The Return Of The Native
Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade migrated to Africa
40 years ago on the advice of an Ifa Priest
By Fatima Garba Mohammed
A chance discussion about sickle cell at one-time gubernatorial hopeful Engineer Femi Babalola’s Ring Road, Ibadan office got Yeye Funua Akilimali Olade really worked up. Someone at the office had remarked that SCD was not a problem in his family and ‘in Jesus’ name’ would never be one.
lya, as she prefers to be called, rose up in defence of SCD, saying it was a peculiar Black Race problem, which deserved to be tackled by all Africans irrespective of their genotype.
Anyone who encountered Iya in the street in her Aso Oke would be forgiven for assuming she was going to or returning from a festive occasion such as a wedding, naming ceremony or burial. Her friends had told her repeatedly that Aso Oke was only worn on special days, but such is her love of Aso Oke that she wears them every day. Iya’s entire wardrobe comprises only Aso Oke! Indeed she has been wearing only Aso One since 1990!
When Iya, now 74, speaks English or Yoruba, you pause for a moment. You know at once she is not a native. Neither the tone nor the delivery of either language is Nigerian.
Born and bred in the United States, her given name, Michele Paul, is but a distant memory. At Oyotunji Village, South Carolina, USA, a babalawo (Ifa priest) had advised her husband and her to migrate to Africa.
Michele studied African History at San Francisco State University, and at the University of California, Berkeley did masters in Librarianship.
In 1978, at the age of 34, Michele packed bag and baggage and moved to Africa; her African-American husband was to join her later. She had applied for and gotten a job with Nigeria’s Ministry of Education, which assigned her to the Federal Government Girls College, Ilaro.
It was the perfect setting in which to raise her children (the oldest of whom was 12 at the time), away from what she considered the decadent culture of her birthplace.
‘l think being raised in America is the worst thing that could happen to a child,’ Iya asserts.
English is a forbidden language in her home. She hired locals to steep her children in Yoruba language and culture. Needless to say, all Iya’s children speak Yoruba fluently. And they bear Yoruba names too. For herself, she picked a combination of Swahili, and Yoruba names to answer to. Her American passport bears her African names.
‘Getting my African name on my passport is my final repudiation of my slave name, Michele Paul,’ Iya submits. Her husband, formerly Christopher Leon Williams transformed to an agbada-donning Ayantuga Olade.
The children are all back in the US and married to Yoruba spouses. Yam pounding in a traditional mortar is nothing to them!
‘Getting my African name on my passport is my final repudiation
of my slave name, Michele Paul,’ Iya submits
Life in Retirement
lya now is Chief Librarian at Dr. Bayo Adebowale’s African Heritage and Research Library and Cultural Centre, perhaps the biggest privately-owned African Studies library in Africa. Trust her to keep away from the hustle and bustle of the urban metropolis: the library is located at Adeyipo Village, lgbo Elerin in Lagelu Local Government Area, Ibadan.
An adherent of the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), lya says she has not taken any medication since she was 11. ‘Christian Science helps me to keep healthy,’ she asserts.
Iya has wormed her way into the political ring in her adopted country, particularly in southwest Nigeria. She is well known to governors and the powers that be in every notable political party. She is fast becoming a king maker herself.
Iya is also known to monarchs – and to people monarchs want to know! She has visited with and has been visited by the cream of Yoruba society including Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State and Gani Adams, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (Generalissimo) of Yorubaland.
The septuagenarian is not particularly impressed with the way Africa has been handling the SCD crisis of ignorance, myth and misconception.
‘Sickle Cell is predominantly a Black Race problem,’ she posits, ‘And Nigeria must take the lead in finding a solution.’
‘Sickle Cell is predominantly a Black Race problem,’ she posits,
‘And Nigeria must take the lead in finding a solution.’
Iya has never regretted her decision to settle down in Nigeria. In 40 years since migrating to Africa, she ‘very reluctantly’ visited the United States twice – in 1998 when she went to collect a poetry prize, and in 2007 when her mother was gravely ill. Her mother passed away two years later.
Iya Funua Olade considers African culture far superior to any other and enjoins Africans to celebrate their own history by giving meaningful African names to their children.
Iya Olade grants an interview: