The Forgotten Princess: Rachael Jolaade Osho (1910-2020)

On June 1st 2018, I was in a convoy from the Akure Airport to Ado-Ekiti. My husband DR Kayode Fayemi was being led back into Ekiti by excited party people and Ekiti citizens. As we got to the outskirts of , Ikere-Ekiti, I saw two old women running besides our vehicles, waving brooms and shouting, ‘Oko arugbo ti de o’,The husband of the aged is here’. One of the women looked like she was in her eighties, and my heart was in my mouth as she ran with the energy of someone three decades younger. The Social Security Scheme for the elderly known as Owo Arugbo, (money for the elderly) which was one of the key achievements of the JKF1 administration (2010-2014) was abruptly discarded when he left office. During the JKF1 period I also coordinated a Food Bank/Soup Kitchen project for the elderly and other vulnerable people. As we found our way into Ado-Ekiti that day, other elderly citizens joined in the excitement of running alongside the convoy for as long as they were able to. JKF had promised that he would revive the much-loved social security scheme that had enabled so many elderly citizens live lives of dignity and independence if he won the election. The sheer joy and excitement on the faces of these old people that day was a sight to behold.

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In June 2019, the staff of my Ekiti Development Foundation started the process of compiling names and doing due diligence for ‘Ounje Arugbo’, (‘Food for the elderly’, a rebranded version of the previous Food Bank project) which we formally launched in September 2019. During the registration exercise, my staff came back from Ikere-Ekiti and told me that one of the old women they had documented there did not just need help from the Ounje Arugbo project. She would need a lot more. Mama Jolaade Osho’s name had been given to the team as one of the beneficiaries to be registered, but she could not make it to the registration center because she was too frail. My staff decided to go to her home, where they knocked on Mama’s door for over twenty minutes before she opened it for them. She was found living in such filth and squalor, they were shocked. That is how Mama Jolaade Rachael Osho became my adopted mother. I got her a new place to stay near her family home, employed two carers who worked in shifts, and got a doctor to check on her regularly. She never lacked anything till she drew her last breath.

Rachael Jolaade Osho was one of the nine children of her mother, Mrs Abigail Oyebade Osho, and a father with several other wives, Mr Benson Osho of Apelua compound in Okeruku quarters of Ikere Ekiti over a century ago. In trying to determine Mama’s age, we came up with a range from 105-115. Based on respected sources from the town, it has been determined that she was not less than 110 years old. Mama was a Princess, from one of the Ikere ruling families. According to the history she recounted, Mama Osho witnessed the installation of four Kings in Ikere kingdom during her lifetime. Even though Mama lacked material wealth, she was richly blessed with good health and a very long life. Mama Osho didn’t receive any formal education. However, she was hard-working and ventured into weaving and sales of the popular cotton fabric known as “KIJIPA.” She spent most of her youth trading in fabrics and agricultural products such as cocoyam and palm kernels.

As was customary during her time, she was married off to her first husband known to her as ‘Akowe Agba’. She did not know his real name. She was not happy in the marriage so it did not work out. Mama Osho got married again, this time to Mr Alakatakiti Sakiu who sadly died, leaving her alone in the world. She then moved back to her father’s house in Apelua compound, Ikere. Mama lost all her children to untimely deaths thirty-forty years ago. This resulted in a life of agony, stigma and when she was no longer able to fend for herself, poverty.

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Mama Osho was not the only elderly person in Ekiti State living under such circumstances. Since her case became public in July 2019, I have taken over the care of three other old women just like her. One of them has children, but they are unable to fend for themselves not to talk of their mother.

In Yoruba communities, no woman is childless, every woman is a mother. Some women never have biological children. However, they join in raising the children around them, and when they pass on, those adopted children become part of her legacy. Sadly, these positive values have been eroded. Mama Osho had biological children of her own but they tragically pre-deceased her. Due to her age and lack of support, she slipped into grinding poverty. She was hounded, abused and abandoned by people who did not know any better. She was labelled a witch. Another lesson learnt from my relationship with Mama, is the issue of a lack of documentation and how we are allowing critical aspects of community memory to fade away. We discovered that there were no photographs of Mama Osho, except for the ones we started taking of her in July 2019. We have managed to piece an account of her life together using our interviews with her and various sources but it is still quite sketchy. I would love to see a documentation project that records the experiences of elderly citizens in our society before they pass on. There are still many Mama Oshos in our communities who live in isolation and penury, with only their fading memories for company. Memories no one is interested in, but which we so badly need as a society that is failing on so many levels. This is something that can be taken up by private foundations, faith based organisations or State Ministries of Arts, Culture and Tourism in collaboration with young researchers.

Mama Jolaade Osho

Mama Osho lived her last days in peace and dignity, as is the right of all people. On January 27th2020, the day of her passing, Mama had breakfast and took a nap. When she woke up she requested for pounded yam, her favourite meal which she ate almost every day. She went to the back of her house to feed the two big chickens she had been rearing to give to me and JKF. When she was done, she went back in, placed her head on her chest and slipped away peacefully. She had no aches or pains and she was not ill. Her time was just up. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play a role in Mama’s life, albeit very briefly. If my team had not found Mama last year, and she had died alone in her room, she would have been buried immediately and unceremoniously, with hardly anyone to mourn her.

Mama kept telling everyone around her that I was her daughter who had left long ago and had come back. I am not sure if she meant it in the metaphorical sense or, due to her very old age, she truly believed it. In the end, what matters is that Mama died happy, knowing she was loved and cared for. Time and people abandoned her, but God did not forget her. The first time I met Mama last year, I promised her that when she dies, people will know she has children. Tomorrow, we will bury Mama. She will lie in state with coral beads on her neck and on her wrists like the Princess she was. People will file past the remains of the frail, helpless old woman who was teased, taunted and declared worthless because she had no one to care for her. She will be buried like the valuable human being she was, and I am sure she has a place waiting for her in heaven.

I am humbled by the kind words of many people from around the country and beyond who have been touched by Mama’s story and have sent messages of solidarity and support. Please remember, there are still many like her around. Let us seek them out and care for them. Rest in peace my dear mother. You have earned it. I will never forget you.

 

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15 Responses to The Forgotten Princess: Rachael Jolaade Osho (1910-2020)

  1. Olakunle Olajide February 6, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    Rest in peace mama. What a life! I hope we remember to take care of our elders in our societies..They deserve it.

    Reply
  2. DSEED February 7, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Wow mama has gone. May her soul rest in peace. Thanks to Erelu who made this woman experience love again before she passed on.

    Reply
  3. Jumoke Adeniran February 7, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    The first time I came across mama’s story was the video that was shared on your page last year and I crieddddddddddddd. In fact, her story is a reminder that God never forgets. May God bless you Erelu. God bless you.

    Reply
  4. Shina Dideolu February 7, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Ah! this woman can never forget you ma and her prayers over you and your family can never be in vain. Sleep well mama.

    Reply
  5. Victor Udoh February 7, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    I do this whenever I go to my village in Akwa Ibom. I buy things for elderly people and a feast for them. The way the pray for me, I know God listens to their prayers.

    Reply
  6. Victor Udoh February 7, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    May God bless you for this timely seed that you sowed. RIP mama Jolade Osho

    Reply
  7. Vanessa February 7, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Reading this made me cry, she’s so beautiful. She looked too happy. She must have been a diva when she was younger. RIP mama and may God bless you ma for what you’ve done. In fact, he has blessed you already.

    Reply
  8. Rita February 7, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    What a kind gesture. Well done ma. RIP mama.

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  9. Olaseyi February 9, 2020 at 11:06 am

    You always live what you preach and I am motivated to be kind. May God bless mama’s soul.

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  10. Omorosa February 9, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Rip mama Jolade. May God always put forward your labour of love, Erelu Bisi Fayemi

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  11. Femi Diipo February 9, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    Wow! Such an extraordinary act of kindness. I’m so awed by you sometimes, I wonder what I’ll do or say the day I finally meet you. Thank you for the joy and love you gave Mama, may God continue to bless you richly. And may the soul of mama rest in peace

    Reply
  12. Matilda February 10, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    There is nothing as pleasant as an act of kindness!!! Thank you for speaking to me through the life of this woman. God bless you

    Reply
  13. Lupita February 10, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Oh woooooooooooowwwwwwwwww… This woman smiled to heaven and has blessed you and your family for what you did. Thank you for giving out your wrapper.

    Reply
  14. Ibukunoluwa Esther February 10, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    This is an absolutely dynamic move. God bless you ma.

    Reply
  15. Funminiyi February 12, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    Well done mammy. You are so inspirational.

    Reply

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