Aderibigbe stood to one side in the clearing, several feet away from the circle of dancing men. He shivered a little in the cold; he only had a white wrap around his waist. As he waited, the doubts of the past few days came back to him and his heart began to race. Many would argue that, at 18, he had become a man, but he didn’t think that much of himself. Even after weeks of learning rules and secrets, he didn’t feel prepared; what did he know about battles or ruling over people? He turned his eyes to Oluwo, who was seated across from the dancing men, grinding something in a little mortar, and his racing heart slowed. Oluwo had been more of a father to him even when his father was alive, and had promised to protect and guide him as much as he could. He watched Oluwo empty the contents of his mortar into a calabash. The men stopped dancing as they both stepped inside the circle.
Aderibigbe grunted in pain as Oluwo’s razor made 21 small incisions in the middle of his head. Producing a little gourd from the folds of his agbada, Oluwo poured a powdery substance onto his palm, then rubbed it into the each of the incisions. At first it hurt even more, but after a while, the pain lessened. Oluwo spoke in a low voice so only Aderibigbe could hear.
“You are doing very well, my son. Now, there is one more thing you must do to prepare for the battle at dawn.”
Oluwo picked up the calabash and held it out to Aderibigbe, who looked into it with a mixture of fear and repulsion. But there was no going back now; he had been told that to prepare for his first battle as king, he would need a lot of ammunition. And although a little unsure about his ability, he knew he wanted to lead his people to war and victory. He wanted to make his late father and his other ancestors proud. He stretched his hand to receive the calabash and ate the contents. The mixture tasted vile, but he swallowed and struggled to keep it down. Oluwo smiled proudly and announced: “Congratulations, my son. O ti je oba. You have eaten the heart of a king.”
Aderibigbe fought another wave of nausea. He had just eaten his late father’s heart.