Aderibigbe stood in the clearing, several feet away from the circle of dancing men. The fire that the men danced around did nothing to ward off the cold he felt. As he waited, doubts plagued him and his heart began to race. At 18, he had become a man, and in a few hours, he would be crowned king. But even after weeks of eating concoctions, learning incantations, rules, and secrets, he didn’t feel prepared.
He turned his eyes to Oluwo, who was seated close to the dancing men, grinding something in a little mortar. His racing heart slowed. The chief priest had promised to protect him as much as he could, and he could trust Oluwo; he practically grew up in the man’s arms. He watched Oluwo empty the contents of his mortar into a calabash. The men stopped dancing and moved back as Aderibigbe and Oluwo stepped inside the circle.
Aderibigbe knelt and grunted in pain as Oluwo’s razor made 21 small incisions in the middle of his head. Producing a small gourd from the folds of his agbada, Oluwo poured a powdery substance onto his palm, then rubbed it into the each of the incisions. At first, it hurt Aderibigbe even more, but after a while, the pain lessened. Oluwo spoke in low tones so only Aderibigbe could hear.
“You are doing very well, my son. Now, there is one more thing you must do to lead the people into battle tomorrow.”
Oluwo picked up the calabash and held it out to Aderibigbe, who did his best not to look into it. There was no going back now; he had to make his late father and his ancestors proud. He stretched his hand to receive the calabash and ate the contents. The mixture tasted vile, but he swallowed and struggled to keep it down. Oluwo smiled at him proudly and announced: “Congratulations, my son. O ti je oba.”
Aderibigbe fought another wave of nausea. He had just eaten his late father’s heart.