African Folklore: The Tribulations Of Obiagu| By Chuka Nduneseokwu

On that cloudy afternoon of the Eke market day, Ahanna was exhausted from a hard day’s work and went home quite early from his farm which was in the outskirts of Obiagu. On entering his hut he caught his wife, Ezinne in bed with the Chief Priest of their village. He was so shocked and angered that he drew out his cutlass and stroke Eze mmuo, the chief priest down. His wife pleaded for mercy but Ahanna’s eyes were red with rage. He defied her pleas and struck the Chief Priest again on his right leg.

The Chief Priest, who was then bleeding profusely, begged Ahanna to spare his life, but once again his pleas fell on deaf ears. In one last deadly stroke, Ahanna beheaded the Chief Priest, who was the mouthpiece of the Oracle of Obiagu. Ahanna’s wife, Ezinne, immediately ran out of the hut screaming and wailing, for she felt Ahanna was going to kill her too. Ahanna, who was then soaked in blood, ran after her and caught up with her before she ran out of their compound. He was shouting on her and calling her a whore when some of their neighbors who heard the noise ran into Ahanna’s compound.

Two of the men immediately seized Ahanna and retrieved the cutlass he was wielding. While they enquired from him what had transpired, one of the women followed the blood stains into Ahanna’s hut to find the Chief Priest lying dead in a pool of his own blood. She let out a loud scream which made the other neighbors run in to see what made her shout.

The sight was so gory that one of the men wanted to strike Ahanna down for killing their Chief Priest, but was restrained by Ugo, his friend. Ahanna told them that he had caught the Chief Priest in bed with his wife, but nobody believed him. Soon, more of his clan’s men gathered in his compound while some of the young men went round to inform the elders of what had happened.

In one single act of anger, Ahanna became the sworn enemy of the gods of Obaigu. Ahanna in one day became the most hated and dreaded man in his kindred and the entire Obiagu village, for no one could speak for him or bear witness to his claim. None of his family members were around the house earlier that afternoon.

His children had gone to the stream to fetch water for their mother, and his sister and mother had gone to the market to sell their grown he-goats. His wife, Ezinne, was still in shock and had refused to talk to the women of the village who had gathered later that afternoon. They questioned her extensively, shouting ‘alu’. They rebuked her and snapped their fingers in consternation. Azuka, the head of the Umu Ada women’s cult, asked Ezinne in confidence to tell them the truth, but she only cried and wiggled her head in a gesture that indicated she was innocent of Ahanna’s accusations.

It didn’t take long for the news of the Chief priest’s murder to go round the village, leading some of the village folk to gather at Ahanna’s compound. The elders and high chiefs were seated in his Obi, deliberating on what to do with the case before them. Ahanna was still vibrating in anger with his clothes and hands still carried blood stains. Mazi Okoye, who was Ahanna’s uncle, was short of words and kept repeating his nephew’s name in astonishment and snapped his fingers occasionally.

The eldest man in the village, Ichie Nwannedinamba, could not summon the words to contribute to the matter.  He remained calm, pushed little ounces of his snuff into his nostrils and inhaled with all seriousness. He was a close friend of the dead Chief Priest, and so he was still in shock for his head lay in front of them. Ahanna’s younger brothers, Ebubenna and Enyinnaya, had just come in from their farms on the news of what had happened and stood gallantly beside him.

They were armed with their cutlasses and den guns. Enyinnaya who was the bravest of them all openly dared anybody to lay a finger on his brother Ahanna and join the dead Chief Priest. Some of the elders who were seated were cautious not to allow the situation to get out of hands. They promised Enyinnaya that nobody was going to neither touch nor harm their brother, till they came to the root of the matter and had gotten a witness to testify to his innocence or guilt.

While they were all deliberating, more men and women trooped into Ahanna’s compound, some with hands in their heads and others with arms folded across their chests. The town criers were going around announcing the killing of the Chief Priest to the entire men in the village. The market was thrown into chaos and confusion when the news was brought to them.

The Chief priest’s daughter, Uloma, let out a loud cry and threw aside her herbs and portions which she was selling. She quickly ran out of the market to inform her mother of the news of her father’s death at the hands of Ahanna. She cried all the way home and cursed the gods for abandoning her father, who had served them all his life.

She was almost entering her family compound when she came upon a small group of men led by her uncles and brothers. They had just come to inform her mother that her husband, the Chief priest, had been killed and was accused of adultery. Uloma fell into her brother’s arms and sobbed deeply as they consoled her and took her in to be with her mother. They left her at the entrance of the kitchen and rejoin the men who were then leaving for Ahanna’s house.

Uloma got into the kitchen and met her mother in the company of her friends who were restraining her from hurting herself. She had tried jumping into the burning wood. Mgbeke, her mother’s sister, had come to visit earlier that day and was helping her to complete the Onugbu soup while she too cried uncontrollably. Uloma ran to her mother and hugged her passionately and they both cried loudly with their voices reaching the four corners of their clan.

The Chief Priest’s brothers, Aguba and Emeka, matched towards Ahanna’s house with a large crowd of young angry men. They chanted solidarity songs and wielded green leaves and large branches which they had cut from the nearby trees. The depth of their voices vibrated the ground beneath them and the surrounding bushes, making the goats and chickens that around fled to safety.

It was not long before they came upon the village drunkard, who was coming from the market’s palm wine spot. His name was Akilika, and he was often mistaken for a mad man because he was always in dirty old clothes. On seeing them he let out a loud shout and called them “Ndi Iberibe” which meant “Stupid people.” He was about to continue talking when one of the young men pushed him into a nearby. But Akilika was not a man to keep calm and close his mouth.

And so he kept shouting and told them that Ahanna was innocent and that it was the gods who took the life of the Chief priest. But all he said fell on deaf ears for their voices echoed all around the road path. Akilika got up from the bush where he lay and staggered off, laughing uncontrollably and continued shouting “Ndi Iberibe.” Soon Aguba, Emeka and the young men were at the gate of Ahanna’s compound.

They were met by some of the elderly men who had come out to receive them on hearing their shouts and solidarity songs. Ichie Nduka who was one of the most prominent men in the village greeted the youths and hailed them with exalting titles.

He called them “the defenders of Obiagu” and “the soldiers of the gods” in his bid to pacify them and dampen their spirits. He tried to convince them that there might be truth in Ahanna’s claims and that they had to wait till the truth came out, but all he said fell on deaf ears. Aguba, who led the youths, then spoke up, promising the elders that they would not harm Ahanna till the entire village had come to a conclusion if he was guilty or not.

But he promised the elders that if he was found guilty that there was nothing anybody in the village said that would stop them from harming Ahanna. Ichie Nduka in his elderly wisdom agreed to Aguba’s request and threats, knowing full well that the situation would not be allowed to get to that.

The elders returned to Ahanna’s Obi with the youths behind them still chanting solidarity songs. When they came in, Ichie Nwannedinamba raised his old saggy arms and signaled them to keep calm. He was well respected in the entire Obiagu for he was seen as the king, being the oldest man in their village.

The young men listened to him and stopped singing, but continued to murmur among themselves. They made faces and pointed fingers at Ahanna, who was sitting before the elders in the Obi. The Obi, which was very spacious, had Ogirisi trees as its pillars and palm tree branches as its roof. It was built by Ahanna’s late father and could contain about a hundred men.

Meanwhile, beside the Obi, things s got tensed when Ahanna’s mother let out an aggressive and frustrated shout. She slapped Ezinne and then pounced on her. She started to beat her and call her names. She said Ezinne was an adulterer and insisted that she should say the truth to save the name and life of her son, Ahanna. Every attempt by some of the women to free Ezinne from her mother in-law’s grip was futile, for Ahanna’s mother was a huge and strong woman.

When she was finally restrained, she threatened to strip Ezinne naked in front of the entire villagers if she did not say the truth. Despite her threats, Ezinne still remained mute and sobbed with tears flowing down her eyes. Ahanna’s mother who was then exhausted with the unresponsiveness of Ezinne, walked up to the elders and men sitting in the Obi.

She suggested to them, that both Ahanna and Ezinne should be given the oath to swear so that the truth would come out once and for all. After she had suggested this, she bowed to the elders in greeting and went back to rejoin Umu Ada women who were still questioning Ezinne. The elders after having heard Ahanna’s mother’s request started deliberating on the option of the oath.

Some of them argued that it was not wise for them to put Ahanna and his wife through such ordeal, knowing that it would lead to one of them losing their lives or running mad. Ahanna’s uncle, Mazi Okoye, took a break from inhaling the snuff which he had collected from Ichie Nwannedinamba.

He cleared his throat loudly and stood up to address the men. He greeted them in the popular salutation of the Obiagu people: “Obiagu Kwenu” and they replied “Ya balu gi”, he again hailed “Obiagu Obi eji eje ogu” and they all bellowed “Obiagu oga abulu anyi.” He then told them that he was supporting his late brother’s wife’s suggestion of an oath swearing. He explained with all confidence that he was certain from Ahanna’s countenance that he was innocent and would not have killed the chief priest for no reason.

He argued that such an act had never been recorded in the history of their family and lineage. He then added that there was suspicion in Ezinne’s silence; and that if swearing an oath was the only available option then, by all means, the elders should commence the process and send for the Chief priest of the neighboring Umuagu village.

He greeted the men, sat down and returned to his snuff. Ichie Nduka rose up and agreed to what Mazi Okoye had said. Most of the elders also concurred and so Ichie Nduka went out to meet the youths to inform them of the conclusion which the elders and high chiefs had reached. Aguba, the leader of the youths, and his brother Emeka, received the news with great indifference for all they wanted was to kill Ahanna and get revenge for their brother, the chief priest. Aguba nonetheless, sent three of the fastest young men to run to Umuagu to inform their diviner of the Mbize oracle of what had happened in Obiagu.

They were to tell him that his presence was required urgently, for their Chief priest, had been beheaded by Ahanna. The three young men, Obum, Obinna and Offorbuike, who were wrestlers, ran off as fast as their feet could carry them. Soon they were at the shrine of Mbize where they narrated the story to Onochie, the diviner of Umuagu. After they recounted the situation at Obiagu, the diviner quickly gathered a few of his belongings in shock and followed them hastily back to Obiagu.

It didn’t take long before Onochie and the three wrestlers got to the entrance of Ahanna’s compound. When Onochie entered, he rattled his metal staff and the entire crowd became silent. He started speaking in parables and adages, shouting “alu” in-between his incantations. He then hurriedly walked to the Obi where the Chief Priest’s body lay on the ground and let out a loud scream in pain and anguish. He went round the Chief Priest’s body seven times and called on the Mbize oracle to take vengeance.

He called on the four market days – Eke, Orie, Affor, and Nkwo to bear witness to the blood that was spilled on that day. He then called on the goddess of the earth, Ani, to accept the Chief Priest’s blood and punish Ahanna in her own time, if he was found guilty. After he had finished his divinations and incantations he raised his head and asked Ahanna to go cut palm fronds to cover the body of Chief Priest. Ahanna, who was still angered, initially refused to obey Onochie.

After he was convinced by his brothers that it was wrong to disobey traditions, he went to his backyard and got fresh palm fronds. The Chief Priest’s body was covered before Onochie greeted the elders of Obiagu and sat down beside Ichie Nwannedinamba. The elders and high chiefs after greeting and formerly welcoming Onochie, got into intense discussions and narrated to him what had transpired between Ahanna, his wife Ezinne, and the dead Chief Priest.

They told him that there was no witness and that Ezinne had refused to answer any of their questions and had indicated that she was innocent. Ichie Nduka told Onochie that Ahanna’s mother had suggested that they swore an oath to ascertain the truth. He further told Onochie that he and the other elders had agreed to her suggestion and that that was the main reason why he was invited. After Ichie Nduka had finished recounting what had transpired, Onochie requested that Ezinne is brought into the Obi for questioning, since her own side of the story had not been heard. She was brought in by her mother-in-law and began to tremble at the sight of Onochie.

Onochie brought out a potion from his leopard skin bag and had started to ask Ezinne questions when a black dog ran out of the back of Ahanna’s hut. It started to chase the young men, pouncing on anyone in sight. There was great commotion, with people fleeing from the dog which most of the men labeled mad. Being bitten by a mad dog was highly dreaded in their village; for it was believed that a person bitten by a mad dog would be cursed and run mad all his life. Most of the young men stopped running and had started hauling stones and sticks on the dog, when Emeka began to scream, asking them to stop.

He said he recognized the dog, and that it belonged to his dead brother, the Chief Priest. Emeka called out to the dog by the name which the Chief Priest fondly called it. On hearing Emeka’s voice, the dog calmed down a bit and ran to him, but still, let out a few loud barks at the other young men. Onochie who had been watching the dog closely, suddenly ran out of the Obi to the astonishment of everyone.

He ran straight to where Emeka and the dog stood and could not hold back his astonishment. He demanded that Emeka handed over Kpoti the dog to him to be examined. Emeka was still resisting the request when the dog ran to Onochie and lay at his feet. Onochie who was now vibrating started reciting prayers and incantations and the sky above them suddenly became cloudy.

There were sudden thunder rumblings in the sky as he called on the earth goddess, Ani, to come down and open the eyes of everyone present. He removed cola nut from his bag, chewed it and poured it on the dog while he made more incantations. The elders and women all rose to their feet and watched Onochie with all curiosity.

Onochie who was sweating profusely had started to go round the dog which was now stretched out on the ground when all of a sudden the dog transformed into a small boy. At the sight of that, most of the young men who were standing close to Onochie scampered and ran off in fright. There was great screaming and surprise in the compound when most of the villagers recognized the boy.

He was one of the children who had gone missing during the great masquerade festival of the previous year. His name was Echebiri and he was the son of Mazi Okoye’s first son, who was Ahanna’s cousin. Onochie, the Chief priest quickly reached down to the boy and examined him properly, while the boy stared at the crowd with a straight pale face.

Mazi Okoye ran from where he stood and quickly carried the boy in his arms and went back into the Obi. Mazi Okoye was still in shock and so he had nothing to say to Echebiri, but only momentarily uttered the words “nwam’ which meant “my son.”Ahanna’s mother hurriedly brought water in a clay cup for the boy to drink. There was great commotion in Ahanna’s compound, for everyone present was confused and filled with disbelief.

After drinking the water which Ahanna’s mother had brought, the boy stood up from his grandfather, Mazi Okoye’s comfort and walked to the place where the Chief Priest’s body lay. He spat on his head and kicked his lifeless body. This was to the surprise and consternation of the entire elders and young men who crowded the Obi. Onochie tried to scare the boy into stopping but Echebiri was furious with hate.

Mazi Okoye reached out and held him back, consoled him, and led him away from the dead body. Echebiri then stepped up to the villagers and started to narrate to them how he had been kidnapped by the dead Chief Priest. He said he ran into a bush to hide from a masquerade and the Chief Priest charmed him and turned him into a dog. He said he had tried to break away from the spell but couldn’t.

He narrated to them how he would sometimes bark at his relatives when he saw them, hoping that they would somehow recognize him, but was chased away for he was a dog. He told them how he had followed the dead Chief Priest everywhere he went and how he witnessed him sleeping with people’s wives by threatening them. At the mention of this, Ahanna asked him if he saw the Chief Priest sleeping with his wife, and Echebiri answered ‘yes’. With this answer, the crowd broke into two with some of the villagers screaming with hands atop their heads, while others cursed and threw leaves on Ezinne.

Ezinne who had been silent from the beginning then broke into a loud cry and asked the villagers to give her a chance to confess. She blamed it all on the dead Chief Priest, saying that he had seduced her with gifts and charms. But all she said fell on deaf ears. The women descended on her and started beating her; some spat on her face and called her a harlot.

It took Ahanna and a few other elders to save Ezinne from the wrath of the Umu Ada women. Ahanna then begged everyone to calm down and allow him to speak. But at that point, it was difficult to control the crowd because the youths had turned their anger from Ahanna to Ezinne and the dead Chief Priest. Ahanna knelt down and pleaded with the people of Obiagu, telling them that it was a thing of joy that had happened to them in their village; and that it was their ancestors who wanted to expose the evil doings of the Chief Priest.

He then asked them: “what if the dead Chief Priest had not been misled by the gods to sleep with my wife, how would we have known about all his atrocities and how he transformed little Echebiri into a dog? And what if I had not come home early today and caught him with my wife in bed, how would I have killed him? And if I did not kill him, how then would you all have gathered in my compound to provoke the dog.”

He then went further to ask them to forgive his wife, Ezinne, and asked again: “what if she was directed by the gods to save them all from a false Chief Priest.” And at his final question, the youths and women dropped their sticks and stones and started leaving Ahanna’s compound in small groups.  Ahanna hugged his wife and consoled her, telling her that she was forgiven, but Ezinne cried on. They both went back into their hut and left the elders to deliberate on how to bury the Chief Priest.

After a long morning of arguments on where to bury him, Onochie finally convinced them that he be buried in his compound. The Chief Priest’s brothers were asked to hurry back home and dig his grave and to also make preparations for the rituals of passage. Mazi Okoye asked some of the youths who were still around to help Ahanna clean up the blood stains and dirt in his compound. While the youths cleaned Ahanna’s compound, Onochie and the elders, took his Chief Priests body to the shrine of the Mbazu oracle of Obiagu.

The laws of the oracle required that he would be washed in the water of the Mbazu River and smeared in ash before he is laid to rest. That evening a select few gathered at the dead Chief Priests compound to bury him. Ahanna and his brothers went to condole with Mgbeke and ask her for her forgiveness. She thanked them for coming and also asked for Ahanna’s forgiveness, praying that his wife, Ezinne, would one day get over the shame her act of adultery had brought her.

That night Onochie told the elders of Obiagu that they needed a new servant of the oracle. He told them that he had a premonition that Echebiri would serve the Mbazu oracle for the next 60years; and that he would keep to the laws of the land and goddess, Ani. After prayers and libations for the soul of the Chief Priest were made, Onochie greeted the people of Obiagu and took his leave. He promised to return in a fourth to initiate the young Echebiri into the cult of diviners and teach him the ways of the oracle.

The story was written By Chuka Nduneseokwu

Copyright 2017 @ Chuka Nduneseokwu


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