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
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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.