Echoes Of The Past
One day, Father Bartholomew decided to meet the community leader, Mazi Mgbafor, the Head of Umudike clan, a man he had met when he first arrived in the village. He rose up early as the cock crowed on a certain Eke day and trekked to Mazi Mgbafor’s compound, a large expanse of land with a mud house with thatched roof in the middle. There was a breadfruit tree at the side of the house with palm trees littered in a disorganised manner as though the owners just scattered the seedlings in anger.
Mazi Mgbafor’s obi, the traditional meeting place, was visible as Father Bartholomew entered. It was situated at the back of the main building; a smaller mud house with thatched roof, without windows as was usual of family meeting lounges in the land. A slightly malnourished looking dog with its tongue hanging out, lay quietly at the side of the house watching the approaching visitor with disinterest.
Father Bartholomew walked in and knocked on the door of the main house gently. Mazi Mgbafor came out, wearing a faded white singlet and a wrapper tied across his waist. He put on a foot wear made with animal hide and hurried out. He looked surprised when he saw Father Bartholomew standing at the side of his house.
‘Onye ocha, olee ka i mere? White man, how are you?’ He greeted him; a chewing stick conspicuously sticking out of his mouth.
‘? d? mma,’ Father Bartholomew replied in smattering Igbo. ‘I am fine.’ He said smiling. He had some understanding of the dialect. It was his tenth year in Eastern region, having worked with various communities before his recent posting to Umudike. On the other hand, Mazi Mgbafor had served as a steward to the colonial masters in the coal city in his younger days. Father Bartholomew found it was strange that he had chosen to completely abandon all he had learned in his working days and fully return to traditions of his people. One would have thought he would be an advocate for western education.
Mazi Mgbafor brought out a wooden bench and an armchair and the two men sat down. It was Father Bartholomew’s first visit to the Mgbafor’s compound and he surveyed his environment with interest. Oriaku Mgbafor, Mazi Mgbafor’s wife, a dark plump woman in her forties, came out and greeted the white man. He noticed she looked a bit uneasy.
‘Welcome Father, what can we offer you?’ She asked.
‘Nothing ma’am. I’m fine.’ The white man responded politely.
Mazi Mgbafor responded, ‘You cannot come to the Dimkpa clan of Umudike and refuse to take anything. I can’t offer you gin because I know a holy man will not take alcoholic drink but I have my palm wine which I tapped early this morning. It is fresh from the palm trees of Umudike.’
Mazi Mgbafor walked to a shed by the side of his house and brought out a gourd of palm wine and two cups carved from calabash. He poured the drink out and handed over to the white man who declined politely.
Mazi Mgbafor drank from the two cups with relish and gulped the content down his throat noisily and prayed.
‘Ahh!’ he exclaimed, ‘ezigbo mmayi. Good wine. Even the gods will not refuse the drink.’
He poured out some more into the cup and sprinkled on the ground, and prayed:
‘Ikenga, god of the land. May this drink satisfy you. May you have mercy on the family of Mazi Mgbafor and the entire Umudike kingdom. May you grant us long life and prosperity.’
‘Isee’, Oriaku Mgbafor shouted the traditional response from inside the house.
Father Bartholomew turned his face from the pagan practice of pouring libation on the ground. He shifted away to prevent the content of the drink from splashing on him. Mazi Mgbafor was not done yet. He poured a few more on the ground.
”May you bless our land always. May Amadioha, the god of thunder strike our enemies dead before they reach our shores.’
Isee!’ Shouted an exuberant Oriaku Mgbafor as she adjusted the wrapper securely tied over her chest.
Father Bartholomew looked on with bated breath waiting for the prayers to come to an end. Luckily Mazi Mgbafor was done with the prayers and drank the remnants from the cup.
‘Good wine.’ He exclaimed. ‘Ikenga, our god, must have enjoyed it and will answer us speedily.’
Turning to Father Bartholomew, he insisted. ‘Onyeocha; White man, you cannot come to the house of a titled Chief and refuse to take anything.’
‘Oriaku!’ He exclaimed. There was no response.
‘Oriaku Mgbafor! Where is this foolish woman? You turn your back for a second and your woman has gone to gossip. Am sure she is telling all the neighbours that a white man is in our compound.’
Father Bartholomew merely smiled.
‘Nonye, Nonye. Where are you?” Mazi Mgbafor shouted, looking towards the door.
A dark slim girl of about thirteen years old appeared, her hair neatly plaited with rubber thread and well oiled with local coconut oil.
‘Where is your mother?’
‘Good morning.’ Nonye greeted Father Bartholomew.
‘Where is your mother?’ Mazi Mgbafor barked.
Timidly, Nonye answered, ‘She went to a borrow calabash from Mama Obinwanne.’
‘At this time?’ Mazi Mgbafor queried. ‘I said it, jobless woman. She went to gossip. That’s what she is good at. We have a guest and all she can think of is borrowing calabash from her friend this early morning. Go away from here, silly girl; go and fetch your mother. Both of you are co-conspirators.’
Nonye scuttled away. She returned immediately with Oriaku Mgbafor panting heavily as she rushed back. She knelt down before her husband.
‘Dim oma. Iwe ewela gi. Don’t be angry, my husband. I was just nearby. Mama Obinwanne needed my help urgently. What do you need me to do?’ She adjusted her wrapper and used one edge of the cloth to wipe away the nervous sweat forming on her neck.
Mazi Mgbafor snapped, ‘Bring kola nut for our guest.’ He was still angry but the quarrel can wait till the white man left. He was still sure she had gone to gossip. He could see his neighbours peeping at them from a distance. He could make out Oriaku Mgbafor’s friends amongst the women standing nearby pretending not to be looking at them.
Oriaku Mgbafor brought a small wooden plate containing two kolanuts and some alligator pepper. He took one of the nuts in his right hand and made a toast with a proverb:
‘Ihe d? mma nwoke n’ach?, ? ga-af? ya. Whatever good a man is looking for, he will see it.’
He broke the rest of the kolanuts with a small knife he brought from his pocket and offered to Father Bartholomew. Father Bartholomew knew it would be disrespectful to refuse the offer so he took a piece and began to chew it quietly. Mazi Mgbafor looked pleased. Encouraged, he urged Father Bartholomew to put some in his pocket,
‘?j? luo ?n? okwuo ebe osi bia. When the kola nut reaches home, it will tell those at home where it came from. This is our custom, please put some in your pocket.’ Mazi Mgbafor said.
Father Bartholomew took two pieces and put them in his pocket. It was time to settle down to business. He knew that it was customary in the land that visitors explain the purpose of their visit after being entertained by their host.
‘Thank you for your hospitality. I’m here to discuss something important with you.’ He said finally.
Oriaku Mgbafor stared from the door, she had been eavesdropping.
‘N na nu. Go on.’ Mazi Okoro said.
‘You will recall that Saint Paul’s Church established a school in Umudike in 1912.’
He stopped to look at Mazi Mgbafor’s face but the expression was inscrutable.
‘Go on. I’m listening.’
‘I have made my enquiries and discovered that the community decided not to send their children to school. I want to know why you are not sending your children to the free school established for the community.’
Mazi Mgbafor turned away his face. He was not listening. Father Bartholomew continued to talk, explaining the importance of education and how the people would lose out to other communities if their children remained illiterates. At the mention of the world ‘illiterate’, Mazi Mgbafor bolted upright.
‘Chei!’ He exclaimed. ‘I had told you before when we first met and I will repeat one last time, our children have to go to farm. This is harmattan season and this village will not starve. Our children will not be illiterates. They are learning in the farm and they are also good at trading. They will be important people in the society when they grow up; this we have decreed it and our gods have assented. Onye kwe chi ya ekwe. .This conversation is over and I will entertain any further questions. Understand?’
Mazi Mgbafor’s face was reddened. Father Bartholomew knew it was out of courtesy that the Igbo man had not asked him to leave. It was obvious that he was no longer wanted. Mazi Mgbafor had turned his back on him; noisily chewing the stick. He spat out the content on the floor. As Father Bartholomew turned to leave, he saw Oriaku Mgbafor still standing at the door, there was a triumphant look on her face. The silent dog began to bark as the reverend gentleman walked solemnly out of the compound. Deep in thought, he almost collided with a teenage boy carrying a basket of yam on his head entering the compound, an exact replica of Mazi Mgbafor. The ways of the Igbo man are strange, the white man mused.