A new dawn crept rather unusually in Udumala tribe of Western Africa. A gust of cold wind blustered upon wooden doors. They creaked and stood ajar, as mosquitoes buzzed out, circumventing being trapped in the overwhelming darkness that nabbed the inside of the villagers’ huts.
A giant rooster ran forward and began to scratch aimlessly in the grass nearby. Boldly, it mounted on a rusty wood from which some white mushrooms had grown. With it’s stretched neck and opened mouth, the oesophagus enlarged. Then came a loud cry.
The crow reverberated high pitched echoes, shuddering every cranny of the land and etching at every threshold of Udumala huts, jolting awake many sleeping villagers. The time had come!
Akunna, a woman in her forties, barged in with an irresolute steps; followed in suit by about twenty women of nearly the same age. They marched along with utmost spryness, as their faces appeared red and quite disfigured with anger. Each with palm frond held taut in their palms. And from their mouths sang the chantings of vexation as they headed to Aṅuli’s compound.
From a small opening, Aṅuli caught them in sight. Tears of sorrow streamed down her eyes. She blew her nose with a smelly wrapper. It smelt like wet cloth locked inside a box for months. She didn’t care. It was something she had gotten used to. Slowly, she got on her knees as she heard the rustling footsteps of the Ụmụ Ada.
They have come. She licked her chafed lips, lips that hadn’t tasted water for several hours. Aṅuli shook her head and used her palm to wipe off the mucus that covered her lips.
The crooked wooden door slammed open, as the youngest of the Ụmụ Ada entered with a certain vigor that Aṅuli had come to know.
“Ngwa get up,” she commanded.
“Ehn! Ehn! Ehn!” Apunanwu, waved her hands frantically, almost lodging her fingers in Aṅuli’s eyes. “Save that for the villagers when you get to the palace. Now get up.”
Aṅuli, ignoring Apunanwu faced the eldest of the Ụmụ Ada, still on her knees. “Aunty. Good morning.”
“Yes. It is a good morning indeed,” Akunna replied in her croaky voice.
“Please. Please. I don’t know anything about what I’m accused of. I didn’t tell her to run away.” Aṅuli tied the brown wrapper firmly on her waist as she battled with her tears. Don’t let my daughter die, biko.”
Apunanwu laughed. “Oh! Oh! Look at this one.” She tapped her other mate who seemed to be the quiet one.
“Please Aku, try to understand me.”
“Mechie ọnụ! Shut up! When I’m talking don’t talk. Keep quiet!” She ran her left hand across Aṅuli’s right cheek.
“Keep calm Apunanwu!” Akunna warned.
Slowly she helped Aṅuli to her feet, dusted her arms and legs and lifted her chin up.
“My child, there is nothing I can do. This is a rite that must be performed. Your mother did it. I did it, my daughter did it too, everyone here did it, as well as their daughters. Your daughter’s turn shouldn’t be different. And Igwe and the elders understand this. She can not be allowed to depreciate the value of our tradition. Else, other girls of her age will follow suit. Ị nugo?”
Aṅuli shook her head in silence.
“Ngwa let’s go. It is time”
They opened the crooked door as the rays early morning sun overwhelmed the darkness of the room. She could hear the silent whispers of the villagers, could see the large smirks on their faces.
“Oh look at her! She wanted her daughter to circumvent our long preserved tradition because she is the lọlọ. Mbanụ! It is not done that way! The gods have caught up with them.”
Slowly she followed, as they brought her to the middle of the gathering. Immediately, she spotted her beautiful daughter already lying down with tears gushing from her eyes.
A giant mango tree stood at the heart of the palace. Its summer branches, waved bunch of yellow-green leaves. A male lizard, in a hot pursuit of the female, ran across the tree stem, climbing the truck. Had those sitting on the roots did not leap away as quickly as a frog, the red-headed lizard would have fallen on them. Then, several chantings nabbed the palace.
Pacing and muttering, a pale-faced king was constantly stepped on his regal apparel, as his fierce gaze caught his voluptuous wife and daughter, who crawled at his feet, wailing and whimpering for mercy. Restless as he gallivanted, the king’s action jolted attention of several people, for the hungry-looking villagers had gathered in their numbers. Many eyes bulged out from their sockets, and necks stretched like that of a giraffe, as the entirety of their attention was invested on the king to learn of his judgment.
In a split second, the king demanded to be told the details of the offense. A rumor had been whispered to his ears that his beloved daughter, Princess Olamma, had brought a bad omen to them by breaking the traditional values of genital mutilation. Every subject, including Olamma herself, knew the costly circumstances that would strike the kingdom, if by any chance nothing was done to appease the gods. She had regretted her actions and blamed it on her stubbornness, which made her to scoot away from the ceremonial ground, even when her mother had warned her not to. She couldn’t help but weep bitterly for having her mother blamed and disgraced for her self-taken action. Her silky dark hair flowed down, covering her oval face, as mucus bathed her pouty lips, which were contorted in a perpetual bawling. She had been caught and she had to face the judgment. She was foolish to have thought that her father, King Obiagu, would set her free.
Posing in akimbo with curious ears to hear, some incongruous lines of thought ran across every mind, as a huge quietude took over the ambience; so that, even the yellow-green leaves above their heads stood astir. And the vivacious environment came to abrupt calmness.
His majesty, having learnt of the situation, called upon the first eye witness. A young damsel of seventeen, Ulaku, the only daughter of Ochendo the palm wine tapper, advanced forward to vet the queries of the king. Hands shaking and heart panting, she had a stutter, which was a challenge. And as she talked, her thin lips moved so fast, while the hot sun tanned her dark skin.
The gusto of her testimonies, soothed the heart of many, except that of the king. For through her explanation, Ulaku reviewed the long preserved tradition of Udumala, which, for many years, had remained sacred and unbroken. She herself had gone through the same ceremonial rite that Olama rejected. So she as well as the Ụmụ Ada demanded a fair judgment from the king.
“They must be taken to the preriwinkles!” came the unison response of the villagers.
After a deep thought, hot tears of sorrow began to trickle perpendicularly across the fat cheeks of the king. The serene atmosphere took a quick drift from its insipid mood. Whispers, chants and murmurs filled the tin air. Everyone questioned the right of the king’s daughter to break the tradition.
“Quiet everyone!” Onowu, the king’s advisor roared like a lion. Then, the chief priest spoke quietly.
“Igwe, the tradition of our ancestors must be preserved in its sanctity. It’s not a new knowledge that defaulters of customs such as this goes to the Periwinkles to pay homage to our ancestors.” His eyes darted to the king’s face filled with horror.
“Woman did you help your daughter to escape from the ceremonial ground?” King Obiagu was a terrible man. When he spoke, his eyes sparked fire.
“Please, Igwe have mercy. Remember she is your only daughter.”
The aphorisms of the king sank so deep in hearts, interpreting a judgment that knew no partiality.
“Take them to the Periwinkles. Bury them with their hearts still beating. The custom must be preserved. This is my judgment.”
The loudest echoes came from the Ụmụ Ada. Just then, everything took a succinct pace, so that, before dawn of the next day, the custom of Udumala land had sent Olamma and her mother to the demesne of the dead. There at the foot of the Periwinkle, many cadavers of Udumala children piled to the brim of death tunnels.