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The Baneful Effects of Tiro

In Shola Balogun’s “Tiresias,” the last stanza is:

There is no tiro eye salve on my eyes.
I have come to chronicle
the well-made malaise
of marionettes in the land.

One Review Editor has surmised that tiro might be a variant spelling of “tyro,” which means “naive” or “inexperienced.”

The surmise is reasonable, but research shows that the relationship of tiro and “tyro” is coincidental. Nonetheless, the coincidence works to the poem’s advantage, because tiro has to do with infants, and the poet is telling us very forcefully that he wasn’t born yesterday.

“Tiro” was capitalized in the original version of the poem. If the spelling was deliberate, “Tiro” would seem to be a common noun — possibly in Yoruba — that has become a brand name used by cosmetics manufacturers. In that way, it would be the opposite of words like “jello” and “xerox,” which are derived from brand names and have become common words in English.

Apparently, tiro is known by many different names in other African and Asian languages. Accordingly, I’ve decided — until and unless corrected — that tiro is a common noun and a foreign word in English. In that case, it needs to be italicized, not capitalized.

I doubt that “Tiro” is exclusively a commercial product. Rather, it appears to be something made locally in many places; at a guess, especially in tropical countries. And why is it used especially for infants? Again, a guess: as a cosmetic that also protects their eyes from flies.

Why might tiro be poisonous? At least some formulations of it consist almost entirely of lead.

Lead has a long history. The Romans knew it was toxic and even fatal, but they used it anyway because it was cheap and plentiful. In view of the prominent use of eye-liner that can be seen in pictographs, one may wonder whether the ancient Egyptians had their own version of tiro even though they did not have Roman plumbing.

Shola says he doesn’t use “tiro eye salve” and has come “to chronicle the well-made malaise of marionettes in the land.” He may be thinking of a noxious formulation of a kind of cosmetic, but I suspect he’s making a play on words. The Tiresias of Greek mythology was by turns blind and sighted. Shola may be saying that no Nigerian product or traditional custom shall obscure his vision.

Copyright © 2017 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

Responses welcome!

date Copyright March 20, 2017 by Bewildering Stories

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