OLDC General Assembly

Men in toques, this time. Some of the higher chiefs wear knit caps which appear more distinguished to me, but at the Oroko Language Development Committee’s annual general assembly, I once again noted many people in toques. Chief Esoh and another higher-up wear a thick-woven black one, but I noticed many men in woollen green or red ones; pulling off with great dignity a headpiece that seems grossly out of place to me.

This refrain is probably beginning to grow old. The event was supposed to start around 8:30 or 9. It actually started at 11:15 with much preamble before we even got down to business. Joe started by announcing he was “elated to report on….” with the kind of enthusiasm showing in his voice that you’d expect from such an announcement. Initially, the 3 choirs appeared to comprise ¾ of the crowd, but as the day wore on (and it certainly did wear on me), the church in Ekombe Bonji grew fuller and fuller.

No event is complete without a screeching sound system. There is constant feedback and the sound cuts in and out, extending the length of the event by half for all the pauses and mic fiddling necessary. Dan suggested the sound guy adjust the speakers’ location which mitigated the squeals somewhat, but it remained a problem throughout the day. I don’t know how well this turned out on the recording equipment of the man from STV or from Lakeside radio, but then again, it’s probably no different from what they’re used to at other events. One man enjoyed a choir song so well (fortunately, no attempt was made to mic singers) he held up a ghetto player to record the strains.

The head table introduced themselves early on, consisting of the most active and esteemed members of OLDC. Then the mic was passed around the assembly, screeching and wailing, for people to thump, shake, blow into, and use to introduce themselves. I’m sure there was a rhyme or reason to who introduced themselves and why but it was not apparent to me.

Part of getting rolling involved singing the national anthem in Oroko. I don’t know how many people were really strong on the words, but the sentiment was strong as people declared both their national and cultural pride.

Speaking of the choirs, they had quite the names: Fashion Youth (I think this is Esoh’s choir from Ekondo Titi), Satellite (not much more than a concept for most Oroko people, and what this choir is a satellite of I can’t imagine), and Angel Singers. Each group “processed” into the building, sang, danced, and regaled us with event-specific songs in Oroko. Angel Choir in particular had a whole song on the genesis of OLDC from the first concept meeting to the day’s assembly (Dan explained this to me as the ladies serenaded us in the truck on the way home).

Dan, Mike and I were present hours before the event got started, so I stayed camped out in a frontish row off to the side. The program had barely started when Chief Esoh, seated at the presiding table facing the assembly, summoned Mike to move to the very front bench in the middle of the church. I was sad to see Mike leave but thought better he than me. Spoke too soon! Next Esoh is motioning me to the seat of honour up front. The bench was a teetertotter with its less than symmetrical legs balanced precariously on a pitted cement floor. Every so often Dan would shift his weight, sending me flying. This became part of our amusement as the day grew longer.

Reading each detail of the financial report is one of the agenda items which made the meeting such a hopping event. Any donations were highlighted so the givers could congratulate themselves, but things took a turn when they started announcing which clans hadn’t paid their dues and how much they owed. The Ekombe clan, hosts of the event, had a shameless record for giving and were booed soundly, but their hospitality in killing a cow to feed attendees at the event kept it in the realm of goodwill.

Holding an itinerary for the event, I despaired as shadows grew long and the competitions loomed ahead. Once we reached them, though, they went quickly, whether because they really were short, they were interesting, I’d gotten used to things taking all day, or a combination of all three, I don’t know, but I enjoyed the conversation and story telling competitions, despite not understanding enough of the language to know what was being said.

When people were hesitant to sign up for the conversation competition, Dan put himself forward to encourage (shame) others to take the chance. The chief put a spin on that action by having Dan face down the winner in the “tourney” which challenged 2 people to have a conversation entirely in Oroko without using any English words. Alas, Dan tripped up early on with the word “but”. A Batanga fellow was the winner, redeeming his clan’s reputation after their shame of not paying their dues.

No event is complete without food, so around 5:30, when everything was finally finished, we adjourned to enjoy that cow. Along with two other women (an OLDC member and the host pastor), I was invited to sit in a house to eat and enjoined to visit the food table first while the men showed their gentlemanliness. The cultural celebrations were just starting after the food had been served but after taking a few pictures and angering the masked dancer who waved his flail threateningly at me, we took our leave and slunk off to our homes and soft(er) chairs in Bekondo.


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