share it for all of you followers to see. It is a bit long, but I hope you can enjoy it and gain some useful insights on a number of issues relating to Yoruba culture

21st May 2013

We arrive at Baale Sango’s house at midday. The House is a small, old two-story building by the roadside sandwiched between another house and a shop where a woman with a grinding machine sits. Beside that shop is another shop where a woman and a young girl both lay asleep. On the shelves in that shop are various bottles and sachets of alcoholic drinks. On the other side of the road in front of Baale Sango’s house is a provision store but they have sachets of alcoholic drinks on some of the shelves as well. Alcohol is never in short supply here. Does that have to do with the fact that they are close to Baale Sango’s house? Nearby there is also a hairdresser’s Salon.

At the door of Baale Sango’s house, we meet a middle-aged man who directs us upstairs when we tell him who we are, and where we come from. He throws in some slang for effect.  I sense he is trying to impress us because we told him we are students of the University of Ibadan. I also notice a disused sewing machine by the door We climb the staircase one at a time because it is too narrow to take two people side by side. The walls of the house are grimy and the floorboards are made of wood. But the house is clean, there is no litter anywhere. Not even the surroundings. On the second floor, we meet a middle-aged woman whom we greet and explain our mission to in Yoruba. “Baale Sango is not around,” the woman informs us in Yoruba. “but if you are willing to wait, he will soon be back.” Obviously, she doesn’t speak any English. We wait in a room which serves as a waiting room which serves as the waiting room judging by the number of plastic chairs and wooden benches we find there. While we wait, we take a look around, I notice a painting of a masquerade in blue, black and yellow colours on the wall, the words on top of the painting says “Eegun Adinimodo.” I also notice another middle-aged woman and a young girl. Neither of them attempts to talk to us.

After about five minutes, Baale Sango himself arrives, he is a small man, likely in his mid to his late sixties. He is very polite and seems happy to us. He takes us to his workroom, the workroom is not very large, it is about ten feet square, the ceiling is low and the walls are grimy. I also notice a lot of cloth material lying around and masquerade costumes at various stages of completion. I notice three calendars on the walls, one has has the picture of the governor of the state and some members of his cabinet on it (an indication of some participation or influence in politics?) the second calendar has a picture of a pastor on it, while the third has picture of various Muslims clerics on it. Obviously, Baale Sango has many Christian and Muslim friends. I also notice a sewing machine by one side, Baale Sango tells us in Yoruba about the sewing machine, he says it has made his work easier and faster, that jobs can be completed much earlier than in the old days that they only worked with needles and the job took much longer to complete. There are some small gourds and hung on the doors around the room and some potions placed in strategic corners. Baale Sango reveals to is that the work of sewing masquerade costumes has been in his family trade for generations and that the sewing masquerade costumes is a preserve of a relatively small number of families. He has been doing it for the past fifty years. He did not go to school but he can manage a few English expressions. He wishes he had gone to school, but he did not regret with what he has become. He also explains that he is not affected by attempts to stigmatize him based on his religious beliefs. He proudly informs us that he has a son in the Polytechnic Ibadan and that his son is interested in the family business. When we asked him if young people come to learn the trade, he tells us that they mostly do not, but that sometimes during masquerade festivals, tailors who see a chance to make quick money often come to work for him. He shows us two carved wooden images, one is, grungy and blackened, while the other is new. He tells that the blackened one has been dipped into a concoction made of twenty different herbs to make it potent enough to be used for rites during festivals. As he is talking, another old man walks in. He is about the same age as Baale Sango and he obviously does the same thing as Baale Sango. Baale Sango introduces us to him as students of the university of Ibadan. The visitor does not introduce himself, we do not ask him to either.

We continue the discussion with Baale Sango about masquerades, “there are more than twenty-one (21) masquerades in the Beere area alone,” Baale Sango informs us. Much later we realize that Baale Sango not only sews clothes for masquerades, he is also the Baale of Sango worshippers in all of Ibadan. However, we have no desire to talk about Sango today, only masquerades and costumes. The information about masquerades is meant for us, but sometimes the two old men divert to experiences that are common to only both of them, and we can only look on and take notes. One of us asks him about the Oloolu masquerade,  Baale Sango delves into customs and norms of the Oloolu, of which is that only the third born female of a set of triplets can see the Oloolu without any adverse effects. We ask him if his family has its own masquerade, he says yes and tells us that the masquerade painted on the wall is his own family masquerade. As it turned out, Eegun Adinimodo is a sort of nickname or second name. The popular name for the masquerade is Olukoyi. He adds that his son in the Polytechnic has his own masquerade as well and that students from various tertiary institutions often come to sew costumes  (albeit ones that no incantations and rites have been performed on) for cultural shows.

Baale Sango takes us to the room where completed costumes are kept; we have to remove our shoes before we can enter in there. This room is smaller than even the workroom, about eight feet square, there is only one tiny window and it is open for light and air to come in. He shows us some of the costumes he has worked on and then he shows us the costume of Olukoyi. As it turns out, the costume is not just yellow, black, and blue like the painting outside, but has some other different beautifully made colours. He also shows us a costume of an Egungun with the build of a woman, he says that the material for it was brought by some women from Lagos. When I asked him if women are allowed to wear masquerade costumes in Yorubaland, He says no, not in any place that he knows of. This makes me think of the women in the passageway. Throughout our interview, none of them ventured near the work room (but I saw a native comb that female hairdressers commonly use in the work room), perhaps making masquerade costumes and the rights that come with it is off limits for them (or at least one that they are not allowed to discuss in public with strangers), or maybe it is because we just didn’t bother to ask them. Baale Sango shows us the costume of his son’s masquerade. I decide not to take pictures in the costume room, though I am positive Baale Sango would not have minded if I did. Still, I do not want to take chances. As we come out of that room, I sense that we have done enough for the day. We present a bottle of schnapps to Baale Sango to appreciate him. He is grateful for the gift and says prayers for all of us. We all proceed down the stairs one person at a time.

Leave a Reply