We are delighted to announce to the general public, the conclusion of the first phase of the Goge Africa 20th Anniversary Writing (Short Story Category) Contest 2019.
Entries for this category totaling 1,438 riveting short story entries, all of which resonate so poignantly with the theme of the Anniversary Celebration (Our Culture, Our Heritage).
We must admit that the richness of the stories and the vigorous narratives surely gave our jurors quite a herculean review.
Below are the shortlisted entries in no particular order.
I was shortlisted for an award. It is a big deal - renowned, recognized and most importantly, international. There is something about being validated by foreigners; it says you’re now a little more than just a local champion. An international champion, if you may. I have a child and a husband who wears bow ties and skinny trousers that cut off right before his ankles. He is thirty-five. Sometimes, his rainbow colored socks embarrass me when we’re not in the circle of other eccentrics and oddballs. That man does not know how to act. We could be going to a village meeting, and my husband would knack suspenders on his skinny jeans and dirty sneakers get-up, as if the combination alone is not bad enough. He calls himself, “alternative.” This is the man I married. I love my husband but I certainly will not be seeking style tips from him. We are in London. My husband’s outfit is laid out on our hotel bed. He is sitting across from me, wearing those contraptions he calls glasses. “What do you think of this?” He is holding up what looks like Ankara suspenders, and wearing a small frown on his gorgeous oval face. I do not respond; I have bigger problems than my husband’s choice of apparel. Our baby is sitting on the other side of the bed, wearing only baby powder and a smudge of formula on his rosy fat cheeks. I sigh. Oh to be young, naked and without a care. “These suspenders says, ‘educated but African,’ don’t you think, babe?” “Yes, no one would know you’re educated and African without them, Dr. Chuka Nwaeze,” I reply, dryly. I have my own problems. I am in London for an award ceremony at which I am at risk of standing in front of hundreds of people (if I win), and I can not decide what to wear. At least my husband has his suspenders, either this one or the other fifteen options he packed. I think he has a Kente one too. I brought with me three outfits: a seemly skirt suit in sky blue to be paired with sensible shoes and a brooch shaped like the continent of Africa (always repping), an adventurous pant suit that said, ‘I am here and this whole shebang is mine’ (paired with my sensible shoes and that killer brooch) or the outfit my mother-in-law packed for me. I haven’t opened the package but I can see the fabric through the transparent bag it was packed in, and it is beautiful albeit inappropriate. My mother-in-law is a fashion designer but she often forgets that not every occasion is an Ankara occasion. Sometimes, a girl writes her first book, is overwhelmed by how well it does and somehow finds herself in the UK for the first time, the recipient of a prestigious nomination. My mother-in-law does not know that sometimes local champions become international, and being international comes with a suit. “What will Amara wear?” I asked my husband who has now settled for a different pair of Ankara suspenders. “Didn’t you pack clothes for her?” he responded as he rose to check the box we came with. “I did, but if you’re wearing that multicolored thing, and I’m wearing the sky blue skirt suit, and she’s wearing the dress grandma made for her, wouldn’t we be too much a color riot,” I say with a pout. My husband turns towards me with his “you must be joking” face. “You’re wearing that sky blue suit? Wait, you brought that sky blue mess?” “Says the man who plans to pair his Ankara suspenders with Nike sneakers,” I retorted. “It’s called being edgy! You, on the other hand, are just razz.” Razz, is Nigerian slang for having bad taste in the most uncool manner possible. “It’s not razz!” I exclaim, “it’s practical and makes me look serious and smart.” “If you were the fifty year old wife of a pastor, yes.” I laugh. My husband is not the funniest but he has his days. “So what do I wear now? The pant suit?” I fall with my back onto the bed. The event is in three hours. “Have you tried the dress my mother gave you?” Sigh. My intern, Ada, told me to hire a stylist but I didn’t think it was necessary. Now, I wish I listened to her. “Ankara is not for oyibo events,” I say. Chuka raises his brows and holds out his Ankara suspenders to me. I roll my eyes. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try on my mother-in-law’s dress. I pull it out of the bag. It’s long but not impractically long for a mother of a toddler. I throw it on, over my underwear, half hoping I hate it. It hugs my body in all the right places but somehow manages to hide my post-pregnancy pouch. I hear my husband whistle. “Babe, you should definitely wear this.” There’s a headwrap and a shawl in the package. The headwrap is held together with pins and a note that says, “Ready to wear because I know you’re terrible at these things.” I wear the headwrap on my head and look at my reflection in the antique mirror in our very British hotel room. I have to admit, I do look beautiful. “I’m wearing this,” I whisper. My husband is dressing up our child. He nods slowly but he does not know I’m about to take this slay up a notch. I pick my daughter up and swing her around my back with her limbs wrapped around my waist. I grab the shawl my mother-in-law packed (that genius woman!), and I tie it around my child and across my breasts in a small knot that mimics the one on my headwrap. I look in the mirror again; I see myself, an African woman in all her glory. It’s an hour to the event. My husband, in his funny clothes, and I, with our baby strapped behind me, magnificent in the outfit my husband’s mother made me. How did such a stylish woman raise this man I married? My husband snaps on his signature bow tie, offers me his arm and says, “Now, let us go and show these oyibos what’s what.”
Tonight I can’t stay in my bed. Like a mouthful morsel of solid amala coated in films of steaming ewedu, I’ve laboriously rolled these thoughts all around the corners of my head all day, but I have yet to make sense of it. Strange things do happen in this black and white world of ours. Stranger things even now, as the vision start to gain colour faintly. If what my friend Samieli tells me is true, then norm is soon to dissipate into obsoleteness, and strange will morph up to take its place; only I’m born too early to witness it. You see, Samieli hasn’t always been Samieli, and he hasn’t always known so much about the future. A double-edged sword of fate sliced through our small village of Osogun one notorious afternoon – a day rarely mentioned, but neatly tucked away in the shadows of our memory. Back then he was Ajayi, my playmate. Together we hounded the thorny trees that taunted our long throats with high-hanging juice entrapments. But on that day, I had gone with my mother to collect ajo in the next village. I remember seeing the oranges sprinkled around in his compound, and the silence in the village being just as solid as they were. That was before my mother’s piercing scream confirmed to me that the worst had happened. When this happened, my hand on one side could barely go over my head to touch my ear on the other. My mother could swear I only just stopped suckling. But now our mothers are no more and we ourselves are preparing to become grandparents. That sword of fate has served its full course. One edge took young Ajayi – and watered my eyes for many moons – and the other brought back Samieli, the bright, learned, and widely travelled man who is among many bringing some colour to our black and white. As you grow old, you’ll find very few things are as valuable as wisdom. It will also be easily recognizable. I lay in my earthen bed at night, with closed eyes and a lively mind, playing back all Samieli has been teaching me. I have found wisdom in him and every morning I count the seconds till the cocks crow, so I can resume again. Plenty has changed since my friend has been back – Ojo is now Maikeli. Ogidan is Gabreli, and Talabi is Esikieli. These are names of a new faith, but it is more about the ‘Eli’ than it is about attending lengthy church-services. Even Dauda who is Musulumi, and Falana the Ifa-diviner’s son, both attempted the suffix; but Daudaeli and Falanaeli didn’t exactly sound right. Some of the new Kristeni converts themselves rejected names like Pita, Abraam and Mosis. Ajayi is Samieli, and we all must eli-lise our names too: give us new names only if they’re suffixed Eli. Eli-lise. . . It amazes me how much I’ve learned sometimes. My hair had started to grey out by the time I began, but I have not only mastered the entire language, I can even invent my own words. Ajayi says I’m the smartest person he has taught English, and that weighs more to me than a bushel of cocoa. He thinks me smart for many whys. I’m of the few who cared more about what happened on his journey, than the goodies he brought back from almost becoming a slave. The ship was like a haunted house, he says. Haunted not by the mercilessness of the masters, but the hopelessness of the chained; lying on their backs and sides through the length of the journey. Souls lifted off bodies like steam from a boiling pot; leaving them heavier, but completely empty. Then came the ravens; bearing news of a dazzling new reality. Many buried hopes came back from the dead. Souls can now stop to boil and lift off in steams. History will remember that place as Freetown; for it is there that I became free – These words were always the bridge between the sad part and the glorious one. Samieli soaks me in intense euphoria this way; painting vivid pictures of his sojourn on the canvass that is my mind. The irony of it is how you cannot feel bad for him, genuinely. It’s hard to feel bad for a man whose lemonade you’re drinking, made from the sour fruits life threw at him. You stop living when you stop learning, he would say. So while my mind is still proudly reeling my oriki for mastering these languages, I decide I would start to live afresh. My wife passed on and my children all got married. What better way can I kill time? So, I bid my friend goodbye and set out on a quest for knowledge. My feet have carried me to many corners around this continent. I’ve fed on knowledge within the walls of Timbuktu, and I’ve been taught in a place called ‘University’, in Karueein. Trotting the expanse of Africa showed me more of its beauty, and her abundance of wealth. I still lay with closed eyes and a lively mind at night. The ‘lively’ was in black and white, but now I see in colours. My hair is greyer, but it is also shinier. By the time I’m back, my friend is writing the entire Kristeni book into Yoruba. Soon I’ll purge myself of the burning question I carried all the way home: Ali Quam said. . . Oh, the Vibranium... Samieli murmurs, unsurprised. He too has heard of it: the super mineral that could transform the world. Quam, the alchemist from Dar-es-Salaam coloured it to me while learning Swahili in Karueein. It can only be found here in Africa, he says, and it might take even us hundreds of years to find its exact place. I’m building this image of the future in my mind. It’s a stairway that leads to a summit beyond my sight. Finding Vibranium is maybe the only way I can see it. Samieli doesn’t agree, and he makes a good point. Vibranium or not, do you not see how blessed we are already? Truly we are the balance of existence, where nature sits and all the good things of life abound. Is our air not clean, or our soil not fertile? Are our children not warriors or does milk and honey not flow beneath our grounds? Submerged in reflection, I nod slowly, and then I ask: How do you imagine this place would look in 150 years? Everything will be better, he says. Humans will live better, trade better, transport themselves better, and communicate better. My mind struggles to create houses that look better than the earthen Oyo Empire masterpiece I live in. Getting the education I did through whatever means without having to leave home? Better carriage than my donkey or Samieli’s caravan? Being able to talk to Quam, for example, from here while he’s wherever he is? They all seem strange and impossible. If you were to travel to 150 years, you’ll be surprised how many more things you think strange now that are norm then, says Samieli. If only I could, I sigh. They could have found a way to fold time, he says, his face tilting upwards as if he’s been deeply reflecting too. Tonight I can’t stay in my bed, though my mind is alive and in colour. My eyes are wide open and I’m bending over my journal; inked feather in hand. If I can’t make sense of these hot morsel thoughts, I can send a message forward and ask for help. So, dear Great-Great, or Great-Great-Great Grandchild; this is a journal entry for you. I believe strange must be norm by the time you’re reading this, but our culture and heritage must have also matured gracefully. Maybe you even found Vibranium. If by now, folding time backwards is possible, please travel to 1869 to get me. It must be a beautiful world where you are and I would really love to see it. Dropping-my-pen-into-the-basket-of-love, Yours ancestrally, Alabi-eli Omoafrica
Adetola could not believe her ears, what exactly is her father trying to say? Yes, she knows they are from the Great Adeyeye Royal Family and that her grandpa, Oba Adewumi Adebiyi Adeyeye, was a great king before his demise. In fact, her father, Prince Adeboye Adeyeye, would have been the king after him but for the customary rotational ruling arrangement run in Ibado land where the ruling houses had kingship opportunity in turns. “Daddy, I don’t understand what you just said”, Adetola lamented. “What is difficult to understand in the fact that you have to get married according to the traditions of our land?” the father said as he continues reading his newspaper with rapt attention. “Daddy, how can you say that in this 21st century? And it’s even baffling knowing fully well that I have been out of your country for a while now” “Young lady, I have made my point clear, you are the first daughter of this house and you cannot shy away from our custom” Adetola stood still staring at her loving learned father, who is still so attached to the customs of Ibaro land. Both the traditional ceremonies and marriage rites are so complicated and tasking for Adetola; she and Oyeyemi would have to pass through the six stages of marriage. “No! it is not possible”. (She thinks of a way around this, perhaps by approaching Grandma Adeyeye to plead with her father). Grandma surely has a soft spot for her being the first grandchild and her father’s only daughter. “And I hope you have not being sleeping around with him, because he must present ‘ÀMÌ ÌBÁLÉ’ (evidence of virginity) to me after your wedding night”, Prince Adeyeye said still not taking his eyes off his newspaper. Adetola was mortified; all she could do was stroll away from the sitting room having screamed at her father. ADETOLA CALL : Kí là ń se ta fi pọ̀ b’áàyí o? (Why are we gathered this much?) RESP: Ìyàwó là ń gbé o (We are gathered for marriage ceremony) CALL: Ìlẹ̀kẹ̀ sọ, ìlẹ̀kẹ̀ sọ wọ̀wọ̀ (Dance with the beads, dance with the beads) RESP: Ìyàwó là ń gbé o (We are gathered for marriage ceremony) Adetola sits majestically in the bedroom specially decorated for her with ‘asọ òkè’, ‘àdìrẹ’ and mats as the bride of the day. Her aunties, cousins and some of the female family members attend to her as music, garnished with various local musical instruments, is heard in the background. They busied themselves putting beads around her well plaited ‘ṣùkú’ hair style, and rubbing ‘àdín’ on her leg and body to make her dark skin radiant. Experiencing this love and unity, Adetola remembered the journey that brought her to this day. After the saga with her dad months back, she had approached her grandmother, Olori Abeke Adeyeye, to plead with her dad for a modern day traditional engagement and white wedding. Instead, all her pleas were ignored; Olori Abeke said, “…it is our custom and culture to marry according to the traditions of Ibaro land; nothing more, nothing less”. Hence, she had to inform Oyeyemi, her fiancé, (or shall we say “Àfẹ́sọ́nà” as called traditionally) that they must follow through with all the six stages of marriage or they could choose to disgrace the family name, or perhaps elope and face the wrath of being disowned. At first, Oyeyemi thought this was just a joke as anyone would until he visited Adetola’s parents. Prince Adeyeye did not grant him any hospitality or audience; he was practically sent out and was told that the parents of brides in Ibaro only talk foremost to the ‘Alárinà’ (the go-between) who would mediate between the two families. The Alárinà comes into the scene just after the groom’s parents or the groom himself have/has sought out a choice lady as a bride provided none had been betrothed to him when he was a child. This is called ‘Ìfojúsóde’. Oyeyemi, who had his first and Masters Degrees abroad, was shocked there was still a family that held on to culture this much. After all, he came from Abàjà Chieftaincy family in a neighbouring town, a place where there were no strict marriage rules; his eldest brother who was the first child got married abroad without any rancour. Now, things would be different, and thanks to Oyeyemi’s parents who instructed and encouraged him to abide by the customs of his in-laws to be. “Iyawo, why are you smiling sheepishly? You had better start gathering strength for ‘Ẹkún Ìyàwó’ (the bride’s ceremonial cry)” Adunola, one of her cousins said. This is a part of the ceremony where she would have to cry through the family house while the family elders, her parents, and members bless her. Her cry is to signify in essence that she is not too happy leaving the family. OYEYEMI The Oyelami family sent Mrs Kukoyi as the Alárinà to Adeyeye family; that was after they had made thorough private investigations and sought Adetola out as a choice wife for their son. According to Chief Oyetola Oyelami, if the Adeyeye want a traditional customary wedding, then they would have it in full. The family priest was summoned and he asked the oracle about the union, something Oyeyemi was not happy about being a staunch Christian. There was really no available option if he really wanted to marry Adetola; not even when his demanding soon-to-be in-laws are good Christians too. Thank goodness that “ifá fóore” (the oracle accents), else that could have been the end of the relationship. Things started getting more interesting and fulfilling to Oyeyemi when he got to the stage of talking to his fiancé, which came up only after he had visited for seven times with a male friend. Adetola was allowed to talk to him at the seventh visit having paid the prerequisite fee as expected in “Ìsíhùn” where she gives consent. Once “her voice had been released” to him, Oyeyemi’s family formally asked for her hand for their son; this stage is called “Ìtọrọ”. What is more good news to Oyeyemi than to hear Prince Adeyeye say, “Now we are ready to hand Adetola over to you”? Great joy filled this young man’s heart not minding his family would have to produce series of traditional prerequisite including monetary gifts to all sects of Adetola’s family during “Ìdána”. The final day came through for the couple, Ìgbéyàwó, the wedding. Oyeyemi beams with smile, seated in his uncle’s house awaiting the arrival of his well-adorned bride in the train of accompanying friends, cousins and her uncles’ wives in his father’s compound. The tradition spells it out the bride must not meet the groom at his home, and that the preceding wife married into the groom’s family before the bride would pour water on her leg while she stepped on a calabash making it break into pieces; these pieces were symbolic for the number of children she would bear him. Was that all about the wedding? Of course not! He is to return a symbolic white piece of clothes with or without bloodstain to Ìyá àgbà, his grandmother, who would send a message accordingly to his in-laws – this clothe should eventually be the pride or shame of the bride’s family concerning their daughter’s chastity and the family’s integrity. As expected of Christians, the couple kept themselves until marriage so it did not raise much dust for Adetola. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ “Dad, you cannot be serious with what you are saying, you mean because grandpa made you and mum marry traditionally, I must do the same?” Oyetade said. “Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that you must get married according to the traditions of the land and I must personally receive a gourd full of palm wine and a full box of matches, just as it was sent to your grandfather when I married your mother as a sign that ‘I met her at home’ (as a virgin)” “But why dad?” “It’s our culture, and that is our Heritage. It is all we have, our pride.”
It's been 8 years since it last rained. Everybody’s headed to the stream that flows beneath the rubble of what used to be Third Mainland Bridge. I'm headed in the opposite direction. If what the old woman says is true, then I must see her today. And what better time to go than now, when everyone's so distracted?
The street I'm on used to be upscale. Solar panel roofs are caved in over large chunks of cement and scrap metal. This was the first to go, the separation of the classes. After the stock market crashed, world governments followed, and those who could flew out of the country. Those who couldn't stayed and watched as poor people began to encroach on their territory. With resources depleted, handiwork became luxurious. The man that cut your hair could now afford to be your neighbour. Rent was cheaper too. Highbrow communities soon became ghettos. And my father had a choice. He saw the way the Barber looked at my mother. Knew there was no police to report to when the Barber and his friends broke into our house and cleaned out the kitchen cabinet because there was nothing else worth stealing. We weren't home, but what would happen the next time or the time after that? So, he sent them away, my mother and sister. He sent them to a better place. The US Embassy called it a utopia. What it really was is a Russian moguls business idea after economists told him the doomsday clock was ticking faster than anyone anticipated. The Russian capitalized on civilizations downfall and built a smart city, the only place on earth where things are still good. My father could only afford to send them, we were men, we would survive. I did, not him. The solar flares of 2048 didn't just cause our crops to shrivel up, it also caused cancer. The brain tumour took my father’s memories, his sanity, and finally, his life.
It’ll be dark soon, and a broken moon would hang in the sky. But I’m close to the old woman’s shanty. She would show me this truth. The one she says will be my salvation. I walk past a public borehole. The tap leaks empty air. That doesn’t stop the little boys from crouching around, waiting for a drop of drinkable water. They look up and watch me with desolation in their eyes. I wish I had something to give them. But I traded everything for the secret the old woman promises to give me.
The old woman, she’s a pariah you see. That’s why I’m going now. So no one would see us together. With all material wealth gone, reputation is all a man has these days. That and his life. With each stride, I feel the heft of the dagger against my thigh. I’ve never had to use it, not yet. When things got really bad, and crime rose to an all-time high, our security forces were the first to turn on us. They had all the weapons, we had all the leftover food. My father said it reminded him of stories his grandfather told. About a time when armed robbers knocked on doors, and politely asked to be let in. Exactly how the men in uniform did, waving their AK-47s around, taking what they wanted. My father found it funny, how things had come full circle. The politicians were long gone by this time.
“They abandoned us.” My father said. “Something an Oba would never do.”
I told him I didn’t know what an Oba was. He laughed because neither did he. All he had were his grandfather’s stories, about a time when things were better, then worse, then better again.
I wanted to give my father a proper burial, in a graveyard, with a tombstone I could always visit. But that British scientists’ book, the one that became a bestseller when such things still existed. It convinced everyone there was no God, no afterlife, no spirits. According to him when people died they became nothing but carbon, just formless energy, lost to space. I believed that too. But when my father passed, I still felt him beside me. I still saw his shadow shift in the bedroom we shared. I wanted to honour him, as though he lived on. But no one would let me. They insisted I cremate him, as had been standard practice for two decades. Besides, if I buried him I ran the risk of giving the cannibals a new target. So, I did as they asked. Now my father is lost to me, in life and in death.
Smoke billows in front of the old woman’s hut. She is preparing a meal? I draw close. No, not a meal. It appears to be incense. She is strange this woman. I hope I have not sold everything I have for nothing. The smile she offers when she sees me is toothless.
“I’ve been expecting you.” She says, the words escape her mouth like a drawn-out sigh. “Sit and listen.” she instructs.
I gaze around, ensuring no one watches, then I sit on the ground before her. The incense burns between us, offering some warmth on this cold night.
“What is it that you seek?” She asks.
“Answers.” I say, certain that she is only toying with my emotions. Surely, she knows why I have come.
“Then why does your heart wander?” She asks.
I inhale the sweet scent of the fragrance. Perhaps I have gambled and lost. If the old woman truly had truth to tell me, she would’ve done so by now.
“It does not.” I reply.
“It does. Your heart wanders. Quite like your father’s did, and his father before him. You question the wisdom of the old. You cling to your reality.”
“My reality is all I know.” I whisper.
“And yet your reality was not what created you. This…” She gestures at the chaos around us “This is not your origin, and if you do not know what made you, how can you possibly know what you are made for, or who you are?”
I bite my tongue, then let it loose. “I did not come here for riddles old woman.”
She laughs, a throaty cackle that floats into the night sky like bats. “Riddles you say. You open your ears to the world, believe their fact. You cover your ears at home, call our truth riddles.”
“Tell me then, what is my truth?” I demand.
“The white man misled you.”
“I never met the white man. You speak of a different time.”
“A time that has led to this. They told you to forget your culture, abandon your gods, tear down your temples…”
“Shrines you mean.” I interject. “I’ve heard the stories, your so-called culture allowed terrible things.”
“And what would you call this?” She asks and gestures at the broken city. “We had our shortcomings as all people do, but the path we were on would have never led to this.”
“This was caused by global warming, it has nothing to do with culture.” I state.
“Oh, but it does. The culture you adopted in place of your own. We had much to learn from the white man, but we also had much to teach him. We forgot what we were made of, and thus what we were made for. We could have prevented this.”
“So why are you telling me this? How does this help me?” I ask.
“It will help us all. They won’t listen to me. I’m an old woman. But you, you’re the future, and as such you alone can carry the past.”
“What if I want to leave the past in the past?”
“Then you will remain here, arguing with a ghost!” The old woman hisses, and the incense bursts into flames. I shield my eyes from the light. The fire fizzles out. All that remains where the old woman sat, is a cloud of smoke. I sit alone in the city that was and wonder, what it could be.
Jideofor was the archetypical happy child with little worries. He lived in his small hamlet by the banks of Iyi Ukwu River. His small community was just by the outskirts of the great confederation of Aro communities. Jideofor’s daily living usually comprised of tending to his father’s goats with his younger siblings, Ifeoma and Ikweano. Although he was old enough to help out at the farms, his mother pampered him with too much care, saying she does not want his very light complexion to fade away in the sunlight. In the evenings, the youngsters of the community gathered at the hut of Oboli, the oldest man in the hamlet, to listen to his fantastic tales of the times past. Jideofor’s little bubble of happiness was burst into oblivion one hot high noon. He was indoors with his younger ones, with his father’s goats hiding away from the blazing sunlight by the shade of the avocado tree just in front of the hut. Ikweano was just preparing to sleep when they heard loud screams. Jideofor and his sister, Ifeoma rushed outside to investigate the reason for the screams. They had just gotten behind their hut when a huge masculine figure grabbed them from behind and held their mouths so tightly that they could not scream. They were dragged off to where the screams had originally emanated from, close to Oboli’s hut, just by Iyi Ukwu River. Every opportunity they had, they too screamed for help and tried to fight for their freedom. By the opposite bank of the river, they were tied tightly to a tree together with other youngsters their captors had caught. A man dressed in the traditional Aro warrior attire and face mask stood guard over them with a large club. Those who screamed, he would beat with his stick until they understood that it was better for them to sob quietly. The marauders had planned their attack on the hamlet perfectly; coming at high noon when all able-bodied persons who could wield a hoe was at their various farms. Only little children, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly were in their huts during the raid. Altogether, twelve children were stolen from their hamlet, and our pampered Jideofor was the oldest. They were tied together and made to trek towards the “evil forest”; a place they had been warned in Oboli’s stories never to venture towards, where the wild animals and the spirits of the forest were said to make their abode. After about five hours of their rigorous non-stop trek through the dense, dark jungle, they began to see signs of civilization again; smoke emanating from behind some huts. The younger ones amongst them were sorely exhausted and frightened, barely able to continue with their crying. Their captors were kind enough to offer them food and water when they arrived at these huts in the middle of nowhere at the heart of the rainforest. Most of the children refused to eat, but it turned out to be a rather silly decision as this would be their last taste of any dish they were used to. The following evening, Ibibio slave merchants had come from the heart of the Aro confederate communities to haggle with their captors for their sale. All of the children were checked for their health, and sold to the Ibibio. Unfortunately for them, they were all very healthy and would make perfect slaves. Their buyers made them trek for weeks on end, camping at nights in the forests. Two of Jideofor’s playmates could not make it till the end of their grueling march to the coast. Nkechinyere was bitten by a funny looking insect and died soon after. Olaudah fell sick from what seemed to be malaria and could take their relentless trek no more. The children had never seen the ocean, talk more of the mighty slave ship their white buyers had brought with them. Jideofor and Ifeoma were lucky enough to be brought into the same slave ship. Ifeoma, who like Olaudah had gotten sick during their daunting march through the jungle, was now critically ill. Jideofor prayed to his Chi and to his sister’s Chi, like his grandfather had taught him to do, for his sister to get better. It seemed as if the old gods had suddenly forsaken him, for they refused to make his sister well again. His sister died a few days later, and was tossed overboard like a dead rat. Their white slave masters did not put too much light-skinned persons and those who spoke the same language into the same section of the bottom deck, for fear of them conspiring. They referred to the light-skinned Negros as “Oyibo”; a corruption of the Igbo term, “Onye Igbo”, by which the African slave traders at the coast referred to this particularly savage people who had little fear for authority, and were known to conspire to set themselves free from their captors. Jideofor was an Oyibo, and Oyibo Negros were very much sought after in the New World for their farming dexterity and inventiveness, despite their in-born rebellious nature. Jideofor cried and wailed for most of the entirety of their five months voyage to the Caribbean. He prayed each day for him to wake up to his former life in his little hamlet, listening to the tales of Oboli. His evil slave masters did not even let them see the sunlight. Their slave masters had shaved off their dreadlocks before they were brought to deck, for fear of them bringing parasites and pests with it. As the months go by in their constantly waddling vehicle, Jideofor reconciled himself to his grim fate. He wondered where they were headed, and if these strange alien-looking humans that reminded him of the descriptions of spirits in the stories of the elders, would soon eat him. In the New World, he was made to discard everything that made him who he was: his name, his language, his food, his beliefs, his gods. The slave master who had bought him called him Johnson, and made him speak a Creole that the other slaves spoke. It took years and several beatings for him to begin to understand this dialect with which the white masters communicated with their Negro slaves. He was taught by the priests of the churches that he was a cursed descendant of Ham, and that his slavery is well-deserved for the crimes of his antecedent, Ham. Any slave caught building an altar or making any sort of representation that the slave masters thought to be devilish, was given a severe public beating to discourage others who still practiced their old African beliefs. In the day Jideofor died in the New World, his sickness had emboldened him and he made an altar. He prayed one last time to his Chi in his real language of Igbo. He denounced the name Johnson that the Europeans had given him, and called out the name his mother had given him as her first son. He cried and thought of his parents, Ifeoma, Ikweano, Oboli and all of his past life that he was forcefully stolen away from. He consoled himself with the thoughts of Ikweano as a father surrounded by his children, with him telling them tales of his siblings who were stolen many years ago as children. If only Jideofor could foresee the future, and see that Ikweano’s descendants now cut their dreadlocks like his slave masters did to him, speak with all sense of pride the white oppressor’s language, dress and eat like him, bear the name Johnson proudly, he would weep. If only he knew that someday, Ikweano’s descendants would burn down in jubilation the shrine that his grandfather had built, and were happy to be referred to as Christians, he would cry even bitterly. He would call on his Chi to curse them. He would call on his Chi to curse you.
FEW years ago, some guys from across the sea tiptoed into our enclave and they spoke different language from ours. They talked about a particular lifestyle different from ours. They talked about new songs and new dance steps different from ours. They talked about dressing in a way like them –they said, that was the trend. I was a kid then, just a kid with running nose –when my khaki had windows at the bottom that sometimes, if not for the fear of mother, I would not have considered pulling it off before pooing; I experimented that sometimes whenever she was not around anyway. When those guys from across the sea came few years ago (three months after your demise), they came with songs. Mother said she so much liked their songs and the way they spoke in different language. ‘Their songs, though mystified, stirs my soul in groove and the way they speak is rather rhythmic’, mother once told us when we gathered together outside on the fifth moonlight of that year –the year after the year we and mother mourned you. Okpe liked what mother said. I wanted to think alike, but I didn’t like the way those guys from across the sea looked. I didn’t like the way they spoke. I didn’t like the way they prided themselves over the matter of everything across the sea and smashed under their soft foot anything in the savannah where they came to explore. ‘Who do these pale looking guys from across the sea think they are sef? Are they better or stronger than our grandpa who had defeated hyenas in our savannah forest several times?’, I had once murmured when one of them stopped me on my way to Okpoga forest for a three full day hunting, and expected me to believe that I have better things to do than to hunt and to wrestle. When I returned from the forest in the evening of the third day, with my tired and hungry-looking face, I saw five of the guys from across the sea struggling with mother who lay down upwardly like a helpless cockroach in a slippery basin. Two of them held her left and right legs down with flexible force. Two others held down her both hands with gentle grips and the fifth one held down her head with careful strength. My heart was submerged with rage round about. I gnashed my teeth as though I was grinding bones in my mouth. I looked left and right to see if father will come for her rescue, I didn’t see him. I looked for Okpe, I didn’t see him. I pried through a gap into the backyard of our compound and I saw two of the guys from across the sea giving Okpe something in his mouth like the way mothers feed their kids who are learning how to eat ona. ‘What are these pale looking guys doing with mother?’ I thought heavily –my heart ached and torn crisscrossed like a cracked wall. ‘Rape? No! The gods forbid! Are they killing mother? They can’t try it’. I was already fighting them from my mind –tearing them apart with my sword and pinning some of them down with my javelin. I wanted to fall on them and fight them with a real fight of wrestling but I saw the eye of a pistol staring at me with a forewarned look. I moved forward and rattled and cursed and creaked but the pistol was still staring at me with a kind of look of, don’t be stupid to try any stupid thing here. ‘Okpe, what were you doing when, as my big brother, you needed to come so we could fight these pale-looking guys from across the sea together and rescue mother?’, I asked Okpe painfully though confusingly. ‘Oche, my name is no longer Okpe, I am now a regenerated man’. Okpe queried me in a camouflaged voice –the voice akin the masked guys’ from across the sea. ‘What do you mean, Okpe?’ ‘I have been baptized in water and I now have a new name. My name now is Brother John. That is my baptismal name’. Has Okpe run mad so soon? I thought. ‘Okpe, what are you saying?’ ‘I am now a regenerated man, a follower of Jesus Christ. What you saw them feeding me with today was the body of Jesus Christ; we call it in heavenly parlance, Holy Communion. People like you are not fit to partake though’. He explained with gesticulations that made me to rather pity him than to beg for further explanation. ‘Was that the madness that made you not to come with me to rescue mother?’ ‘Oche, mother was not in danger. What they were doing to her is called initial purging and the act of dying with Jesus Christ anew’. ‘Where is father?’ I asked with a feigned gentle voice. ‘Father had been flown to the Europe for proper education and exposure’ ‘Madness!’ I thundered absent-mindedly with my face sideway in an awkward direction, biting my lips, sweating profusely within and without, regretting why I went hunting for complete three days away from home. After few years, Okpe got married to a beautiful young lady who also professes the same thing Okpe professes –the regeneration thing. During the wedding, I told Okpe to do the wedding ceremony in the way of grandpa, but he refused. He didn’t perform the purity ritual and they didn’t break cola nut. ‘Those things are not in the bible’, he queried me. But, something happened. OKPE’S WIFE WAS CAUGHT WITH ANOTHER MAN IN BED while Okpe is still alive. ‘Bro John, please, you and your wife should perform the cleansing ritual’, I advised Okpe in the corner of his room so that it will not get into the ears of brethren, including his wife. ‘You son of Belial. You hypocrite. You devil’s messenger. You want to lure us into the sin of idolatry, abi? What kind of Christian are you sef? Listen, we can’t do it because we are no longer under satanic bondage’. The voice of Okpe’s wife roared from where I didn’t expect. My face displayed anger, just to correct her in the spirit of love. I wanted her to know that there is a difference between churchliness and foolishness. I wanted her to understand that she was a fool and nothing else, but I rather disappointed my desires by squeezing out: ‘so your own freedom in Christianity permits infidelity? I pity you, your family and your fellow kind of Christians’. I tried as much as I could to swallow the fume of rage that was rushing out before I would descend on her and bring to her consciousness that she can’t be a jinx to our family; I silenced the voice of the rage. The look of Okpe infuriated me; infuriate? No! It irritated me rather. I contemplated wreaking my accumulated anger on him as if he and his wife were the one that instructed the woman with whom I was betrothed to return my marriage proposal just because I insisted that we would not do white man-kind of wedding. I looked into his eyes and x-rayed his physiques and discovered he was nothing or nobody more than to be bent with ease and I wished I could grab him like a hungry lion –but not to devour him though –it is just to wreathe him. I only wanted to let him know that a man should be a man, especially when his wife challenges the sacred instructions of the fathers of his land. Okpe refused to react to my reactions probably because he was surprised as he has not seen me in that my old self since I became a Christian. He might not understand that I chose to be wild that day because I respect the purity legacy you left for us than their own kind of Christianity –the Christianity of freedom of infidelity for married women. Grandpa, this is the whirlwind that had swept away our heart over time.
"What an elder sees while sitting down, a child will never see it if he climbs an iroko tree." "A dog destined to be lost does not hear the hunter's whistle." Osunfunke didn't care about these twin proverbs. Not anymore. Her father's favourite sayings to his children. Nothing could stop her from marrying her heart-throb! For this white man to whom her heart belonged, she would rather be that dog in her father's proverb. She had said this to herself but her mother overheard her. Ibidun had walked up to her daughter from behind. Osunfunke had been standing at the threshold, placing her left hand on the agorodi or dwarf bamboo door as though to close it. She would have heard her mother's footsteps if it wasn't for the music from the parading gangan drummers. On seeing her mother, she had quickly sidestepped from the threshold; leapt across the dusty compound like a deer that had narrowly escaped a hunter's gunshot. "I'm not beating you. Come, come my daughter. All we are saying is for your own good." Head lowered, Osunfunke began fiddling with the edge of her wrapper and blouse, an indigo fabric which she had tie-dyed by herself. She trusted her mother's word more than her father's. That old man would claim he had forgiven a child but would later punish the child when it was least expected. She was stepping close to her mother, timidly like a teen age girl; a maiden of twenty-four at that. Ibidun, like every other mother in the community, was neither too harsh nor too lenient on her child. "My princess, my pride," Ibidun started stroking her daughter's beaded earrings and the cowries in her shuku coiffure, "the precious gift of Yemoja, my compassionate mother who heals a child from her sweet, cold water. You are the offspring of great Osogbo. The land of indigo dye. Of rich kola. Of brave warriors. You are the pet of my mother that makes playful tunes from her bangles of brass. My mother who rules the kingdom of the ocean and dances to the awe of the moon..." Ibidun went on and on. This was Osunfunke's oriki or ancestral praise. In Yoruba land, every territory, every creature and deity had unique oriki. Osunfunke was smiling now. She imagined herself in the bosom of the river, dancing with Yemoja and getting a share of her tinkling brass bracelets. Many a time, Yemoja had appeared to her in her sleep. Osunfunke was always pleased by the tone with which her mother recited this oriki. Sometimes, Osunfunke would be singing and dancing like a wild fire but her mother knew it. She'd been possessed by Yemoja or Yeye Osun. Osunfunke, meaning "Osun's child in my care" was a gift from Yemoja. Ibidun was the second out of the four wives in her husband's household. Barren for a decade, she decided to worship Yemoja and the goddess had finally put a smile on her face. "May Osun purify your mind," Ibidun said to her daughter after the recitation of oriki, "now go and resume your work. The sun has retired already." She rushed to the dyeing spot; row of five earthen pots half buried beside the house. Ibidun had purposely recited the oriki to make her daughter become active at work. Osunfunke always flopped in her designs when sad or troubled. They needed to make huge sales. Tomorrow was another market day. Ibidun and her husband had scolded Osunfunke in the room. She was asked to desist from the white man whom the villagers reported seeing around her. "A foreigner knows nothing about our traditions" they had said. The white man and his friends had arrived at the village for the Osun festival. They had come with their video cameras that scared the children at first, for they thought they're shotguns. The festival had ended some days ago but the white men had refused to leave. "My African Monalisa" he would call Osunfunke and she would smile even though she never knew the meaning. "May Sango strike me dead if I consent to your union with that white man," Her father had sworn, "Those men who held out their hands to greet our chiefs....Maybe he would use his fist at me if he comes to seek your hand in marriage. I can never allow you and my future grandchildren to be lost in a foreign land like catapulted stones. How would they be initiated into our clans...I want grandchildren who can recite eulogies to our gods. Grandchildren who can dance to the beats of gangan and bata drums. It doesn't matter if you're a girl child. All I want are descendants who can uphold the glory of our culture and traditions." "I hope you heard your father, " Ibidun had added, "Does your white man know that the pride of a bride is her virginity? Does he know that a man does not touch a woman until her wedding night? Does he know anything about our bride price? When you give birth to your white, white children, can he permit you to bring the children for our ancestral rites? Can he let Ifa Oracle be consulted in order to unravel our child's destiny?" To all these questions Osunfunke had been dumb, staring at the mud floor. Children should not look up at their parents when being scolded or make any sound until they're personally questioned. She'd gone down on her two knees in obeisance after the scolding. She didn't how why she'd fallen for this white man. She had loved everything about him; from his skin that almost hurt the eyes like noon sun, to his emerald eyes, to his fine silver hair like those of groomed sheep. He had shown Osunfunke all the sceneries captured with his camera; the image of Arugba, the virgin maid bearing the huge sacrificial calabash on her head, image of the Sacred Grove, the ancient deities, figurines, shrines, masquerades, huts and their brown copper roofs or raffias, naked children swimming in the stream, women laundering on stones by the stream, villagers pounding yams in mortar and wrapping up the foods in leaves."Very beautiful" he had called them. During his photography adventure, he had stumbled on parents whipping their children so mercilessly and he had yelled "Stop that, woman!" He had taken the shots anyway, thinking it was only a witch that could chastise a little child in such manner. Osunfunke had gifted her white lover some tye-dye and batiks. Drunk in excitement, he asked his white friends to capture both him and Osunfunke with the fabric in his hand, but his African princess had kept her distance and shyly looked away from the camera. He wanted Osunfunke to follow him abroad to teach his people the art of tye-dye. Osunfunke could not even dare take him to her father's compound. All these memories drowned her mind in melancholy when the white man had returned to his country. For one market week she drenched her sleeping mats with tears and made horrible designs that drove half of the customers away. One day she slumped and passed out. When resuscitated, she became deaf and dumb. She was vomiting all the concoctions and herbs her father prepared for her healing. Finally they took her to Osun's priestess. The white-clothed woman unraveled a water-filled pot and sang the oriki of the river goddess. And she spoke to the panic parents. "Osun is angry with you both. But your daughter shall be healed. This ailment is a warning...In the future, Osunfunke should be permitted to marry a man of her dream so long as the man agrees to abide by the tradition of our land surrounding marriage. She can move with her spouse to any land in the world but she must be coming back home for the Osun festival and other necessary rites. Our mother is not against any race or tribe. She's a loving mother of all."
The Market. The biggest market in town. It has a name, after one of the foreign visitors, but those true to the land call it something else, even I can't pronounce it, but I claim citizenship from this land. My Native land. This land of my forefathers—A land I still know too little about. ________________________________________ A woman seats on a wooden stool beside the busy market road calling out to passersby to come closer, stop, and buy from her. The sun is at its highest point, the heat is unbearable even for the produce wriggling in her basin full of murky water. “Ndek Iyak! Ndek Iyak!”—“Fresh fish! Fresh fish!” she calls. The wooden block used to cut the fish into conveyable pieces balances atop the basin—a life source for flies of all sizes—her hand remains in a constant swatting motion. There are many others like her lining the market road. The spaces within the market are full and overflowing with sellers and buyers in a constant hum of activity. The chaos is palpable. Within this chaos is a relative order that can be observed. There are different sections for food items, clothing items, household items, and it goes on for kilometres in every direction. The buzz, such as that of a beehive, never ceases. A preacher, with a mobile speaker and megaphone struggling to be heard over the melodic call to prayer of a local Mosque a few feet from him, begins to rebuke a group of young merchants attempting to sell SIM cards, memory cards and phone accessories while blasting ear splitting afrobeat music from a battered old school bus; within that you can make out the shrill cry of a baby, raised voices of women chatting and quarreling, the tune from a handheld radio and the interaction of humanity in different tongues. In the heart of the market is a roundabout with a large central island and a suggestive many faced bust watching everything and everyone. Cars. Trucks. Motorcycles. Wheelbarrows and People alike weave around the large circular intersection day in and day out. The traffic is constant, under rain or sun. The four major roads that lead into the interior of the town all meet at this roundabout within the market—the center of all activity—and today even more so, because, once a year the market is closed for a full day. That day is tomorrow. ________________________________________ “Why are you awake so early?” My Mother never gives me enough time to answer her questions or question statements individually, so I learnt a long time ago to wait until she is done with her initial barrage to reply in the shortest, most respectful manner possible for a stubborn African daughter of an even more stubborn African mother. “I'm just wondering if you think it's that Ekpe thing you are preparing to go for instead of Church?” “Why do you want to give me high BP eh this girl?” My mother continues to ask and state her questions unobtrusively while I stand facing her with my head bent in reverence. “Answer me oh! Oh I'm now talking to myself abi?” she finally takes a breath, I move in, “Mummy it's not like that now!” I blurt out, dragging the ‘now’, it's meaning more of a pleading ‘naaaa’ sound which is always followed by a tilting of the head to one side with a somber expression rather than the literal meaning of the word. I am trying to find a way to placate her. My mother doesn't fancy the idea of me joining an Nka—age grade group—or playing Ekpe—the traditional masquerade dance that was once extremely culturally significant. Especially since I stopped going to church with her. Her belief remains that her culture has had evil inclinations and our only redemption is through religion. I disagree. “I'm going to Church with you.” She stares at me in quick surprise. “Then when we come back, I'd like to ask if you would come and watch the play, just for a little bit. You can leave if you really don't enjoy it!” I finish, hoping against hope that it will be a good compromise. She stares, unflinching. My sweet, petite mother. Innocent in her beliefs. Anytime I would seek a discussion about her culture, my culture, she would speak of it with distant anger, she would describe it as a ‘man's culture’—unfair and unwavering. The men learnt the written language and kept it secret. The men were law. The men made the law to suit them. And then there were the spiritual repercussions. She had witnessed some. The idea of eating poisonous beans to prove one's innocence in the face of the ancestors—people hardly survived, innocent or not. She dwelt on one part of a culture past, neglecting its beauty, colour,reverie anew. Her response to my request is that innate movement of the head in a quick nod simultaneously accompanied by a sigh that starts as a ‘hmph’ but ends with a somewhat derogatory snort. Typical. Not a yes but not an outright no. She walks off. ________________________________________ Whenever New Year's Day falls on a Sunday there is a great moral argument in all quarters as to the impropriety of playing Ekpe on the Sabbath Day. ________________________________________ We are halfway through our play route which culminates at The Market and the excitement is apparent. Our Efeke Idem—masquerade runner—is performing an Nsibidi interpretation for an Obong Ekpe—High Chief—while we wait to gain admittance into his home for a short performance and refreshments. “My Dad has agreed to teach you Nsibidi.” I turn to find one of my girls beaming at me with confidence. “Are you serious?” I prod. “Absolutely. He says it's time his generation starts changing with the times and sharing their knowledge that is bound to die with them if care isn't taken.” she laughs, “his exact words!” I nod to her, showing my gratitude. It had been a difficult task getting this new age Nka of both genders accepted in the first place, but getting anyone to teach our written language—Nsibidi—to a woman had been met with greater resistance. I can't find my mother anywhere. ________________________________________ As we approach the crowded roundabout in the heart of The Market the boys form a circle around us, guiding us to the central island. Our Ekpes—masquerades—prance in and out of our formation, bells tied to their waists chiming, announcing our arrival. All eyes are on us. We sway in, floor length dresses sweeping left and right, peacock feathers askew, boys bare feet, jumping, singing, shouting—the boys own the songs, we dance. “AYOOOOOOOOOOOOO” comes our combined ululation in the wake of a close dancing Ekpe. The lights are bright. The people watch in ecstasy, they join us here and there, adding to the chants and laughter. Pure elation. The songs are of Our Ancestors. Our Teachings. Our Land. Our Language. Even those that do not understand, understand. There is no barrier, no religion, just this moment. I glimpse my mother in the crowd as her facial expression moves from disinterest to disbelief, fear to remembrance, excitement and pride. I catch a tear roll down her cheek. I am satisfied. I ululate and the girls join in. We become louder. We have something to prove! I have something to prove! This is our pride! It is who we are! Where men and women are pieces of a whole. Our old culture could transform become better and exist in unity with the new beliefs and customs that are gradually becoming new culture. This is a representation of our history, relayed in song, dance and costume, to be regarded, strengthened and passed on. I just needed to show her, remind her, that there is never one side to any story, never one answer to any question. Never a People without evolution.