(PG-13) By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
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By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
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Unless you are a Gambian …or live in The Gambia, you wouldn’t know what Afinjang is all about. So I will tell you. Afinjang is a Mandinka folkloric song made famous by the Gambian National Army Band during the last presidential election. The song tells of the nostalgia felt by a bride as she leaves her father’s house for her matrimonial home, and the accompanying fanfare of dancing, flirting, teasing and merry making.
Afinjang is so heady, that no one is spared its allure and opiate power. Whenever it is vibrating over loudspeakers, the sick, the lame and the crippled become hungry for a dance …and actually dance!
Politicians love Afinjang, for it draws the electorate like honey draws flies. At rally centres, villages as well as market squares, before they commence their honed craft of making long winded speeches, everyone must first dance to the magical Afinjang. If you were a visitor, you would be amazed, as, before your very eyes, a set of a dozen or more people would quickly commandeer, and form a circle around the enormous, corrugated trunks of nearby mango, silk-cotton, neem, orange and baobab trees. When the available trees are all occupied, people rally to the walls of nearby houses and shops. Or to the sides of vehicles or any standing object, say an electric or a telephone pole.
Spreading their legs, men and women, boys and girls, the old and the young would grab these upright objects and with eyes closed and mouths agape, rock their waists to the left …and to the right …and to the left …and to the right, front and back, front and back …in rhythm with the soul searing song. Giant bluebottles have been known to undertake reconnaissance trips inside these open mouths as their owners are held to ransom by the magnetic tunes of Afinjang, issuing forth from gigantic loudspeakers.
Afinjang is equally the darling of market women. Excited customers, with the song floating in their brains end up being cheated into the bargain. Touts love Afinjang; it engenders the ideal environment for pockets to be cleanly picked.
Even the clergy. They love Afinjang too!
In the middle of his favourite tripartite-themed sermon of ‘Brood of vipers’, ‘Pharisees and Sadducees’, and ‘Whitewashed graves …sparkling on the outside, but stinking on the inside’, my Lord Bishop would suddenly freeze, and then go limp, and for several long seconds, would rock his heavy rump (not unlike a woman’s) first to the east, and then to the west and at last, with a frenzy, front and back, front and back, as a campaign vehicle zooms past, with Afinjang blaring from its loudspeakers. Rolling his bulgy eyeballs at his awe-stricken congregation, he would then mop his sweaty creased brow with one long, slim finger, flicking the brown sweat here and there, and, like the Biblical John the Baptist in the wilderness, he would go prancing to and fro on the altar and crying eloquently in his native Krio in a crazed, booming voice, “Yes! …Yes!! Mi fambo. We God pikin dem need such tonics lek Afinjang na we lives.”
The congregation, suddenly released from their trance would then go agog, prompting themselves with shouts of, “HALLELUUUUU…”
And the old cathedral, on its brick foundations, would rumble with an ear busting, “HALLELUJAAAAHHH!!”
Such is the fervour …such is the emotive power of Afinjang!
Now, maybe I should tell you more about my Lord Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Barr. Estrewaje. You should see him performing on stage: an overflowing robe, sometimes white, other times purple, complete with a Jewish skullcap, barely concealing his shimmering bald patch. Gold-rimmed spectacles, precariously perched on his broad, squashed nose, like a flesh-eating Palaeolithic bird about to swoop on an unsuspecting prey. Hanging on his neck is a gold crucifix, large enough to crucify an adult on; gold rings, adorned with multicoloured stones grace all three last fingers of the left hand, and of course, the faithful solid silver Swiss chronometer! A peacock would surely asphyxiate with envy and jealousy, seeing Bishop Estrewaje, rainbow-like, as he trots, vibrates and spits ‘holy’ fire on his ‘more-often-than-not’, bemused congregation, especially when the warm early morning sun rays stealing through cracks on the ancient coloured glass windows of the old cathedral bath him in glorious colours, which is most of the time.
A born charlatan and title lover, Bishop Estrewaje!
Okay, he may be a gifted charlatan and title lover, and may have since cut his teeth as a dramatist and public speaker, but my Lord Bishop is a no-nonsense Bishop. True, you must give him that! You dare not make silly jokes with him. If you do, then you deserve what comes your way. If you are, say a foreign priest serving under his jurisdiction, and you mess around with his Holiness, you are given less than 24 hours to haul your priestly arse out of the country. You see, apart from priding himself as the Bishop that he rightly is, my Lord Bishop also likes to think of himself as the interior minister.
“Look,” he would often bark at an offending priest, “I am the Bishop of Serrekunda, the largest Diocese in The Gambia. Do you realize that? There are only two people I care about in this country …the Chief Imam and His Excellency, the President …”
I cannot understand why my Lord Bishop would care for the Chief Imam, after all, are they not at loggerheads with respect to what Jesus really ‘is’ and the ‘legitimacy’ of Mohammed, whom my Lord Bishop has often described as an ‘illegitimate’ child, sired under sin? Well, that is not my bother, though I dare say I know why my Lord Bishop will care for His Excellency.
Once, His Excellency had given my Lord Bishop a very important national assignment. The sort that IBB1 of Nigeria would give to somebody he wanted to discredit. Remember? IBB did it to Comrade Tai Solarin2… that archetype of the Indian leader, Mohandas Karamchand, aka Mahatma Gandhi. Comrade Tai Solarin later died after IBB had finished messing him up. Some people said he committed suicide to ram home his disgust for IBB!
Anyway, my Lord Bishop had wanted to keep a clean slate, but had underestimated His Excellency, a student of IBB.
“You want to spoil my hard earned revolution?” His Excellency had barked. “Do what I tell you, because I put you there.”
“No. I am the Lord Bishop of Serrekunda. I must be seen to be fair,” my Lord Bishop had barked in return.
“Then I sack you with immediate effect!” His Excellency announced on state radio and television.
“No you can’t sack me. This is democracy,” my Lord Bishop cried. “I must seek redress in our impeccable legal system,” he told a sympathetic congregation one hot Sunday.
And His Excellency, with ‘ears’ everywhere heard!
“You can seek redress in heaven for all I care,” His Excellency fired back, this time in a state owned newspaper. “When I appointed you as the Chairman of NEC (National Electoral Commission), you did not seek anything. Now I ask you to go, and you are seeking redress. Maybe you want six feet!”
As soon as ‘six feet’ was mentioned, my Lord Bishop cowered. Not that he is a coward mind you, but then, who likes to be threatened with ‘six feet below sea level’? Not even my Lord with all his undisguised love for heaven where honey and milk flows non-stop, and there is neither hunger nor thirst, pain nor sorrow, slavery nor injustice. My good Lord Bishop has every reason to reckon with His Excellency who can face America and Russia and Britain all rolled into one (…with his one and only refurbished jet fighter, a gift …or rather a bribe from some Asian country, seeking autonomy from the mighty ‘Dragon’).
When my Lord Bishop was not seeing himself as an interior minister or as a former NEC heavyweight, he was thinking of himself as a businessman.
“Actually,” he would announce in church, pounding his chest like an angry gorilla, “I am more of a businessman than a clergy.”
And this is absolutely true!
You want to cheat my Lord Bishop of a dime? Think again. Once, one of his priests had submitted a claim of a few dalasi for some church work he had carried out with his personal money. As if that was not enough, the ‘thieving’ priest, asked for a car to be assigned to him, and for a telephone to be installed in his house. And he was a foreign priest. A refugee to be specific.
You should have seen my Lord Bishop as he thundered like a tornado and tore like a tsunami:
“In Liberia where you come from, does your parish own even a spoke, not to talk of a bicycle? Now you want a car, a telephone, a computer, a gas cooker, a fax machine, a mobile phone, satellite dish, cable TV…. You are taking advantage of my magnanimity, eh? Now pack and go back to your Liberia. You have 24 hours to vamoose.”
Poor priest! In less than six hours, he was a double refugee, having been kicked out of the vicarage.
During the process of hoodwinking this poor priest into abandoning his native Diocese in Liberia, my Lord Bishop had promised everything under the sun; from a fully furnished apartment to refunds for any church work done with personal money and refunds of travel expenses. But of course, he had somehow forgotten these pledges.
My Lord? Whoever you may be, don’t joke with him where money is concerned. What of one time when some mission partners had wanted to audit him? As it were, several thousands of US dollars donated for mission work had quickly developed limbs and strolled daintily out of the church’s coffers.
“To question my impeccable integrity, what sacrilege? A whole Bishop like myself who answers to only two people in this universe? Now withdraw your nosey missionaries. You think this is colonial days? Don’t you realise you should be paying reparations for enslaving my people and carting away our natural resources years ago when you brought your ‘nonsensical’ religion this way?”
Just like that. The Home Office in Ireland withdrew the poke-nosing missionaries and talks of the missing ten thousand USD died a natural death.
My Lord Bishop …expert craftsman. There is no auditing him. If you dare, try.
My Lord Bishop is an enigma. The youngest man to be ordained Bishop on planet earth …believe it or not. And an acclaimed sportsman too. A former member of the national table-tennis team, cricket team, lawn tennis team, handball team, basketball team, football team, you just name the team and he was there. He was even a member of the choir before he became bishop at his tender age, having ‘somehow’ muscled out his one and only opponent by threatening to tell the whole world ‘something’, if the opponent did not kindly ‘step aside’.
Some say that he is not matured enough to hold such a sensitive post. They argue that since he assumed the position of bishop, three quarters of the congregation has disappeared, some becoming ‘born again’, others shifting to Catholicism, and yet others cross-carpeting, preferring to become Methodists and Baptists and even Muslims!
Not that my Lord Bishop cares.
As long as there were two or three ‘Suzies’ tucked nicely away in a fancy hotel somewhere, preferably out of town to service him, and access to Guinness was not denied him, every other person could go to hell and roast there.
The last time there was a Father’s Day celebration in the church, the hall was filled to capacity, bringing back sweet memories of good old days when parishioners had not deserted and became apostates. Guinness was flowing. The organizers had hired a DJ, and sweet music was flowing too. You should have seen my Lord Bishop in full glory, with a flowing regalia of purple frock coat. He cradled two chilled and sweating bottles of Guinness in both hands, prancing from one table to another and urging the young men, “Rise up brothers, rise. Dance. We must have a foretaste of our heavenly bounty here on earth.”
And when one of James Brown’s soul searing songs wafted out of the speakers, my Lord Bishop strode to a very beautiful woman, a parishioner’s wife, and ‘excused’ her for a dance, whereupon he rested his large head on the unsuspecting woman’s prominent cleavage, to her and her husband’s chagrin and to the consternation of the parishioners who whispered their bewilderment of ‘See the Bishop, see the Bishop,’ in hushed tones.
But the evening was just beginning.
And the DJ had not forgotten to bring along a cassette of Afinjang.
Half way through the Father’s Day, when parishioners who believed in the ‘drink-but-don’t-get-drunk’ philosophy were well and truly soaked (not drunk, mind you), Afinjang suddenly rent the already charged atmosphere. And the crowd, including my Lord Bishop where thrown into a frenzy as they roared their approval. Quickly, everyone sought an upright object. Determined not to be outdone, my Lord Bishop, with his bottle spilling its black content raced to the nearest plum tree; he of course needed to have a vantage position.
And as the opiate tunes of Afinjang, together with alcohol seeped into his marrow and overtook his sensibilities, my Lord Bishop, grabbing his plum tree in one hand and his bottle in another rocked to the fierce rhythm.
Oh, what a sight!
What a spectacle!
Several minutes passed as Afinjang held sway.
The churchwarden, a teetotaller, and the Bishop’s bodyguard so to speak, soon noticed the tears streaming down the Bishop’s face in his ecstasy. He went over and gently pried the Bishop away, disarming him of his black bottle, as one would remove a candy from a sleeping child.
The warden then led the Bishop to his black jeep.
“Brood of vipers …Lepers …white washed tombs,” astonished parishioners heard him whispering incoherently as he was being led away.
If only they knew why my Lord Bishop was weeping. If only they knew that the night before he had received a rather disturbing telephone call from his doctor. As his driver sped away, with him slumped in his owner’s corner, the nightmare returned, and he cringed, blocking his ears with both hands. This however could not keep away his doctor’s sombre voice, “Yes, I am sure your Lordship. The HIV test results came out positive again.”
1 – Former Nigerian military dictator.
2 – A well-known Nigerian nationalist, now late.