5.3f Excerpt from letter from Dr. E.B. Bolaji, 20 April 1990. Sent from Ilorin. Transcribed by Ann O’Hear from Dr. Bolaji’s handwritten letter in April 2020
“I thought that the Questionnaires would be a cinch, because they arestraight-forward. But I did not reckon with the problems of a still oral tradition. In this town, or culture, family history is still the exclusive preserve of each family, and hardly does anybody want to volunteer opinion about other families, especially if his name is likely to be mentioned. Family history can be embellished or falsified to present a glorious past, but most people want to leave it to members of each family to do whatever they like with their history. This attitude presents a wall of steel to the interviewer. This was my experience in connection with the Ajias. Nobody wanted to be drawn into family histories and immediately directed us to the families. It was then not necessary to waste time and money seeking interview with many members of each family at different times. They all wanted money and said so. In the end, we went to each family—and faced this scenario—made contact with a member of the family; got introduced to a more senior person, who contacted the head of the family, who then did his own interrogating of the interviewer; then, if satisfied, he would call the elders of the compound to join him and the interviewer; then the subtle requests for money, then the active interview with a lot of playing the authority through long narratives, then the avoidance of direct answers to prolong questions, all leaving the interviewer in a quagmire of irrelevant information. The pay-off and attendant prayers came last.
You will be surprised at how very inventive of moving stories? have become—blow the importance of the family in the social history of Ilorin out of proportions, and leave your informants feeling a sense of elation and achievement.
So, what we have on each family is what has come from the Head of each. You will discover that hardly any Ajia family accepts being descendants of slaves. Each founder was either a friend to a particular Emir or became an Ajia through distinguished service as a warrior. They could be right. Since Ilorin History is badly polluted (?) with Islamic culture, people who serve royalty are always referred to as ‘iranṣẹ ọba’ (Oba’s servant) or ‘ẹru-ọba’ (Oba’s slave). In Islam, adherents see themselves as ‘ẹru-Ọlọrun’ (slaves of the most high), and since the Emir is both a religious and traditional ruler, those who follow him or serve him see nothing wrong in saying ‘Ẹru ọba ni wa’ (we are slaves to the Emir). There is no evidence of any of them being captured in wars and made to serve the Emir. Today, people who say the Ajias are slaves cannot tell how they became slaves and in what wars they were captured.
Though not on your list, I have added the story of Ajia Sákasàka, because it is a big family at Agaka. I hope you find it useful.
All the materials are complete. There is another enclosed from the earlier batch—the only one left from that batch relates to Oriki Orilẹ. I collected threeages ago, but I have not succeeded in translating them because even the women who gave them do not know the meanings of certain names, phrases, expressions. Not even my own sister, or her husband. They sing these Oriki from age to age but do not know the stories surrounding them. Whenever I succeed in finding/collecting decipherable ones, I will send them.” [AOH note: none are in my collection—no doubt Dr. Bolaji never found any decipherable ones]