There is a God
Why should we inquire what killed the wood weevil when it had chosen to play with fire? Why should we hold on to a culture that keeps dividing us onto a future that has no hope? Thus, when the gods turn their backs, the vultures make their nests at the feet of the trees.
Man is only a god!
Omenka the great carver is dead. Umuokwe and the council of elders wept like rains for four market days. Eke, Oye, Afo, and Nkwo saw no sun on their days. Darkness came upon the nights till the moons fizzled away. Onwu ama onye ukwu! No, Omenka should not die! It should not have been his turn to die now. Come! Come with me to the market place and see for yourself. Look at Nwanze the drunk for instance. What good is he for Umuokwe than the agwu of chasing our women around and beating his wife every night in retirement? I have not come to judge though, but Okpoko and Nderi should have both died and not Omenka. Nnanwuru kpuru akwa, ma ya eserina nnekwu, ka o zuta nke egbe ga-eburu. It is true that the destination of every piece of iron is the blacksmith’s anvil; but you do not take an mkpisi which roasts well to the furnace. Yes! Let death snatch away ndi akaliogoli first and allow men like Omenka to attain full ripe age. I still wonder where our deities were when the kite scooped away mbekwu, ‘the tortoise’. Indeed, a man, whose chi is tied on both hands, could be stung dead by danda, the white ant.
Here, the elders sit by his lonely bamboo bed heaving heavy sighs of mournful sorrows. Beneath it lays his chisel, a hedge of wood, a calabash containing congealed uli and other carving tools. They too are dying of an unfamiliar idleness after over sixty years of creative crafts.
“Why would they not die, why? You see, our age is fast fading away, and the young are not even close to our breath. Maybe, because we chew only sticks and do not tie coloured ropes on our necks. Omenka’s only son wears those ropes like someone on a voluntary suicide mission, and does not know the taste of thorns on a naked sole,” Odo enthused,
“He speaks grammar and none of us understands him because words are not spoken through the nose”.
If he did not eat the palm kernel broken by his father, whose son then should have stayed close to earth to hear the voices of the ranting ants? Rain waters have forcefully entered the cow’s eyes. Omenka is dead. Umuokwe and all of us are locked like two rams drinking from a bucket. Could we reverse the day to see Omenka sitting on his rumps, humming and carving our masquerade? Have Okeokwe, Okwekokwe and Nneokwe not finished theirs and ready for the festival come Izu asaa ahead? Have the spiders not spoken in each of them? Nor has the agu mmuo not bellowed in the nightly paths of other Villages?’
Omenka was slow, too sluggish like a small snail on a slippery stone. Mmenete! Mmmmmh…. If he had hastened up a little more, he could have finished and still maintain his unbeaten record of unfathomed designs. Look at that Adamma he carved in his teens! It has up till now defied time, won countless number of competitions and still sustains an indescribable spirituality, inspiring awe with its beauty and eternal youthfulness. Yes, Omenka was slow but such is the magic his crafty hands wrought and he has always had the last laugh. Waters gush in gust and in a matter of minutes, it dries off. But Omenka, like oil flowed gently and stamped his authority that even in years to come, the blind will still see his footprints on sand of our history. We won’t have our mask and we won’t hear the ring of his laughter and he lays his tools to rest at the completion of a daunting tasks.
It’s true that secrecy buries itself and sits comfortably on the myth of mmanwu. But do we not know that Okeokwe is going to bring forth Ezeonyeolulu; that Okekokwe would display Ijele, and Nneokwe will intimidate with Akuebilisi? Agbakata uzu, onye nti ike anu and we heard it all from the grapevine. We held tight to the secret of our own masquerade but the death of Omenka had indeed squashed the balls running beneath our groins. We do not need to hear with our ears and see with our eyes that time had turned its back on us. Ebenebe gburu! After all, a child is looked upon the face before the rituals of giving it names; so, how can we name the half carved mask Isi Mmanwu? How do we knit this basket into the proverbial ngiga? How do we chisel away the wood as lightly, yet with firm hands as Omenka would do? Okoye, do you know how to use the nkpocha? Of course, he said “no”. What of you Okonkwo? He waves his head, taps his staff and said, “eehm e”. Isn’t it said that the strength of the Tiger lies in its nails? And since we neither have the nails of the Tiger nor the artistic mastery of Omenka, it has become clear to us that when the four towns that make up the Aka n’ano are gathered for the Mmanwu festival, our fate will be like that of a castrated he-goat in a Pen. We, the people of Umuokwe have suddenly reached the end of tomorrow today. The Izu asaa is here and we have no mask. Chi m egbuo m o! No, do not hold me! I don’t need to be consoled for today is already past and the remaining twenty seven days is gone too by the time the moon crosses the sky. Time has come for the men to be separated from Umu ikorobia. Where lies Umuokwe?
Nevertheless, what are the causes of our curses? Have we not fed our gods with fattened goats, cocks and yams? We have poured libation as our fathers did, and called on our ancestors at the breaking of the kola nuts. I have restrained my rage and would not wish to do like Azuanuka who in blaming his Ikenga for his misfortune split it into two. I waged my rage. But it was an age I separated the rags from my bag. Onwu! A rain that has gathered no clouds has pelted upon Umuokwe! An announced battle has claimed the head of our chief warrior! O kwa egbue dike ogu alaa! Where were Ogwugwu and the rest of our deities? Ani, forgive me if I blaspheme but have they not like an overfed child slept off at the spot where they ate? Do not think of me as the nwanza bird that calls its chi to a wrestling match after a heavy feast or don’t I look like one who is in mourning?
I am a man, an elder and I speak the misery in me the way it weighs down my heart. We made a part with our gods to protect us. Ours was to worship, appease and feed them. Was it not just a few months ago that we sacrificed cows to Ogwugwu to endow us with long life? To that same Ogwugwu, we offered seven hundred large tubers of yam, some gallons of unadulterated palm wine and other sacrificial materials to propitiate for Okongwu’s abomination. Ogwugwu should have in fact struck Okongwu and kept Omenka. Go to Uderemani and see him quaffing wine and snuff; and he doesn’t even have a rendezvous with death. Although, I don’t intend to judge Okongwu but he defiled Adamma. Aru! Abomination! Aru kwo nwa n’azu, kuru nwa ma dikwa ime! Sexually, he defiled the maiden masquerade entrusted to his care because his manhood knew no bounds. Then the male spirits got enraged and plagued our farm lands and livestock; so horribly devastating that we had to consult the oracles. It was then that the mouthpiece of the gods told us that Umuokwe has been defiled.
“Umuokwe kwa, ka o bu Okongwu?” I asked
“Taa! How dare you query the gods?” Thus, were the words of Ezemmuo.
We tasked ourselves and cleansed the land. The gods also prescribed that a hut be built apart where the female masquerade will be reposed, lest Okongwu be moved again. Why wouldn’t he? That masquerade is really a different thing altogether. The first day, it danced at the Ofala of Igwe Igweokoye at Ananise, ebenebe gburu! She danced so provocatively like a naked mamiwota that most of their men bulged and covered their laps with their hands. But could Omenka have carved that Adamma without the promptings of the water spirits? A man of such immense muse and transcendental meditation! He would go on for days with neither food nor the irresistible frothy palm wine from Okeataigwe. His austerity was overwhelming once at work. His wife had even threatened to do something drastic if Omenka stayed further away from the mat. The elders fussed on end but Oyiridiya is a woman of virtue. “When a child seeks for his right, he becomes a bad one.” Oyiridiya, as her name means is a replica of Omenka. You would think that they were suckled by the same pair of breasts and grew together from their childhood. The rapport between them was proverbially described as nnu na mmanu. It wasn’t that they never quarreled; but the mystery was that their sweetness increased double fold with each single misunderstanding. Few that dared to go in and settle their disputes never dared it a second time after being used quickly and disgracefully as a means of settlement. Indeed, salt and red oil do not need any reconciliation in matters that concern them. Oyiridiya’s state cannot easily be imagined as we still mourn Omenka at a time he is needed most.
Despite her age, beauty still shines all over her. It was said that when she was in her adolescence, years before she got married to Omenka, suitors flocked Nnabuike’s compound in an unnumbered sequence. “Who was Nnabuike, but a poor, useless, senseless and hopeless man?” No, I do not intend to judge him; but that is all he was. He did next to nothing and never worked hard for anything, yet within the life of spittle on sand, he became famous on account of Mkpurumma his only issue. Whether he was not man enough to have impregnated his wife with a male seed or not is what I don’t know. Onye kpu igu ka ewu na-eso! Thus, it came to be that goats followed the palm frond bearer and the next thing we knew was that Nnabuike’s barn suddenly overflowed with the tubers of yam brought by those who wished to woo his consent over that flower of his court. Chickens and goats vied for right of way in his compound. And you know the way of these livestock. Even those from neighbours found their way to Nnabuike’s compound which ultimately became their meeting place. Idigo, Nnabuike’s neighbour had to tie strings of cloth over the armpits of his fowls since they had refused to come home after several forceful repatriations. All roads led to Nnabuike’s compound; and over night, his kinsmen gave him the title, Orikeze. I do not blame them for indeed, he has long been eating like a king!
The poor desirous suitors who could not contend with the affluence being exhibited by the others either came before dawn to sweep his compound or fetch water. But Obierika is a man who would not settle for the worst loser. He needed Mkpurumma most. After all, he has become a man and had come to the age at which a man is referred to as some else’s father. He went into the vast land Nnabuike inherited from his father and cultivated it within two days under rain and in the sun. He almost strangled Njelita his friend, when he offered to help him sow the cassava sticks. No matter how impotent a man is, he does not openly needs another mans help in matters concerning his wife. Njelita’s help might jeopardize his chances of being noticed or credited for his competence and performance. So, Njelita steered clear. Not only him. Many others too, begun to wean off when the pitch of the dance went higher and could not be danced by those with babies or cuddling snuffs in the palm of their hands.
One morning, Nnabuike put on a neatly knitted singlet upon a well-starched khaki short. Anaghi agwa ochi nti na-agha esu! Was it not enough to chase in the small masquerades or did one need an oracle to tell him that the white man too is interested in the white fowl that is staying in his house? A wandering cow is tracked by its footprints on the pathway. These white men from the little we heard of them were like the cowpea that does not know its boundaries. There was no limit to what they can do. They are Agbara, the deity that kills the one that tends it. Look at what they did at Ama-Ikpo on their Aro day. Aru mere! Strong thoughts are only expressed by strong words! It is an abomination to reveal the thing behind the mask, not to talk of unmasking the masquerade in the public. Such abomination that is capable of making Omenka turn in his grave. The people of Ama-Ikpo had always known that Egwugwu was a spirit and not Obidike who the white man had just given thirty two hot strokes of the cane for not keeping quite as they passed. Such was the awe that gave birth to the frightening fears. Indeed, when an angry ant stings a child, he learns to be careful about where he places his buttocks next time. However, people like Akuka who from every rating had been the highest bidder could not retreat in the shadow of a white man but is it not our people that say that a man does not defecate where the grasses are taller than him. Akuka matched the wealth of the white man and before he knew it, plenty of water had found its way into the stalk of the fluted pumpkin. Akuka of all the people refused to accept that the vulture is not edible and ended up a disgrace to his people. Once more, I make it clear that I have not come to judge him but truth be told, Akuka is a disgrace to his manhood. Back in his home at Ikpo, his wife Obiageli and two children are constantly at war with hunger. Umuokpu had warned him severally and on one occasion, sanctioned him. Disgracefully too, the Obi he inherited from his father has crumbled long ago like an unattended ogige fence. He would perch at a corner of the ruin like a bird uncertain whether it has an egg in its womb and mope at passers by. The last time Ezeude his friend went to see him, such was his mood. Ezeude searched his goat-skin bag and brought out a dried chunk of kola nut and Akuka ate it with him? Chineke ekwekwala ka ngwere gbaa aji! Omenka! The one who dared the white man. The gods also know that it is better for death to claim the warrior rather killing the master planner.