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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Elizabeth Olowu in her own wordsPrincess

Elizabeth Olowu describes her relationship with her brother, Oba Erediauwa of Benin, as cordial. She has eight children and is married to Babatunde Olowu, a businessman. One of the couple's children, Peju Layiwola, is an artist like her mother; and is also a lecturer in the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Lagos. Here in her own words, Princess Olowu speaks about her background, her art and her family.

Satisfaction as an artist
I want to re-organise this place to be even better than what is there on Ring Road. That statue of the soldiers was inspired by a true story. I almost lost my life during the civil war. It was what I saw during the war that inspired the sculpture.
What happened was that I was in school at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed and the crises started. My father sent his driver to come and pick me from school but when he saw how dangerous the place was, he ran away. He came back without me but he was too afraid to go back to my father to tell him that he did not see me, so he stayed around Urhopota Hall.

My husband had also come to look for me, so on our way back, I met him there. He was very happy to see me and said my father was worried about me, that he wouldn't leave the office if he did not see me, so I should go home at once.
So, when my husband was to go to Zaria, I refused to go with him because I knew what I had suffered in the East.

I taught in Itohan Girls Grammar School, Benin City for ten years. I didn't have a degree then since I did not complete my course at Nsukka. It was one Prof. Todd who came from London to set up a programme at the University of Benin that encouraged me to go and finish my degree.
He arranged for my admission to Uniben as one of the pioneer students in the Department of Creative Arts. We were four in the class and I was the only lady.
I majored in sculpture (bronze casting). I had always been interested in bronze casting. The palace is filled with bronze works, it was all over the place.
But I was told that it was only men that can cast bronze, that women were forbidden to do so. But being such an adventurous person, I became interested in bronze casting. \Training in the palace
One of the things that motivated me in the palace when I was very young, maybe about nine or ten years old, was the Olokun shrine. I don't know if they have demolished them now. In those days, they believed that as you have Oba on land, so you have in the sea and that the one in the sea was greater than the one on land.
So, I will make my own and gather my younger ones and I will go to my father and tell him, I've made my own ako bie (sculpture) which is believed to bring prosperity and children. He will then give us money and other things to pacify the ako bie and we will be happy. That was how I started.

How I started casting bronze
Going to Igun street
After casting the first figurines, I took them to my father and showed them to him and he said that I was able to do all these without training? And when I said yes, he said I should go and call anybody from Igun Street (the centre of bronze casting in Benin).

Support from family
My family was supportive of my work especially my husband. When I was still at Uniben, after lectures, I would stay back to do some casting throughout the night. And my children would have to eat so he would cook for them, whether the food is delicious or not was not an issue!
Meeting and marrying the princess

His story
My name is Babatunde Olowu from Lagos State. But my family has lived in Benin for a long time. In fact, I'm the third generation of Olowu family in Benin.
My grandfather was a businessman and he came to Benin about 1923. My father was born here and before he died, he naturalized as a Benin man. I met my wife while I was at Urhobo College, Effurun and she was at Holy Child College in Lagos. I had a friend who knew the princess in the palace.

Her story
He used to frequent the palace and he told me that there was a girl there he would like me to meet. He said I was always working and he never saw me sitting down idle. The princess takes up the story: My mother had seven servants but she insisted that we her children did some work because she wanted to train us to be good housewives.

One of my brothers the Enogie of Okogbo was in the same school with him and Babatunde used to write love letters to me through him. But he would tear the letters because he said he was too proud, because his father had cinema houses all over town. And my brother said why should he be so proud since it was his own father the Oba who gave him the rights to the property he had. I was not really keen because I had plans to further my education.
Before then, he made a dreadful mistake by writing a love letter to me in school and putting his picture in it. It caused trouble for me and the Reverend sisters in school who almost expelled me because of it.

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