Edum was making burnt bricks for a new family house. His lifelong friends: Ato Imea, Otei Igodo, Osai Epele, and Okei Adumei, were helping him. Edum had given them a one week notice of his need of their assistance, and they were all too happy to help out, as Edum had been a true brother and friend. He never hesitated to help out anyone, who needed his help, even though he was known to be a rich man in the village.
On the appointed day, Edum’s friends had returned from their fishing and hunting expeditions and gathered at his compound awaiting instructions. It was day break, and the sun was struggling through a dark cloud on the horizon. The weather before the onset of the rains was cool, just right for the kind of work to be done. “Let’s eat breakfast, before we start,” Ologila said. Edum’s wife served sliced tapioca with fresh fish pepper soup that was enriched with straw pumpkin and spices. She was assisted by a couple of young lasses who reduced her task of feeding the workmen.
Breakfast lasted fifteen minutes and they were soon at the work site. “Our first job is to start excavating clay from here,” Edum said. “You had started digging already?” Ato asked, as he had observed that the topsoil had been excavated off exposing a streak of silver clay. “Yes, so that we can get started immediately.”
“What are we to do?” Osai asked. And Edum explained that he needed at least ten pit fulls of kneaded clay to be molded into soft green bricks. After which he would burn them to get hard red bricks for his house. And so the workmen started.
They excavated the clay with diggers of metal blades and wooden handles, then kneaded the clay by stamping on it with their feet to break up the clumps. And then turned it over and over with their feet until the clay became consistent and smooth. Next they scooped it out with their hands, and threw out the lump unto the nearby ground. It did not take too long for them to have produced two pit fulls of smooth clay, which laid on a heap outside the pit. “Ato, you will help supply me clay at that work bench over there,” Edum said, pointing at a work bench that stood twenty meters away from the pit. “You will load the wooden bowl over there with the clay and carry it over to the bench.” And he walked over to the bench with a lump of clay he had scooped up with his bare hands.
At the work bench, he kneaded the clay with his hands, sprinkling water on the lump in the process, then reached out for some straws of elephant grasses, stuck them in the clay and slapped the lump into a wooden mould. He then beat it down with a pestle, forced in more clay before smoothening off the top and removing the mould. “That molded clay looks beautiful, where did you learn how to make bricks?” Ato who was watching him work asked. “It is a long story, which I will tell you later,” Edum replied.
Soon the men at the pit had produced three pit fulls of clay and Ologila had called for a break. Their break lasted fifteen minutes and they returned to work. The next four pits full went faster than before; it was lunch time. The sun had passed overhead and the men were hungry.
Lunch consisted of foofoo served with cocoyam soup and venison. They ate the food with gusto and Ato returned back to his earlier request. “Now that we have a break, tell me about where you learnt how to make bricks.”
“What in the name of God were you doing at Bini, so far off from home?” Otei asked.
“This must be one of those tall tales people tell when they have exotic skills,” Osai said, suspecting that Edum was making his brick making skill more important than it actually was, he was amused by the claim.
“Why can’t you let the man talk? It is not everyone that travels outside the village. Some of you have not gone beyond Ogbogolo, so tell me my friend.” Ato said.
“Ato will do anything for a story. Look at how excited he is, at the mere hint of adventure,” Otei replied.
“But hear him out before you condemn the story,” Ato said, taking sideways glances at Edum as he had become impatient himself.
“Are you people finished condemning a story you have not heard? I will not tell it again.” Edum replied to the consternation of all of them.
“What were you really doing in Bini to begin with?” Okei asked.
“Wrestling.” Edum said as he watched Otei and Osai move in closer waiting for the words to come out of his mouth. But Edum ignored them and sucked on a bone in his mouth. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the marrow that oozed out of the bone.
“Is there more to this story than wrestling?” Otei asked in near desperation. “Not really, it is a tall tale,” Edum replied, and he took a lump of foofoo into his mouth with several shrimps sticking on it. “Our village had never wrestled against Bini that I know of, so how did you get to that far away place?” Osai asked, ignoring the fact that Edum had a mouthful of food.
“Our village did not wrestle with them.”
“So how did you get there to wrestle?” Ato asked; Edum finished eating and took a drink of water, he took his time to tell the story.
“About six rainy seasons ago, it was my nineteenth rainy season, and we had wrestled with all the neighboring villages around us. It was the year that we wrestled against Ihuka, those Ekpeye people on the eastern bank of Orashi River. I was to wrestle against their champion Ameka, and the idiot came out to challenge the entire community. You know the rest. Otei threw Ameka flat on his back and deprived me of a fight that day.
“ They were not sure of what kind of wrestler I was, so six rainy seasons ago they called me to fight in a contest with selected champions of Orashi, who were to go and represent them in Bini, their ancestral homeland. There were wrestlers from Abua, Engenni, Emughan, Ogba, Egbema, Ndoni and Oguta. The Ekpeye mornach wanted to create the impression of a progressive tribe and to pay homage to the Oba of Bini whose kingdom and empire spanned far and wide. At the wrestling contest, I felled three champions, one of each from Engenni, Abua and Obarama, but that buffoon, Ameka, will not leave me alone, so I added him to the list of fallen champions and was quickly selected to lead the team of wrestlers that went to Bini.
“It was a large party that took off from Joinkrama through Taylor Creek to the Nun River, from there to River Ethiope and to the Bini River. There were ten huge boats that were built to serve the party. Rowers lined on the edges of the canoes, rowing and paddling as we made our way. Guardsmen, with spears and arrows stood on guard to offer protection along the way.
“The boats had living quarters, and women cooked the food for the two hundred and fifty people that went on that trip to Bini. The trip was a difficult one, as there were no provisions for entertainment, relaxation and exercise. Whenever we arrived at friendly places, we came out to camp on the grounds, stretch our limbs, fish and hunt. But there were very few communities and peoples that were friendly. The good thing was that the travelers were selected for their ability to speak many languages along the way. So any time we met a hostile community, especially smaller Ijaw enclaves, language speakers would take the lead in pleading our cause and we would be allowed passage.
“The power of the Oba of Bini could be felt the moment we crossed into the Ethiope River from River Nun, and men in the service of the Bini Kingdom could be seen along the banks of the river; they gave us assistance as our fleet of ten huge boats slowly made way to the seat of the kingdom.
“We arrived Bini after we had been river bound for ten days, and the leader of our party the Ekpeye Logbo, monarch of the Ekpeye people, sent word to their representative in the Oba’s palace. And we were received into the enclosed walls of the biggest town in the whole wide world.
“The Ekpeye representative was a member of the Council of Advisers of the Oba, and through him word was sent to the Oba, that representatives of a long lost clan wanted to pay homage to the throne. And so we were taken into the court and palace of the Oba to see and behold a true and mighty king.
“The entire complex was two times as big as a small village in which workmen of different categories exhibited their skills. The entire compound was enclosed in a fence. Fruit trees- pears, palms, irvigia, mangoes, plums, star apples, avocadoes, and others were all over. They were planted in straight rows and evenly spaced ridges, with their branches trimmed and the plants beautifully maintained. The grass lawns were planted in rectangular patches all over the complex. The effect of the grass lawns and well maintained trees was that the compound had a wooded look and cool feel at all times of the day .
“Assorted birds of assorted plumage nested in the trees and lived in the compound: There were doves and pigeons, swallows, peacocks, guinea fowls, wrens, sunbirds, and grey parrots.
“Beautifully attired armed guards holding special spears and shields were positioned strategically to control access into the complex. Archers were interspersed with the spear holding guardsmen in the compound.
“I counted two watch towers at the east and west ends of the complex, presumably to watch out for any invading forces. The Oba’s palace was off to the right of the compound, surrounded by a moat and a reinforced half wall. A ring of houses for the members of his Council, advisers, workers and soldiers formed a circle around the palace. The palace stood majestically in the midst of all the buildings, dwarfing them in its elegance.
“The Ekpeye representative led us in a file to the waiting room in the palace, and there were lots of people from different lands and tongues waiting to behold the visage of the Oba and listen to his advice. There were Awusas, Fulanis, Yorubas, Igbos, Igallas, Urhobos, Isokos, Ijaws, and numerous visitors to see the Oba.
“We were ushered in to his presence and the room was magnificient. The walls were covered with wooden and metal bursts of past Obas and queens long dead. And the bursts of the royal family were proudly displayed on stands in the hall in a collection by a side alcove. The arches of the alcove led from the room into a museum that was open to special guests and visitors that displayed the artistic prowess of the Binis. Besides carvings of wood, there were metal bursts of past and present members of the royal family. The metal was yellow and burnished until it glittered and shone beautifully. It displayed the opulent wealth of the Binis for such rare metal to be skillfully crafted and displayed in the open for guests to admire. And a section of the walls had portraits and drawings of past and present members of the royal family.
“The queen sat by his right hand, and armed soldiers with spears, bows and arrows, battle axes, broad bladed machetes stood at strategic positions in the room. His advisers sat at a table by the side, and we watched as different work men and their superiors came to give reports of their activities in the field. Headmen, supervisors, foremen and money gatherers came in to report of the work being done in far flung places around the empire.
“The money gatherers kept records of taxes and royalties paid to the throne. And all money gathered was dispensed through representatives of the Oba in numerous lands and climes around.
“It was in Benin that I learnt of the power of one man, whose word was law. And other people obediently serving him.
“We were welcomed into the presence of the Oba, and the Ekpeye Logbo presented him with gifts of fine leather, expensive velvet from Arab merchants, ivory and the fur of a leopard from hunters in Ekpeye.
“The Ekpeye Logbo proposed a wrestling bout to be presented by our team as entertainment, and the Oba who before now was bored by all the speeches and addresses being presented perked up. He wanted to know if the Ekpeye people had good wrestlers to which the Ekpeye Logbo answered in the affirmative, and confirmed that we were the best in the whole of Orashi Region.
“Then let your team wrestle against our in- house team. We have the best wrestlers, and no team can beat them,” boasted the Oba.
“That was how the wrestling bout was set up for that evening. True to his word, it was an incredible team of ten champion wrestlers trained to knife sharp edge. They could spin in the air like acrobats, had springy steps and were extremely strong. “In the ensuing bout, the best that we could do was fall two of their champions versus seven against us. I was the last wrestler to match their young, muscular and strong overall champion, who was known to strangle his opponents.
“The man must have been close to a giant. May be two and a quarter meters, whose rippling muscles and sweaty brow had a mean scowl. We literarily ran into each other and he bumped me off to the side like a rag. But I did not fall, and I noticed that he was slow. His big size gave him strength and power but he was slow. It was this disadvantage that gave me the edge of sliding him and as he staggered to regain his stance, bumped him on his buttocks with my head, and he went down on all fours and I was declared the winner.
“The Oba offered me a position in his staff, but I declined. I chose to return home with gifts and presents from the Oba and promises of presents from the Ekpeye Logbo. The Oba asked me to make a request of whatever I wanted and he would give them to me.
“I had toured the part of town where artisans of various descriptions worked. Cloth weaving, leather works, ivory carving, black smiths, and gold smiths, carpentary/wood works and brick making. I was fascinated by brick making because people would always need houses; it was a necessity. That was how and where I learnt to make bricks.” Edum concluded and the rest of them sat quietly in thought.
“You should have stayed behind to work in the palace of the Oba,” said Otei. “I had thought of that, but the Bini Empire was having problems and was falling apart by the seams. The Oyo Empire to the West was at loggerheads with Bini and resisted its advancement into the West. Even in places like Obalende and Lagos, the Oyo Empire fought rigorously to wrest control from the Binis. Towards the East of the Empire, the Ika Igbos had successfully resisted the advancement of Bini Kingdom, and to the South, the Ijaws refused to be merged into the Kingdom. The Urhobos and Itshekiris on their part were fighting for self control and were succeeding. It seemed as if the Bini Kingdom needed to contract in order to hold on to its power. There was no point in joining a shrinking enterprise.” Edum replied.
“The important thing is that he learned a useful skill from his journey to Bini,” Ato commented.
“That is true. Travelling to other places opens up the world for us to explore. We learn new things and new ways of life. That is why travelers are the most knowledgeable people in the world.
“Back to work! You are taking too much time off! Your bodies will get cold!” Ologila called out as they scrambled up and made for their work posts.