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The scene was Amorji Umuariam. It was a time when men were somewhat purer and a few devious min...

The scene was Amorji Umuariam. It was a time when men were somewhat purer and a few devious minds outwitted the rest and excelled at it. Then life was simple, and beautifully so. Those days, neighbours did not laugh with one openly when  a suitor came for one’s daughter’s hand in marriage and went home only to visit a native doctor to send away the suitor or to make their neighbours daughter barren. It was the days when children asked for Akara (fried beans ball) as gifts and not Play Station or IPhone 6. They innocently ran around in the rain and sang, “Mama alota oyoyo (mother is back oyoyo!)” at the sight of their mothers returning from the market place with her wares. It was the time when mbe (the tortoise) was presented to children in tales by moonlight as the possessor of all wisdom, and his wife, Aliah, as a paragon of submission amongst the women folk.

In that pastoral setting, Amorji, myths and fables abounded and everyone seemed to make effort to believe all of them and pass them on to others. One of such myths was Nwa nmou ukwu Udara (the ghost at the Udara tree). It was believed without doubts in Amorji that ghosts often rested at the foot of the Udara tree. It was not out of place to hear children by day time imploring, “Nwa nmou ukwu Udara, kwatueru m otu Udara ka m racha (Ghost at the Udara tree, shake the branches of the Udara tree, that one Udara fruit might fall down for me to eat)”. There were moments when bizarrely the Udara tree would swing and sway and ripened Udara fruits would fall for the children to eat. Happily they thanked the ghost who lurked around the Udara tree and would make off with the Udara fruits.

It was believed to be very dangerous for one to go to the Udara tree to pick fallen Udara fruits when it was dark. Tales were told of men and women who dared to pick fruits or hang around the Udara tree by late evening or night time only to have their heads swell with fear as though their heads had grown larger than their sizes. Such stories helped to sustain the belief that ghosts lurked at the foot of the Udara tree. To pick fallen ripened Udara fruits one had to arrive at the Udara tree by the first gleam of dawn. Also those who went to the stream very early in the morning with their lamps could pause at the Udara tree to pick a few fruits on the path way and then continue to the stream.

Some young boys, led by a young man called Livi, had the habit of waking up a little before dawn to go pick Udara fruits. For some time, the boys had success at beating every other person to picking the Udara fruits. One morning when they arrived at their favourite Udara tree to pick fruits, the ghost at the Udara tree came out and attacked them. They ran in all directions and were lucky to escape with their lives. In Amorji, men and women dreaded Nba nmou (the embrace of a ghost). It was told that ghosts killed their victims easily by embracing them. If a man or woman was embraced by a ghost, he or she could drop dead in that instance or suffer paralysis which no one ever recovered from. So being quite aware of the power of a ghost, Livi and his friends ran as fast as they could to escape the dire consequences of Nba Nmou.

For quite a long time Livi and his friends did not go to pick fruits at any Udara tree; even when they were up early to go fetch water at the stream. Then one day, Livi and his friends heard that perhaps the ghost at the Udara tree might not be a ghost after all. As they considered the possibility that the ghost might not be a ghost, they became very suspicious about the activities of the ghost. Ghosts had been part of their lives from childbirth, and they had never heard of ghosts who after lurking around the Udara tree left with the Udara fruits which dropped from the tree during the night. Someone had told them that he saw an elderly man they knew sneaking toward the Udara tree by early morning and did not come out for long. To put the myth of the ghost at the Udara tree to a test, Livi and his friend took time one evening to cut some thick, fresh sticks; the sort masquerades made use of and the next morning they set out to go pick Udara at their favourite Udara tree. Like the first day they encountered it, the ghost came out to attack them. The others took off in fear and Livi stood his ground. As the ghost came for him, he aimed his thick, fat stick at the ghost and cracked it on its skull.

A loud cry was heard, “Owu Dee Nwadaka o! Owughi nwa nmou o! (It is elder Nwadaka! It is not a ghost!)” Livi attacked him viciously and replied, “Akwa I wu nwa nmou? Lekwe Udara racha! (Are you not a ghost? Here are Udara fruits, eat them!)” Seeing Livi would not cut him some slack, Nwadaka made a dash into the nearby bush and ran as quickly as he could. By the time Livi’s friend had returned, Nwadaka was gone. From that day onward, no one heard about people being attacked at the foot of the Udara tree by a ghost. The villagers laughed hard when they heard about what happened. Till this day, those who can remember still tell the story of Livinus and Nwa nmou ukwu Udara.

This story was written by:
Uzoma Ujor

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