Allow me to introduce you to one of the most charming and enigmatic musicians to ever exist in modern Nigerian history. Area Scatter was a transvestite who roamed the streets of 1970s Eastern Nigeria, playing melodic music with her ornamental thumb piano, singing in a rich, smooth voice and moving her body in an unusual yet fascinating manner. She was, by all means, the first and one of the few Nigerian transvestites to appear in mainstream media. Strikingly though, she was widely accepted at the time, in the deeply wounded country which was still fresh out of a deadly civil war.
As a young child growing up in Southern Nigeria with parents heavily influenced by the East, I was often told of the 20th-century show, Ukonu’s Club. Elders declared that nothing on modern TV could ever compare, even likening TV of the 21st century to various forms of garbage. Ukonu’s club has been labeled the best of its time and included a cast of some of the most notable African legends such as the late Christy Essein and Mazi Ukonu himself. My father taught me the few songs he could remember while reminiscing about the various characters who made the show the success it was. One name that always stood out, however, was that of Area Scatter. I assumed the person in question was a problematic individual. Perhaps one who frequently left a room in states of disarray and picked fights for all the wrong reasons.
In many ways, I was right. The term is commonly used to describe such people. However, I soon came to realize the original “Area Scatter” was so much more than that. Legend has it that she was a civil servant in the old days when Nigeria was still brimming with hope and jobs were by far greater than graduates. The good ol’ days, before large-scale corruption and dishonesty, became a thing. She is said to have disappeared into the wilderness as a man at some point during the years of the war, only to re-emerge 7 months and 7 days later, as a beautifully adorned woman. She claimed that during this period, the gods endowed her with supernatural powers which she used to enhance her musical talent and become more feminine. Outlandish? Maybe. But it made for a great backstory which is always welcomed in show business. As any humorous Nigerian would say, all na packaging.
Scatter as I shall now call her, sold herself so amply that she was invited to perform for various royals all over Eastern Nigeria, ranging from Abia to far Enugu until she landed a gig on arguably the most popular TV show at the time, Ukonu’s Club. I wonder though, would Scatter have been accepted in the deeply religious Nigeria of today? It seems the more we abandon our indigenous way of life, the less eccentricity we tolerate among us. For all we know, Scatter could have been gay, trans or non-binary, but I doubt anyone cared back then. It did not matter. She was not a thief, neither did she murder people.
In the video attached, Scatter is gazed upon by the elders in council (a group of men who are viewed as the masculine pillars of every Eastern township) with what I can only describe as yearning and desire. Maybe longing and lust to be with her? Or envy and aspiration to be like her? Even the Igwe – the king, seemed enamored by her performance. I cannot help but ask if these strain of men would look at Scatter the same way today? Could an Area Scatter even stand a chance at universal acceptance now? Well, no need to speculate on the answers in a country where homosexuality recently became a crime and carries the same prison sentence as rape.
Area Scatter was one of the very few Nigerian men (later woman) who publicly shattered gender boundaries and portrayed a somewhat accurate representation of its fluidity. It takes but a moment during the fertilization of an egg, for the biological system to randomly determine the sexual morphology of a fetus, thereby changing the direction of its life forever. Even more so if they are lucky or unlucky enough to be born into a patriarchal society like Nigeria. However, in my opinion, attitudes and behavioral characteristics of the two sexes have more to do with cultural influences rather than just basic biology. And in recent times, the Nigerian societal and gender norms have been guided mostly by religion than anything else. Thus, an Area Scatter in 2018 would be generally scorned at and labeled as sinful.
Where is Area Scatter today, you may wonder. Well, nobody knows. Who can blame her though? The Nigeria of today would taunt and mock her, maybe even throw a tire around her neck for good measures. The rumor mongers claim she died in an auto crash on the Port Harcourt – Owerri Express Road many years ago but nobody seems to know exactly when. Nevertheless, there is still the glimmer of hope that Scatter could still be strolling among us to this day.
This article was first published by The Wistul Nigerian, and written by Dawuta.