Funke — A calm dream halts

Funke — A calm dream halts
(Published in The Guardian in 2002)

Today from 6pm, artistes and friends of the National Troupe of Nigeria will converge for a rite. Not for the type of high performances that the apex performing troupe in the country is renowned locally and international. No! It is a dirge.... a dark rite to send forth one of the troupe’s bright stars who died unripe last Saturday after an illness. Venue is the Artistes’ Hostel within the National Theatre Complex.
SHE was thin. Perhaps too thin for a dancer, or so one thought. Yet the light-face young lady was always in the heat of dance sessions. She would never be missed in a show of the National Troupe of Nigeria. Her bosses said it was because she had the first requirement: right attitude to work. She has the others too: talent; skill; zeal; energy and; resourcefulness. Besides, "she is well brought up, with the right manner", said Ahmed Yerima, the bereaved boss of the lady dancer.

Olufunke Ajibaiye.

Pretty and calm. An artiste of the National Troupe of Nigeria passed on at 25 last Saturday. She lost a brief battle to fever.
With this sad song, she cast a huge pall of grief and hopelessness on the artistes’ community at the National Theatre.
Dampness reigned on Monday and Tuesday at the artistes’ camp where Funke in the last 18 months, had lived with her fellow troupers, as news of her death tore through the soul of the already distressed National Theatre, which fate is noosed by fangs of privatisation.
The infectious darkness traversed the breath of the Artists’ Colony in the National Council for Arts and Culture in the southernmost of the sprawling theatre complex. For here, Funke had planted her spirit too as a friend of the unofficial resident artists.
It was here that Steve James, former trouper and chairman of Guild of Nigerian Dancers, GOND, encountered the shock. Gangling Steve had seen a poster on the community’s notice board?
"I thought it was a notice for audition. I moved closer and... (tear-faced now)... I almost dropped down", declared the dejected six-footer founder of Ivory Culture Ambassador in the office of Yerima on Tuesday. Steve had come to commiserate with the artistic director of the Troupe.
Same Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Steve James left, a disheveled Joe Adekwagh, ex-Trouper and chairman of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, NANTAP (Lagos chapter), rushed in?
"Doctor, what is this I just heard? Why? Haba!
Such a nice girl?"
"Ha, we were all shocked. That girl?", Yerima hanged mid-tense; then he recalled Funke?s last time out on the rehearsal stage:
"They were on stage rehearsing, then I saw that she was very casual in her approach and I knew that was not in her nature, so I called her down from the stage?
"I asked her what was wrong". She said: ‘Sir, it was when they said I don’t know how to dance well, so I thought I should slow down.’
"I told her to go there and give us her best shot. And she did. Can you imagine that? Now she is dead!"

FUNKE was indeed sensitive. She was quick to tears. Quite emotional. Very passionate too; about her work. But she was the type that would always go back to apologise for uttering the wrong words in a fleeting moment of anger. It happened once while on a tour of Mexico with the play Yemoja last October. She had had a little row with her room-mate. As is usual with women, they had bickered; bleached each other neat with touchy words. An older artiste on the trip had cautioned them; warned them to stop the quarrel. But young and tigerly, the two dancers had continued the verbal expletives. The senior artiste withdrew his unsolicited intervention.
Few minutes after, there was rasp on the senior artiste’s door?
"Uncle? I said to come and apologise for not listening to you. I was too angry at what happened because I felt cheated by her (fight-mate). But I should have stopped when you told me to do so. I wasn’t brought up to disrespect elders".

That was Funke.
She would do that. Her fight mate, no doubt older in age, didn’t bother.

That was instructive indeed about Funke’s strength of character.
This was the story being relayed on Tuesday in
Yerima’s office when the troupe’s head gave other
instances when Funke displayed humility, sign of good upbringing; a sense of honesty.
"And she had a sense of humour, you know", said
Martin Adaji, the troupe’s deputy director, who
recalled Funke’s comment about the strange way of
Beninnoise during the yearly FITHEB international
theatre festival in Cotonou last year where Yemoja had been staged after Mexico.
"She would throw her joke so calmly and if you are
not careful; or attentive, you will miss it and catch
only the laughter it generated".
"And you know she is on the September page of our
annual calendar. The calendar is all over Benin
Republic because they loved the dance concept",
concluded Adaji.
"She didn’t have much energy to do some of the
strenuous dances but she will always give it a try.
Her best dance in our repertory is the maliki dance of the Borno people and she starred in it in the calendar too", volunteered Yerima.

SHE was always so calm. So clean. Harmless in
appearance. If she had fire, it was buried in that
huge cauldron of serenity around her personage. That dimple laughter always adorning her bright wondering, wandering face.
And she looked so pepper-less and mummy’s pettish
that once in rehearsal of the troupe for the Mexico,
the actor Tunji Sotimirin humoured: "this girl must be an ajebutter?" a humorous lingo for a pampered child.
Funke wouldn’t take that labelling easily, she shot:
"Ha, Uncle Tunji, I am a real paki o; original
grassroots".

TRUE, she was down-to-heart in her carriage, on
stage; offstage.
But there was always this distance about her;
especially in her looks.
In the various long drives through cities and
streets of Mexico, she would soon get tired of
sleeping through the sometimes, 16 hours journey —
shortly after a hectic show; discard the music
earphones she always spotted and sit on the arms of
the bus seat, her eyes roving like the camera;
wandering; engaging some distant objects!
Dreams?
She only knew.
No one would ever know now, what Funke saw or
contemplated. Her dreams. Her fears. Her anxieties.
Her joy. Her sadness. She bore it all. Now she has
left with them; all of them.
Funke has escaped the pain and anguish of this
clime. She is perhaps lucky!
Who knows?
She made her eternal trip on Tuesday in her native
home, Ilorin, causing much grieving to her aged
parents whom she once recalled mounted the pedestal of happiness and became instant celebrity in their neighbourhood, the day she collected her call up letter to the apex performing troupe in Nigeria.

Olufunke Jumoke Ajibaiye was born on July 27, 1977 in Ilorin, Kwara State.
Said a release by Bisi Ayodele, public relations officer of the National Troupe, "she joined the troupe on April 17, 2001 on secondment for a period of two years from Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture."
Funke is described by the troupe’s management as a "character performer" and featured "in all the
National Troupe’s productions since her joining it one and a half year ago. She performed internationally and locally. Her last international performance was as part of the contingent to the 2001 edition of Cervantino International Festival in Mexico".
The release continued: "The management, staff and
artistes will continue to remember the wonderful role she played in Prof. J.P Clark?s Song of a Goat".
Funke was the gossip and tale-bearer in the play.
And she did it so well; like a natural.
"We commiserate with the family for the irreparable loss. May her gentle soul rest in perfect peace", said the Troupe's release.

— Jahman Anikulapo

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