The Heart of an Oral Poet: Gabriel Oryina Anyiman
Gabriel Oryina Anyiman was an award winning oral poet in Tiv land who weighed a strong sensation on his audience.
His songs are deftly characterised by a profound candour of compelling wisdom and counsel for leaders in the society.
Such was the quality of his composition. Oryina hailed from Mbakyer, Mbayer, Gaav District of Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State. He was born nine years after Nigeria’s independence on the 24th April, 1969 at N.K.S.T Comprehensive Health Centre, Mbaakpuu, Shangev-tiev in Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State.
He was the second son out of many children of a hunter called Anyiman Akawe, who was also involved in the early construction of roads across Benue State.
The artiste grew up in a world of sounds and movement. His mother was a folk singer who could improvise and perform songs at any event such as burial and marriage ceremonies without a prior preparation. His father Anyiman, kept moving from one place to another because of his construction job. Whichever part of the country that the construction company would camp Anyiman was sure to settle with another wife.
This social behaviour consequently accrued to him many wives and children who at the time of this write up, his children were still turning up for identification. His grandson, Fred Kumave Oryina ascribed during an interview to the fact that his grandfather’s behaviour may be due to his striking handsome looks. So women of easy virtues were quick to get his attention.
Oryina did accompany his father on hunting outings around the remote spear-grass covered plains of Mbayer. The seclusion of hunting outings in the plains and his mother’s folk songs performances were his most enthusiastic moments which forged within him the strength and quietness of a composer.
His earliest indication of interest in song composition can be traced way back to his childhood days when he started composing with fragments from his mother’s folk songs.
His excitement and strong fondness for song performance broke boundaries and led him to join the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON) even though all his immediate and extended family members were Protestants from the NKST Church.
CYON is a Catholic youth arm of the church which principal activities include composition of Christian song, dance, mime and music. Oryina threw every strand of his strength into it such that Sunday evenings and other days of the week found him unreservedly immersed in CYON activities at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, Ahile, Mbakyer.
He became known for teaching his new songs and rolling out mental choreographic dance steps for CYON. The skill and dexterity of the young Oryina Anyiman won the hearts of his peers drawn from within and other churches from neighbouring villages.
Soon his fame in CYON rumbled and roared like wild fire and reverberated throughout the surrounding villages. This did not only distinguish him, but became his launching pad into the world of song composition and music career. Silently within the composer’s mind was his crave for education.
His profound involvement in CYON could not wane his desire for education. He did his primary education at N.K.S.T. Primary School, Agula, Turan from 1978 – 1983. His secondary education was at Government Secondary School, Koti Shagev-Ya from 1984 – 1987. Oryina was later enrolled at Usaa Technical College, Adikpo from 1989 – 1991 where he studied electrical works and wiring.
His acquaintance with the knowledge of electrical works got him some jobs to keep soul and body together as he could handle electrical wiring and fittings. His sojourn in Usar, Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State did not only earn him part of the education he so much craved for, but also won for him the hand of his heart throb Evelyn.
There was actually a keen competition during courtship as Evelyn was a beautiful damsel and had other suitors. Oryina was only a visitor to Usar and had no material resources at his disposal to stand the other suitors. However, his striking handsomeness which blended well with his youthful light complexion more than compensated for his material lack.
Evelyn was also actively involved in CYON and that gave Oryina the rare opportunity for a closer interaction and to flaunt his skills. Armed with these advantages that both nature and circumstances provided, he held on tenaciously. Eventually, the young Oryina won Evelyn’s heart and they eloped to back his place at Mbakyer.
So, he went to Usar, got educated, got baptised as Gabriel Oryina Anyiman, got married and returned richer than he went. He and his wife gave birth to four children; a boy and three girls.In 1993 Gabriel Oryina Anyiman moved with his wife Evelyn to Makurdi and continued serving God at St. Thomas Catholic Mission, Anum, Makurdi where he served as a Church Leader and teacher of the Bible.
His love for song performance also heightened as he stumbled over the Book of Psalms as the teacher of the Bilble. In the Book of Psalms, Oryina found rich resources for songs and music. His feelings profoundly found expression and again broke loose as he kept up a steady flow of 150 palms chanted into songs and being sung in the Catholic Church more than anyone has ever done in Tiv land.
Oryina was a man of such uncommon warmth and feelings that his presence tended to melt the discontented and spur the dispirited. In 1999, the artiste was invited by his bosom friend James Iorpuu to compose a trial song for Wantaregh Paul Iorpuu Unongo who was vying for governorship under ANPP.
The hastily concocted song which was more or less a gentle prayer in melody for the governorship aspirant, Paul Unongo became a surging song with a torrential fantasia that poured like liquid fire the following day. The whole audience were thunderstruck and that singular incident opened a wide door of fame for Oryina in the political circles that particular season and in the years that follow.
That performance also won for him the official composer for Unongo’s political campaign in ANPP and later the official composer for Governor Gabriel Suswan in 2003 in PDP and Governor Samuel Ortom in 2010. Apart from composing for political campaigns, Gaberial Oryina Anyiman has a genuine concern for the unity of his people, governance and development in Benue State.
His songs are more like the works of a social critic covering a wide spectrum of issues in the society. His composition generally prefigures entertainment and social criticism such that he talks to and for his society. Like many older poets in Tiv land whom he intertexualised in his compositions, Oryina mobilise, educate, defend and criticise social injustice in the land.
His song performances are more critical with the hydra-headed issue of Fulani herdsmen more than any oral poet in recent times in Tivland. This disposition made him popular and endears him to his audience. In his compositions and performance, the oral poet largely performed alone without or yese imo an assistant.
This is actually against the ethics of Tiv traditional song performance because song performance among the Tiv is a communal endeavour. This explains why almost all oral poets in Tiv land perform alongside an assistant. The oral poet in his career traversed two regimes in Benue State and had other patrons who are prominently featured in his songs.
Governor Gabriel Suswan gave him two cars at different occasions. Apart from material rewards from his patrons, the oral poet also won the award of the best oral poet in Tiv land as the Ikpamkor i Benue in a competition organised by Benue State Council for Arts and Culture, Makurdi where the oral poet emerged first position among many competitors.Gabriel Oryina Anyiman rose steadily from a gospel singer chanting psalms to a folk singer and broke through into political circles. He became popular in his career as an oral poet in Benue and beyond.
His rising was fast and short like a rocket. In 2013, the oral poet became ill and battled for his life till he came to the end of life’s uncertain journey early at forty-five years old on the 10th of October, 2014 at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi. A short time before his death, the oral poet reemphasized that his children should take education as a paramount thing in life.
Gabriel Oryina Anyiman will be remembered for making his Tivland conscious of unity, governance and development through the deft composition and song performance.
Written & Compiled by Dr Terlumun kelekaa
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