The rest of day was fading, the evening skies still grey-ripe with atam unwept.
But that night it would rain torrents; a thousand spirits would howl in the grief of deprivation and no lamps would sustain flames through midnight.
The Kukwen had been killed.
Felled by the violence of the Jukun.
This was the man who had emerged in his blue robe from Atkwe, dry as a twig claimed by the hot dusty harmattan, to reach spiritual headship over our people.
Now he lay stiffly in an undignified posture of death, his customary blue cloth soiled in a pool of his own blood. The mortal stroke was a single puncture wound beneath the left breast.
I was witnessing an abomination that would surely be visited upon with the riotous vengeance of Ada and Iwange.
At least he died old, and maybe quickly. The thought was pointless but at that moment it was some macabre comfort in the dank stillness of the ruined yam barn where I discovered his body.
At the onset of the Kuchicheb festival we dipped palm leaves in a clay pot filled with water. We darkened the brown dust thrice with our dripping fronds while chanting the phrase “Uwong Jim shwur shwur shwur. “
It’s all peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.
War made lies of such devotion; it smeared faeces on the lips of our gods and spat in ujwab for the ancestors.
When the calabash of one’s beliefs is fractured, from what do we drink our confidence?
I had hurried home breathless to startle my father from his burukutu and bush meat with my news. I remember his quiet scepticism but he followed me in uncharacteristic haste back to the yam barn.
“Wait here.” he commanded, stooping to enter the barn.
He emerged silently seconds later.
“Don’t be so stupid next time.” His eyes were hard with annoyance. “He’s not the one.”
Words and meaning
Ada – Bow
Atam – Fruits
Atkwe – Pool of water
Iwange – Spear
Jukun – An old enemy tribe fighting the Kuteb
Kukwen – Spiritual and religious Leader of the people
Ujwab – Ceremonial pot of beer