The trouble with Elu Aku

My grandfather liked to tell the story of how the world came to be. God gave man only one thing as he descended from heaven and that was a palm nut, he planted it and its leaves helped to make man’s shelter, kept the shelter and environment clean, provided kindling for his fire, the wine kept him from losing his mind in the harsh world he found himself and its fruit gave him two different oils. The oil from the pulp to make his soup and to be the bride of the king of food- roast yam (the man loved his roast yam!) and oil from the seed, or kernel if you like, to anoint his skin and hair and to save his children from evil and its manifestations like convulsion and fever. It was the second oil that put my brother and me in trouble many years ago.


I was freshly minted five years old and my brother a chubby three-year-old at the time of this story, if you know Obinna now, you might not believe that he was a chubby child who gave punches that brought stars into sharp focus. The story began with our neighbour who we shall call X, Uncle X was one of our favourite human beings. He would buy us apples, bananas, and soursop when he returned from his shop and then make a bowl of Kelloggs cornflakes which we would devour together, it didn’t matter that we had had cornflakes or golden morn (pre-dinner snack) at home before we went visiting him, or that my mother had given us the UTC donut with blood earlier that was proof for us that she went to work or that we would have dinner in an hour or so. On weekends, we would watch Donut man and the donut repair club videos, sing the songs with him and play with his microphone- the sound of our amplified voices hitting the walls and bouncing back was usually the highlight of our week.


One Sunday evening, we came to his house freshly bathed, oiled and ready to play with ‘Uncle’. We didn’t add the X as we did with everyone else, he was just Uncle, only Uncle; that’s how special he was. He asked us what the smell was but we didn’t know what he was talking about.

What cream did you rub” he asked

Elu aku,” Obinna piped in

Stop rubbing it, I don’t like it” he commanded.


Monday rolled in, that notorious day of racing time and short tempers and groggy, sluggish children futilely mourning the end of the weekend. It was on such a day that my brother and I foolishly decided to test our mother’s mettle.


Unlike many parents, ours did not get angry when you refused to do something you were supposed to do, they would gently ask you why you were rebelling instead. The value of your answer on the stupidity scale was the determining factor for the weight of wrath that would descend on your isi opupu. That day, when we said “Uncle doesn’t like it and said we should not rub it again,” we broke the scale.


In a classic true life expression of the proverb “na the teeth wey dog dey use play, na im e dey take dey bite”, our mother grabbed us and slathered us in the brown oil until we turned golden, despite her recently acquired super-human strength, we still fought bravely. Shouting and crying with each rough stroke of oiled palm, calling for “Uncle” in between sobs. The man did not answer us.


There’s no way on earth and heaven, all the places in between and perhaps under that he did not hear us. Even our grandparents said they heard us wail when we told them the story in the evening when we visited them in their house a few meters down the road. Our grandmother gave us extra portions of maltina and liver from her big pepper soup pot for me (Obinna would have preferred death to liver at the time) to soothe our hurt feelings, with promises to deal with our mother and Uncle as icing on the cake. He did not come out, wisely deciding that his presence would result in losing a limb or an eye.


I wish I could say that after that day, we never went to see him again, that we shunned him for putting us in trouble and leaving us in the lurch but we didn’t. We were children after all, forgiving and loyal. Sadly, by the time he had his own children, poverty had struck and he couldn’t afford to give them the treats he gave us, he became a monstrous facsimile of the man we knew; but that is another day’s story.


However, the lessons I learned that day have stayed with me for the twenty plus years after. No one can convince me to do something I do not want to or what doesn’t make sense to me, if I’m going to do shit and probably get punished for it, then I definitely have to be able to own it. Whenever I hear the expressions ‘no paddy for jungle’ and ‘to your tents, O Israel’, I remember that morning and how an adult could not even come to the defence of the children he’d put into trouble. I also developed a strong disgust for cowards, perhaps the right word is hatred.


Ironically, elu aku has become my favourite oil. My hair loves it in a way I sometimes ponder about, why elu aku and not castor oil or argan or any of the ‘it’ hair oils we rave about from time to time? Is it because it is oil that my ancestors passed down to me? Unlike the other oils, we extol and which go for thousands of the nearly worthless naira in beauty shops and pharmacies,and weren’t formulated with me or my kind in mind.


Speaking of foreign oils with cutthroat prices, one day while I was wandering through the vaults of google, I came across a website that sold an exotic range of hair products. I can’t remember the name of the brand now, it begins with O. You need to see how they described the exotic oil from the heart of Africa that made the base of all their products, and the products mehn! They looked so expensive, beautiful and also carried heavy price tags too.


I am definitely going to start up a story telling service for brands, advertising their products in the subtlest yet gripping manner, certain to get customers opening their wallets for the ‘must-have’ items targeted at them. Start booking now that I am still cheap and please do not tell me to do it for free lest Amadioha strikes you with lightning.


Nearly 1,200 words later, I have come to the end of this post. If you read up to this point then you definitely deserve an award, I do not know what the prize will be… I think I’ll leave that up to you, yes? Thank you for reading, you do not know how much it means to me. Like play, like play, I go write novel for facebook and na because of una. Daalu.


PS: after nearly thirty minutes of throwing different words connected to palm kernel oil into google’s big mouth, I finally found the name of the hair brand with elu aku as its base on the second page of a particular search… that’s why you should always check page 2! Anyway, it’s Ojon, google Ojon and see for yourself.


PPS: Many thanks to the wonderful Ezenwa Ajaero for reading this and spotting enough errors for me to be very mortified. If there are errors in this paragraph, it is because I typed it after he handed the laptop back to me.



  1. Wow, I’ve never known it to be called Elu Aku, I’ve always referred to it as the palm kernel pomade. I don’t know about using it for hair but I use it on my skin whenever I go to my grandma’s place, to please her and to feel cultural. I can’t even start naming all the things I’ve learnt from this post, but your uncle abandoning you is definitely an eye opener for how the world works – to your tent o ye Israel.


  2. Ok Ada. I read to the final PPS so Abi where my award dey? We call that oil here mayanga and you have the white and the black. I use the white on my body, the black will deal with my clothes. My first son recently rebelled claiming it makes him sweat a lot. I gave him a small cup of Avon gifted me by mum or so, but told him whenever it got finished I shouldn’t be bothered. What put me in trouble as a kid was the red banga oil. I drank it once until I puked and we haven’t reconciled until this day lol


  3. couldn’t help the laughter , what an encounter you and your bros had with mumsy.
    I like the smell of the elu aku, though I know it as “ude aki” instead.


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