Oba, my father, lived deep within the interior of what was known as Nri Community of the Omambala Kingdom. A land where it was said the sun rose from the south and stood at the centre of the Village Market Square.
He was the proud husband of Oriaku; a woman whose foetuses had been tagged as Ogbanje because they were never born into the world, even after three years of their sacred Igba Nkwu.
I was born in the premature morning of Nkwo Market Day—when the spirits still danced, feasted and told tales of mortals, deceived by the glinting moonshine that it was still nightfall. My birth was acclaimed to have been celebrated for a whole week. My father, filled with immense pride and joy, had written on the walls of our hut, an oratory to celebrate.
“The aroma of ofe nsala salutes me.
The thumps of the mortars announcing
the entry of pounded yam.
The bowels of my woman shall receive hotness again.
The pain be drowned in the stockfish.
Her screams have disappeared in the savoury fresh fish.
Men and women up to the test!
Let’s herald this great bundle and drink in merriment.
Tonight is a night to be drunk,
not with palmwine
but with praises to our Chi.
Go, my child, fill the breasts of the
nwanyi who has longed for you!
Go, tickle her ovaries with joy unfathomable!
Go, give her goosebumps emanating from
the pleasure of your lips over her nipples!
Go, for our wake is over today and a new dawn bursts forth!
May you find comfort in the furs of my heart!
May your arrival be the beginning of happiness!
May your proclivity spring forth from positivity!
May your tender feet never be bruised!
Breathe for me, diokpara m, live for me and
I’ll show you the wonders of the world
and of great many things to come.”
As a child, I had always watched Papa’s stern face. He was a man of many worth and of his word. He had promised Mama never to take another wife even though his family pressured him to. I remember Mama being called several names including amunsu for failing to bear another child. Some said I had wiped her womb clean and that I was a selfish child, others said I was possessed with jealousy hence I would not allow my mother bear another child. Papa knew what I went through but he had always thought me to be a man of my own standing and thoughts.
I usually looked forward to the evenings when dinners had been had in every home for it was a time the old, young and sick would gather at night in a flame of wood burning from the top with envy. Such gatherings was where you find the sick delighted and clapping from the comforts of their raffia mats. It was a time when young lovers thrived encouraged by the music that would rent the air all through the night.
Those were the days that our clans knew existence and love and trust. But our fate was about to change!
It was in the year 1803, history had it, though we counted not the passing of years with numbers but by the number of cock crows. I was on my first hunt with Father—in a few days, I would become a full grown man through the rites of passage. I asked father what went on in the dibia’s hut during these initiation process but he had said it was only for men and never told to boys. I remember chatting away about how I couldn’t wait and the kind of woman I would take for myself as a wife. I remember father shrugging and laughing in his breath.
Father was showing me how to set a good trap, going on about how I was to take up the family’s responsibility. I was a wee bit distracted and so was father. He was as excited as I was—it was his dream to teach his son to do this!
By the time we realized we were surrounded, it was too late to do anything. Father was held by four men, whose faces were scarred in a way I’d never quite seen. They were not from our village and neither were they our kinsmen, as I could tell.
“Akala Muo! What do you think you’re doing?” I heard father say, struggling to get rid of his captors.
The man whom father was referring to, I noticed, had a similar scarification to those I have seen among men of our community. I knew everyone in our clan—but this man, I had never seen before!
The man laughed, walking towards father. He was a lean, muscular man, whose veins stood out in his form. He was bald and his teeth had some kind of brown discoloration that made him appear cynical when he smiled. I knew instantly that this man was no good!
“You were casted out of our community! Why are you back here? Do you have any idea what…?”
“What what? Oh… the crayfish of men you call guards? Or is the imbeciles of young people you call men? Don’t worry, I assure you everyone is well taken care of, including your dear wife.”
At the thought of Mama, I sprung on the man’s shoulder, held his neck but he pushed me off with one strong shove that I hit the soil, sore and with a broken rib. Father tried to reach for me, but the other men I hadn’t noticed standing around grabbed me by the shoulders.
“Leave my son out of this! Where’s my wife? I promise you if you harm a hair on head, I’ll kill you with my bare hands,” father grunted, obviously overpowered by the unknown men.
For a bleak instant, I was disappointed in father. He had been called the slayer of wild animals—why couldn’t he wrestle only three men? In that instant, he was never the warrior I’ve heard of. I almost cried in disappointment and then I remembered that I had been chatting away when this evil men crept on us.
Probably, father would have listened in and done what he knew how to do best. I blamed myself for our present circumstance. Maybe, truly, I was a child of misfortune, for throughout the genealogy of my tribe, no woe of such degree had been recorded. It had to have happened on the morning of my first rite to being a man!
“The Great Oba, Son of the Alligator, Slayer of Preys!” the man taunted. Father still struggled to be free but we all knew his efforts were futile. We were outnumbered and I was not even a man yet!
My heart raced as many thoughts danced around my trepidation. I couldn’t understand why we were being captured. What did this man want with us?