Ade was a tall and thin boy who had learned to do everything delicately. Growing up, Ade would refuse to climb trees with the other boys, or go hunting for grass-cutters, birds, or grasshoppers, preferring instead the company of his sisters as they plaited hair or cooked meals. His father, Akanbi, a fearsome hunter, was appalled, often forcing his young son to partake in more “manly” activities.
“You are too weak!” He would say, his fat belly wobbling as his voice boomed. “You are a man! Not a woman! Behave like one!”
And Ade would go into the room he shared with his three sisters and cry.
It was not that Akanbi did not love his only son; he actually was quite fond of the boy. He only wanted the boy to be tougher, stronger, proud enough to keep the family name running and become his partner in a great hunting team. But Akanbi also knew a secret the rest of the family did not know.
As customs demanded, Akanbi had taken his son when he was just a baby to see the Ifa priest, hoping to learn what trade the boy would practice when he came of age. The Ifa priest had cast his opele on the floor, uttered the incantations and looked quizzically at the baby. He repeated the process several times before sending Akanbi away, saying, rather ominously, that “Eledumare maintains the power to change destinies. Only he can right that which has been wronged in the spirit.” It was at that moment that Akanbi knew he had a special child. He assured everyone when he got home that his son would become a great hunter like himself, trying desperately to believe the lie which he told.
As the years went by, Ade morphed more and more into every father’s nightmare; a son that behaved like a daughter. He never hunted with his father, never grew the hard crops like yam or tapped a palm tree. He was content with his small vegetable farm which was, and to the woe of his father, exceptionally fertile and produced the largest efo and ewedu leaves. As Ade grew more and more feminine, he found that he was steadily getting more and more alienated from the members of his age group.
He was teased incessantly by the young men of the town and was the subject of gossip among the maidens. He was however a fantastic Alarinna for those who were willing to befriend him to get their brides. They were however few in number, and often secretly loathed and made fun of him.
“If only they could all be like Akanni.” He would say, before crying himself to sleep.
Akanni was his best friend, perhaps even his only male friend. Akanni was a boy’s boy, any father’s pride; responsible, brave, skilled with the catapult and the long gun. Akanni would force Ade to go hunting with him and the other boys. He was perhaps the only boy who could make Ade do “boy” things. As such, Ade grew fond of Akanni and got closer to him, perhaps even too close for comfort.
It was on one fateful day, after the rains had returned and the rivers were full, that the boys had gone to fish. Akanni, as usual, had convinced Ade to come along with them and Ade had obliged, rather grudgingly, unable to say no to his friend. They made their way to a stream in the forest, armed with long poles with sharpened ends, ready to catch fish. Ade was bored out of his mind, his only entertainment coming whenever someone slipped in the mud and fell face flat into the stream. He lay down to rest beside a tree and soon fell into a peaceful sleep.
Ade awoke to find Akanni dangling oranges over his head. Akanni smiled and dropped the first one. The orange smacked Ade right on his forehead. He yelped, more out of surprise than pain and tackled Akanni to the ground. They wrestled playfully for a while but Akanni was the stronger of the two and soon pinned him down.
In one moment of unbridled passion, Ade’s senses opened and registered his attraction to his friend. Without thinking, he reached up and kissed him right on the mouth. Akanni was too shocked to react, but he did not have to, for the other boys had seen what happened having returned from the traps they went to check in the forest.
It had never been heard of before.
Till this day, nobody knows who threw the first stone, but there was wailing in the house of Akanbi the hunter, and a body without life in it. There were 5 beheaded boys, buried outside the village the next day; the murderer’s fate. There was a sober father, who could not question the wisdom of Eledumare, the words of the priest replaying over and over in his mind.
“Eledumare maintains the power to change destinies. Only he can right that which has been wronged in the spirit.”
Author’s Note: Words in Italics are Yoruba in origin. Actual spellings might differ. The traditions portrayed in this piece may be similar to actual ones but are not entirely accurate.