By Muyiwa Adetiba
May Day found me at the 70th birthday celebration of an older friend, Gabby Osakwe with a few of his close friends and associates. It was a simple, yet classy affair. The few empty seats at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island where the event was held, were proof that it was not an all comers affair as cards were checked against a master list at least twice. The guests which cut across different professions had at least one thing in common. They had all come a long way together. Many of them had known the celebrant and each other for over 50 years! This provided an intimacy and a cosy atmosphere that made conversations easy as many flitted from one table to the other exchanging pleasantries.
The band also complimented the mood as old melodies came one after the other. It was not a cheap party by any standard—you don’t get Civic Centre on the cheap—and the choice liquor that flowed meant that a pretty penny would have been spent. But it was tastefully and moderately done. Quite unlike the loud and gaudy celebrations we are used to these days.
The mood, the setting, and the size of the invited guests—especially the size of the guests—brought back memories of how Lagos used to be before we all got suckered in by the new definition of the good life. Birthday celebrations took place in sitting rooms and compounds with music oozing in mainly from the turntables, or in a few extravagant cases, from live bands. But the key thing was that people knew each other and they were usually occasions for sharing good times and going down memory lanes. The volume of music was also usually turned down so people could enjoy decent conversations and banters.
One could say the same thing about weddings in the 60s and 70s. Engagements were largely private things between two families and it was rare to have them outside family sitting rooms or compounds. An introduction meant what it said which was to introduce the two families that were soon to be joined together and engagements went the traditional way without the unnecessary embellishments that happen these days. Wedding receptions were brief, often not exceeding two hours. Soft drinks were served with packed take-away.
The most important part and possibly the most expensive part of a wedding ceremony was the engagement not the party or parties like we have them these days. I have been to introductions these days where the facilitators (alaga) were so carried away that they sometimes forgot the main reason people came. Introductions are for members and close family friends of one family to be properly introduced to the members of the other families and have their relationships to the couple properly explained. And to engagements where tradition got lost in entertainment. And to wedding receptions where nobody listened or cared about what was being said. Many didn’t even know the couple.
A media personality told me just the other day that she had stopped attending functions because they were not adding value to her life. According to her, the food which was often mass produced, was usually bland if not tasteless. You could not follow the programme assuming there was one because of the rowdiness and incoherence around. The compere, usually a comedian, probably didn’t make matters any easier because he would have gone at a tangent with comments and jokes that had no relevance to the occasion.
The noise level made any kind of conversation difficult assuming you were seated near your friends or people you could converse with. Quite frankly, the whole thing could get meaningless especially if you were not a drinking person. A teetotaller friend of mine once asked rhetorically at a reception ‘what really are we doing now?’ after the meal had been served and consumed. I am sure all of us must have attended functions where we felt they were not worth the bother at the end.
Don’t get me wrong. I love parties especially if they are meaningful. I love spending time with friends, school mates, professional colleagues and acquaintances. You could unwind while updating yourself with current affairs and even social gossips. But my preference has and will always be private parties—in the sitting room, garden, or compound. Or the type that took place on May Day that I had just talked about. I don’t want to get lost in a crowd and that is what happens when I am part of a guest list of one thousand people assuming there is a list. Or if you choose Tafawa Balewa Square or Teslim Balogun stadium as your venue.
I really can’t understand our modern definition of the good life or the driving force behind it. Why spend twenty, thirty million naira on a wedding when one of or both the couple are unemployed or in unstable jobs? Twenty million naira which can go up in smoke during two days of revelry can, in the hands of a sensible young couple, be a launching pad into a more secure future. Most of those who attend your child’s wedding don’t know the newly wed and don’t care. Many who are eating your food, drinking your wine and wasting or stealing your champagne don’t even know you. Who is it you’re spending all that money for? Is it your child, the society or yourself?
The same thing goes for funerals when millions are spent towards unnecessary carnivals. Many have been known to delay burials so they can build houses they know they or their children will never live in. Many have spent millions on coffins which people will not see beyond three hours before they become food for the worms. A decent burial is one thing. A wasteful burial is another thing completely. And whoever started the idea of party gift items has done a disservice to our psyche. They are often as irrelevant as they are wasteful.
I wish we could go back to the way we were when people worked hard for their money and spent it wisely. When the needful was done in terms of weddings and funerals without unnecessary pomp and pageantry. And to the days when parties were good, clean fun not the stressful, gaudy and rowdy ones we seem entangled with now.