Alaafin’s Talking Drums Colour Bill Clinton Centre
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“I AM a first-timer in Arkansas,” I told the cab driver even though I had visited the United States a couple of times and travelled from coast to coast. As we drove from the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, the cab driver talked about the beauty of Little Rock city, the capital of the State of Arkansas.
“That’s The William J. Clinton Presidential Center,” he announced pointing to the direction of the sprawling edifice as one wondered what it has to offer.
Few days later after one had recovered from the jet lag, Tunde jnr and Aisheik, (my children) encouraged me to visit landmark places in Little Rock. One of the places to my delight turned out to be The William J. Clinton Presidential Centre, which also houses a Museum. Aisheik drove on the day of the visit to the historical edifice. We bought our tickets and well-trained security personnel showed us the way into the gallery after security checks. Many of the objects of the Clinton administration were kept in the gallery.
The materials and exhibits were put into segments grouped under such categories as: the early years, life in the White House, temporary exhibit gallery, Oval Office and the work continues.
There is an orientation theatre where one can watch a 12-minute documentary, which details the life of the former American president. There are exhibits from the President’s campaign in 1992 and 1996. For those who are willing to learn how the Clinton administration took decisions on local and international issues, the cabinet room provides an insight into this as well as how the White House staffs were organized when President Clinton ran the government in the United States.
The exhibits’ section, it was later discovered, houses just three percent vital documents out of 80 million pages of documents in the archive of the former president.
My mind went to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library in Abeokuta which one had the honour of visiting last year through contacts with Dr. Dotun Malomo who introduced me to Mr. Vitalis Ortese.
This kind of initiative, if properly handled, would bring pride to Abeokuta and Ogun State the same way the President Clinton Centre is bringing pride to Little Rock and Arkansas.
And suddenly, we reached a corner where gifts given to President Clinton by local and international friends and celebration with his family and friends are on display. Here, there are two talking drums. One is the “Iya Ilu” (mother drum) while the other was smaller. The thought that “This must be from Nigeria,” flashed in my mind, as I moved closer to have a look at the drums. Alas, the drums were actually from Oyo in Nigeria.
The bold inscriptions on the drums indicated they were actually presented to President Clinton by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III.
The drums and the dangling metals shone under the array of bulbs, which brightened the Presidential Museum. The attention of Aisheik, who has never visited Nigeria before, was drawn to the drums and she was also briefed about the role of the talking drum in Yoruba’s music. What gladdened the hearts of the visitors to the museum is the fact that both the donor (Alaafin) and the recipient (President Clinton) are showcasing the African culture to those who may not have the opportunity to visit Nigeria.
Talking drum makers often referred to it as “The-dead-goat-that-speaks-like-humans.” This is because the major raw material for making the talking drum is from the skin of a dead goat!
Right there, a message was sent to a colleague, Aliu Mohammed who appears to be close to Alaafin, to inform him about the encounter.
One of the most interesting exhibits at the Oval Office is a replica of the White House’s Oval Office when the president was in office in Washington D.C.
Exactly 20 years ago, I had visited the White House’s Oval Office when President Clinton was in office in Washington D.C. and the image of the original copy struck me forcefully.
All the items used by President Clinton while in office including biros and pencils were put on display. Not far from the talking drums was a photograph of President Clinton dressed in a “Babanriga” garment of the Hausa in Northern Nigeria.
More poignant and emotional were the photographs of the famous “Little Rock Nine.”
The Little Rock Nine were a group of very intelligent African American Students who passed the exams to enter the Little Rock Central High School in 1957 but were prevented by white supremacist groups and the Governor of the State from entering the school which was an all-white institution. It took the intervention of the President on the strength of the Brown Vs Board of Education’s Supreme Court Judgment who used soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division to escort the young African American students into the school.
A critical look at each of the faces of The Little Rock Nine shows they are now getting old. But they have become great achievers in their chosen fields.
I imagined I could have been one of them, or one of those trapped in racial discrimination elsewhere in America in those years my grandparents had been captured and shipped into America. I would have suffered some psychological inertia just like The Little Rock Nine. What if the segregation policy had continued till date, my children would have been educated in a segregated school because of the colour of their skin and not their knowledge and their character.
Momentarily, there was flashback on what was ready in books on how The Little Rock Nine were physically and emotionally abused in those years. They were spat at. One of them even had acid thrown at her in the school premises. I reflected again on Africa, West Africa and those years of slavery. The story of these nine students gripped America in the late 1950s and when President Clinton in whose Museum I was standing came to power, he ensured that the Little Rock Nine were honoured in 1999 with Congressional Gold Medal each. The award is the highest award given to civilians by the American Congress. Six years ago, The Little Rock Nine were again honoured with a “Silver Dollar” made by the United States Mint to pay tribute to their strength, determination and courage in the face of threats, abuse and acid attack by separatists during their school days.
Importantly, The Little Rock Nine were invited to attend President Barak Obama’s inauguration as the first African America to get to that office.
It is pertinent to mention that as I stood, watching the young High School students who made history I remembered that they were also honoured by Marquette University with the institution’s highest award previously given to Apollo 11 crew (Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin), Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Karl Rahner.
Spontaneously, one remembered a woman known as Daisy Bates. Bates was an African American. Coincidentally her story was a sad chapter in racism. Her mother was raped, murdered and thrown into a pond by white men. Her father who was terrified and feared for his life had to give her away to a couple who raised her. Bates through divine providence became President of National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and ironically fought for the integration of The Little Rock Nine into Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
From Daisy Bates came the flash of Maya Angelou, the poet and author of; “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” She was raised in Stamps, Arkansas not far away. She went through her own trauma too. I was carrying a copy of her book with me. Maya Angelou too was a towering figure during President Clinton’s inauguration when she read some of her poems.
The Clinton Centre and Little Rock and Arkansas as a whole are just a huge house of history. It can be regarded as watching history ‘unplunged’.
At the William J. Clinton Centre, there is an aspect in the tour known as; “A walk with President Clinton in which the former president takes people on a tour of how he governed while in office. We walked through Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, the old bridge, which was over Arkansas River was reconstructed through donations and help from several volunteers whose names are inscribed on the concrete floor of the long bridge. Amongst the list of donors was a Yoruba name we spotted.
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Author of this article: By Tunde Akingbade (who was in Little Rock, Arkansas)
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