BRAVE HEART: Blood & Fire - Episode 1

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Nigeria's leading story blog. Love, River, African Beliefs, gods, Kings, Priests, Fire, Village, Smallpox

Along the shores of Azi River was the horrifying sight of men and women burning in raging fire. Their wailing would have melted the hardest of hearts. They were those whose sins were considered too grave to be given the punishment of being banished from their communities.  While the men and women burnt on stakes, the ropes which tied them to the stakes would get charred; some of them fighting to hold unto life, would bolt off with a raging fire upon them and make a dive into Azi River in search of solace from the flaming fire which consumed them. The moment they reach the river, a rain of arrows would follow them into the river and their pains would end. Back home, many, especially families of those who had not tasted the evil judgment, would rejoice that the sins of the men and women who burnt in fire had been removed from amongst them, and so the gods whom they offended would not visit their lands in anger. Such was the savagery of the time and the cruelty of the gods of the age, or perhaps of the wickedness of men in the name of the gods. Azi was a sacred river where many of the lands and kings near it chose to appease their various gods with sacrifices of different kinds. A branch of the river flowed into Ugegbe, an evil forest, and formed with other rivers another river called Ntiti. The gods of this time seemed particularly not interested in judging the sins of kings, priests and their super-rich allies, they unexplainably seemed to like to see the poor and the helpless suffer. Under these callous gods, the kings and the priests; men and women lived under the worst form of slavery, savagery, fear and abuse.

Ugegbe was a forest famed to crawl with evil spirits and beasts of monstrous nature and sizes. To rid native lands of the curses and wrath of the gods which men and women incurred; on occasions they were not roasted in fire, they were banished from their lands and sent to the massive forest of Ugegbe to perish. All the lands around Ugegbe saw it as the abode of infernal spirits and dreaded entering it. They considered it a befitting place to send those who had offended the gods or broke the taboos of their lands. Gradually Ugegbe began to crawl with men and women who had been cast into it for their various transgressions, both actual and invented. When those men and women arrived at the forest they waited to be feasted upon by either spirits or beasts; but none came. Fortune had smiled upon them. The evil which was expected to kill them was nowhere to be found. The forest was a good land! The people made their own rules and set their hearts upon building a community where the influence and wickedness of the gods, kings and priests held no sway.

The time was the period when men lived in awe of Kitipka, the god of smallpox in Igbo land.  With each passing decade Ugegbe transformed into a large, prosperous, trading town situated on the bank of river Ntiti. The prosperity of Ugegbe had begun when word spread to lands around that the castaways sent into it to perish had instead begun to thrive and had built a community for themselves in the forest. From far and near all those who felt oppressed in their lands by the ruthlessness of the gods and those who served them, flocked into Ugegbe and were welcomed. With each passing year, more people made it their new home in spite of the gory tales that were told about it. Before the castaways arrived, Ntiti was considered the abode of wicked deities, but when they came to Ugegbe they chose to call it the river of blessing; and so it was to them. Ntiti brought no little prosperity to Ugegbe, through the river people from villages far off and nearby brought their wares for sale. Though it was socially unacceptable to trade or have anything to do with a castaway, when people heard and saw the prosperity of the castaways, some dared their evil customs and chose to do business with them. At the beginning Ugegbe had specific days when its inhabitants and visitors did their businesses at the market place. However as more people flocked into Ugegbe to either sell their wares or buy, every day became a market day; goods were transported into and out of Ugegbe in droves, canoe owners became rich men over night as there was no lack of goods to ferry in or out of Ugegbe. Like the river Ntiti, Ugegbe began to flow with wealth and developed rapidly. Every sector of the economy of Ugegbe boomed as people sought to settle in it. The prices of land increased; in the scramble to own houses for rent, commercial mud houses began to spring up everywhere; and its real estate business became pure gold. In a short time vast arable lands where transformed into housing estates.

And one day, it was believed, Kitipka, the god of pox, paid Ugegbe a visit and laid it bare with its dreaded affliction - pox. At alarming rate, men, women and children began to die. The more the dead were buried, the more the living died. The epidemic spread like wildfire through Ugegbe until its inhabitants acknowledged that indeed, Kitipka was in their midst. At that time, no other disease was feared by the Igbo race as much as Kitipka. It was personified as an evil deity. Its victims were not mourned lest it be offended. It put an end to the coming and going between neighbours and between villages. If it was said, “Kitipka is in that village,” immediately it was cut off by its neighbours. So when the news of Ugegbe being ravaged Kitipka was heard, all the lands around it celebrated and claimed that indeed, Ugegbe had finally lived up to its name as an evil forest. Immediately Ugegbe and its dwellers were cut off by their neighbours. Those in Ugegbe who survived the scourge of Kitipka were not allowed entry into other lands, lest Kitipka be offended. The influx of goods and people into Ugegbe dried up, and the once great town became a ghost town. Without delay the neighbours of Ugegbe sent their warriors to cordon off their lands from any contact with Ugegbe, and head-cutters made the bush near it their home in their search for human heads for rituals. However in the far flung land of Umueze, it was still believed that Ugegbe was  a good land, a land where tyrant gods had little say in the affairs of men; they had not heard of the cruel visit of Kitipka to the land and the horror it left behind.

The people of Umueze lived under the tyranny of a pantheon of deities. Each deity had its own rules; the penalty for flouting the laws of those gods was harsh; offenders were seldom banished. It seemed as though all the gods of Umueze had a taste for roasted human meat. It was common to burn offenders to the gods of the land. In the land lived a humble farmer by the name Udeagu. Mazi Udeagu had a small family made of his petit wife and a daughter whose name was Obioma. Obioma was a source of pride to her parents. Though Mazi Udeagu had no son, he barely gave thought to it. The joy which Obioma brought him made him happier than other men who had their houses full of male children. Obioma was the most sublime expression of beauty seen in the land of Umueze. Her beauty was such that if she played with boys of her age, they would delay having their bath for long, lest they wash of the feel of her beauty on their bodies. As she blossomed into a full grown woman, the talk of her extra-ordinary beauty spread through the land. The flock of her hair reached her waist line. Men boasted that her supple fair skin glowed even in the night and that her toe and finger nails had the glassy feel of the moonlight.

Besides her magnificent aesthetic physique, she had graceful character and a mind full of visions. Her mother would often tease her that she was born many years before her time. “Oma (short for Obioma), I strongly believe you were born before your time, in fact many generations before your time. I fear that if your dreams are heard of outside, we shall all be bundled down to the village square and burnt alive. You should not speak of these dreams which you have.” “But mama I see them. The dreams come to me often; I see them every night. I see the days when the light of knowledge shall shine upon the hearts of men and they would rise to break free from the shackles of the gods whose cruelty have made their lives miserable.” “Obioma I forbid you to have such dreams anymore! The gods we serve rule over us according to their wisdom. Their wisdom far supersedes that of man; that my child is the reason you cannot fathom their action. Speak no more against them lest we be burnt alive at the village square.”

 “Mama, don’t be afraid, I only speak freely about the gods when I am with you or with papa. When I am outside I play along like the rest, and act like I had palpable fear of the gods. But mama haven’t you seen that only kings and priests benefit from the slavish conditions which the gods subject us to? Why would a young man be burnt alive for sleeping with his betrothed virgin; while if a priest or a king does that, they claim that the king or the priest was having a taste of the virgin girl for the gods? Why doesn’t the same rule apply to them? Open your eyes mama! When you do, you will see like I have, that the gods, their priests and the king who enforce their laws are all a fraud committed against us every day.” “Shut up your mouth child! I warn you, be careful! Has it not occurred to you that if you carry on like this soon we shall all be killed?!” “Sorry mama, I did not mean to get you angry. It is just that I hate all the gods of our lands. I hate them all, whether, Durugo, Kitipka, or Amadioha…”

“Obioma I can see that you have no ears to hear. May Amadioha shut that your mouth!” Ugonwanyi, Obioma’s mother picked a raffia basket close to her and flung it at her daughter. Obioma ducked and ran towards the door. There she stooped and announced to her mother, “Mama Amadioha cannot do what you just asked him to do. Let me tell you, every night he and all the other gods engage me in a battle. Not once have they overpowered me. I wish there was a bigger god in whose name I could invoke a curse against the gods of our land…” Obioma inched closer to her mother and asked, “Mama who is Chiukwu?” “Do you want to curse him also?” “No mama. I only want to know why he has no priest in our land or shrine and yet we call him a god”. “He is a god whom we know; we even bear his name, but do not know how to serve him. The belief we have is that he is the highest of all gods. If you look around, like you observed, there is not a single shrine in all the land in his name. But amazingly, even native doctors and kings name their children after him.” “So Chiukwu does not ask for human sacrifice nor does he send native doctors to rape virgins in his name?” “No my child, he does not.” “Then in his name, I will always invoke a curse against the gods of our land.” “Ara gbachie gi nti Obioma! (May you go deaf with sudden madness Obioma!)” “Mama, no madness can touch me. I am like a pail of watery excreta. You cannot drink me; neither can you cook with me. Even when you pour me on the ground, I will still smell. I, Obioma bekee, I am the fire that will consume the gods, the evil priests and the fat, old, evil king who oppress us in this land.”

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BRAVE HEART: Blood & Fire - Episode 1
Nigeria's leading story blog. Love, River, African Beliefs, gods, Kings, Priests, Fire, Village, Smallpox An African Literary Blog
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