“Iyimmuo! Iyimmuo!!! Iyimmuo!!!” Okrima called to the god of River Njava ; the feared god of th...
“Iyimmuo! Iyimmuo!!! Iyimmuo!!!” Okrima called to the god of River Njava; the feared god of the land of Ekwele. “I have come to you with a heavy heart. First, I have brought you a worthy sacrifice in return for your succor. I am a bonafide son of the land of Ekwele and when we your children are hard-pressed, we run to you. Here, I present a full-fledged fowl.” Okrima took a fowl he had brought with him, spread it out on the ground along the river bank and placed his right leg on the tied legs of the fowl. He took his small knife from his raffia bag and slit the fowl’s throat. He raised it to allow the blood to gush into the river. The fowl squirmed and quivered before giving up the ghost. Okrima threw the lifeless fowl into the river. Then he turned his attention to the chicken. “Iyimmuo, I brought male and a female. Here I give you the female!” He went through the same routine and drained the body into the river, before tossing the dead chicken in the river. He raised his hands to the sky and spoke, “For years I have lived on the fringes of my late father’s rightful inheritance. The lands and economic trees (Ugba, Ube, Nkwu, Orji – Oil bean, pear, oil palm and Iroko trees ) that belonged to my late father and his brother, my uncle, Ikiri have been completely dominated by Ikiri and his sons. I have nowhere to farm. I have no palm trees (Nkwu) from which my wife can prepare palm oil, nor Ugba (oil bean) for preparing Ngu (a local delicacy). I am like a bat, I neither belong to the sky nor to land. I have begged my uncle Ikiri and his sons to do the right thing, but they wouldn’t listen to me. Iyimmuo, they treat your child like a pariah – I am the laughing stock of the land. Enough is enough!!! I am not asking you a special favor…no! I am asking for justice. I am asking that you show yourself and manifest your power. Aru (evil) walks amongst us with the arrogance of the super-rich, polluting our land…your land, with impunity.
“Come and right the wrongs that prevail in your land Iyimmuo. Come and show them that you are the god of justice. When Ekerenta and Izugbe invaded our land many years ago, you alone crushed their warriors like flies. You laid them to waste with their blood flowing like water. You struck their kings and suffocated their animals. Come and show the same power in Ikiri’s family. They are violating you Iyimmuo. Show yourself! If you grant me justice, I will serve you for the rest of my life and so will my son.” He walked into the river and scooped a handful of water, which he splashed on his head. “I have made a pact with you. I know you will fight for me Iyimmuo!!!” He stepped out of the river and began his walk home. It was a night of a full moon. The paths were deserted. Alone, he walked through the Oghere forest. Just a short distance from River Njava he sensed something out of the ordinary. A huge Orji (Iroko) tree at the next turn on the path was swaying with ferocious force, even though there was hardly any wind. He slowed down and watched. Okrima was not one to fear, but the spectacle playing out before him left him fairly frightened. The giant Iroko tree shrank to the size of an average man with blazing fire gushing out of his eyes. The figure was surrounded by ugly dwarfs carrying metal pans in their hands with fire rising from each pan. The trees around the Iroko tree had transmogrified into the dwarfs.
An old woman with the tongue of a snake jumped out of the big figure resulting from the Iroko tree. She walked briskly towards Okrima. He felt a wave of goose bumps all over his body. She walked almost at the speed of light. Before he could blink, she was standing in front of him. “Okrima the son of Okafor, the son of Konkwo, the son of Ejigiri, the son of Akirika!” Her voice echoed through the forest. “That is me,” Okrima answered demurely. His voice and hands shook violently, and his knees creaked under the weight of his severely frightened body. “Fear not!” She said. Her voice was neither male nor female – it was a hybrid. “Your father Okafor is not resting happily. His spirit has been crying to me to fight for you. Tonight, you have shed blood to invoke the fiercest god from Ekwele to Mbaise. When I strike, blood will flow. You have made a pact with the right god. I will fight for you, and you and your child will serve me. Your uncle Ikiri has long aligned himself with Igurube, the god from Odenkume. He believes that Igurube will protect him from me; that is why he refuses to obey the laws of the land. Go home and tell no one what you have seen or heard here tonight. In four market days, go to Ikiri and ask for your inheritance. If he fails to comply with the laws of the land, I Iyimmuo will go to war against him and his entire household.” As soon as it had started, it all ended. The woman was nowhere to be seen and the Iroko tree was standing tall and mighty again. Relieved and thrilled, Okrima headed home. That night, he slept happily, counting the hours to the next four market days.
It was an Orie market day, and Ikiri was drinking palm wine with his sons and friends when Ichitee, the chief priest of Ekwele walked into his compound. “To what do I owe this surprise visit Ichitee?” Ikiri asked, clearly surprised. “May I sit down?” Ichitee asked. “Please be seated. My children please allow me some privacy to talk to Ichitee. The frog does not run in broad day light for nothing. I know he has a serious matter discuss with me.” “Actually, I have come to talk to you and your sons. It is said that when the ear is warned and it fails to take heed, when the head is chopped off, the ear inevitably goes with it.” “That is quite an ominous proverb Ichitee. Please speak. My sons and I are all ears.” Ichitee was a diminutive man, less than 5 feet in height. His right eye was embellished with white chalk, and he wore a raffia cloth around his waist. To the raffia was attached a pouch made from goat skin. He had no shirt on. By now, the British had introduced shirts into the land, but Ichitee was not one to don the white man’s outfit. “Ikiri” “I can hear you,” Ikiri answered. “Ezenkume! Ejebe! Nwedo! Agunze! Iwunze!” “We are listening,” answered Ikiri’s sons. By now, Ikiri’s friends and neighbors had left his compound. “I have a grave message for you all. Iyimmuo is boiling with ferocious rage. Iyimmuo is not happy with the way you have treated your late brother’s son, Okrima. So, Iyimmuo sent me to warn you that if you do not share what rightfully belong to your extended family equally between yourself and Okrima, you will have yourself to blame. I have never seen or heard Iyimmuo this angry in my time as the chief priest. Iyimmuo says that blood will flow like water, reminiscent of the time when Ekerenta and Izugbe attempted to invade our land. I am sure your late father must have told you about it. It is something you do not want to bring upon yourself and your sons, and their sons and daughters.”
Ikiri cleared his throat. “Ichitee I have heard you. Permit me to remind you that I have five sons, and Okrima has only one. How then do I share our family’s inheritance equally with Okrima, my nephew?” “Ijiji na-enweghi onye ndumodu na eso ozu ala n'ili (A house fly that has no counselor follows the corpse to the grave). Oke oshimmiri anaghi eri onye onye ukwu ya abataghi n’ime ya (The ocean never swallows a person whose legs do not make contact with the ocean). You are testing the depth of a deep ocean with both legs. I am afraid you will soon be heading down to the bottom. Whether you have ten or twenty sons is your problem Ikiri. Whatever belonged to you and your late brother Okafor should be split equally between you and his son Okrima, period! I am only a messenger, but I know when greed is at play. In this case, you are allowing greed to cloud your judgment. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Children, you must talk to your father. In the end, you will all go down with him.” “Ichitee nwa nnunu na agba egwu n’uzo, ihe na akuru ya egwu no n’ime ohia (the bird that is dancing on the road, the person playing the tune for it is in the bush). Okrima should accept whatever I am willing to give him or forget any inheritance altogether. I have made my point clear to him time and again and I am not about to go back on my word.” “Egwu muta mbgaji ukwu, amuta ejekata akwuru (when dancing begins to hurt the waist of the dancer, the dancer learns to stop intermittently to catch some rest). I hope you are ready to face the music that Iyimmuo is about to play for you. I am not sure you will have time to catch a break in between. I am done here. Please do not come calling on me when the tunes begin to ring from Njava River and Oghere forest.”
Ichitee hopped off the log of wood he was sitting on, brushed off any residual materials from Ikiri’s compound off his buttocks and left. He walked hurriedly and vanished into the distance in no time. “Don’t you think we should listen to him Papa?” Iwunze, Ikiri’s youngest son asked him. “You are such a scared rabbit Iwunze. Iyimmuo is dead. We have not heard from Iyimmuo in many years. A lot has happened in this land and Iyimmuo never showed up. Iyimmuo is not a god to be feared. I have made a pact with Igurube. Fear not. We are all protected!” Ikiri said. His voice reeked of impudence. The next morning was an Eke market day. Okrima woke up early. He lit an oil-powered lantern to find his raffia bag in his hut. He had recently managed to build a new hut for his wife Urediya and his only son Ajanga. He tied a wrapper around his waist, and put on his goat skin shirt. The first sign of daylight had just appeared on the horizon. He walked towards his uncle’s house. “Okrima, I hope all is well?” Ikiri asked when he met his nephew outside. They walked over to his Obiri (reception). It was a wall-less hut with thatched roof supported by strong Iroko logs on all four corners. His late father was wealthy and ever since his death, he (Ikiri) had been controlling all their father’s economic trees and lands, even when his brother Okafor was alive. In the process he had enriched himself and his children. They sold gallons of palm oil every market day, and a lot of Ugba during Ugba season.
“Uncle I have come to make a final plea to you to please split our inheritance between myself and yourself. I have waited long enough for what is mine.” “I guess it was you that sent Ichitee here yesterday.” “I have not seen Ichitee in weeks. If he came here, then he came of his own accord.” “So, are you willing to take that piece of land beside Afor Spring and the Ugba tree behind Nwachukwu’s compound?” “Just those?” “I forgot to mention the palm tree by the village square.” “Uncle, you are a greedy man. I will no longer ask you, but whatever happens from now on, please remember that you brought it upon yourself.” Angrily, Okrima rose to his feet and walked out of the compound. Almost immediately, Ikiri went to a small hut on the Far East end of his compound, which he used as a shrine. He alone had access to it. Once inside, he lit a palm kernel oil lantern. The soot generating lantern burned wavily to illuminate the hut. Ikiri found what he was looking for. He opened the bag and took out some beads. He placed them on the floor, and then took out an old kola nut and Nzu (white chalk). He made multiple incantations and then chewed off a chunk of the old kola nut. He took a bottle of old palm wine and sipped a bit of it. He slowly swallowed the mixture. Then, he took the chalk and drew a line on his forehead. “Igurube! I put my trust in you. You are the feared god of Odenkume. I was told by my father that our ancestors moved to Ekwele from Odenkume. We are your children. I have heard of your fierce powers. I count on you to protect your own. I have killed goats and sheep at your shrine every year with my children. Now we count on you to protect us from anyone or any god that may come after my children and I over our rightful inheritance.”
He walked over the hut occupied by each of his sons and drew a line on their faces with the chalk. Afterwards, he sat down in his Obiri to sip palm wine. By nightfall, he told his sons who had just returned from harvesting yam in Alugeze, “I told you nothing would happen.” “We are not afraid Papa,” they echoed except Iwunze who feared that their father was motivated by greed. The entire village woke the next morning to a loud wail from Ezeigwe’ s compound. Ezeigwe was their young king, in his late thirties. He ascended the throne some two years earlier after the passing of his father. He paraded himself with haughtiness and flouted the gods of the land. He was preoccupied with forging a strong relationship with the District ruler, Honorable Dennis Barkett, who represented Her Majesty’s government in the area. Under Ezeigwe’s stewardship, the rites to the gods were no longer performed every full moon. Families squabbled and people stole from one another without fear of Iyimmuo or any other god. “We are moving forward. The gods are no longer as powerful as they used to be. If we starve them of blood sacrifices, they will fizzle into oblivion,” Ezeigwe told his cabinet repeatedly.
On this morning, he was in deep pain in his royal hut. He lay almost naked on bare floor sweating profusely and crying out loud. “They are stabbing me,” he shouted. “Who?” His servants asked. “They are everywhere. They are coming with machetes to cut of my neck. Please help me,” he pleaded, but no one else could see what he saw. His chief servant ran to Ichitee and informed him of the situation. “You must come now chief priest.” “It is too late. I can no longer help Ezeiwge. He, who places himself above the gods, comes crashing to the ground like a bird whose wings have been clipped. I warned him, but he turned a deaf ear on me. He said Iyimmuo was dead. I cannot help me. We must prepare for rituals to pick a new king over the next few weeks.” Ezeigwe’s servant ran back to the palace. As he was entering the compound, a huge crowd had gathered. Before they could think of their next line of action to save their king, Ezeigwe bolted out of his hut like a man chased by venomous demons. Buckets of sweat dripped down his body as he raced towards the forest. His servants chased after him, but no one could get near enough to him. When he reached Ogbude cliff overlooking Idikoro gully, which had been carved over centuries by Iyiala Spring, which fed into Njava River, he jumped. “Nooo!!!” His servants shouted from a distance but it was too late. They heard a loud crashing sound and then, silence ensued. They listed hard, but there was no sound emanating from the feared gully. Quickly, they organized a search party that descended cautiously into Idikoro gully. After a few hours, they emerged with Ezeigwe’s limp, lifeless body. To their shock, his corpse was already infested by millions of Maggots.
“The gods are angry. A body is not rapidly devoured by Maggots unless the wrath of the gods had been placed upon them,” said Ikenga, Ezeigwe’s deputy. Quietly, they carried his body toward the village. When they emerged from the long, winding road that connects the village and the gully, Ichitee was waiting for them. “You cannot return the corpse of the cursed to our land,” he instructed. “But he was our king,” Ikenga protested. “And who would you rather obey? The dead king, mauled to death by the spirits of the gods, or the gods themselves?” There was no answer. “Unless you want to join him in the bottom of Idikoro gully right this moment, then return him to the gully where vultures will devour his body. That is what the gods have decreed. If you are brave enough to challenge the gods, then carry that maggot-infested corpse to the village.” Without waiting for their reply, Ichitee turned and walked back toward the village.
Hurriedly and fearfully, they carried Ezeigwe’s fast decaying body to the cliff and threw it back into the gully. They half ran and half walked back to the village. The men who had touched his corpse washed their hands repeatedly, fearing that the curse on Ezeigwe might come after them. The news spread round the village and beyond like wild fire. Fear gripped the land. That night, Okrima knew Iyimmuo had woken from his slumber. “You cannot stay here,” he told Urediya. Tonight, you will return to your parents with Ajanga. I will walk you across our border with Umuigirigi. Once across the border, you should be safe. You and Ajanga should stay with your parents until I come for you. Things; mysterious things are about to happen. This land will be shaken to its foundation, and I know some people will fight back. You are a daughter of Umuigirigi, so once you are there with our son, the great Atariuwa of Umuigirigi will protect you from any fallouts that might arise from the war that is about to begin.” “Nna anyi, agaghim ahapu n’ani gi ebe a (my lord, I cannot leave you here alone),” Urediya protested. “This is non-negotiable my dear wife. What is about to begin may claim the life of our son if we are not careful. As for me, my blood has been tied to the great shrine of Iyimmuo. Nothing…nothing will happen to me. Until I take my son and present him physically before Iyimmuo, we must protect him; he is our only child. Nothing will happen to me Urediya. Fear not for me my wife.” Reluctantly, she packed a few things. Before they left, Okrima took an Ofor staff (the staff of justice) and placed it in a goat skin bag which he handed to his son Ajanga. “Keep this with you at all times my son while you are in Umuigirigi. It is an Ofor from Iyimmuo’s shrine. With it, you are protected by the spirits of Iyimmuo no matter where you u are.” “I will keep it with me at all times Papa,” Ajanga replied. They walked hurriedly through Utuike clan, and then passed Echezim clan and finally Adirigo clan before crossing the border into Umuigirigi.
Once they were safely in Umuigirigi, Okrima bade them farewell and returned home. Urediya and Ajanga reached her parents’ house safely later that night. She explained her husband’s instructions to her parents. “Finally, he has decided to claim what is rightfully his,” said Agbigu, Urediya’s father. “I knew someday he’d wake up and call on the gods of the land to fight for him. We heard what happened to Ezeigwe. Iyimmuo has risen and when Iyimmuo is angry, there is hardly any hiding place for its enemies. I am proud of my son in-law for finally taking action. I know Ikiri. He is not an easy man. He has fortified himself with Igurube, so if Iyimmuo strikes his household, he will try to invoke the spirits of Igurube to come after Ajanga. Do not worry; Atariuwa will protect you. Come with me my grandson,” he said to Ajanga. They stepped out of his hut. He went into his Obiri for a moment and reappeared with a white chalk. He drew a circle on the hardened mud and asked Ajanga to step into the circle, and he obliged. He took out a black concoction in a tiny wooden container and dipped a finger into it. Then, he placed the finger in Ajanga’s mouth. “Mix it in your mouth and swallow it,” he instructed. Ajanga did as he was instructed. Then he placed a small portion on his forehead. He raised his hands to the sky and declared, “Atariuwa! The god that sees at day and sees even better at night. O nwere onye ga agbanari gi (can anyone outrun you?) Your daughter’s son has returned to Umuigirigi for protection; your protection. Keep your child. A strike against him on our soil is a strike against you. Stand with us and defeat the evil ones.” He placed both hands on Ajanga’s head. You are safe my son. Let’s go inside now.”
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