Coming of Age


Oludewa, they call him. ‘He has returned’.

It is said that upon his birth, a shooting star fell. The moon was unusually full and bright, turning night into day. Despite the brightness, the night seemed longer than usual; and the animals of the night howled all night. These, they say, were the signs of one born to the same land twice. His birth was foretold by the founder of our town; Chief Nanna Olomu. They say he is Nanna come back to us.

I listen as people talk excitedly about him.

After all these years, has returned from the city for this year’s Neville Festival. His family house must be filled with people wanting to see him.

I am also curious too but I haven’t been there because I must cut mangrove wood from the creeks for market-day sales tomorrow.

Some say he has fierce eyes; others describe him muscular with arms like that of a warrior. I hear he is young and unmarried.

“Is he handsome?” I wonder.


When I arrived at Koko, I was surprised by the people’s reception. I thought it strange, and I turned to my uncle for an explanation. His cryptic “You are special”, did nothing to dispel my unease. People thronged to the house to greet me, and to get away from them, I took long walks along the waterside. I have never before, seen the riverine lifestyle – although I was born here, my family moved to the city while I was still an infant. This was my first visit back home.

Speed boats and big boats mounted with engines, came from neighboring villages with farm produce and other goods to trade at the market. Once, I saw a big ship in the distance.

And there before me, was this slender lady, my age or younger. On a canoe full of mangrove woods, she paddled, deft strokes. In my eyes, she controlled her surroundings.

“I want to know her”.

And then my name snapped me out of my trance. I turned round and came face to face with the high priest. He smiled at me and said ‘It is time.’

That night, I dreamt of a man caught in the throes of war. He was adorned in rich George wrapper, hand and neck beads that seemed rare, priceless. I heard distinct cries of faces unseen.

Women, wives panicked.

“Nanna! Nanna!! What do we do?” They cried in Itsekiri dialect.

I saw him carried through a canal, unto a ship and I saw the shore receding. I looked again and saw him in a cell and he had a visitor, a white man. Nana pled his innocence and the white man kept nodding as he stated his case. He promised to get Nanna out. As he moved away, the light from the lantern fell on Nanna and I saw his face clearly for the first time – he was me, only older!

I woke with a start. Sweat coursed down my face.

The next morning, I told the High Priest my dream.

He smiled, “I knew it. You are our promised hero returned, Nanna Olomu, founder of our land. The white man in your dream is the same person whom we celebrate to this day. George Neville. He threw some cowries to the ground, hummed a short tune, cocked his head this way and that. Then he nodded, at something only he saw…’


It’s Neville Festival Day. People of the land are gathered at the town square itching for the festival commence. I inch my way gradually to the edge of the crowd so that I am in the front row. I will have the best view – and I hope he notices me too, as I have dressed up for him, in my prettiest blouse and wrapper. The other day, I saw him standing on the Jetty as I paddled, but I was too embarrassed to look his way.

The sounds of drums are heard as the high priest and Oludewa dance in. He’s a bit sloppy at first but as the tempo increases, he gets better. He is dressed in the colourful ‘kweke’ attire with red beads over his neck and shoulders. His arms are stretched and sweat is visible. I feel like touching those arms. Suddenly the drums stop and the horn is blown: a signal for him to perform the rights.


As I mount the stage to perform the rites of gin and kola-nut, I catch her brown eyes just before she can look away. Then I turn my eyes back to the crowd before me.

‘Sons and daughters of Koko soil. As a descendant of the great Chief Nanna Olomu, I greet you all. We gather here today to commemorate the friend of our ancestral father, George W. Neville, who fought for our brave father and warrior Chief Nanna Olomu’s freedom to return from exile with his Accra children. Without Neville there might be no Koko today. So eat, drink and make merry. But most of all, remember to do good to others.’

With these words, I pour gin to the ground to greet the gods.


Applause erupts as he walks off the stage. But he walks in my direction and asks my name.

‘A-A-Alero,’ I stutter.

Later that evening, I tell him more of Koko. He tells me in turn of where he lives in Warri and how there is a big school, founded in 1903, called Nanna College. The school produces warriors – individuals who fight to improve the lives of others, whether as doctors, sailors, governors or teachers. People who made a difference – just as intends to do in Koko land.


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