One story of mine that seems to be quite popular is “Yoyin of the Captivating Form”. Published in Expound Magazine, “Yoyin of the Captivating Form” tells the love story of The Man Who Used to Be a Hunter and Yoyin. The reception and positive feedback this story has received really leads me to believe that my writing has improved.
This story is set in a time when hunting was the profession of choice. Everybody who could would send their sons and daughters to go and apprentice with the hunters, who were admired for the bravery they showed when they disappeared into the forest. Few hunters made it back from the forest alive, but when they did, they came back with wealth, both material and in the form of stories. The forest was a great equaliser; it did not care whether the hunter was the son of a king or the daughter of a farmer. Its creatures attacked at will and it was only the most skilled that survived to enjoy its riches. From a young age, children learned how to use the juju of the hunt and how to protect themselves when faced with creatures that were not human.
Hunting wasn’t simply venturing into the bush to find food; it was to return with tales of bravery and unimaginable riches.
So…what inspired this story? The Skull, that’s the answer.
Amos Tutuola is a huge inspiration to me. His works haven’t just influenced me, they’ve also validated some ideas that I would have held on to because I thought they were “too weird”. While my favourite Tutuola books are those with badass heroines (Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle, The Brave African Huntress), it’s the story of The Skull from The Palm-Wine Drinkard that kept me up at night.
The tale of The Skull is about a young beautiful woman who falls in love with a monster. It’s a cautionary tale to women who are labelled vain, to me the moral of the story is; “be careful if you want to marry a handsome stranger because he could be a monster.” From the name, The Skull who the woman marries is just that (i.e. he’s only a head) but he appears to the maiden as a handsome man.
I didn’t like the original story and I wanted to do something about this folktale. It took years and countless discussions with friends over tea and coffee for the story to unravel.
What got the ball rolling was a comment I heard. IIRC, a friend wished she could remove and hang her breasts at the end of the day. Now I’ve typed that down, it seems bizarre (lol) There’s a scene in my story where this happens. Transforming The Skull to Yoyin satisfies my longing for women monsters in speculative fiction. There’s a fascinating spin to Yoyin’s name, it means “bring out sweetness” in Yoruba. Then months after the story was published, I found out that Yoyin has an entry in urbandictionary.com. It states, “yoyin is a word to describe an awesome, African girl who is great at everything.”
One day I will publish that collection of short stories retelling Nigerian folktales with women monsters as central figures. Till then, I’d like people to stop calling me Yoyin.