By: Oluwatoyin Ade-Odutola
On the day of her Akunleyan (the sacred moment of decision), only deities were present.
During that sacred moment, Rachael chose her path in life, and in the true fashion of those blessed by the divine, she arrived here on earth and departed when we mortals wanted her the most.
The pallbearers sang, “We love you but the creator loved you more.”
As the pain was still raw, the trumpeters tore through the coolness of the evening with rhythms that reminded us that this was the funeral of one who left children and grandchildren behind. It was not difficult to come to terms with the saying that, the spirit of a person who left children behind never sleeps. Racheal may not be with us in flesh but her body of works will live digitally.
She was born on May 23rd, 1957 in Lagos State, Nigeria to parents from Eku, a community in Ethiope East local government area of Delta State. Her life’s story reads like a movie script written by a well-horned screenwriter. To my knowledge, she started in the costumes, make-up department before providence shone on her and became a much sort after screen actress.
According to Urhobo Today, a media portal that pledges to project the Urhobo sub-nationality, “Rachael had her primary education in Lagos at Abule-Oja but had her secondary school in Edo state. According to [Rachael], she was withdrawn from secondary school in Lagos by her father and was transferred to Edo because she was always fighting and was a typical tomboy. He did that to calm her down. She claims it was a devastating experience for her because she got separated from her childhood friends and playmates who were mostly boys. She returned to Lagos after her secondary school education and went ahead to further her education, studying Computer programming. After graduating, she worked for a while at Asoline Nigeria Limited, a Dutch Consultant Company.”
The story of REO as a well-known actress on screen may be incomplete if the very tiny incident on the movie set of Owo Blow, is not included first as a lesson and also as evidence as to how the creator works and the walks of mortals are altered. REO came on that movie set as an assistant to one of the notable costumes and make-up artists of those days, Kemi Akanni. As most people know, Kemi Akanni was the main make-up Artist for Lola Fani-Kayode (the producer/ Director of Mirror in the Sun, Mind Bending, and others). Kemi Akanni may take her time in getting actors ready but most in the industry before the present advent of Nollywood agreed she knew her onions and brought great creativity to every set. The inclusion of REO in that department was to ensure speed and efficiency. Since most of us were not privy to her choice during Akunleyan, her story changed drastically when the actress cast for the role of mother by the meticulous Tade Ogidan (screenwriter/director) did not show up. In a pleading voice REO told Tade she could play the role of Mrs. Owolabi…and the rest is history. What happened to her initial job as assistant costume and make-up is another story for another space.
However, in that role as mother to children who were struggling with life due to the incarceration of their father, REO cried a river and other movie Directors soon took notice and the jobs came gushing like torrential rain.
At the final curtain call, it is said “Rachael Oniga in the cause of her acting career won several awards which included ‘Best Supporting Actress at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, ‘Best Indigenous Actress (Yoruba) at the Best of Nollywood Awards’.
In addition, she was presented the Most Promising Actress in Nigeria at the City People Entertainment Awards and Best Actress in a Television/Drama at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
Even if it is a cliché that ‘to live in the hearts of those who love you is not to die’, it is certain that her efforts in bringing raw emotions into her roles will keep Racheal Etabuno Oniga firmly in the Nigeria Movie Hall of Fame.