Fela and his Kalakuta ‘queens’
I was so excited when I heard about the show Fela and his Kalakuta queens. It was the first time the story was going to be about the queens and not Fela the legend. It came out at the same time I lost my dear dad and but for the fact that the show was so popular hence extended I would not have been able to see it.
I actually did not ever meet Fela nor hear him perform live; I never went to the Shrine but I love his music and the fact that he was a radical. When I was younger I actually thought he was bonkers but as I got older and more socially aware I had great respect for the man and his madness. He took on the Military and suffered a great deal for it but did not relent.
I knew one of his daughters Sola and I thought and still think she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
I really thought it was brilliant of Bolanle Austen-Peters to think of that aspect. The many wives- the Kalakuta queens, their perspective.
I however came out of that show hating Fela. I know ‘hate’ is a strong word and since I was young I have been guided to remove that word from my spoken vocab.
As the show was progressing I was hearing words like exclusions from his room, the floggings and I started to have a sour taste in my mouth. When I heard the ages of the girls I further recoiled. When I saw the scenes where the parents came to Court to ask for their girls back I just could not close my mouth. When I saw the scenes where these young girls were beaten and raped by soldiers I just could not take it anymore.
Adding that to the knowledge that Fela died from complications of HIV/AIDS hence many of the girls too would have been affected and died as a result too just made the image worse. As we were leaving, I met one of the wives. She attended that particular show. I overheard a lady telling her that one of the wives was her school mother. She was the daughter of a judge at the time. She was rascally (as we say here) in school and had scaled the school fence to attend a party. On being caught, she was expelled and rather than go home to tell her parents what happened she found succour at the shrine or Kalakuta as it’s called. Apparently there were many of such cases. Many children of middle class parents, who had rebelled and fled to the shrine. Not that that makes any difference to the case at hand. The said woman was 15 at the time. After ascertaining I was not a journalist the wife agreed to talk to me. She admitted life there was tough and that many of them were really young. There were many incidents of what we now address as abuse that went on in Kalakuta.
I left that show depressed and stayed that way for several days after.
I met another woman at the Airport sometime after the Show and we got talking. Apparently she had just returned from London. She claims she was the favourite wife. She said she was practically sold to Fela by her uncle. She said she used to cook for her uncle, one day he apparently locked her up in a room for Fela to come have his way with her. She said thereafter he asked her to move in with him. She interestingly claimed he said where he lived with his band boys was too rough hence he took her to his first wife’s house and she lived with her for a while. She was 16 years old. I wondered about that bizarre arrangement but couldn’t get my head around it.
As a mother and an aunty to many girls I shudder at the thought of what the parents of the girls must have gone through. What would I have gone through if one of them had chosen to rebel this way?
Fela has been celebrated all these years as an advocate and standing up to Government. The only criticisms I have heard about him was his marijuana use and his love for being barely clad.
In our society we have a way of further adding to the suffering of the abused by justifying their suffering. If a lady loves her legs or her figure and wears short dresses or skirts she’s deemed as a prostitute that deserves to be raped. God forbid she is a smoker! Oh gosh she ought to be locked up and her rapist rewarded for teaching that loose woman a lesson. A woman out at night is deemed a prostitute hence in some establishments women are not allowed in without a man. When the actress Dorcas Fapson accused her Taxify driver of rape it was not a surprise to me when many women asked where she too was going at that time of night. In other words if she was raped she deserved it. If a young girl is abused by a relative she fears she would be accused of attracting the unwanted attention or worse somehow causing the attack hence many acts of abuse in the home go unreported. Thank God many now are speaking out but still not enough.
These young girls in Kalakuta at the time were being beaten, raped (because many could not legally consent to sex) and subjected to all kinds of evil on a daily basis but they were deemed to deserve it. After all they chose to go there. Many of their elitist parents would rather die than admit their daughters were in Kalakuta talk less of rescue them. Instead they conveniently disowned the girls and left them to their fate. They did not check themselves that what was the situation at home that would make a child romanticize the hell that was Kalakuta and prefer it to home. It’s interesting that it was the lower income group families who fought to rescue their daughter hence that explains why they didn’t get very far. They lacked the resources to put up a good fight.
I’m not even going to go further for us to analyze the psyche of those women who at the age of 15 had to deal with sharing their love with so many others, getting punished by being excluded from his room for a period of time, and all those emotions. How do they measure their self-esteem? How do you guard against them becoming depressed adults? Then we add the attacks by the soldiers and the Police. I shudder!
What’s amazing is that the play depicts Fela actually really loved these girls and they were very valuable to him. They definitely really plumed up his ego calling him their king and fighting so much for his attention. Was it love he felt for them or he needed them? This sounds like he suffered from grave insecurities because he had a family and his own children at this time.
Whatever he felt he took advantage of them. They were too young and vulnerable to make sound judgments about agreeing to take the risks of living with him under those conditions.
The people meant to be looking out for those girls failed them. The government and society failed them greatly.
I for one cannot support Fela after this. I will no longer celebrate this man called a music icon. I know I’m just one person but the feelings that come to mind when I hear the name is not what it used to be.
I however salute and celebrate the Kalakuta queens and wish the surviving ones great things.
Photo Credit: Terra Kulture