One dictionary defines “matriarch” as “a female head of a family or tribe or a highly respected woman who is a mother”.
Many women are mothers and may be good ones at that, but it takes a special mother to deserve the accolade of matriarch. A matriarch has the instincts of nurturing and protection of the brood, the aura of knowledge and wisdom, and the patience to be mother to all, embracing more than just her immediate offspring.
They say the strength of a mother reflects the power of those who stand behind her. But Sisi, as she was fondly called, was a force of nature, even without anyone behind her. Sisi was a matriarch…my sweet mother, irreplaceable and forever adorable.
You can imagine the huge loss, our family’s collective loss, when recently she passed on to the great beyond. Death it is said is a necessary end but we would have wished a later end, a much delayed end for our sweet mother.
We would all miss her in diverse ways not the least her laughter and ever-cheery disposition to life. And of course there is her imperishable legacy in molding a generation of well -groomed children fashioned after some basic family values. May her great soul rest in perfect peace.
In her sweet moments, Sisi could be very charming and kind. I still hear her voice call me “Nyen Nyen” a pet name she coined from my native name, Azibanyenami. But when the stern face of the matriarch shows up at another time, you’ll meet a disciplinarian with no qualms about cracking the whip.
Sometimes, we felt she went overboard, but looking back, we understand why she never spared the rod.
Someday when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a parent, I will tell them like “Sisi” told me:
I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom and what time you would be back home.
I loved you enough to let you see the disappointment in my eyes with my actions and with my words.
I loved you enough to let you assume responsibility for your actions, even when the penalties were so harsh that they broke my heart.
But most of all, I loved you enough to say no, when I knew you would hate me for it.
Those were the most difficult battles of all and I’m glad I won them, because in the end, you’ve won too.
Yes, this exactly is who Sisi was.
A matriarch. Mother of a nation. Indefatigable.Irresistible. Irreplaceable.
She always insisted on us telling the truth, the whole truth with nothing held back and nothing but the truth.
By the time we were teenagers she could literally read our minds and seemed to have eyes at the back of her head. Such were her powers of perception. Sisi was that much of a disciplinarian and life to us then seemed tough!
We missed out on lots of activities other kids experienced, and for the fear of Sisi, none of us would be caught up in those issues that could bring disgrace to the family name. We were lucky to have Sisi as our mother. She consciously defined our path to a sane life even amidst the chaos of the urban city where we grew up.
When we finally all left her, we had grown to become educated, honest adults with an understanding of why she expressed her love the way she did.
Sisi was a petite woman, but hers was a giant legacy and such was the enduring impact she had on others. Today I am full of gratitude, Sisi. I am rarely one to easily express emotions but I feel deeply about memories I shared with you so much that words are not enough to express.
You were a mother who laboured to see your children excel.
You were a mother whose greatest fear was to live to see your children fail.
You were a mother whose love is indescribable, because truly words are not enough to express it.
I’m glad you lived to see the results of your labour and I know you are proud of us all.
My mother, Mrs Salome Oginasisi Iworiso-Markson, belongs to the ages. She epitomized the finest of womanhood and her cherished virtues and values are what make families and generations to endure.
A key issue for her was education. She made me realize that education was everything, the anchor for the individual, the ticket for the good and productive life and accordingly encouraged me to study hard. Her forensic intelligence, deep insight and understanding confounded the little education she herself possessed. She had a way of making complex issues look so simple.
Mama sacrificed to ensure her children got the right education for the new age of civilization. I remember the first time she heard my voice on radio as news anchor at Radio Nigeria in Lagos, she was so excited that she let off a raucous din as she called on our neighbours to tune in to the station. While she admired my zest for writing she often wondered whether I could not do so without littering the house with papers containing my writings and wondering why I had to use so much paper whenever I wrote. Those days, there were no laptops, Ipads or desktops. We did it the hard way, pen and paper in long hand. But it was fun.
Hard work was also a major attribute of my mother and this she passed to us. She usually told us in pidgin language “hard work no dey kill”. Growing up in Ajegunle, my brother and I hawked bread on the streets to augment family income. And at a point when circumstances ‘growing the business’ my mother cooked for the public by operating a roadside canteen. She was such a good cook, waking up as early as 4am to cook for the construction workers who queued up every morning to fill up their stomach before the day’s work. As I recollect the many raids of the council workers who carted away her food, the memory and lesson of that era was her strong will and indomitability to brave the odds.
Mama and my dad shared opposite traits: while she was temperamental but which she weaned herself from as she got older, dad was the extremely quiet but effective man. But I loved both of them almost equally. By next month, it would be 18 years since dad passed away but mama held forth longer and so admirably.
Beside the lesson of hard work, I also imbibed from my mother the virtues of integrity, respect for people and never to look down on anyone.
The essential Sisi taught me how to pray and made it a point of duty that we never missed church service. The Apostolic Church at Boundary in Ajegunle was the church where we worshipped. Sunday school was a major part of our church activities and mama would insist my brother and I took a front seat in the Sunday school. To this day, most of what I know in the Bible came from that Sunday school foundation. She fought a relentless battle to stay alive but God took her away to greater glory. She believed in the faithfulness of the Almighty, who is able to make all things beautiful even in the toughest of times. We the children are consoled and inspired by her faith in God and we are committed to following her footsteps.
This tribute will be incomplete without sharing my experience the first time we visited our village. Since we were born in Lagos, mum and dad tried to integrate us with our roots in Bayelsa and that first experience was in the 1970s. The drive in my father’s brand new Passat car on the long and winding road from Lagos to Port Harcourt was eventful. There weren’t many vehicles on the road back then. So we arrived Port Harcourt and spent a couple of days at a relation’s house. Then one morning, my mother woke us (my brother and I) up to get ready for the trip to the village. I noticed that my father left the car behind and got us into a bus heading to Yenagoa, now the state capital. Not until we arrived Yenagoa water side and got on a big wooden boat almost the size of a house did I realize why dad left the car in Port Harcourt. My village in Opume could not be accessed by road back then, so it was impossible to travel with the car.
But the situation has now changed. My small community is now accessible by road from Yenagoa. And it is just 20 minutes drive unlike in the past when it took a whole day navigating the waters. I remember we arrived Opume very late at night with no electricity and of course no television to watch my favourite cartoon programme “Captain Caveman”. I remember I did complain bitterly to my mother that I couldn’t stay one day longer in the village. She said I was acting like a spoilt child because I came from the “coast”. Lagos was referred to as coast back then by people from these parts. Today I am glad that there is electricity in Opume. Like most communities in the state, Opume is a proud beneficiary of Governor Seriake Dickson’s “Operation Light up Bayelsa Project”.
And I remember very fondly back then how my mother took me on swimming lessons in the river. She would grab my hands and guide me to the deep end of the river and let go. I would then struggle unsuccessfully to stay afloat, would disappear from the surface of the water, going down like a ton of bricks and of course taking in a lot of water in the process. Just when I thought I would pass out, my mother would reach down and grab me, pulling me back to the surface as I struggled to catch my breath. Mama had so much fun at such instances as I noticed her laughter every time she pulled me up. Such was my experience as an Ijaw child, going through the necessary rites of passage and tutelage.
Such are my memories of my mother, a woman like no other.
Even as I am sure she has gone to be with the Lord I am often overcome by a deep sense of loss and that I would not hear her laughter again until resurrection day.
For those who still have mothers, cherish them, love them, care for them even if they are not anything like my Sisi.
As I bid you farewell, Sisi, here are lines of exultation for you:
God looked around his garden, and found an empty space.
He looked down upon this earth, and saw your tired face.
He put his arms around you, and lifted you to rest.
God’s garden must be beautiful; he only takes the best on merit.
Sleep on Sisi…Rest in the bosom of the Almighty till we see to part no more. Adieu.
Iworiso-Markson, the Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa State Governor, sent in this tribute ahead of his mother’s burial slated for November 18th and 19th in his hometown at Opume