Yorùbá Masquerade Dancers Sing Oríkì and Dance Bàtá

on July 28, 2023
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The first frame is steady: smoke 
in the distance; a montage of bodies—

singers and drummers, acrobats, 
names forfeited momentarily to their craft. 

Drumbeats for a cue, almost an epiphany, 
and you pan for signs in a portion of the square 

alien to gardening. It is a given: 
the bàtá rhythm heralding the masquerades 

now will shed its subtle beginnings. 
At once gods and men, masked beings, 

the guttural notes ferry their agon. 
Pliable legs dangle on, unmoored

like a wanderer’s intent, their tentative force 
mirroring the strength of an alder. 

For the uninitiated, the masquerades’ dance, 
it would seem, doubles the masks, 

such things that must remain as puzzles: 
the artisanal details of their garbs, 

their woven pouches, and polished 
stones. The birds lifting here know. 

But they alone can reveal 
what they carry beyond.

*The title is borrowed from a video by Debbie Klein 



Here, river bird, 
take the burdens and the joys,
carry what you can; help 
solve the puzzle of distance and fog.



They had gathered all evening 
for one moment, Pentecost 
again, their fingers stalled on 
one verse and the promise, 
till the choristers tuned the milieu 
to a refrain—seraphic heads 
bobbed in the pews. A minder 
yet to shed his pagan name 
struck me in that frenzy, 
and my eyes dimmed. I began 
to see men and women as trees. 
In search of my mother, I went 
to the left side of the hall, 
where she would sit. A woman 
there looked at me with a knowing, 
pointed elsewhere. I turned 
and faded into that smoke.

‘Gbenga Adeoba was born in Akure, Nigeria. He is the author of Exodus (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and a chapbook Here is Water (APBF/Akashic books, 2019).