For the past couple of days, I have been thinking a lot about our processes of socialization and how we construct myths and stereotypes based on what we believe we know, what we have been taught and the ‘truths’ we claim. There are things we are taught when we are young about ‘others’ that takes us almost a lifetime to understand that there is always another narrative about ‘the other’. It is very difficult to escape being steeped in negative socialization, but it is important to break the cycle of ignorance, fear, arrogance and selfishness that is at the root of framing negative narratives about people we do not like or don’t even know.

A few days ago, I heard that the ex-wife of my mother’s Uncle passed away. I will call her Mama Dola. I can’t remember the last time I saw her, it must have been at least twenty-five years ago. Baba Dola, her ex-husband, was the person responsible for bringing my parents together. My father and Baba Dola were friends who used to hang out together in Liverpool. My father saw my mother’s photograph in Baba Dola’s house, and pleaded for an introduction. That is how my mother joined my father in the UK. My mother and Mama Dola got along in the early days, being so far away from home made them close friends. I don’t know exactly when the relationship between the two women soured, but as I grew up, it was clear that the two women were no longer friends. Dola was very sensible, mature, and he was always thinking ahead. He came to our house one day around 1980, to tell me and my parents that he would be leaving Nigeria to return to England. I was sorry to see him go but I was happy for him. Things started well for Dola, he returned to Manchester, the city of his birth. Then tragedy struck. He got into an argument with some young men over the purchase of a vehicle, and one of them stabbed him to death. The family was devastated. By the time Dola returned to England, his parents’ marriage was strained. Baba Dola and his wife were hardly talking to each other, they of course both had a litany of grievances. My mother took her Uncle’s side, and was clearly no longer an ally of her old friend. The death of Dola brought the marriage of his parents to an end.

Looking back now, with the benefit of more information and empathy, Mama Dola lost a huge part of herself when her son died. She became a shadow of herself, she was paranoid, and she started doing questionable things in order to protect the rest of her children, for example keeping company with spiritualists and the like. I suppose it was because of her frequent visits to those sorts of people that some family members started whispering that she was behind her own son’s death and had engineered his demise in far away Manchester to get back at her husband who had wronged her. Almost everyone in my mother’s family hated Mama Dola and you could hardly find anyone who had a kind word to say about her. I remember trying to talk sense into some of my Aunts who had joined in the rumours. ‘Why would she kill her own son, when he was the joy of her life?’, I would ask them. After a few years, my Uncle remarried and Mama Dola faded out of our lives, I never saw her again.

When I heard the news of her death I was very sad. I grew up admiring photographs of my mum and Mama Dola taken during their years in England. They were both very stylish, with high wigs which were the fashion of the time and mini skirts with boots. They both laughed and smiled a lot in the photographs, holding hands and hugging. They were happy. And then things changed. They drifted apart and had different priorities and allegiances. I asked my mother a number of times if she had heard from her old friend, but my mother did not seem to want to get on the wrong side of her Uncle by consorting with his ex-wife. My mother was probably also feeling guilty that her fortunes were much better than that of her friend, and she did not want to be accused of showing off. That is so sad, because Mama Dola would probably have loved to have her old friend in her life, but sides were chosen and the friendship suffered. Such a shame. It breaks my heart that some of the family members who should have done more to support Mama Dola did not do so but instead labelled her a cantankerous witch and peddled negative stories about her. We should not teach our children how to avoid family members, disrespect them, or tell them stories that are a figment of our imagination. I wish Dola had not died so young. I wish Mama Dola had remained friends with my mother so that she could have received more support than she got from the family. I wish Mama Dola could have been spared the miserable existence she had to endure for so long. I wish I had not grown up hearing all those bad stories about a woman who was just simply broken and trying to hang on to whatever she had left.

We all have a Mama Dola in our lives. A woman or man at their wits end who have not found the tools to deal with tragedy. Yes, faith is very important in these matters, but when grief segues into other emotional, psychological or physical challenges, so much more support is required. Let us rethink all those things we hear about our family members, friends and others in our lives. How much of it is true, what do we know for a fact, or is someone claiming it reason enough for it to be true? It does not help that with the advent of social media and the world of ‘alternative truths’ it is possible to create a false narrative about someone that they might not be able to recover from. It is tragic when we allow the same tools that were used to raise generations of people invested in all forms of exclusion to determine our relationships with others based on racism, sexism, ethnicity, xenophobia, religion, marital status, physical ability, political affiliation, town, ward, or any other yardstick for determining ‘others’.

We all grew up hearing and later on using pejorative language. Some of us learn to stop, and some simply have not got the memo and keep on telling tales by moonlight to the next generation, perpetuating a vicious cycle. This cycle is what produces the stories about the greedy Igbo person, the arrogant Hausa, the entitled Fulani, Ijaw drunkard, cowardly Yoruba, the lazy Ghanaian, the South African thug, the list goes on. No matter how large or small the frame of reference is, there is always a box we are happy to place people in. Please be the one to break that cycle in your family, workplace, community, place of worship, any place where lives and reputations can be ruined simply because we think we are right. Life is not black and white, and the people who live in it come in shades of grey. I wish I had known a lot more about Mama Dola other than what I learnt growing up. It is however not too late to learn a lot more about what is going on around me now instead of rushing to judgment and creating boxes and labels for ‘others’. Rest in peace Mama Dola. Please tell Dola we all still miss him. Have a great week.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com


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17 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: The ‘Others’

  1. Femi Diipo November 6, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Wonderful write up to start a week. Such words of wisdom!!! It’ll be great if we can all learn not to rush to judgment of others. Learning this I believe can truly make this world a better place.

  2. Dom Dom November 6, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Sometimes it’s unbelievable the kinda negative things people say about others and then you get to know them and discover differently. It is always better to try to know and sometimes understand others, rather than judging them and acting against them based on what we’ve been told about them. Thank you for this ma’am

  3. Samuel November 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    This is very true ma. And i have seriously experienced such. If not for my big sister that called me to order, i think i would have hated my mum or painted her a witch till her demise. I was about 11 or 12 when my parents seperated and all i was told was she was a witch. I ended up believing every single bit until i got to meet the most caring, generous and good will woman on earth when I gained admission to the University. These things still happen and i m happy you brought this to limelight because you are a respected figure.
    Sharing this immediately.

  4. Olakunle Olajide November 6, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Can you just imagine? Mama Dola that was meant to be consoled and looked after, instead she was castigated and left to worry herself to depression.
    May her soul rest in perfect peace. I have learnt to walk in love irrespective of what was spoken about anybody.
    Thank you for this enlightening piece ma’am.
    Anticipating the “Book presentation and Reading.”

  5. DSEED November 7, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    So touching. May her soul rest in peace. But ma coming to the point that we should not separate ourselves from families or our children due to the stories we have had about them maybe it might be wrong or right. But in case where it wasn’t a story we were told but what we experienced it ourselves what do you think we can do about that. Like me now the I lost my dad have made up my mind not to have anything to do with anyone from his side because of some reasons.

  6. Laura Dameson November 8, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I have a family member that I have been told to stay away from since childhood. The woman calls me and her children calls too, when I give her kids money for school expenses and all, I hide it from my mum because of their thoughts about the person which I haven’t seen a trait at all. And I keep wondering can we move forward? I think I need to call my family to order after reading this.

  7. Aderanti Esther November 8, 2017 at 11:41 am

    You know, My wedding got cancelled because my then husband’s family learnt that my mum married different husbands. Her first husband died, and the second one sent her out then she decided to marry another man who eventually left her again.

    They said, ”It’s a family trend and their son is too precious for such.”. we dated for four years and when we were already planning marriage, they said No! I can relate with this story in fact it made me cry. Thanks for being a source of succour. I love you ma. Thank You.

  8. Bolanle Olatan November 8, 2017 at 11:42 am

    @esther. Oh my daaaaaaaaaaaayyyys! I am so sorry dear. God will give you your own man and a great family to support you. That hurts a lot! Thank you for sharing this story, I am wiping off all the default setting hatred and turning in love and care

  9. Nneka November 8, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Well said ma, I love this angle to seeing this story and I can say we suffer a lot but then, sometimes, they tell us this to be careful and be sensitive. Not all are truths but some are. I was told to stay away from a particular person but because of my liberality, I didn’t listen and I paid dearly for it. So, it depends o

  10. Afolabi November 8, 2017 at 11:50 am

    @esther, receive my love from here. This is not just a US this, it is a global thing. There are unhealthy stereotypes killing people daily. we need to change if we want to have a changed world., we need to draw our conclusions from personal encounter of the person not from what we have heard.

  11. Eric Onuoha November 8, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    A very interesting story. Many people have been labeled as outcasts because of certain beliefs and some have been accused falsely. It doesn’t make sense to judge somebody by what you hear about the person. Rest in Peace Mama Dola

  12. Bisi Alawode November 9, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    We should stop this stereotypes and make our community a safe place to live. Thank you for sharing this story ma.

  13. Victor Udoh November 9, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I love this story and the way it projects objectivity but inasmuch as we are trying to see things from a different angle we should not forget that these things are landmines to help correct us and make us avoid pitfalls. We shouldn’t allow pity take us from seeing warning signals. RIP mama Dola

  14. Maduka Justina November 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    RIP Mama Dola. This is quite interesting and very educative but let us be sincere with ourselves, for us to learn,we must be open. We must be willing to learn. You don’t judge from narratives you judge from encounters. See what happened to @Esther, is that fair? I am sure it because of the ‘so-called’ people who believe that the landmines were made to make the avoid pitfalls that made the wedding ceremony of this lady to be cancelled.

    Stories are what they are, stories. They are not your encounter. Thank You mama.

  15. Goodness November 9, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    RIP mama Dola. I think this episode is bringing out the different philosophies in us. For instance, I have been told not to marry anyone from my dad’s village and guess what, I already have that notion that I don’t even tend to attract men from that place. Did they offend me? No. But my mum shared her story and in other not to open or toil with a scar, I have to make sure it lives that way or else, she will be sad.

    I know I shouldn’t generalise because of this, but what am i supposed to do? Sometimes, these things are just too deep than we imagine. I think I will send this link to my mum perhaps it will help.

  16. Ebonychyqui2 November 11, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    We live in a crazy world where people can just come out and paint others black, and it’s very common among Africans.

  17. Akpes November 11, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    R. I. P to Mama Dola. I must confess mama Dola died of loneliness and depression. Poor woman , she lost her child in a micro second. What else would she have done if not protect the remaining she’s left with?


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