Sunday, 20 July 2014

I Never Knew Her, but I Came Through Her :A Paradoxical Tribute to my Mother: Caroline Wuraola Olagundoye.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

What I knew is that she came from Nigeria; the Yoruba people, who are located in the south western part of Nigeria, also known as Yorubaland; a country, where they have the most populous in Africa. The Yorubas stem from a fierce and proud ethnic group that is steeped in tradition, a rich cultural legacy and a global  recognition of this group, in different parts of the diaspora where Yoruba has influenced her sons and daughters.

My mother’s name, Wuraola, literally translates as ‘gold in wealth’. The Yoruba people believe in the notion of reincarnation. Perhaps she was a royal princess in her past life, because that was the name which was ascribed to her at her birth.

I remember celebrating my mother’s birthday on June 19th, but after she left us, I found out that she was in fact born in the second week of July. I have no idea why she celebrated her birthday in June.

She was born in Ondo State, and she hailed from a provincial town called Owo, which according to oral history, the town can trace its origins to the ancient city of Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba culture, the town also has the largest palace in Africa.

I knew that my mother came from a polygamous union; my maternal grandmother, whose name was Eunice, was the first wife. My maternal grandfather, who was commonly known as ‘Pa’ was the village headmaster, so his status was elevated with this title, thus he was able to afford to marry many times. Because of this he managed to have seven wives, including my maternal grandmother.

My mother was the ‘buffer child’. In other words, she was the middle child of my grandmother’s union. She had an older brother – I think he was a couple of years older than her, and a younger brother, who trailed behind by about three years. Respectively they were known as Uncle Eddy - who I also came to know as Uncle Olu -and my uncle Aerial. They all formed part of a large extended family, which spread out like spilt ink over the whole town.

All of her brothers are deceased now, thus the treasured secrets of my mother’s youth and ultimately, her life, before she embarked on her journey to the Motherland, have been interned with them.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

What I knew is that my mother crossed the Atlantic Ocean, after saying farewell to her parents and her extended family.  With her bride price held precariously on her head, she made her watery and choppy journey across the ocean; the motions swept away her emotions and became buried with the bones of distant ancestors who gloriously and mournfully  rested on the sea bed.

Her joy, laughter, gaiety, fun and a fulfilled sense of herself were replaced by the dark, ominous, hanging and gloomy clouds that hovered above as her feet attempted to navigate the unfamiliar terrain by the white cliffs of Dover.

My mother arrived sometime, perhaps, in the late fifties or early sixties. I am not too sure of the exact dates. However, I do know that although she wasn’t a passenger on the SS Empire Windrush, she was however, a part of that landmark generation. Nonetheless, her voice was still excluded and muted on the celebrations that her host nation gave to commemorate the landmark journey of her Caribbean brothers and sisters of this post-war joviality.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

What I knew was that she was a student, studying midwifery in London, UK. Her brother, my uncle Olu, who had his own young family living in London, was her persistent, all-knowing and all watching chaperone. In the sepia pictures that I have seen of my mother – before she gave birth to the twins – is a secret, mysterious smile that was ever present on her face; a graceful, beautiful mask of serenity and calm before the storm clouds erupted.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

I knew that when I used to gaze at my mother’s ethereal face when I was young, I grew fascinated by her tattooed marks on her face. I thought that she got up each morning and drew them, with her sharpened kohl eyeliner, as part of her make-up routine. They were four short strokes of black marks stamped on her high cheekbones. Every time she smiled –which was not very often – they jumped and leapt joyously from her cheekbones, like swaying blades of grass from her village. When she frowned, or looked sad, they looked like talisman of sadness, hopelessness and a reminder of her life ‘back home’. 


I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

What I knew was that when she met my rebellious father, he obsessively pursued her like a fat kid who fiends for a forbidden piece of candy. I knew that my father – although I knew that my mother took a starring role in their nascent soap opera – lit the simmering embers of my mother’s heart, igniting it so much that she had the burning desire to go against her parental wishes back home, trade in her traditional bride price, which balanced indecisively on her head, and marry my immature father in a fiery and blazing state of wantonness. Because she could, as the cacophony of disapproved voices which reached out wistfully across the perilous seas were drowned out by her rebellious spirit.

I knew that my mother was a few years older than my father. I do remember, after she left this earth and transitioned ‘back home’, finding her marriage certificate, deep within the archives of her secretive life. I noticed, in shock, that she had falsified her age to match the same age as my father. Apparently, in my mother’s culture at the time, it was a taboo for a female to marry a younger male.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

What I knew is that she raised two sets of twins – two girls and two boys – singlehandedly. At a time in Britain, where being a lone mother was a moral outrage; especially if you came from a society where the holy trinity of marriage, family and children were sewn into your Iro and Buba * from an early age. Consequently, the wages of supporting your children were either non-existent or that the status was not declared due to the unbridled shame.

I knew because of the stress of raising these two sets of twins in the revolutionary sixties – I had no idea when I was in my youth that my mother was divinely blessed in giving birth to twins from a cultural perspective – without the needed intervention and support of her extended family and the comfort and luxury of her familiarity within a compound environment, where the notion of family roots were as embedded as the roots of the baobab tree, and the navel strings of my mother’s umbilical cord.

 My mother’s demotivation about her single status as a mother became her decline towards a pervading sadness that became her veil of trying to cope in an unwelcome climate, which was inevitably stifling her growth. The sunshine of her youth was replaced by the frigidity of motherhood and what was expected of her as an African woman, living as ‘other’ in  alienable circumstances.

Because of these shortcomings, my mother had to rely on her host nation dependants to ‘nanny’ and foster her own dependants for a paltry fee.  This was before the era where the safe guarding of children were entrusted to local authorities , where the welfare of children were scribed into legal documents; to assure that these children resided in homes of safety, comfort, trust and cultural awareness.

I knew at a tender age that Caucasian skin could not look after my tough ‘negro’ hair, or delicate ‘coloured’ skin. So, my body was abandoned like an unattended, wild forest, in these ‘homes’ where we were clandestinely dropped off, by my mother in different locations along the south eastern and northern regions of the UK.

I knew because of the unmonitored fostering places, we were unwittingly placed in by my mother. Some of these foster homes hid the foreboding shadows of paedophiles, where the grooming of young children was sanctified by a few pieces of melted chocolate, and promise s of rides in amusement parks on nearby seaside piers.

 These monsters defiled our bodies with sexual abuse and molestation, where the innocence of girl twins was shattered and the quiet cries which never reached my mother’s ears. She was deaf to all of our silent weeping, as her colonised mind held white skin as a beacon of light, and ultimately, hope, which shone into her darkness of despair.

I knew that after my mother passed, that the pain, betrayal, fear, and racism of these experiences that she ultimately suffered, grew inside me - like a seed germinating - that I had to initiate intensive therapy, in my mid-twenties, so that the seed growing within me had to bloom like a flower and not spike like a thorn into my life, so that I could manifest my burgeoning maternal duties to my two precious sons, a different spectrum of care, love, devotion and hope. 

I knew that I had to readdress the imbalances of my life and straighten my uneven path so that my journey could be straight and my steps would become even and lighter with my emotional baggage that I have accrued over the years.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her.

I knew that every Saturday mornings, as a youth returning from my fostered , vanilla landscape existence, and getting used to the voice, smell and presence of my mother - whilst my twin brothers entertained themselves with the weekly weekend jovialities of Tiswas and Bugs Bunny, -I had to follow my mother to Ridley Road market, in Dalston, Hackney. I cringed at the unfamiliar tones of my mother’s accented English. I cringed at her loud announcements when she would meet her friends. I cringed when she used to barter for items in the market. I cringed when my aunties would bellow in forceful and aggressive tones to ‘face my studies, and always pray’. I cringed when my school mates would tease me in the weeks following, as being ‘Kizzy’, because they had spied me at the market with my loud African mother. I cringed at all of the different ‘coloured ‘ shades of blackness that surrounded me like suffocating fog…

 These memories are indelibly tattooed within the recesses of my mind, and sometimes, when I think about these memories, I feel a the rising paradoxical thoughts of sadness and celebration.

But I now know that these were my mother’s markers of a culture that were lost and then rediscovered in the familiarity of friends who had gone through the same experiences. Being isolated and abandoned by careless, carefree and reckless husbands in a strange land, where their looks, accents and sense of selves were questioned, ridiculed and shunned.

I knew that my mother sought a soothing sanctuary in a religious environment, where she was validated by a white Jesus. Where each Sunday she would proudly wear a freshly made ero and buba, with a matching, starched gelee**, which pointed proudly to the heavens that she was worshipping. Where the shaking of the tambourines and the choruses of Yoruba Ase*** and hallelujahs reached the nether regions of the women as they shook their nayshes**** for Jehovah.

I also knew that after my mother’s death, I found in her possession, an ancestral charm for the orisha Ibeji. This is the orisha for twins. My mother – as all mothers from the Yoruba people who give birth to twins – was given the title, Mama Ibeji, which translated means, ‘Twins Mummy’. This is a very prestigious title to have in Yorubaland. I now fully understood why my mother consistently gave us black eyed beans to eat every Saturday. I wonder if she did this when we were away from us. If so, why were we not protected from harm? These questions I had to let go, because the reality of my experience has made me who I am today.

Nonetheless, I guess we were her living shrines, and the sacrifice that she made at her altar of pain was immense. I see that now; I over stand what she, as an African woman had to go through in a country that never truly embraced her; an African woman who always stood on the margins and was disenfranchised because of her colour, her race and her gender. She was my mother, but she was seen as ‘other’ in alien surroundings

So, now here I am, living in another country. 
My life, although content, still remains somewhat unfulfilled, at varying times. This may be due to still trying to find my footsteps in a new country, and also because of the social isolation that I feel at times. Nevertheless, I would not swap these feelings and emotions, because, once again, they have come to define who I am and am becoming.

My life has not been too easy; I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but a rusty one. Because of my life – although I am a survivor of the pain that manifested within me – the path that I walked has been strewn with many obstacles that could’ve defeated me.  However, with the mosaic of pain that has had an impact on my life, there has been a dazzling shaft of sunshine and a kaleidoscope of light, with the birth of my two beautiful sons, Benjamin and Akin, who are grown, secure and actualised into wonderful human beings. Additionally, I have been divinely blessed with the love of my life, my husband, Enson Williams, who makes sure that I am comfortable, loved and safe.

I now know that the often fractured relationship that I had with my twin sister is slowly fitting into the jigsaw pieces of my life. Although we are separated by an ocean, I feel her presence on a daily basis, and I am amazed at her tenacity of how she been able to have a grip on her life and the wonderful journey that it has taken her to. I am proud of my Ibeji!  

The chapters of this episode still need to be written about my twin brothers. I will leave that for another time…

The couple of  authentic friends who swayed and stayed  by my side, who offered me a life jacket when I needed to keep afloat – Michelle Williams and my darling spiritual fulfilling sista friend, Samantha G... I am fortunate to have these two true friends in my life!

I now know that by writing this authentic commentary about my mother is a tribute to her ferocious energies, life, and who she was what she represented as a Yoruba woman and ultimately, her warrior spirit that infuses me each day; writing this has been extremely therapeutic for me.

 It’s been twenty-five years since she passed to the other side, and it’s only now that I have started dreaming about her, reconnecting with her in my meditations and feeling her eternal essence, that surrounds me like a peaceful mist. I know that I can obtain the peace, because I have started picking up the pieces of my mother’s life and where the meaning of her life is embroidered with the frayed seams of my life. Where I can, in my fifty-first year on this realm, begin to really exhale and feel complete in mind, body and spirit.

I never knew my mother, but I came through her to learn many lessons about who I ultimately am; the woman that I have turned out to be; the mother who I materialised into, and the wife who I longed to be. 

I never knew my mother, but through my creativity I am beginning to know her as I finally write and inscribe these words to you, to your memory. I whisper them in your daily presence, fuse, and twin and reconnect my energies with your own, and meditate them to myself and say that to you, my mother –Caroline  Wuraola Olagundoye - these words and thoughts are dedicated to your everlasting memory.



 * a Yoruba woman’s traditional attire Iro = wrapper and Buba= top ** A head wrap usually worn with the ero and buba *** Amen/Blessings

****Colloquial term in Yoruba for women’s backsides/buttocks.


  1. Bravo!
    What a wonderful testimony to your mother's legacy. Well written and additionally, genuine, authentic and heartfelt.
    I can't wait to read your novel

  2. Hi,
    I came through a link posted on Facebook.
    Your mother's voice will be rejoicing in the spiritual realm.
    What a wonderful piece of writing; I am sure your mother's voice is singing.
    Congratulations and I cannot wait to see more writing from you.
    A fresh voice added to the canon of writing.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this open and honest tribute to your mother. Thanks also for this very truthful insight into your life.

    I look forward to your book, I'll certainly be buying it!!!

  4. Trust me I am amazed, you are a true writer, keep it up, continue on this path as it's yours to embrace. I am looking forward to this.