Remember Arelu, the TV drama series that had so much audience in the 80s? One of the major attractions of the drama was the ‘mystical’ couple whose abode was a rocky, mountaineous forest. The couple, Owo-Otori and Toromagbe, matched each other and blended with the environment so well that many people thought they were real spirits who were in their natural habitat. Toromagbe, the ‘hubby’, was cornered recently in Ibadan. In this chat with Gbenga Olumide, he revealed how he came about his stature, his life after Arelu, and several other issues. It’s quite revealing.
People know you as Toromogbe, what are your real names?
Well, I’m Chief Olaitan Ileaje Adeniyi, a native of Ago Iwoye in Ogun State. I am the fourth child of my father. Incidentally, I am the only dwarf of all his 16 children. All other children are of normal height and structure. In fact, the former Managing Director of Daily Times, Tola Adeniyi, is my elder blood brother. I was born close to six decades ago, and neither of my parents was a dwarf.
So, why are you a dwarf?
My case was more of man’s inhumanity to fellow man. Yes, there are people who were naturally born dwarfs, but I was not. What I learnt when I grew up was that one of my father’s other wives carried me where I was laid down, sleeping, as an infant. She did so with evil intents, and the result was my diminutive stature. My case could be attributed to the hazards of polygamy. I am from a polygamous home. My father had four wives. My mother, being the first, was faced with so much envy from other wives. So, my stature was a pointer to many evils that are inherent in polygamy.
How did you feel when growing up, especially when you found yourself the only dwarf among your siblings?
Initially, I felt odd, but when I realised there was nothing I could do about it, and I saw that my siblings saw nothing wrong with me, I started feeling normal. Again, I discovered that I could do everything my siblings do –everything! My body parts are complete. This made me strong in the spirit.
How about your peers, didn’t they try to make jest of you?
Not exactly. Some saw me as a different being, but they didn’t isolate me. You know, there is a level of ‘jesting’ that is still normal; when people would just refer to you jokingly as being different. That could still be tolerated. But whenever it got to a serious level, I reacted. Even till now, whenever some people want to make me feel less human, I flare up.
Tell us about your marital life.
I was married before, and I have two children from the marriage. But my wife left me.
I don’t know for sure. I think some people talked to her to leave me. They put some bad ideas into her head, and she left.
Could it have anything to do with your stature?
It could, I can’t say exactly. But if it had to do with the way I am, then it is senseless; because she saw me like this before agreeing to be my wife. She bore me two children of normal height.
How about your ‘spouse’ in ‘Arelu,’ Owo-Otori?
It’s been long I saw her last, but I believe she is fine wherever she is.
People thought you were a real couple, seeing the way you acted –so naturally. Why didn’t you marry her?
I’ve been asked that question by several people, and I’ve always answered that God didn’t want us to be a couple. It just didn’t happen that way.
Was it because of the fear that your offspring could be dwarfs?
No, not at all. You see, even some people were again saying that it was better that we didn’t get married, that if we had got married, we would have had ‘midgets’ as children. But it is not so. As I told you, my case was different. We would have had normal children.
After ‘Arelu,’ you seemed to have disappeared from the screen. What happened?
It’s not that I disappeared. It’s just that producers did not invite me to come and feature in movies. However, I am with Baba Sabiko Theatre Group, here in Ibadan, and we feature on the state-owned television once every week. And to tell you this, Chief Jimoh Aliu and I are still together. We are even planning to shoot some of our old plays into home video(s) very soon.
What then has been putting meals on your table?
I am a soothsayer. While we were on location for Arelu, I got whisked away by whirlwind, which the Yoruba called Aja, for 14 days. During this time, I was taught so many things by spirits, one of which is palm-reading. I read palm(s) for people and tell them what I see. It is ever accurate. So, soothsaying has been putting meals on my table.
So, you had little formal education –you speak English fluently, how did you come about this?
I trained myself through reading and listening to learned people like Professor Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, the late Tai Solarin, and even my elder brother, Tola Adeniyi and others like that.