This story is based on true historical facts, but some names and events have been edited to suit the writer’s interest. For more clarification, interested persons should contact the writer, rather than using the story to spread false historical records.
“I watched as the masked men danced around the fire. Their feet moved in a repetitive pattern. They would stop after dancing a full circle, raise their hands to the sky and bow down. Then the women behind them would throw something into the fire, making it burn more fiercer than before. And then the villagers would shout indiscernible words, they would bow to the Ezenri, who was at that time inside his shrine communicating with the gods of the land. This was the first time many experienced the war prayer and the war dance. It was hardly needed, especially when we were known as peace lovers, arbitrators. We settled quarrels and disputes between villages, but now, the same villages that we had helped formed an alliance against us. Biting the hands that fed you. I looked at the faces gathered in the village square, the fear in their eyes that could not be disguised. Behind the awe they held for the war dance which they had not experienced before, there also lay the fear for the future. That fear was different from the fear of when a sacrilege had been committed, because after the required sacrifices, the gods were usually appeased. It was easier to face the plague that you were familiar with, but an enemy that you have never faced before was like a deep, dark hole. You do not know the end, neither do you know what awaits you in that darkness.
Exactly at midnight, the war prayer ended. The village warriors stayed back to prepare a defence strategy. Everyone else went home with heavy hearts. The usual chattering among children had been replaced by a still silence. The young lovers that hid under trees and behind walls were no longer found. My mother tightened her hold on my hand, I supposed she did the same to my younger brother on her left side and hastened her pace. She ignored the greetings of other women also walking at the same pace with her. I ran to keep up with her pace.
When we got home, she immediately locked the wooden gate and pushed us into the small hut behind our usual hut. I was surprised to see that it had been cleaned out and a mat had been placed on the floor. The hut had belonged to one of my father’s wives, Orinya. She had gotten ill weeks after my father married her. A sickness that made her smell badly. The Ezenri had said that it was punishment for the gods on her family. My father did not tell anyone why the gods punished her. After the Ezenri had visited our home, she had been taken to the evil forest. After that, no one mentioned her again.
As my mother laid me down on the mat, beside my brother, I wondered if we would also get ill. If we would be thrown into the forest like Orinya, but when my mother lit up the incense, the one to ward off sickness and evil spirits, my fears evaporated. Then in the safety of the darkness and the smell of incense, my eyes gave in to the night’s call.
Three market weeks has passed since the war prayer, and there had been no movement from our enemies. In fact, many had begun to think that it was a mere rumour, and so life had continued as before, everyone shrugging off the fear of war. I had resumed my task of fetching water from the stream and my father continued his daily visit to check his traps and palm trees. My mother also resumed her trips to the farm, my younger brother, Chike tagging behind her. Even my father’s other wives had continued with their market sales and weaving. Life indeed had regained it’s glow.
It was on this note that it happened. They finally attacked. It was in the middle of the night, when the whole village was asleep, that we heard it.
” ‘They have come oo. Ha abịawago,’ ” that was Egbunike’s voice. The sound of chickens and goats accompanied his cry, as he went from one house to the other hitting doors. The cries of villagers as they hurried out of their homes with no other thought than to run for their lives filled the night. My mother pulled me and my brother out of our hut and there was my father at the gate beckoning at all his wives and children.
” ‘Quick, ọsịsọ,’ ” he said, ” ‘follow Papa Udenna and his family. I will meet up with you.’ ” We hurried to meet up with them. Papa Udenna was my father’s brother. We ran that night until we were tired. Even when we wanted to rest, the fear of the invaders pushed us. We ran until we got to our grandmother’s home in Nnewi in the early hours of the morning.
It was days later that the news got to us. It was a false alarm. My father and his brother hurried back to Oraeri to find out what happened. Lo and behold, half of our village had already been occupied by Igbo-Ukwu, who claimed to have met the land empty and uninhabited. Of course, the false alarm had been raised by Egbunike, the grandson to one of the elders in the village. He had been vexed at the fact that the portion of a cow that was killed in the family that was supposed to be given to him was not received, and so he had felt that his birthright had been taken away from him. The false alarm had been a revenge to the whole family, a revenge that had resulted in the displacement of many Oraeri people.
By the time Oraeri people decided to come back to their village, half of the land had been occupied by the Igbo-Ukwu people. Nothing could make the Igbo-Ukwu people leave the area, and to avoid another war which Oraeri was not prepared for, the matter was left at that. But after a while, the Igbo-Ukwu men began to marry wives from Oraeri to secure their occupation. And then, the two communities learnt to cohabit together.”
Gloria looked at her great grandmother in surprise. “Mama, are you saying that some of Igbo-Ukwu land, actually belongs to Oraeri? What of the Igbo-Ukwu artifacts? They also belong to the Oraeri people?”
Her great grandmother smiled, even her aged face did not hide the resemblance between the two different generations. “You said it is for your school work, so everything I said is the truth. You can go to Obinze and ask your nnaochie. They will tell you more. For now, switch off your phone and stop putting my voice in that box you call telephone.”
With a grin, Gloria ended the recording and put her phone away. There were so many things to write. This visit to her maternal home had opened up a new world of knowledge for her. She couldn’t wait to start working on her final year project. In fact, this would be one of the most memorable things in her school year.