The Joy of the Scum- Ememobong Oluwatomiloba Umanah

The town square is a beat of women dressed in their dancing regalia—their wrappers and plain blouses, layers of beads around their waists, wrists and ankles. They sport their perfectly black, perfectly kinky hair, in which shiny beads are planted like stars in the night sky.

There stand the snobs, the first to catch your eye—on their pedestals of gold, ignorant of the sloppy ground beneath their illusion of wealth. They giggle at other womens’ clothes, and scoff at the drinkers, the singers, and mostly the drummers.  And the dancers—the grim, the scum, the shameless. The criminals who have the audacity to shake their waists in front of all the men in the village—the audacity to seduce the husbands of the wealthy. The snobs would burn in anger at the sight of their husbands indulging in more vibrant, more flexible bodies, with no desire to exercise anything but their tongues as their counter-attack.


The children, all hoping to be the next great dancers, gravitate towards the scorching fire, unafraid of the flames. They dance with only one care—to immitate the effortless movements of those who danced before them.

The men leap to the beat, pretending not to stare as the womens’ waists swoosh about. The beat deepens, the mood climbs, and the day passes. The flames rise into the sky, and the people ache with a joy that keeps them.

Their prince stares skeptically into a nearby hut, but is quickly drawn back to the dancing. He smiles subtly. Still no news. It has been 8 hours of anxiety for him, and of joy for others. His friends and brothers stop dancing to check up on him, but he won’t respond—he can’t respond.

A shrill cry from the hut pierces him. As the scream settles on the village square, the drumming intensifies. The women dance to the hut, and form a train as they follow his sister back to the fire. She glows as she chants their family oriki. They twist their waists violently, and the men leap around the fire anxiously. The prince’s heart drops.


His royal restraint painfully fights his anxiety, just as his men painfully dance to defeat the women—both to no avail. The womens’ beads rattle to a stop, as do his trembling hands. The wind carries their laughter, the tears, and the noise of their beads to the men.

The prince looks at the gourds full of palm wine with no appetite. He can smell the delicious goat-meat pepper soup that the women bring as they arrive.

His stomach takes a blow as the drumming suddenly stops. His eyes frantically scan through the crowd until he settles on a beautiful woman carrying a child. The village runs wild.

“Atinuke ti de ó. Ó gbe ọmọ wa ó” (Atinuke has come oh! She brought the child with her oh!).


She looks directly into the eyes of her husband, and smiles. She can barely walk, but she sways her hips gently to the sound of the drums. You can see him stare at her tiny waist and wide hips. She notices him, and smiles until her dimples peer gently into her cheeks.

Her husband moves to hold his child. Just in that moment when he holds his first child for the first time, they both smile so perfectly. His eyes tear up, as do hers.

And so do mine, as I gather my friends and start on my way home. The dancers—the scum, the criminals. We would be the talk of the town when the sun comes up.

2 thoughts on “The Joy of the Scum- Ememobong Oluwatomiloba Umanah

  1. Wow.. I’m really amazed. I had no idea you could write so well. This is a lovely peice dear. Great write up.


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