Jumoke Verissimo- Profile

Jumoke Verissimo is the author of a well-received book titled I am Memory. She has participated in festivals across Nigeria and in Europe. She has a Masters in Performance Studies from the University of Ibadan and BA Literature-in-English from the Lagos State University. She has worked in the past as an editor, sub-editor, copywriter and a freelance journalist for major newspapers like Guardian and NEXT. Some of her poems are in translation in Italian, Norwegian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Macedonian. Her works have appeared in Migrations (Afro-Italian) Wole Soyinka ed., Voldposten 2010 (Norway), Ann Arbor (USA), Livred' or de Struga (Poetes du monde, sous le patronage de l'UNESCO) and many others. She is a recipient of the Chinua Achebe Centre Fellowship, Bard College, USA.

Jumoke Verissimo- Project

No Answer

The Nigerian amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorate happened in 1914. That year, became one, where the nation born out of political acquisition, became a land with a barrage of questions on its soil. The year 1914, has become a tangent of question seeking answers. It is a hundred years since the amalgamation, and many ponder, to celebrate or not to celebrate. To remember or to forget? There is the memory of independent kingdoms lumped together into a nation seeking a common reason to co-exist, other than the name and forced essence, bestowed on it by the colonialist. Is this a nation? No answer. Travel down to Benin; the place where a King—Oba Ovororanwen—protecting the values of his people was buried after taken into exile. No answer is the bereft look of a tourist at the British Museum, wondering why a Benin Royal Plaque sits under the light of a foreign land. There are many questions, but no answer? No answer. No answer! No answer to the several questions surrounding the Nigerian centenary celebration—for what exactly is being celebrated?

NO ANSWER

Jumoke Verissimo

ENTRY

Step One

Greetings to the owners of the land
Greetings to the land. Greetings to its earth
Greetings to a people who have kept the land
Greetings to the waters which birthed this earth
Greetings to you, makers of ideas that border the land
Greetings to you, who stand, you who sit, you who speak 
Greetings to Osanobua. The creator of a land of ideas
This land: Edo. Kingdom with the heart of safe beginnings
This land, where great ones make vows to remain great
Here it was, where Oguaware sprinkled origin into the future
Tying the blood of many generations into an echo 
He called out, and Edo convulsed passion into its soil
Becoming a mighty Iroko birthing several universes
The city which cleansed itself in the front of its foes
And with every departure of the sun from the skies
The news of its grandeur settled on travellers' brows
Men, women and children would sing:
Of an essential land where blood was indeed life
Where dead men, turned orators, recite eulogies to the moon
Edo travelled before it was founded
The greatness of Edo framed wisdom in the heads of seekers
Edo! Is this you? Is this not you? Men who heard of its fame asked
Hundred years after the question would change to:
Edo is this you watching as history becomes a myth?
On the lips of those who wrote history with drowsy eyes 

Step Two

There, in this land, blood was the water, blood was the tie
Ask the Oba, who stood his ground for the land to remain
Ask Ovonramwen, agitating that this fame shall remain
Telling in great breadth, of this land of wealth
A mirror of strength for men who were like forests
Solid and impenetrable beyond several coasts
Until that hundred years ago from which new stories came
New stories came with each traveller and each friendship
But the story which remained is that one you know 
Of things carted, of long departures, of unresolved history
Or have you not heard? Or do you not know?  
Of that time when the oracle saw the future of the land
Visiting men hurling the people's hands away from work
The oracle saw the men, he saw their mien, he beheld a rein
The oracle wept for a time, of that time to come
When the people's heart shall stand in sorrow 
In another clime viewing their drifting home
From the day blood sat down on Ugbine
When Edo men waited for the gods to affirm a response
While strangers hurried to confirm their intention
History on that day took the turn of myth
And the children of a land of honour
Became response to an ego bruise
Did you not hear? Or do you not know?
Of that day when blood washed the soil off the land 
The sun has risen the sun has fallen
Years have counted themselves back and forth
A hundred years in its whole grandeur
Questions the place of smiles and merriment
Like the riddle between the fish and the water
A hundred years find another claim
In the welcoming of the North into the South
Ask the country called Nigeria—greatness is a compromise
Of the unity in the small lands brought to found the big one
Of the forced embrace of the West and the East
Of a warm embrace which can't last forever
For in the detangling of the year's brevity
Is the birth of an idea that refuses to go?

BODY

Step One

This tale of a centenary is about travelling
Of time, of men, of water
Of waters waiting with the claims of knowledge
Ships departing. Ships Arriving. 
Travellers shipping shame away 
Travellers wait…
Travellers waiting until their journeys end
Travellers waiting to arrive

And it is told of a certain wait
Of this one tale of one of Benin's several visitors
Floaters on several seas and several lands
Memorable friendship which came with the Portuguese, 
They it was who offered a friendship that knew pleasure
They it was who offered with both hand gifts to ease life
Smiles were bartered between sides like gold coins
Their language found home in the mouth of the Bini
The Oba exalted these friends. Artist represented them
Brim hats against the ivory shone in the palace art
In the words of boiling waters and rising powers
They departed when their world tumbled
And so years walked into years into years
The land soon welcomed newer visitors
These ones: tellers of a land where the woman was King
Buyers of people's trust and future and dreams
They came, bearing gifts to the palace
Mirrors, caps, guns and smiles to move borders
They came, trading products with the people
Palm oil offered its redness as blood is life
Life soon to be distorted by the anger of their needs
Palm oil bags were soon carried in bloodied hands
But Benin, thought, what is greatness without enemies?
The land was one to be fought for. 
But then, here is a man smiling with a club
Friendship in the eyes, duplicity in the heart.

Step Two

Non-questions open road to ignorance
The story is not only of Benin
It is of marketing a land without the sentience 
Only for blood to settle score between need and heritage
An amalgamation became a new lesson in the bigger plot
The merger of several kingdoms thriving each on its own
Under a new rule, the ones with sight were blinded
The ones blinded were confronted as ones with sight
Don't you see you can see what you see?
And so, the story of the hundred years began
The celebration of a centenary of a hundred questions
A long walk of waiting when wearing the age of waiting
Then back to this ground, this land with sculptors' heart
Was all this not a hundred years ago?
Men carried their inheritance on their own head
A long wait, a long walk, to the waterside
For their heritage to suffer discomfort in foreign lands
Have you not heard, that the royal bronze, sits in a foreign Museum
Learning to protest in the language of its defamers
Questioning each visitor to its stand, telling stories,
'You see, I was brought here, a hundred years ago
Stolen from African, brought to this land
See, I've been waiting, waiting for leave
For the palace. For I am a royal breed.'

And so, the story of the hundred years goes on
It is of the conscience of over three hundred clans
Kingdoms with their own head and their own hands
Brought together without a common goal
But for the common need of that faraway land
The sun in its duties—dawn into dusk
Witness to the call of a hundred years.

EXIT

Honour is what keeps the sun up
Diligence is the lot of the moon
Resilience is the comfort of the skies
The earth is the owner of broken virtues
Let those who tread the earth remember
That denial it was, which made the vulture bald
Loss it was, which makes the owl howl at night
So, it is, that the loss of freedom, kills the head
And as the phlegm hits the ground
Life in the ambit of the powerless is told to the wind
And the trees share the tales as they learn it
So, it is, that the men who cart away the men
Also carted away the heart and their tongue
So, it is, that the one who gives the food
Dictates the hour of work to be done
So, it is, that a long walk in a story
Is a minute tale in the mouth of a storyteller

I do not depart from here without questions
For the one who asks shall always be learned
I do not depart here without your eyes in mine
For the one who is understood shall always stand

Let the earth bear our messages, let the words spoken multiply
That the ears of the heart of the century open
To a time when a hundred years is not only a celebration
But a time to gather a hundred questions never answered in the past.