One or the Other

by Sefi Atta

From Josaiah Ransome-Kuti, The Drummer Boy Who Became a Canon, by Isaac O. Delano

I was born between the years of 1855 and 1857, the exact date being unknown. My father, Kuti by name, is the grandson of Likoye, a woman of note at Igbein whom God blessed with many children. He was a staunch heathen of Igbein Township; a weaver of cloth and a town musician by profession; and as every male here is supposed to be a warrior, he used to go to war with the Balogun of Igbein, in one of which wars he had a very narrow escape. He did not like Christianity. He used to say that the white men make everything dear, such as palm-oil, palm kernel and shea-butter because they export them to Europe; he would be glad to exterminate Christianity and the white men but he had no power; he died of a guinea-worm sore in 1863.

Our present remaining family belongs to the war department of Igbein Township. I inherited my father’s farm. What seems the cause of separation from my heathen family is nothing but Christianity, and I am proud of it.

My mother’s name is Ekidan Efupeyin. She belonged to the royal line of Igbein and Imo Township. Her family idol is Orisa-Oko, one of the most costly idols. She became a Christian in about 1848 and took the name Anne. To her I owe my Christianity today, for my father lived and died a heathen. She was a Wesleyan convert, but a difference between the late Reverend Beckersneth of Obge and Reverend King of Igbein brought her over to the Igbein church. The cause of the matter was simply this: not knowing that the two brethren were not on terms, she, in her ignorance, one Sunday attended Igbein church on a visit to her sisters in the Lord. She was dismissed and, of course, Reverend King received her gladly.

She suffered terribly from her uncle, the Balogun of Igbein. She used to pray much for me because her uncle threatened to kill me if she did not change her faith. She also prayed that I may become a prophet of the Lord. I quite remember her prayer then, and I quote it. She used to say in prayer, thus: “Lord let this my son Josaiah become thy prophet”. Of course, she meant a teacher. This simple and heartfelt prayer used to ring in my ears—after years—and she lived to see me sent into the Training Institute and thence into the field as a teacher.

In 1864, my mother took me to the principal of the Training Institute to serve as his houseboy. I attended day school for some time. I stayed about a year there and then sickness forced me back to my uncle’s farm. He was an emigrant from Sierra Leone by the name of Thomas Cole alias “Kajero”. Staying some time there, I returned home again but, soon after attending school, I was sick with measles which nearly proved fatal.

The late Reverend Allen was then taking charge of Igbein station and the Training Institute. That kind Reverend gentleman took good care of me, nursed me, prayed for me, attended me always at my mother’s place. It was this kindness which made me want to stay with him, but my father refused.

In my mother’s absence in the farm, Papa would give me food offered to idols, would take me to Obanifon Grove and to all other sacrificial feasts, he being an efficient drummer. He would shave my head and leave a tuft of hair in the center and would call me Oso or Likoye and not Josaiah, and he would also not allow my schoolmates to come to call me to school, and would fight any Christian who called me Josaiah outside.

Of course, under such a father I became fond of sacrificial feasts, and naturally I liked my father for giving me nice things to eat. But when my mother arrived from the farm, she would take me to church, take me to school and not allow me to partake of things offered to idols. But as soon as she left for the farm, my father would resume his former practice and this went on for years until my father died in 1863. Then my mother took me altogether to herself.

My youth was glorious and prosperous. I enjoyed excellent health and a good physique, and suffered only from accidents brought upon myself in doing my share of youthful pranks. I was a healthy boy. I can now judge that I was not a good boy. I liked the white men’s teaching, but more did I like the sweet things they gave us to eat. I always refused my father’s injunctions not to follow my mother to church. I liked going with her. She made it pleasant by buying me new dresses. We attended Bible Class, Sunday School and the church services together. I could claim to have eaten the idol meat and the missionaries’ biscuits on the same day.

From Alhaji Ibrahim Atta, A Visionary Traditional Ruler, by Albert Ozigi

On 26 March 1930, we left Marseilles for Port Said, arriving there on 31st March. One day was spent at Port Said and then we proceeded to Cairo. Cairo is a wonderful city. It appears to be populated entirely by Muslims and there are innumerable mosques.

While I was in Cairo, an Egyptian (he seemed an official of sorts, I cannot recall his name) engaged me in a conversation. He asked me various questions regarding Nigeria and especially of my own country there. He asked me if we all paid tax. I answered that certainly we did and explained to him how the tax was divided, half to the government and half to the native administration. He then asked me what we thought of the British. I told him we thought very highly of them. He informed me that a lot of the big people of Egypt were at present in London to attend some conference that no British soldiers were to remain in Egypt. After that he said to me that it would be a good thing if Arabic was taught in all the schools. I replied that I would consider the matter and talk to my District Officer about it, as I had no desire to hide anything from the government. He then went away, leaving me with the impression that there was not much difference between the people of Lagos and the Egyptians.

Proceeding to Mecca by car (charge one pound per head going and thirty-five shillings per head returning) we lodged at the house of a Hausa name Shehu Tukur. A certain youth had noticed my party greeting people from Lagos whom we had traveled with and who lodged in a different quarter. This youth followed us to our lodging and asked me if I was not an Arab. I replied that I was not, whereupon he seized hold of my gown. I ordered him to let go at once and depart, and he went. Next day he complained of being assaulted to Shehu Mai Su Taafi, who sent one of his messengers with the youth to my lodging. He came into my apartment and my servant Musa turned him out. We then went before Shehu Mai Su Taafi and there the youth declared that my servant and a son of my host (Shehu Tukur) named Haruna had beaten him. He (Shehu Mai Su Taafi) then picked up a stick and proceeded to beat Haruna. I interfered and said there was no need to do such a thing. I was then told to call my servant Musa. I refused. He then said I had to leave my present lodging and go and live at the youth’s place. Again, I refused and said he could kill me if he liked, but I certainly would not go on my own accord. I went on to say I had come a very long journey to make the pilgrimage, but if this was the way I was going to be treated, I would return at once to my own country. He said “go then” and I walked away but, after I had gone some little distance, he called me back and apologised and made the youth kneel and kiss my hand. He then forbade Haruna to ever enter the sacred precincts of Mecca again.

Next day, Shehu Mai Su Taafi called me, and he, I and an old Hausa name Dan Kanye (who had lived forty years in Mecca) had a long talk. We conversed amicably. He asked whether we had unbelievers. I said, “Do you mean in my country?” Then Dan Kanye told him that all the Europeans there were unbelievers. I was then asked if we had courts of justice. On my replying that we had, I was asked if there were any thieves in my country. I told him there were plenty and he asked if we cut off their hands. I informed him that we did not do that sort of thing. He said it seemed a pretty poor place and enquired what was our custom as regards adultery—if the guilty ones were killed. I told him that they were not killed. We either flogged them (the men only) or fined them and, if they could not pay the fine, they were sentenced to imprisonment for one month or two months or even three months as the case may be.

He then said that the Europeans are spoiling everything and that if one went by the Koranic law, a thief should have either his arm or his leg cut off. I replied I was aware of that but this practice is not followed these days. Dan Kanye told me there was a slave market in Mecca and suggested I should go and have a look at it. I declined. He then asked me did I not want to buy a slave? I said “How much?” He replied that one could be bought from thirty pounds to eighty pounds. I then informed him that I had no desire to see the slave market, far less to buy a slave. Even had I so desired, where could I take him? One does not put fire on one’s own head. Dan Kanye then went on to tell me that the King had issued an order some seven years ago that no person was to be captured and sold to slavery, but if a slave was brought to Mecca by one making the pilgrimage, this slave could be sold there.

Mecca is very unsanitary and the water is bad. The houses, however, are good. The heat is very trying and the mosquitoes are very troublesome. There are a great many Hausas (I should put the number at some thousands—probably six thousand) in Mecca. These would like to return to their own country but lack the necessary means. They live by begging and working as labourers and the women are mostly prostitutes. They are despised by the Arabs.

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Tade May 15, 2008 - 6:43 am

Its like T.S Eliot propounded: Sef is both tradition and individual talent. And she is just beginning!

anonymous May 13, 2008 - 4:03 am

Sefi Atta has an amazing background that others only ever get to read about. she then marries into a family with a history as rich as hers. and through all this, remains focused, humble and neutral. a talented writer indeed, Everything good was really as interesting as its title.

Atta Girl! May 12, 2008 - 9:59 am

I am an OGQC (1988-1993) and Sefi writes about QC in 1975. Everything Good Will Come is about middle class Nigerian experience. I loved it and nice article.

Up Sefi ! Up QC !

Chuka May 12, 2008 - 9:05 am

Interesting and cultural article. I read Everything Good Will Come and the sister can write. I give her that. I found out about her on Village Square. Her website has some information about here next novel. Sounds interesting to me. Will be looking out for it.

Good luck to her.

Christain reader May 11, 2008 - 7:47 pm

It is not only you who is confused, my sister.

God bless

Jumai M May 11, 2008 - 6:42 pm

Some fun family history here. I am Hausa and Muslim. Sefi is one of my favorite Nigerian writers. I LOVED Everything Good Will come and will look out for her next novel. Congratulations Sefiya you are a voice of my generation!

reader May 11, 2008 - 6:13 pm

interesting article!

Adebayo May 11, 2008 - 4:32 pm

Like the Title “Everything Good Will Come”- I will be getting one from ebay!

akboy May 11, 2008 - 2:08 pm

I dont even understand what your point here. Anyway, who cares?

a reader May 8, 2008 - 10:04 pm

beautiful article.

Josiah Ransome Kuti is the same age as my grandfather.


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