Chapter 1 contd…
Ahigbe’s mother tried to make him see reason. What good was a craft if he could not use it to put food on the table? When he could not get commissions from anyone, or win titles for the honour of his family. The only kind of income it could generate would be unhappiness and frustration, two things that life was already too generous with. When he wouldn’t listen she called in an endless stream of relatives, and one by one they had tried to talk sense into his head, imploring him to abandon his ‘foolishness’ and take up his rightful position in his clan, the greatest fishermen in Igodomigodo.
It was hard for him to resist the urge to laugh in their faces. To be a fisherman after seeing the magic and beauty he could create with his hands? What child could happily go back to stoning lizards with his hands after experiencing the thrill of the catapult? But he contained himself and tried to make them understand, and when that did not work, he went along with them. He went through the motions every day, getting up at midnight everyday to set the bait and sink the nets, his heart was never in it, but he knew it made his mother happy.
When she saw that he had settled into the same routine as the other fishermen, she was very happy. He could tell by the way she cooked his favourite meal; yam and oghwo almost every day. Ahigbe was happy that she was happy. It was becoming harder for her to smile though the pain, and if he could give her that at least, he would be a fisherman for a few hours every day.
But he wouldn’t give up his passion, they couldn’t make him give that up, nobody could. They would have to cut off his hands for that to happen.
And so he came to this abandoned hut deep in the heart of kijanu ; the forest of the dead. The hut was small and old, but it suited him just fine. It must have belonged to the priests of Samanu, the ones who gathered herbs and charms for the sick, and embalmed the dead. The followers of Osun. Ahigbe felt safe here. He had no fear of the dead; he couldn’t see why they should wish him any harm.
But there was one, who like him, had no fear of the dead. Or perhaps her fascination with him was greater. Ofure had followed him one night, after she saw him peering through the open window of her father’s work shed in ijuwiki. She had trailed him to the banks of Ikpoba river, and watched as he scooped a pail full of thick red clay from the river bed and then she had followed him here, to his secret place in kijanu and she had watched him as he worked. She was so excited that she had spent many evenings watching him since then, and had received numerous beatings for returning home late. But it was worth it for her. She nursed her secret jealously, allowing her father to think she had been carried away playing with the other girls at kepeti.
She was 17 now, which meant she had been watching him for a whole season, it also meant that she wouldn’t be able to do so for much longer. She was betrothed and soon to be given to Nosakhare, the son of Agbonifo; head of the igun eromwon. It was a reasonable and even expected alliance. Ofure understood, but she was not in a hurry to jump into it. She cherished her freedom like a precious coral bead and was not ready to give it up. She also knew she didn’t have much of a say in the matter, she would do as her father wished. She knew the other girls envied her; Nosakhare was a handsome man, one of the most handsome in the land, with skin that glowed like polished mahogany, and a shiny bald head that spoke a special language with the rays of the sun. The bulge of his manhood that could be seen through his wrappa made the girls giggle whenever he passed, and he was considered a prime catch by all the girls in Igodomigodo.
Ofure wished someone else had caught him. Ahigbe, with his skinny frame and strange yellow eyes held more fascination for her. She was frequently possessed with the urge to run around the villages proclaiming his genius to everyone, but she knew what he was doing was forbidden, and his punishment would be severe.
The sacredness of the igun clan was jealously guarded. Membership was and had always been passed down from father to son. It had always been so. Theirs was a tradition that went back hundreds of years, and it was unthinkable that they would allow an outsider to join their ranks. The clan consisted of three grades: The Iroghae came first, those boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen, these were the early learning years, at this stage, commissions were not allowed, they spent all their time honing their skills and performing menial tasks for the older grades. The next stage was the Urigbe, members of the clan between the ages of twenty to forty-nine. Progression from Iroghae to Urigbe was natural; there were no tests or initiation ceremonies. Once a man was of age, as long as he was alive and well, he progressed automatically. The Urigbe made up the largest body of Igun clansmen; they were allowed to take commissions from the palace and town chiefs and wealthy villagers.
The third and highest stage in the hierarchy was the Ekhaemwen oba, these were the highly skilled artisans whom the Oba commissioned to create palace murals, battle plaques, royal heads, and other royal ceremonial ornaments. They were granted favours far above those of their clansmen. Some of them were even appointed chiefs in return for exceptional services.
Yet even within the Ekhaemwen oba, there was yet another smaller group, a group of men who had attained the highest levels of skill and accomplishment in their craft. It was to this exalted group Ofure’s father belonged, they were known as Ogidigan iwinma-eromwon: The Masters.