The name Victor Uwaifo is one that notoriously rings with versatility, and at 72 years, this superman still goes to University of Benin daily where he still lectures as a professor in the Faculty of Arts. Victor Uwaifo is not half celebrated as he ought, as the man is like over 50 geniuses put in one, for, no matter what area you may need him, he is there to show an enviable degree of excellence. The icon, who majority know as a master of music not only sings, but plays all kinds of instruments. He is complete in the arts, as he is a sculptor, painter, artist, carver, singer, writer- and so many other things- Victor Uwaifo is an inventor, having mastered the art of guitar strumming, and had invented two types of guitar, the double necked guitar and the revolving one, which comes with a keyboard, and named after his first great hit, Joromi. But our story is not about the man Professor Victor Uwaifo but his museum, a centre of history, myth, legend, superstition and magic rolled into one in the heart of the heartbeat, Edo State.
The day was Thursday, 22nd January, 2012, and the place is Victor Uwaifo’s home, located on Victor Uwaifo Avenue, Ekenwan Road Benin. Welcome to Revelation Tourists Palazzo. Revelation Palazzo is a tourist museum built to showcase the works of the music legend. As Jungle Journalist arrived, Chris Osaredo Eburu, who is Uwaifo’s manager explained that a tour of the palazzo was like a journey, and truly, for the about three hours, Jungle Journalist, Eburu and some students of Delta State University working on their projects toured the grounds.
Hall of Leaders is the first one will come across, full of sculptural renditions of Nigeria’s leaders from 1960 to date. There is also a TV and video telling the history of Nigeria. Remember, most of the sculptures in all these places were done by Victor Uwaifo himself. Right around the corner, a shocking sight meets the eye. Sprawled on the ground are several life-size, life-like images of men and women numbering about 15, all chained together by the neck and all completely nude. While some sat, weeping, others tried to stand, while a white man, a slave driver is posed like he is about to strike one of them. On the wall are two boards telling the story of their woes. This hall is known as the Slave Market, and a video and TV are at the corner, also telling the story of slavery. From this hall, the crew moves on to the most pathetic of all. Mind you, as the guide leads the students and Jungle Journalist reporter on, the lighting changes and one seems to be descending into darkness.
From the Slave Market, one encounters a sharp descent as if going underground, and then, there is another hall. It is poorly lit, but there is sound and activity from a TV. It was a documentary of the killing of the dreaded criminal that brought Benin City and Nigeria to its knees in 1986, Lawrence Aninih. There he was, in a suit, tied to a drum, along with Monday Osunbor and DSP Iyamu, then there is a fourth criminal. First, press men surround them with cameras and midgets, asking questions, while they respond, but look very despondent. They were all also very young, probably in their late teens or early twenties. Then they are shown by the drums where they were tied, while the military officers take command and aim. Then they shoot. They shoot several times because, Osunbor did not die immediately. They kept shooting at him. Meanwhile, despite having being tied more than then others, Aninih died immediately. Despite being criminals, coming face to face with the brutal, heartless shooting of these young men brought tears to the eyes of the reporter. Luckily, the hall was very dark and no one noticed. As the crew move on, there is water dripping on the ground, giving the whole place a foreboding of despair.
Right in front are these crooks and their military shooters sculpted life-like, six figures in all, just like what was being played and replayed on the television. Lower, one comes to another hall, The Hall of Death. It is a completely dark room, and the crew had to view the hall using torches from phones. On a wall are long sticks that are said to be carried by only elders in Edo. Above is another object that can only be carried out when an old man dies. By the left is a man seated, watching, as if he waited for someone to die, while to the right is a skeleton and human skulls. To the right are two spirit beings. One is the popular Eyo masquerade, which legend says was given to Eko (Lagos) by the Edo. Confirming the legend, Chris stated that ‘Eko’ is actually a Bini word, which is pronounced ‘Ekonunuawen’ in full. The second spirit is ‘Joromi’, a seven-headed spirit that Victor Uwaifo sang about.
It was a relief when the crew moved into a new hall, which was identified as the palace of the Oba of Benin, for, the Place of Death is indeed frightening. In contrast, this hall is brightly lit, and had beautiful seats, while the oba’s image is at the front. There is a giant lion in front of him. The crew stops and sits for a rest. The next hall is the Hall of Bini History. Here, all the key players during the Benin-British war were present. Warlord Ologbosere, Obaaye, Uso, Captain Moore, Captain Phillips who banished Oba Ovonramwen, as well the oba himself were all present. Even the canoe with which he was taken to Calabar where he died in 1914 was done in bronze, along with all crew members. This hall too is a little dark, and by the other side is another hall. A lone, giant gorilla sits looking menacingly at the crew, and with one hand he holds a coconut on his head, as if he wants to break it. But there is another hall of monsters. Here, there is a large cobra, and by its side is a giant unidentifiable beast. Eburu stated that this beast, known as Osogan appeared in Bini Kingdom- then known as Igodomigodo- in the past, and would visit Oregbeni Market to kill women and children. It was a young man who finally arose and killed it.
There are two doors leading out of the hall telling the history of Benin Kingdom. While one led to the airplane house built by Uwaifo, the other led to other mysterious areas. The first thing to confront you in the second door is the large studio where so many musical instruments are arrayed. The students stop here to rest. They play the drums, piano, percussions, and the others dance to their heart’s content. At the end of the performance, the manager and guide explained the final lap of the journey. It was a descent into the meeting-place of Uwaifo and ‘Mamiwata’, the mermaid, and descent into the City of Blood.
According to what sounds like a legend today, but which Uwaifo insists is a fact, Uwaifo had gone to Bar Beach at midnight to relax as he usually did, in 1967. While he lounged in a tent, playing from his guitar, a mermaid suddenly came out from the water. Momentarily scared, he picked up his guitar and made to run. But she quickly said to him “Guitar Boy, if you see Mamiwata, never run away. Keep playing your song”. Though he left later, he never went back to Bar Beach. He was later to sing the same very words he heard from the mermaid, and that made him an all-time star. This incident is also reproduced in the museum. As one enters this area, there is the sound of flowing waters, and at the corner is a pool with an image of a mermaid. She holds a plate containg coins, and offers it to another male figure, obviously tat of Victor Uwaifo the image is dressed in red, and plays a guitar, lying half submerged in water. The mermaid is made in water fountain fashion, and that explained the endless sounds of running water. Though beautiful, it was also an eerie sight to behold.
But the eeriest sight in Professor Victor Uwaifo’s Museum is the City of Blood. There is a long hall, lit by very pale lamps, and at its entrance is the image of a very dejected figure of a man. He is chained there, and is all alone. As one walks down the long hall, there is a feeling that one is walking into a very evil place. True, right at the end of the tunnel-like route is another hall. There are three persons hanging on top, dead, one is in fact, already a skeleton, and there is another decomposing body on the ground. Around this body are several skulls. At the other corner is a man whose mouth and hands are tied, another condemned man. Close to him, another holds yet another condemned man, while the second uses a cutlass to decapitate him. There is blood spattered on a curtain there, and one can’t help feeling scared. In his bid to get good photographs of this very interesting hall, the reporter is left behind by the others. By the time he is leaving, the whole building feels very quiet and he quickly made his way away from this place of despondency, mystery and fame.