Rituals were a vital part of the ways of the old Yorubas. Like gold rings on a beggar, they stood out amongst the people. They came in different forms; the good, the not-so-good, the terrible, the necessary and the sacrosanct rituals. Many of them, no matter how bloody they got, were compulsorily performed in the presence of a crowd of jubilating folks.
They were real and potent.
If a person fell ill, rituals were made to beg the gods to keep them alive; if the soil failed to produce or the skies refused to bring water, rituals were also made to appease the deity in charge to make things better. There was a ritual for virtually everything- finding love, keeping the love, winning a battle, conceiving, and living long. According to the Yorubas, only immortality had no ritual around it, because everyone must die.
Amongst the vast array, there was a group of rituals for making money supernaturally; they were popular, yet done clandestinely. They were called Ogun Owo. A deeper sect of herbalists called Babalawos were in charge of these rituals.
The Ogun Owo rituals varied too, and they always involved blood-spilling. There were those which provided their doers with enough to just survive- eat, buy clothes and visit drinking joints. Prepared with animal blood, they usually had no serious repercussion. There were others which brought their almost-always-greedy doers massive supernatural fortune; a previously poor man would suddenly get rich enough to be able to do and undo, to dine with kings, buy lands, shop for servants and send their male children to school. Here, human blood got spilled. And with them came tough requirements and grave repercussions. One might be required to kill a close relation, or begin sleeping in weird places like burial grounds, or to never spend on a loved one, or to forgo an important part of their body. The babalawo would instruct,
“O gbodo tun sun pelu omo’birin mo laye!”
“Odi eewo fun o lati wo aso funfun o, tabi je obe epo.”
Sometimes, the doer would have to choose a short and intense money-making period over his natural longevity, so whenever a poor man suddenly turned rich, and then died a few months later mysteriously, eyebrows were raised, the people understood.
The doers of this type of Ogun Owo always ended tragically, with no relations and sanity, because somewhere along the line, they would fail to keep up with the warnings and requirements. The spilled blood always had a way of paying back. This was why this ritual was ironically for the strongest minds; strong enough to shoulder the deadly effects, but not strong enough to sweat for the money; it was for people who believed enjoying for a few months was better than living long, uncertain years of penury.
Of all, there was a particular less-done money ritual which gave massive fortune, but with no repercussion. Despite its human-blood demand, it brought no doom on its user, once it was concluded; there was massive money for life. No sudden deaths or revenge, no binding requirements except that which would enable the ritual to be concluded in the first place. The name of this ritual was Masun’kun.
It seemed like the best of them all, but because of the paradox involved in effectively executing it, no man had ever opted for masun’kun, until Akapo.
Akapo was a farmer going by the tiny, semi-fertile farm behind his rickety hut. Other times, he was a palm-wine tapper, he could also be a cheap messenger for those who would pity him and pay him for something they could have easily done by themselves. But mostly, he was a poor man. It seemed to everyone that the gods had specially created him to be a perfect example of ‘poverty-stricken’.
Whenever his lanky frame, bent and disfigured by an invisible sack of troubles dragged past, gossip topics always changed, people would suddenly stop and begin whispering things about how a nice, easy and hardworking man could be so cursed. They would flash him smiles that said “we pity you, but keep moving, don’t inflict us,” and he would respond with a genuine one, and slog on to deliver the palm-wine, or clothes, or whatever he was carrying. He had perfected the art of pretending not to know what they thought of him. They didn’t like him around. Of course, no one wanted a failure around. But they loved his cheap services, they loved that he had no choice and pride, they loved that he was always available whenever they had no money to pay a trained artisan. He knew.
Sadly, his wife, Asabi felt similarly about him. Her disdain for him grew with each passing day, and she made no effort to hide it.
The fear of returning home slowly took over Akapo. Because Asabi would be waiting to pounce on him for coming back empty-handed, or with so little- whenever luck shined on him. When they discovered she was pregnant, things went worse with her always threatening to leave if Akapo did not do something, she would never raise a baby in this condition- a hut with a leaky roof and no food. He hated seeing her in distress; he hated watching her love for him dwindle by the day. But at the end, it was not her fault, love needed money to thrive.
Despite being a poor man, Akapo had dreams. Every night, he would quietly lay under the stars and imagine his wife in expensive wrappers, he would imagine his unborn children rushing into a big, non-leaky house, after arriving from the white man’s school, it was his dream for all of them- male and female to sit in classrooms and be taught. Whenever he passed by the big school, he always admired the kids who spoke the white man’s language so fluently. One day, his children would sit there too. At nights, he would imagine a wide colorful table of food and fruits and a large barn, he would imagine the happiness and laughter surrounding it.
As long as the gods lived, my dreams shall become a reality, he would murmur before drifting off.
One night, Asabi’s yelp jolted him out of his imaginary feast with the king.
“Yeee! Inu mi o, Inu o!”
He sprang out of his mat and rushed inside.
He saw her, and became a leaf upon the water. She was in labor.
Unsure of his next action, he kept scurrying in and out of the mud house. Soon, his legs were racing in a direction. Later, his fist was rapping on a door.
“E si’lekun Iya! Emi ni, Akapo! E si’lekun!”
A long creak and the door opened lazily. An old, tired woman emerged from the dark,
“Oma s’ale ke. Kilode Akapo?”
“Ayaa mi ni o. Asabi ni o iya! O dabi wipe o n robi lowo!” He responded, breathlessly.
Moments later, he was rushing back with the village midwife. No one knew how she managed the feat, but throughout her years of midwifery, no woman or her child had lost their lives in labour. The record remained unstained.
Later that night, when Akapo woke up, his family had increased by three. Three beautiful girls. The woman said he had passed out the moment the first girl slid out.
Akapo could not remember ever being so happy as he gazed at his girls. His eyes glistened as he watched them squirm beside their mother. Then the sad reality struck him. It was as intense as the now gone joy. How would he cater for them? His dreams for his children? Three girls at once?
He burst into tears.
Asabi fired a hateful gaze at him, and then ended it with a long, weak hiss.
Akapo took another terrified look at the old man before him. Having spent days thinking and re-thinking he had come to a conclusion: there was only one sure and quick way out of it all.
“Beeni baba. Moti setan.” He spoke to the babalawo.
“Se o da o loju?” The man pressed.
Akapo was ready to proceed with the ritual.
The old man had recited all the forms of money rituals that were available, with their repercussions, and he had opted for masun’kun. That way, the money would not just be enough, it would also last and bring with it a great deal of peace which the other variants lacked. The gourd would be buried inside his hut; it would be the source of the supernatural money.
“Okaare, omo ola.”
The babalawo praised him. It took an unusual person to choose masun’kun. He silently prayed Akapo would pull it off as he had made him understand; masun’kun was not just a risky ritual, it was tricky, it was like blessing your unrepentant killer, it was a paradox. It was impossible. But somehow, Akapo knew he would pull it off, his relationship with his wife was as good as dead, and that was a good reason to proceed.
Once again, the old man recited the single warning attached to masun’kun to him. No one must cry when it was over, for three nights. No tear must drop for seven days. Akapo laughed and laughed till he began crying. Cry? Tears were meant for the beloved, tears were affectionate waters reserved to show the pain of losing only a loved one, not him. He was certain no one asides Asabi and some diggers would be at the burial.
To ensure the warning stood, he spent the next two days getting on Asabi’s nerves. He would arrive drunk, yell at her and call her children ugly. She would scream louder in return, and call him useless, or rather, remind him of how worthless he was, of how badly she wanted him gone. Jokingly, yet seriously, he would tell her to just make sure her stupid self did not cry whenever her wish finally came. But he never laid a finger on her; he had crossed too many lines already.
After the nightly fights, Akapo would retreat to a corner and weep. He could not wait for it to all end. It was excruciating, the way she was hurting.
On the third night, Akapo died mysteriously in his sleep.
The first and the easiest step of the ritual was completed.
As usual, Asabi tapped and tapped and slapped him to wake with a mouthful of insults,
“Akapo, oloorun iya! Dide! Oniranu oko!”
But he remained on the mat, unmoving, the breaking day now slowly exposing his completely dried and pale face. It was an eerie image; he looked like he had been dead for days. Was this not the same Akapo who could not stop screaming last night?
It hit her hard; the usual early morning insults were not going to wake this one. Fast, she disappeared out of the hut, screaming as she went,
“egba mi o, ara’bule! Akapo ni o! Egba mi o!”
The shrills drew a lot of the villagers out of their huts, most of them still in their sleeping wrappers.
It was a confusing morning. Akapo was dead? The selfless man was gone?
All of a sudden, they began wishing he had lived more to experience better days, they wished they had been less-mean, more helpful and had paid him rightly for his services. What would become of the girls he had left behind?
That morning, they buried Akapo like a king. Everyone who knew him was present to mourn and pay their last respect. Somehow, they would miss him.
All the while, Asabi had a dry face. She was angry and in shock. Even though she was tired of him, she still thought people could not just die like that. But a worthless husband was gone, so what? Good riddance.
As they lowered his body, which could now easily pass for a thin, slightly bent log of wood wrapped in white, into the ground, Asabi watched. Things were happening too fast. Where was the man she loved and married? The sweet, ambitious man she ran off with?
It began to dawn on her, how much she loved him, how terribly she would miss him.
No! It could not be happening.
Where was her wretched Akapo? Yes, he was poor, but she loved him, she had always loved him. She had stuck with him. She had been too hard on him. He did try, he fought for the family, he worked hard, and many times lied that he was filled so she could eat the little soup left. Now, he was dead. She killed him!
Slowly, a small tear formed in a corner of her eye. It grew bigger and bigger till it dropped.
Fighting through bodies and strong arms, she escaped forward and began begging the wrapped body,
“Ma binu oko mi, jo dide, jo, oko mi Akapo, iwo da?”
It was a heartrending sight. What began as a lone tear quickly became a river; river of tears.
Everyone cried for Akapo.
And unknown to them, they successfully flouted the warning.
“No one must cry for you.”
Again and again, they killed and re-killed him with each drop of tear; his sacrifice wasted, his death made useless, as much as his life.
Masun’kun was a paradox; those you would be sacrificing yourself for must not shed a tear for you, but if you loved them enough to die for them, they should know you enough to shed a tear.
No one had ever succeeded with the masun’kun ritual. Akapo came close. ✚
Omoniyi writes fiction as therapy. He lives in Abeokuta.