Monday, 7 November 2011

Dawn in Ụmụogu

Part 2

Ifeatu looked at her beautiful face to appreciate her rare beauty. Akwaugo was a beauty to behold, a pride of every parent, envy to her fellow maiden, and a charm to the men folk. Looking taller than her age, her childlike face spoke of her innocence and amazing personality, secretly admired by the whole village. She was very intelligent and hard-working young woman, who was as brave and fearless as a lion; thanks to him who taught her the need to be strong and independent. Her manly attributes were the result of what she had seen and helped him do. Since there was no other male figure in the family, Akwaugo took over the low chores, as well as female chores quite early in life. Therefore apart from the cooking and keeping the house clean, she equally fetched firewood and at times had to hew them with the cutlass or axe such that she became an expert in handling the tools. She equally cut grass for the goats, fixes the bamboo roof top, and builds the yam barn. She learnt how to put up the barn by secretly watching Ifeatụ do it over the years. It was a big surprise to Ifeatụ when his strength failed him and she took over. Because of the way the tradition frowned at women doing manly chores Ifeatụ tried unsuccessfully to prevent her from doing them, but gave up when he saw he was merely pulling a horse through the eye of the needle.

“Akwaugo my dear daughter, you were rejected by Ụmụogu people due to the circumstances that led to your birth,” Ifeatụ began that afternoon. “Your late mother’s name was Urenna but unfortunately we do not know who your father was.”

“That means I am a bastard papa. My mother must have been wayward and irresponsible not to know who my father is. Is that why I was rejected by Ụmụogu?” she asked looking very sad.

“You are no bastard my child. Your father is someone we don’t know. And that is not why you were rejected,” he assured her. “Your mother happens to be the best behaved maiden this village ever had, that was before you came along. I am sure you equal her in character,” he said smiling.

Urenna was exemplary an youth to the whole community to the extent she was despised for her good and humble nature. But her rare quality endeared her to the few wise men. She was also a dazzling beauty and an admiration to behold. The saying in Igboland that a snake will always produce its kind was very true of Urenna whose circumstantial daughter was her exact replica. Tall, elegant, and slim, her spotless dark shiny skin looked like polished acacia wood. Her long black hair was full and thick, plaited and adorned with beads, making the men stare in utter amazement. To add colour to her beauty she used the uli beauty dye to make beautiful designs on her arms and legs, while the ọtanjele and odo were used for her eyelids. Unlike the maiden of Ụmụogu who wore the jigida waist bead on festive periods, Urenna preferred to wear single jigida waist bead on daily basis. But for festive periods she wore several jigida and adds the ayọ beads on her neck, wrists and ankle. She looked gorgeous and different even when dressed in the typical small waist cloth, and akwa obi tied over the breasts. Then with that smile that got her noticed, she flashed her beautiful set of white teeth, revealing her uniqueness. She became a hot topic among men and women, as well as elders in the village. All of Ụmụogu were aware of Urenna’s beauty; no one dared compete with her. She always emerged as winner during the maiden beauty competition and represented Ụmụogu in beauty competitions to which she was crowned winner of Alaukwu community. In the maiden dance, men would not take their eyes off her vibrating waist as she whined it to flow with the combined rhythm of the xylophone, metal gong, drum and talking pot. She was aware of the provocative effect her beauty had on men and often found it fun when they stared lustfully at her well rounded buttocks which shook as she walks gracefully. The girls considered her a big competition and threat to their getting male compliments, not to mention suitors. This was because it was widely known that every young man had an eye on her. Matters became worse when she emerged winner for the third time in their maiden competitions at both Ụmụogu kindred and Alaukwu community, a feat never achieved by one single person in three consecutive seasons. Therefore, she became the public enemy. Most mothers wanted their daughters to be admired and to have suitors but unfortunately the young men all scrambled for this rare beauty, who was busy enjoying the commotion she caused among them; she could not help it. Urenna was not interested in any of the young men in Alaukwu expect Obidi, a young man from Ụmụọka kindred. Unfortunately Ụmụogu and Ụmụọka kindred of Alaukwu village do not inter-marry because of age long grudge held against each other. While Ụmụogu accused Ụmụọka of using one of their daughters married to them for ritual money, Ụmụọka accused them of killing their brilliant son as revenge. But Urenna and Obidi kept their love relationship secret waiting for the right time to make it public; these two believe long grudge should not be a barrier to their love. They disregarded the laws of their land and went ahead with their secret relationship.

Few weeks after her third consecutive win, Urenna gradually withdrew from public appearance and social activity. They had finished late from the dance rehearsals that night. Because nobody liked walking past the big Ụdala tree when it was dark, she endeavoured to go home before the sun set. But on that fateful day, her friends Kosi, and Añụlịka had convinced her to stay longer to perfect the dance steps since they had an important competition coming up. But Urenna in her typical way was carried away by the new step that she did not know when her friends informed her they were ready to go. By the time she knew, it the people that went along the same path with her had long gone and she was left with few girls, Ụnọka and Chidi, the men who beat the instruments. Because of the long distance to their home and with the threat of rain, they could not walk her home. So she left alone.

Urenna had barely passed the Ụdala tree when unknown men grabbed her from behind, covered her mouth and dragged her into the bush. They made her swallow some potion and she passed out. She woke up the next morning in her mothers’ hut with excruciating pains all over her body. She had bruises on her arms and legs and between her thighs. She knew immediately what had happened burst into tears and wailed while her poor mother consoled and comforted her.

“Do you know who did this to you?” Chineze asked her daughter.

“No, mama. All I remember was walking home and they attacked me from the back, forcing some substance down my throat,” she cried. She could see her father Udobata pacing up and down outside the hut, vibrating and threatening lightening and thunder.

“You absolutely did not see anyone?” she asked again for confirmation.

“No, mama,” she replied amidst her sobs. In her sobbing she asked, “Onye ka m mejọrọ, who did I wrong?”

Udobata could not control his temper any more; he barged in to the hut and said to his daughter, “Urenna, don’t worry. Your father will definitely get to the bottom of this. Whoever committed this abomination on my daughter will never go scot-free,” he swore, using his second finger to touch his tongue, the earth he stood on, and finally pointing it to the heavens. That was a physical sign to drive home his words; he must get his revenge.

“Hey! They have put out our light,” Chineze cried. “My husband, this is our only child ooo. She is only a child and men had the heart to do this to her. This is an abomination in Ụmụogu land ooo,” Chineze wept, beating her breasts and shaking her head in disbelief. “May Chukwuolisa visit the perpetrators of this evil at a time they least expect,” she swore as she carried on cleaning the wounds with warm water, administered a mixture of local herbs which Udobata had collected from the forest to soothe and heal the wounds. “Who will I tell my story?” she went on, “What Ụmụogu son had become a monster? My husband, nke a bų arų, this is an abomination. Tụfịakwa!” she spat out in disbelief and cried the more.

“It was a big blow to your grandparents because Urenna was a miraculous child who came after several failed attempts; hence the close bond and attention between your mother and your grandparents,” Ifeatụ continued.

“Wait papa you just said my grandparents again,” Akwaugo interrupted. “I am confused now, you are my grandfather,” she stated.

“My daughter I am coming to that,” he replied and continued while she listened.

Chineze did not conceive for a long time after her marriage to the extent her husband was taunted for marrying a man. It got so bad that they became regular customers to native doctors and herbalists, seeking for solution to end their misery and childlessness. The result was always the same; the couples seemed fertile. But what they could not tell was why it has been so difficult for her to take in. Therefore, at the end of each visit, they were given some locally prepared substances to help her yet none of them worked.

But one day the heavens opened and showered on them a special blessing, a blessing that proved she was a woman. As Chineze went to harvest some corn in her farm, she saw an old woman struggling to balance her basket full of yams, vegetables and fruits on her head with one hand, while she held her walking stick with the other hand. She left her mission and went to help the old woman; she could not stand to watch her struggle and mutter to herself, she offered to help. She had never seen the woman before. When the old lady said she lived over the hills and mountains Chineze thought she was being funny.

“Mama nnukwu,” she addressed the old woman, “adjust your wrapper because I do not have a fat cow to give if it falls off your waist,” Chineze teased, after they had walked some distance.

“My daughter, don’t worry, you shall not be held for seeing the nakedness of an old woman. But if you do see it, consider that an honour,” she laughed. Looking at the sky she said, “It is getting late; you need to go back.”

“I promised to take it to your house,” Chineze insisted.

“I live in Iduu land which is several days journey. You are a young woman and do not have the strength for such distance. My journey is only for the strong,” she replied with a mockery tone.

“Mama nnukwu, are you saying you are stronger than I am?”

“Do I look that old? Listen, men still turn to stare at me when I pass. I am anyanwụ ụtụtụ, the early morning sun that rises from the east, enenebe ejeghi ọlụ, the beauty you stand to watch forgetting your business. My beauty and strength are beyond your imagination,” she bragged in her wobbly and staggering steps.

“But how come you travel this long distance to farm? Don’t you have people to help you? You are too old to be doing tedious work,” Chineze said politely, careful not to offend her.

“Of course, I don’t do this always. I only embark on this mission when it is absolutely necessary for me, maybe once in five years,” she replied and stopped abruptly looking at Chineze. “You must return home and feed your family; your husband and child must be waiting and wondering what kept you,” she took the basket from her.

“No, mama nnukwu, I can still go a little further with you. Besides my husband will not worry if I tell him I was helping you, and I have no child yet,” she said sadly. But it did not strike her when the old woman used the singular form of the word ‘child’ until few years after their only child was born and she saw the old woman again.

“You have no child yet? I am sorry my daughter but you are a nice woman and children would love to have you as their mother,” she remarked.

“Not when they mock my husband for marrying his fellow man,” she replied with shaky voice. “Mama it is a long story and I am more interested in getting you home. Maybe in the future we can talk about it. The night is falling,” she observed. She could see how dim it had become.

“Thank you my daughter. You must return home now. For this good you did for me, may the gods of our land reward you. You shall be as fertile as my basket, and the fruit of your womb shall be like a tree planted beside the waters. The gods are with you,” she finished.

Chineze helped her balance the basket on her head and replied, “Thank you mama. May the gods also protect you” She took the fruit which the woman offered her and headed home.

“May the day break,” both women said to each other and parted ways.

She narrated the story to her husband and both of them had a good laugh at the old woman’s beauty. Few weeks later, Chineze began to feel sick and irritated by certain smells. She craved for more food and often felt dizzy. She also vomited and urinated more frequently; these scared her husband. When they visited Nwaanyị Anịọocha, she confirmed Chineze was pregnant. Nine months later, Urenna became the one and only child. They protected her like a precious egg, an only eye of the blind man, and the centre of their existence. They loved, cherished and nurtured her. Her father often called her Akụabia, wealth has arrived; he bragged to his friends that he would thoroughly scrutinize the pocket of her suitors. That was one of the reasons why his heart ached so much on finding out that his prized possession had been defiled by a relative, assuming her assailants were from Ụmụogu. That would be incest and taboo. The punishment for this crime is ostracism. But if the assailants were from Ụmụọka the neighbouring village, that would equally be a bad news; Ụmụogu and Ụmụọka are like parallel lines that can never meet. The two kindred swore never to have anything to do with each other due to age long grudge. Whoever went contrary to this rule would face the wrath of the land which could be a far as banishment. The families who support anyone involved would equally face the wrath of the land.

“That was the situation your grandparents faced and struggled to cope with till they left this earth,” Ifeatụ told her.

“So you are my grand-uncle?” Akwaugo asked. All her life she had believed he was her grandfather. She had been listening to him in rapt attention as he explained why they did not relate with the entire village.

“Akwaugo my daughter, I am your grand-uncle but I became your grandfather shortly after my brother’s mysterious death before you were born.”

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