Mama Rainbow: Day I begged in a bus to feed my children

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By Temitope David-Adegboye

The name Esther Idowu Phillips may not ring a bell but mention Mama Rainbow and you quickly recall that woman that has graced many Yoruba Nollywood movies for decades. Idowu recently clocked 70 and her friends and colleagues were at her Ojodu-Abiodun residence to fete the ageless lady who has done so much for the movie industry. In this interview, she recounts how she got into acting, fond memories of her husband and why she did not and would not remarry many years after her husand’s death.

How does it feel to be 70?

I feel good. I feel blessed. I feel wonderfully honoured because it is an honour to be alive to see this stage in my life. My joy is full. Not all of us born the same year are still around. So, if one is privileged to be among the living, then the best I can do is thank the Almighty whom it has pleased to spare me till now. I thank Him for keeping my children safe too. Even the Church of God, which He has put me in charge is not in disarray. I am happy.

What difference does it make to attain this age?

There is a lot of difference. What I could do when I was 50, I cannot do them again…

Things like?

Things like when a script specifies that I should jump off a fence; I cannot do that again. Though the bone may still be strong, one must take things easy. Attaining the age of 70 is not a child’s play. What I used to eat before, now I cannot eat again. It’s now a period of taking pap for breakfast, amala for lunch and probably repeat pap or agidi with vegetable at night because if the body is too heavy, one will not be able to carry it.

Share with us some life’s lessons that our readers could learn from

I have seen many things. Like one of the songs of a popular singer, Ebenezer Obey say, ‘Ohun oju mi ri laye, enu ko gbodo so’ (The mouth must not say all that I have seen in life). However, I’ll just say a few of it.

In my 70 years, I must say I have not enjoyed marriage at all because my husband died in 1984; that is about 28 years ago. And I have not remarried since then. Inbetween, my house got burnt. It was that year that I knew how to buy second hand clothing for my children. Prior to that time, I never wore second hand clothing for my children. In between that time, the Osumare Theatre Group that was founded by my husband before his death scattered. Only I and one Tajudeen Gbadamosi were left in the group. If I go to location, he will stay with my children. But you know anybody learning any trade would eventually graduate one day. So, he became a boss of his own. But God raised my son Femi who now revived the group. We are still on now and I believe the group will not die.

However, I am still fighting many battles. Sometimes, some people would just say they will not call me for jobs and that I am not in their caucus. At least I remember there was a time that for two to three years, we didn’t have money to eat in my house because I was not going on location. And because I don’t have any other job except this theatre work, I didn’t have anywhere to go. There are so many caucuses now in the industry, and if you do not belong to their caucus they will not call you for jobs. I’m saying it loud and clear, producers have their persons that they call for jobs. But for me, I belong to Jesus’ caucus. The few that I get, I get blessed with them.

When it happened initially, I cried. I met with Ajala Jalingo, Taiwo Hassa (Ogogo) and so many of them. I got different advices from them. While some said I should join a caucus, others said I shouldn’t. Some cited example of those people who joined, get sexually harassed and still get peanuts as payments. They even threatened that if I do anything funny, they will tell my son, Femi. I just relaxed after all. It got so bad that even marketers were not even calling us the elderly ones for jobs again. They felt we were not useful to them. If I tell anybody that I’m not getting jobs, all I’m told is that I’m not useful to them. But I thank God that even the few people that get jobs from these marketers call me on set and I do what I can. Even those who go on location frequently cannot claim to have more than I do. It’s just God that blesses one. It was when I stopped going on location that God built another house for me. That singular reason has made me believe that it is only Him that can bless us. Even if you work from morning till night, you may have nothing to show for it

How did you find yourself in theatre?

My husband founded Osumare Theatre Group. I started acting in 1965 with my husband. Although I wasn’t committed to it so much as I was still working as a nurse, my bosses liked me that they always allowed me go on location too. They knew I was very hard working so we had no issues over me combining nursing with acting. It was after I retired from nursing in 1986 that I had full time for acting. The late Hubert Ogunde told me back then that if I don’t retire to face the theatre properly, my husband’s name would get wiped out and I didn’t want that. That was why I retired to face this job properly.

The Sun News Mama Rainbow: Day I begged in a bus to feed my children
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