African Weave

“Hurry, Tibira! I want to get there quickly!” Niki’s voice echoed through the serene white noise of the forest.

“Niki, you want to get everywhere quickly!” I replied, quickening my pace to catch up with her.  “Maybe, but this is different! We are going to Ife! We are going to the place where the world began, and we are going to learn how to weave! How can you stand to move so slowly?” she said, stopping as I caught up with her.

    I paused a moment to look at her. She had stopped directly in one of the scarce patches of sunlight that penetrated the trees. It was highlighting her perfectly; her dark skin, her faded blue work wrapper slightly askew from running, and her wide, cocked grin that seemed permanently etched on her round face. Suddenly I couldn’t help but smile. “I am taking time to appreciate the forest! It is so beautiful here, it will be good to enjoy the peace before we must face the business of Ife,” I said, chuckling.

“Oh, I give in. You are right. Ife isn’t going anywhere,” she sighed. “But if we are appreciating the forest, let us appreciate Iya Mapo, Mother Earth, as well.”  Without another word, we both began to sing together: “Iya Mapo, Iya Mapo,” our song a sacrifice to the divinity as we walked through the forest.     Eventually, the forest began to thin, giving way to farms, and we stopped singing. We began to see more and more people, some carrying goods, some going to tend their farms, and the occasional person traveling, just as we were. Then suddenly, our path ended, and we stopped. It was then that we saw it. The gate to the Holy City of Ife.  When we approached the gate, we were confronted by the guards. We gave them some of the cowry shells we had brought, paying our tax to the Oba, and stated our reason for being there: to ask Niki’s grandmother, Tanti, to teach us to weave. They let us through.  I wondered how they knew who to let past, but decided that there would be time later to ask someone about it.  As soon as we walked in, we almost immediately began to feel overwhelmed. The sun glared in our eyes, and the city was so hot, and it felt even hotter after having been in the cool forest. The sheer number of people there was dizzying. The streets were fairly packed, and, with so much to take in all at once, combined with the heat and the glare of the sun, we quickly began to feel tired. We only just barely noticed the scenery. The shrines, the compounds, the murals; they all went by in a blur. However, we managed to remain alert enough to find our way. The city was complex, but before we had left our small village, we had spent much time committing the route to Tanti’s compound to memory. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we reached our destination: the weaver’s compound. It was a large compound, and the outside was a white background, decorated with colorful lines, which represented different entities. We opened the gate, and walked into the courtyard, which was paved in an intricate pattern of spirals and waves. Neither of us was sure what this represented. There were a few goats and chickens roaming around, and there were many beautifully carved and painted posts that held up the roof. There was a shrine to a divinity in another room. Ahead, there was a second doorway leading to another courtyard.        As we walked into the second courtyard, we saw a young man who looked to be around fifteen. He was sitting in the middle of the courtyard. He looked up as soon as he heard us.

“Niki! Tibira! You are here. Grandmother has been expecting you,” he said.  I realized that this must be Eyodun, one of Grandmother Tanti’s son-in-laws. He walked out of the second courtyard and into a separate room. Sitting in front of a loom and weaving sat Tanti.

“Excuse me, Mother, Niki and Tibira are here,” Eyodun said respectfully, bowing. Tanti’s smiling face peered out from behind the loom, her dark eyes glittering with happiness.

“Niki! Tibira! It is good to see you again! It has been a long time since I have visited your village, but it seems that this time we meet in my home. Have you been enjoying your time in Ife so far?” she asked, maintaining her wide grin.

“Yes, Grandmother,” we both answered, bowing deeply.

“Good, good. But you must be tired from your journey! Eyodun, would you please show these two to their room? Then they can wash up, and we can show them around the compound,” Tanti said.

“Yes, Mother. Come with me, please,” he asked us, bowing once more to Grandmother before leaving the room. A long time later, after we had seen the compound, washed, eaten, and settled in, I sat on my mat, going over the day’s events. I could hardly believe we were really in Ife! And with my best friend! It was like a dream come true. Niki and I had always wanted to learn to weave, but we lived in a small village with no weavers and only obtained cloth through trade.  Becoming the talented weavers we wished to become was a very unlikely prospect.  Then, one day, a messenger had come from Ife, saying that two of Tanti’s apprentices had left the compound to move to another village, and we were invited to come to the weaver’s compound in Ife in two months time to learn to weave.  It was better than anything we could have hoped for. Tanti was one of Ife’s most talented weavers, and it was almost more than we could bear to wait the two months.

But now we were here, and we were settled, we were ready, and tomorrow, we were going to start to learn how to weave. I lay down on my mat, smiling. It really had been an eventful day.     The next morning, I woke up to the shrill voice of Niki’s seven-year-old cousin, Duni, ringing in my ears.

“Elders! Niki! Tibira! Wake up! Grandmother wants to see you!” she yelled as she ran back and forth, alternately shaking us. Grunting sleepily, I opened my eyes and groggily rolled over to see her shaking Niki, who was covering her head and whining in irritation at the rude awakening. Duni turned to face me, leaving Niki to continue to hide from the bright sun streaming through the windows.     “Ah! Elder! You are awake,” Duni said, as though it were a surprise. I stared dumbly at her for a moment, collecting my thoughts. She was big for a girl of seven, almost the size of a ten year old, and very smart as well. Her blue work wrapper hung loosely around her small form, thin but strong. Her unusual, bright, copper-colored eyes stared at me eagerly as she tilted her head, waiting for a response.      She will make someone a good wife someday… I thought, my mind wandering.

“Yes, Duni. I am awake,” I said after a long pause.

“Grandmother wants to see you and Niki,” she said in her bouncy, cheery way.

“Alright. Niki, wake up!” I called over at her sleeping form.

“Please, just five more minutes…” she groaned.

“No, Elder! Grandmother must see you now!” Duni retaliated.

“Yes,” I joked. “You must do what Oba Duni says!”   That woke Niki up.

“Tibira! Do not joke like that, it is disrespectful!” she cried.

“You are right, I am sorry,” I responded.  A few minutes later, Niki and I had gotten up and washed, and were standing outside Grandmother’s room.

“Grandmother? You wanted to see us?” Niki called in.

“Yes, yes. Please, take a seat,” came Tanti’s voice from inside.  We walked in, bowed, and sat down.

“What did you want to talk to us about, Grandmother?” I asked.

“Well, you see. I have been thinking about your weaving. You both look very talented, and I think you would make excellent weavers, but…” I held my breath.     “…I think we should speak with the Babalawo first, to see if this is the right path for you two.”  I inwardly sighed in relief.     “That is a good idea, Grandmother,” Niki said quietly.

“Thank you. So then, you two get ready, and we will head off as soon as you are done,” Tanti said.  After some light preparations, we were once again walking through the streets of Ife, but this time our destination was the Diviner’s compound.  I felt so worried, and even in the warm morning sun, I was shivering. It was just a yes or no question, a simple toss of the Diviner’s kola nuts, but what if they landed dark side up? What if the answer was no? We would be crushed. Niki and I had wanted to learn to weave since we were both very small, and now we had come so close. But what if it was all in vain? I did not know. The fear of the worst happening wrapped itself around my heart like a cold hand.

We were finally there. We walked inside, and sat down on the floor. The Diviner sat in front of us, on a brightly colored mat. He was wearing all white, symbolizing the bloodless sacrifice.  I threw a brief glance at Niki, and, judging by the look on her face, she was feeling as tense as I was about our fate. I only saw Grandmother give the Babalawo the cowries, and I watched her lips move as she explained our situation, but I heard nothing. I just kept repeating a little prayer over and over in my head, “Please let the answer be yes, please let the answer be yes.”  I shut my eyes tight as the Diviner began the brief ceremony, as if my not seeing it would prevent the bad result I feared was coming.  My hands were balled against my knees, and I shut my eyes tighter and tighter, scared of what the answer would be, until suddenly…


I opened my eyes.

“The answer is yes. This is the correct path for you,” the Diviner said solemnly.  I could have jumped up right there and hugged Niki, but I managed to contain myself, silently thanking every divinity I could think of for their kindness. Grandmother Tanti nodded.

“This is good news for you girls,” she said, smiling. After we had left the Diviner’s hut, and were walking back through Ife, Niki and I were doing our best to act composed, but we would give each other overjoyed looks as soon as Grandmother Tanti wasn’t looking. Suddenly, Tanti stopped.

 “Congratulations, girls. It will be hard work, but I will teach you all I know, to the best of my ability. When we get back to the compound, we will begin your lessons on how to weave,” she said.   Niki and I grinned at each other again. It was the start of a good day, and an even better career.

Aislind Waters is 12, in sixth grade, and loves to write descriptive stories, poetry, and song lyrics. She also loves reading and drawing, and lives with her mother, younger brother, and her two cats. She had read many book series, including The Hunger Games, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Tunnels, and all 21 Redwall books.