The Fear Of Fish Eye (Ojú Eja)

By Ikenga Chronicles February 3, 2018

The Fear Of Fish Eye (Ojú Eja)

— By Remi Oyeyemi

It is amazing how conventional and non – conventional practices and sayings influence our minds. It is fascinating to fathom how some of us arrived at certain important decisions in the context of our environment. It is indeed amusing at times to discover how serious set of values is arrived at. It is incredible how obviously mundane but commonplace cultural sayings become edified and elevated to the level of sacred philosophical practice.

It has often been posited in psychological developmental studies that children are very impressionable. John Locke’s theory of tabula rasa is very pertinent in this respect. John Locke in his essay “Concerning Human Understanding”, restated “the importance of the experience of the senses over speculation and sets out case that human mind at birth is a complete, but receptive, blank slate upon which experience imprints knowledge.”

The Tabula rasa (clean slate) concept, according to Britannica.com is, in epistemology (theory of knowledge) and psychology, “a supposed condition that empiricists attribute to the human mind before ideas have been imprinted on it by the reaction of the senses to the external world of objects.” And ideas, if I might add. It seems that the clean slate has always been eager to have something scribbled on it.

This seemed to have been elucidated by my congenital fear of “fish eye” while growing up.
Without my parents and teachers noticing it, it has been impressed on me that the eating of fish eye was functionally related to bad academic performance. By extension, it has been curiously concluded in my mind that staying away from fish eye would boost positive and good academic performance.

The mere thought of fish eye gave me trepidation. It drove me nuts. It drove me real crazy. Subconsciously, I came to hate fish. I did everything to shut fish eye out of my consciousness. It sent tremours through my physiology every time its mere thought was able to break down the barriers of my consciousness. I would have nightmares about mistakenly eating fish eye and would wake up panting.

The fear drove me away from eating fish head (orí eja). Everybody around me knew my aversion for and to fish head and in particular, fish eye. But no one knew why. My mother showed such an understanding that she would rather not give me any meat rather than give me fish. But with my stepmothers, the case was different. My father’s hovering presence even when he was not physically present made sure that I didn’t need much persuasion to eat fish. But not “orí eja”.

The fabled song that caused all this brouhaha is a common place one. And it goes thus:

Olódo ràbàtà,
Ojú eja l’oo mòó je.

This could be repeated as many times as the anchor of the song wanted. In my Primary school days, the singing of this song was commonplace. In the private home lessons that I and my siblings attended, this was also very common. More often than not, I heard the song’s refrain from parents, uncles, aunts and elderly acquaintances when someone brought home bad or less than par report cards.

To the teachers, the parents and all the adults who espoused the principle embedded in this song, this was a way to impress it on us all to work harder and do better academically. While I cannot vouch for the effects of the same song on others, I knew and still know that its effect on me was deep, profound and enduring. It scared me to stay away from “fish eye” or “ojú eja” and “fish head” or “orí eja.”

The fact that some of the teachers took the “artistic” liberty to impress a dot in the middle of zeros while awarding marks also drove home this concept of “ojú eja”. A zero with a dot in the center was, and probably still is, conventionally believed to represent, emblematize, exemplify, epitomise and evince the fish eye, at least, artistically.

How this innocuous artistic platitude has been made to be functionally related to good or bad academic performance to the extent that a folkloric song was appropriated in its stead is still a mystery. Zero is zero. No argument about that. When a dot is equidistantly dipped in its center, it becomes fish eye. Automatically, it is then assumed, literally, that eating fish eye could be or actually was an omen for bad academic performance.

I have no idea if this my explanation would suffice as to the origin of this concept and or belief. But this is the best I can come up with. Others may have ideas as to the origin of the nexus between fish eye and bad academic performance; and the origin of this fabled song.

Though, there was and still is no scientific evidence of this functional relationship between fish eye and bad academic performance, the mere fact that the song was commonplace and had become conventional had impacted it on me as an impressionable child to take it more seriously than it was necessary. It psychologically instilled in me that fish eye was something I had to stay away from, if I wanted to do well academically.

Here the theory of John Locke in relation to Tabula rasa seemed to have been vindicated to some extent. My philosophical belief in this concept that produced an attitudinal reaction of fear of fish eye proves that a Tabula rasa easily appropriates scribbling from its contextual experience.

The fear of fish eye was the beginning of good academic performance for me. The fact that my father expected me to compulsorily bring home a price at the end of every academic year added to the pressure and elevated my fear of fish eye to a congenital level. That my other siblings did not have to meet such expectations still remain bizarre to me. He didn’t know the effect of the pressure he exacted on me.

Looking back now, my fear of fish eye was childish. But then, it was a very serious matter that bothers on psychological fortification to protect myself from failure. And the possible fury of my father.

Yes, the fear of fish eye!

“….. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.”

– Marya Hornbacher

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