Monday, March 20, 2006

Owambe space

Last night I went to a luxury owambe ('come and show') party. A big society woman was 'washing' her new upscale housing estate in Maitama. The yearly rent is reputedly 90,000US per year (N13.5million). The compound was beautifully decorated with coloured cloth awnings and softly glowing lanterns. There were hundreds of women resplendent in expensive lace and fantastically origamed geles. The initial impression was as if one had been shrunk to insect size and I were crawling through a pile of christmas presents for aristocrats. KSA (King Sunny Ade) was crooning and praise-singing on stage. I want to write in more detail about the space of the owambe in a separate essay - there is so much complexity and subtlety at work that owambes at their finest reveal the genius of the (mainly Yoruba-derived) culture. For now, just feast your eyes on the images to the side and below..


Anonymous,  3:03 pm  

as a westerner i don't really understand 'washing her house' could you please elaborate further

Akin 3:25 pm  

This spraying business is one hedonistic trait I have never been disposed to about my Yoruba heritage.

Being Ijebu for instance, it has been noted that you can get all the financing you want for a burial but hardly any for a worthwhile business venture.

'Wasing her house' is a Nigerian euphemism for house-warming.

This spraying business was taken to another extreme when a Fuji proponent visited London and was singing praises 'Olowo serve yourself' meaning the person being praised did not have to spray the cash, rather the musician was taking the money out of an open pocket.

Somehow, as a medium of exchange there is a lot of money in Nigeria but concentrated in a few hands and spent with reckless abandon that equals the debauchery of the courts of absolute monarchs of old.

Is there any wonder that crime is even more violent as the have-nots attack and dispossess the people who have plenty?

Then everyone with all their wealth and prosperity builds to themselves fortresses that would make Fort Knox look like a play pen.

In my world, one we have signed a contract for the musician to perform, that is the fee. If everyone enjoyed themselves, I might consider a bonus.

However, I suppose my poor hedonistic traits would make me a very poor representative of Nigerian values.

Kemi,  5:03 pm  

Jeremy "Owambe" doesn't mean 'come and show'.

Its literal meaning is "He/She was there", and is basically a colloquial expression for a party where the significant (i.e. nobodies)in Nigerian society are in attendance).

It can also be construed to mean a "be there or be square" type party, but everyone is dressed in traditional garb.

Jeremy 5:36 pm  

thanks Kemi. I knew that it meant he/she was there. I cant quite work out why I put Come and show..

Funke,  6:39 pm  

Never ceases to amaze me the lengths Naija will go to 'show off' despite living in a country where dire poverty is so extreme. There is never any guilt in splashing their wealth and paying servants not even enough to live on. Also where is the 'charitable' aspect of such spectacular displays of wealth? Seems to me the divide between the haves and haves not is growing every day and no one is determined to narrow it. I say SHAME.....

funke,  6:47 pm  

jeremy, why is the front page showing 0 comments?

Geekette 7:14 pm  

Jeremy, you said you went to a "luxury owambe". When is an owambe ever not luxurious? I tend to define it literally as "it (as opposed to he/she) was there", metaphorically as the rhythmic commotion arising from the collision of excess. "It" signifies an abundance of everything; food, drink, fine fabrics, hot flesh, presents, and of course that ultimate signifier of excess, raw cash. ;)

Anon: "washing" signifies a celebration of any event considered a joyous occasion. You could be washing your company/product launch, birthday, deathday (celebrated if the deceased lived a long life), job promotion, marriage, etc.

john,  9:52 pm  

as an English man, I was always amazed at how many people the average Nigerians know. When I worked in Lagos for a year I got invited to countless parties where the host 'knew' sometimes up to 500 people or more. This is a phenomenon unique to Nigeria. In England you're lucky to have a small terraced home full of people at a do, and that's when your very popular. Do Nigerians really know all these people, or is it customary to invite complete strangers to make up numbers and to 'look good'?

Anonymous,  10:10 pm  

Dear John
They don't know all that many people. The few they do know invite their own friends and they in turn invite more and it goes on... Also, the extended family plays its role in weddings of geometric magnitude. The reason therefore why Nigerian communal rituals can be so populous is therefore more down to the fact that people do not feel abashed about inviting all their friends along, rather than due to any higher level of popularity per individual at work in Nigeria. If you chanced upon any largish owambe in London and asked someone attending how many people they knew in the room, you might be surprised at how few fellow owambeyers they would know personally..


Anonymous,  10:34 am  

I was there too. Place was mainly full of the wives of the various big men who have unashamedly looted this country. Atikus, Babangidas ... parasites the lot of them.... So what was I doing there? Not ashamed to be a parasite, I went for the free food, drink and to shake my booty...

Anonymous,  11:12 am  

To Geekette, whilst I agree with you that most owambes are about excess, not all of them are luxurious in their excessiveness. Owambes that involves the parasatic looters of the nations tended to be one of excessive luxury. I wonder what will happen if somebody makes a copy of the invitation card and distribute it all the homeless, beggers of Abuja or lagos and they invade the parties, feasting on the all the excessive display. And after feasting, they are so repulsed and angered by the excess they decide to forment a revolution?

Alas, this is Nigeria. It will neve r happen. one is allowed to dream.

Moremi Anger

Anonymous,  8:52 am  

I know the woman you're talking about. LOL

She's my mum's friend and my mum was at that party.

Small world...

Anonymous,  12:31 am  

I have never been to see KSA. I don't really have a desire to. To me he represents a group of musicians from another era, another culture. Possibly similar to the court jesters of Olde England. Praise singing is a medieval activity and in my experience has undermined the dignity of the many talented artists in Nigerian and turned them to beggars.

The sooner this particular culture dies the better (for the real artists that is).

uknaija 12:28 pm  

To what extent does taking part in these ostentatious make us part of the perpetuation of this wasteful and asinine culture?

Anonymous,  10:50 pm  

Is Jeremy sure it's legal to post a photo of this person on the web.

Do you guys believe that usa is the 5th in the league table of the worlds national football teams???!!

Ball melo ni won gba????? And with all of England's publicity they are barely keeping to pace?? What the heck is going on. Too much glorification I tell you. Also, Prince Sharlie's income has been exposed! Alas, we can found out how much of the UK's money this overindulgent man and his woman of the night turned possible Queen of England are using to enrich their pockets. Goodness kknows what's to happen next at this rate!

Anonymous,  11:15 pm  

Efi Charlie le o.After all we are all britis:-)

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