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.