Onyia excitedly stood up from his bamboo bed. He had slept just for about an hour throughout the night and he hoped his elder brother, Ozo whose bed was opposite his didn’t notice his eagerness and excited spirit. Throughout the night, the chirping termites and fireflies kept him company whilst he imagined what the day would be like and how he would live his life as a full man. He hoped to be known for strength and courage amidst upheavals. As a man of honour who lived with the fullest authority and having no fear whatsoever; as a successful man with numerous wives and children and finally, as a man who would be remembered for kindness. He went to wake his brother but could only feel the hardness of the ‘ogugu’ used in making the bed; Ozo, his immediate elder brother wasn’t there. Onyia had retired late due to the preparations for his transition and throughout the night, he had thought his brother was with him in their hut but only to discover that his brother hadn’t even slept there at all. The cock crowed now, heralding the birth of a new day. . Onyia looked outside, through the window at his bedside, it was morning but the sky was still dark, some stars were still visible and the moon was quietly hiding its luminescent behind the dark clouds. It was already the New Yam Festival (iri ji ohuru) in Umokwe community. New yam festival marked a significant cultural symbol amongst the Igbo people. It was a ceremonial eating of the new yam for the first time in the new season’s yield and in fact, a new type of yam different from the old ones were cultivated. A day preceding the festival, all old yams are made away with so as to begin the new harvest season with brand new yams. The new yam festival was a period of merriment and jollity, everyone could perceive the scent of festivity in the air. New Yam Festival was in fact the most celebrated festival in Umuokwe, it marked productivity because it was also the harvest time of most crops. Sacrifices were offered to deities by elders of the community thanking the gods for a successful harvest. Each family also offered sacrifices to their ancestors praying for their intercession. Yams were prepared in different methods and shared between households and friends in the village square. There was a big dissimilarity between a new yam and an old yam. The new yams were way bigger than the old ones, the new yams had muddy backs and the inside was whiter than the old ones. Another distinctive feature between the two yams was that the new yams had more water and so, was quite easy to cook but the old yams had less water than the new yams and tasted better because the old yams were left to dry in the heaps unlike the new yams. The most interesting thing for some people about The New Yam festival in Umuokwe was that spirits(masquerades) were welcomed and they danced round the village visiting each households and blessing them. Highly regarded spirits(masquerades) usually performed rituals in the late hours of the night when everyone was fast asleep, they weren’t seen by anyone except the elders of the village who performed the rituals with them and also the young men of the village that played the sacred drums during the rituals. The spirits (masquerades) were great people who died long time ago but incorporated into the masks (masquerade) prepared by mask makers through the invocation of the priest and elders of the community. Other stories about the spirits(masquerades) were secrets know only by the initiated men of Umuokwe and it was believed that If a woman should ever learn of the secret, she would die mysteriously so, people who did not know share in the secret, did not bother asking. Spirits (masquerades ) also entertained the whole community but these were smaller masquerades. They also punished children that were known to be mischievous. Another spectacular event which took place on that same day was ‘ikono’. ‘Ikono’ was an event of transition, boys of about 16 years were considered to be men and so, this fete was done so as to welcome these boys into adulthood. Incantations and spiritual cleansing were used in ushering the boys into a new stage of life where the adult burden and total responsibility would be encountered.
‘Ikono was considered interesting by the participants although torture and pain were inflicted on them.
Onyia was about stepping outside when four masked boys hit him hard on the head, he fell against the brown rough mud wall of the hut and bruised his bare back. The four masked boys pinned him down to the ground as one of them covered his mouth with his palm to avert him from screaming. Feeling stupefied, Onyia calmed his nerves by acknowledging that it was time for his initiation, bad things hardly ever occurred in Umuokwe so his disconcert state of mind was getting sangfroid. He breathed out heavily trying to calm his nerves as they blindfolded him, he kept calm now as they tied his hands behind his back with dried pumpkin stalks roped into strands. They lifted him and took him away. Onyia was soothed by acknowledging the he would be in his prime after the torture which he would undergo. Abduction formed a pertinent section of the initiation so most times, the relatives especially mother’s of the initiates would be looking out for the abductors which usually come in the early morning of the ikono day and in most cases, one’s brother(s) would lead the abductor team. Any other thing that happened during the initiation was secret known only by the participants or older men that must have gone through the process but rumor had it that the boys were heavily tortured and underwent some rituals and afterwards, the initiates would go home with the manly authority vested in them.. Umuokwe was centered on communalism, hardly could one hear of family ties. Self-reliance or individualism was very distant from them and every individual could be identified through his or her family but if in a larger view, identification would be through one’s community. Consequently, one’s ascent or waterloo would be affiliated with his or her ménage or the community at large. Even in hymeneal situations, it was the groom’s family who married the bride not just the groom. However, nwunye anyi, nwunye anyi, ndeli ruo, anyi amata onye obu nwunye ya – our wife, our wife, when the nights fall, we would know whose wife she really is . Umuokwe was deeply fountain headed in congruence and collectivism that chores like hunting, farming fetching water and the rest were done in groups. Solitariness was a word very distant from Umuoke people lest one was ostracized. Ostracizing someone was an automatic repudiation of the person and only grievous offenses could result to such a dreadful requital. In fact, only abominable acts which was believed to have a diabolical sequel and would consequently befoul the essence of a community’s existence could out-turn such a punishment because one’s action always had an effect on his pedigree and the community at large.
“My boy is finally a man” Agu, Onyia’s father said rising to hug his son. Onyia’s whole body ached as his father pressed him to his bosom. his eyes were red and swollen, marks were all over his body but he was proud of that. His family including the married ones had come back home for the celebration of the numerous festivals. Just like any other typical family in Umuokwe, Agu’s family was a polygamous one but yet very intimate with each other. Number of wives and children were included factors used in the reckoning of a man’s success and wealth. Men with numerous wives and children were highly regarded and Agu, at a very young age was on his moves to attaining that.
“Nwoke m ( my man)” Okenna, Onyia’s eldest step-brother said as he also rose and hugged his brother and shook him and the rest of the family followed suit.
Agu married his first wife Nkem at the age of about eighteen.. He got his first issue – Okenna who was married now. Azuanuka came a year after. Succeeding Azuanuka was Awele, Agu’s first daughter who was married now but came to her father’s place because soon after the Ikono, Nwanni Festival would commence. Nwanni Festival was a customary observance where the married daughters of a man’s family would come back to their fathers with gifts. Throughout the week of that festival, they would be in charge of preparing their fathers’ meals and every morning, they would accompany their fathers to his nkolo (a hut reserved for manly official matters; deities were kept there also) so as to make thanksgivings to the gods. Ozo came forth a year after. As the immediate step-brother to Onyia, he wasn’t married yet although he had attained the age of marriage. Ozo had already met the one he wanted to marry but told nobody but Onyia. The brotherly intimacy between these stepbrothers was profound, they were hand in glove since their childhood and this bond had never diminished.
Agu married his second wife, Obioma, Onyia’s mother a year after Azuanuka was born and there came Onyia. A year after, Ijeoma, Agu’s Nwanni Festival was second daughte. Agu was a man said by all to be blessed by the gods. “His chi has favoured him” most people would say. It was believed that one of his forefathers was the man who sacrificed himself to save the land when Ayaka, their god of destruction had demanded that the head of a warrior should be sacrificed else, the whole villagers would be wiped out. Thus, the favours of the gods were believed to be vouchsafed on his household subsequently.
Onyia sat down on the floor close to his brother Azuanuka after the hugs and pats his family rendered him generously.
“I hope you know the music has changed?” Agu directed the question to the newest man in the family.
“Ehen. You have to forget the old music and dance to the new one. It is time to get serious with life do you understand? ”
“Yes father” Onyia answered again.
“No playing around oh” Ijeoma, Onyia’s sister said, from her own corner.
“Can we eat now? Azuanuka disrupted and his brothers chuckled.
“Eating is the only thing you can do well” Okenna mocked and everybody laughed including Azuanuka.
“ Look who is talking. If you turn down this food, I’ll go and drown myself in Ngene.” Azuanuka dared.
“Okay. We would begin the preparations for your burial”. Okenna said.
“Animal” Azuanuka said as they all laughed.
This was the happiest time of a man’s life. Being in the gathering of his family, Agu was filled with exuberance which he tried to contain within him. He was grateful to his chi (god) for blessing him with a beautiful and successful family which was enriched with love and vitalized with happiness. His children who were married were doing very well and the young ones were auspicious. Agu immediately let loose. He jumped up from where he was sitting and started men’s dance which was rhyming with the dulcet tones escaping through the holes of the wooden ojas played by Enene Music Group. Other villagers in the gathering joined his family in cheering him; soon after, a whole lot of men joined him in the dance when the beautiful thud of the ogene began to sound. Minutes later, after the men’s dance, Agu’s family encircled again, ready to eat. Obioma , Onyia’S mother was already dishing out the food into a big oku and Awele was passing round the water for washing hands. The beautiful pounded yam and oha soup was served alongside roasted yam and palm oil. Excitement could be seen on everybody’s face because whenever the two mothers, Nkem and Obioma team-worked in the kitchen, a piquant meal would always be the end product. Shortly, there was display of an innate talent in the way Okenna molded his pounded yam into a perfect circle. He stained the whiteness of the beautiful mold he was holding by dipping it into the scrumptious soup and then threw it into his mouth where it immediately went down his gut.
“You did not even wait for the blessings to be said”
“Now, who is the hungry lion? Or rather hungry rat” Azuanuka snapped.
“ I’m trying to emulate you my beloved brother”. He said in a sarcastic tone.
“True talk” Azuanuka joined in the sarcasm.
“Ogbu n’echendo!” Ikenwa called out. It was Agu’s title name meaning ‘the tree that provides shades for the bird.’
“Ikenwa!” Agu said rising to greet Ikenwa his implied bosom friend who was approaching their circle.
“This awkward man has come to disturb our peace” Okenna grumbled.
“With his unending gloat”
“Ogbu n’eche ndo!” Ikenwa called out again with a broad smile. They shook hands and embraced themselves. Agu had taken the title after his grandfather, Owo who was known for being so bounteous and accommodating even to foreigners who had probably lost their way. Owo on several occasions had prevented the outburst of war between Umuokwe and different communities. His accommodating spirit was highly admired that he became an official arbitrator in Umuokwe and in any relationship he declared peace, peace flowed. The peak of Owo’s career as an arbitrator was when the hostility which seemed unending between Agbo village and Eneuno was terminated by Owo’s intervention but the disheartening thing was that the two villages had teamed up against Umuokwe.
“My wives” greeted Ozo’s wives by patting their backs.
“Ndi nkem” My people. Ikenwa stated as he greeted Ozo’s household who rose to greet him. “The food you gave us was so delicious. My household and I appreciate you people so much. Please accept our little token.” Ikenwa handed a keg of palm wine to Agu and motioned for the teenage boys who stood behind him to come forward with the large tubers of yams they were carrying. “I come to your household bearing gifts”. “Drop them here” Ikenwa said now to the young boys who were carrying tubers of yams.
“Ikenwa!” Agu extolled
“That’s me” Ikenwa said proudly as he smiled ear to ear.
“Ikenwa!!” Agu extolled again
“I said that’s me” Ikenwa was patting his hairy muscular chest now still smiling.
“Dalu so” Thank you.
“Dalu” (Agu’s family echoed in unison)
“My people, you’re highly welcome”
“How is your household?” Nkem asked.
“They are very good. My chi has been good to me by blessing me with such a beautiful family”. Ikenwa bragged.
“That’s true” Nkem said as she quietly pinched Obioma. Obioma managed to hold back her laughter. There was a derision in her tone of which Agu and his family alone noticed and understood. The whole Umuokwe knew that Ikenwa bragged a lot and liked unnecessary competition. He had in fact started an irrelevant competition with Agu. Anytime that Agu did something remarkable, he would do something in return to counter it. Obviously, his very many gifts to Agu was not based on any fondness between the two but rather on his intention to trounce the quantity which Agu had given him earlier.
“Agu my friend” Ikenwa patted Agu’s shoulder now. “Please accept my little token”
“You call this little?” Agu said.
“You know me. I am Ikenwa. To me, this is little but please accept them” . This stirred up murmurings.
“Thank you my brother. You shall never lack”
“Iseee” They all chorused.
“Thank you, thank you.” Ikenwa began patting his chest again. Within him, there was utmost satisfaction. He had accomplished his aim of making Agu feel inferior. Agu on the other side decided to play along. Ikenwa brought out his cup from the bag which he slung over his shoulder and poured himself a drink from the keg of palm wine. He also poured into the Agu’s cup.
“The gods have decided to bless us with this wonderful day, praise be unto them” Ikenwa continued as he raised his cup.
“Iseee” They all echoed.
“Old age shall befall us”
“Lack shall never see our backs”
“And it shall be so for our children’s children”
Both men gulped down the gourd of palm wine.
“Hope you like the palm wine?” Ikenwa put his cup back into his bag.
“Yes. It is very smooth”
“I tapped it myself this morning
“It is very sweet. Thank you” Agu now handed the keg to his sons who immediately maned down the content of the keg. “My regards to your family”
“Maybe you should come and visit us one of these days”
“Surely.. surely I will”
“Okay then” They shook hands and Ikenwa pulled Agu in for a hug.
The thumping sounds of drums rippled round the village and noisy chatterings of families gathered in the village square was joyous and blessed. It was past midday and the sun was already diluting its brightness behind the clouds, flocks of bird could be seen flying in one direction same with dragonflies. It was time for the ikolo dance by the newly initiated men. ‘Music’ and ‘Dance’ were very pertinent in any celebration in Umuokwe. They had various songs for different occasions and ikolo was an appreciation dance performed by men to the gods. Onyia quickly threw the little piece of roasted yam stained with palm oil into his mouth and licked off the oil dripping down his fingers as he stood and joined the dance. His father poured him his first cup of palm wine betokening his full bloom. He downed the drink as his family clapped and cheered him. His excitement was escalating to a whole new level because he had been practicing the dance steps for a long time and also, dancing was what he did with much enthusiasm. People who knew Onyia nicknamed hi … the movement of his flexes were astounding, his virile nature was seen as he moved his legs with his calves and biceps stiffening as he danced. Dust filled the air as the initiates stamped their feet on the loose earth following strictly the rhythm of the skin drums and wooden ojas played by the music team. Their dance pulled the crowd who thumped their feet and applauded the dancers in rhythmic unison with the skin drums. A sea of gaiety swept through all corners of Umuokwe.