Your Brief Bio:
My name is Ikem Cynthia Chinenyenwa. I was born and brought up in Onitsha, Anambra state. Currently, I live and work in Lagos. A lover of adventure, books and board games.
Adventure and literature are my favourite corner of the world.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
Dedicated to the gods by her mother at a very tender age before the advent of the colonial masters, and being ostracized by the villagers, Adanna fights to regain her social freedom in the pre colonial era.
The mid day sun had fully taken its position in the sky and the reflection made the river shine. No one was at the river except Obioma and her daughter Adanna. She carried along a raffia basket filled with dirty clothes to the river for washing. As they washed, they sang songs and Obioma told her daughter stories of how they grew up doing chores and fetching water from the same river. Adanna enjoyed the stories and smiled all through. They had their bath afterwards and tied clean wrappers they had brought along as change of cloth. Obioma placed a small pot filled with water on Adanna’s head and was about to lift the basket of washed clothes when Ndukwe her late husband’s brother approached her.
‘Stop farming in that land Obioma!’ Ndukwe thundered as he approached the river bank. ‘I have warned you severally.’
Obioma dropped the basket and turned around to see who it was. She stood there, hands akimbo and watched the ranting Ndukwe.
‘And why is that?’ she pulled her daughter by the shoulder to herself.
‘You thought I didn’t see you yesterday eh, woman?’ he laughed hysterically, stuck his cutlass to the ground and pointed repeatedly at her.
‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ she turned away from him and rolled her eyes.
‘Why will you know? Tell me. Why will you know?’
‘Nna anyi, our father, you are talking in riddles. My daughter has a pot of water on her head, and she is just a child. Her neck will hurt her if we keep standing here. Tell us what the problem is.’ she wiped the sweat that had started gathering on her forehead with her right palm and cleaned it on her wrapper.
‘Anyway, that land you went to yesterday belongs to the men in the kindred, your late husband’s kindred. So, since you have said you will not remarry any of us after your husband’s death, you are no longer part of us. We have done you enough favour by letting you occupy our late brother’s hut, when ordinarily you should have gone back to your parents.’ his Adam’s apple jumped up and down as he spoke and it amused Adanna.
‘That land belongs to me. My late husband left it in my possession. So, I will continue to cultivate there. How will I take care of my child if I don’t farm?
‘That is none of my business. This is the last warning, stay off that land.’ he picked up the matched he had stuck to the ground and turned to leave.
‘I will not! I will not!’ she yelled after him.
‘Really? We shall then know who is who.’ he replied and walked away.
She watched him as he walked away. She lifted the raffia basket and balanced it on her head, took her daughter by the hand and started walking home. Water dripped from the wet pot and dropped on Adanna’s face. She wiped continuously with her palm and cleaned it on her wrapper as her mother would. They had only walked for few minutes when she spotted a python crawling out from the bush into the pathway. Obioma pulled her behind and they waited for the python. She knew better than to drag the pathway with the python or to kill it. They waited patiently for the slow creature to crawl past.
‘Nna anyi deeme o.’ she spoke to the python.
‘Nne I am scared.’ Adanna cried out.
‘It is totally harmless to the Idemmili people as long as you don’t think or act evil towards it.’
She told Adanna stories of how the python saved their land in the past. Therefore, had been conferred the honour of being worshiped as the eke Idemmili. So, it was a great taboo to kill or drag path with the python. She also informed her that her father told her stories as a child, of men who mistakenly killed the animal and how they were mandated to carry our funeral ceremonies in memory of the animal that was the totem of worship of the Idemmili deity.
Adanna didn’t enjoy the stories much as she starred at the, creepy, sluggish and non-challant animal in the face. She wished her mother would wait for a better time to tell her such stories. The animal finally crawled into the bush and they walked past. Out of disgust, Adanna jumped the trail it had left and water spilled from her pot as she did.
Obioma remembered the words of Ndukwe her brother-in-law as they walked. She wished death hadn’t taken her husband away; the same husband who had built a hut and married a wife for Ndukwe when he returned from Atani, after many years he had wasted there in the name of seeking for greener pastures. She wished she could bring back the dead or find a way to make her late husband fight for her from the land of the dead. She dabbed the tears flowing from her eyes with her thumb and wiped it on her wrapper. They asked her to stop using the barn, so the last harvest season was terrible for her. The ground bettles had easy access to the tubers of yam she harvested and stacked behind her hut. No one gave her yam to roast or cocoyam for her soup. Her cassava farm didn’t make it to the harvest season, because Nnakwe and his kinsmen uprooted the produce and cultivated their yam tubers in the same land she fertilized. That same land, he had gone to warn him to stay away from earlier at the river bank.
Adanna complained about being tired and she exchanged the basket of wet clothes with the pot of water she carried.
As they got closer to their compound, she noticed smokes rising to the sky.
‘Nne, something is burning?’ Adanna adjusted the basket on her head.
‘Oh! I remember. Nne Osita made mention of burning her farm land; the one behind our hut. Am sure the smoke must be coming from her farm land. I will beg her to use a small portion for my vegetable beds.’ She motioned Adanna to walk faster.
They got to the junction where three roads met: the road leading to her house, the road to the stream, and the road to the Idemmili shrine. There, she discovered that the smoke was rising from her hut. She pushed off the pot of water she had balanced on her head and ran towards her compound. Her daughter followed her. As Obioma ran closer, she saw three men standing in front of her hut. One of them had a long stick and a small oil jar with him. She ran faster and as the men saw her, they fled through nne Osita’s farmland. Her hut and all it contained had burned halfway down: sacks of grain, jars of palm oil, baskets of wrappers and jigida, and the small raffia waist bag filled with cowries which she discovered in the hut after her husband’s death.
‘Ewooo! Who did I offend? Whose property did I steal? Who did this to me?’ she threw herself down and cried out.
She sighted Adanna running towards her and she stood up. She grabbed and held her so tight and screamed out in terror.
‘Nne, who set our house on fire?’ Adanna asked as she managed to grasp breath.
‘My daughter, your uncles have killed us. They have rendered us homeless. What is my crime?’
‘Nne, is it nna anyi Ndukwe?
‘Ewooo! Ewooo! Ndi be anyi, our people, come oo!’ she released Adanna and ran behind the hut. She ran back to the centre of the compound, and threw her hands on her head. ‘It shall never be well with whoever did this to a poor widow like me.’ She cried harder.
‘Is there nobody seeing this smoke in this community? Have you all died or are your houses on fire too? Nnakwe where are you? I know it is you! Ewooo! My chi has killed me.’ she threw herself on the ground again and Adanna knelt to console her.
‘Nne, stop crying. Everything will be alright.’ she wiped her mother’s tears with the edge of her wrapper and cried because her mother cried.
The sun had gone down and Obioma lay in the middle of the compound. Her eyes were swollen and heavy, and her head ached badly. She mopped continuously at the hut. The thatched roof had burnt completely, leaving the frame for the roofing and few strands of black raffia that once made up the thatching. Her daughter lay beside her fast asleep, her head on her mother’s stomach. Her tears had long dried up and left lines on her innocent face. Obioma stroked her daughters head. As she started singing a sorrowful tune with her cracked voice deep and faint, Adanna stirred a little. She robbed her eyes with her left palm and fell back asleep.
‘Go back to sleep my child, we no longer have a home.’ she laughed and started crying again. The salty liquid flowed into her mouth and she cared less about it.
She heard footsteps approaching and she recognized it. It was nne Osita. She ran to where Obioma and her daughter were and held her. As she led out a loud scream, Adanna woke up.
‘They will not come. I have called and called and called. I have lost my voice even, so don’t bother.’ Obioma laughed again.
‘Who did this? Did you see them?’ nne Osita asked.
‘I saw them but I only recognized Ndukwe. He was still tying the same wrapper. The one he was tying when he came to the river to warn me about my late husband’s farmland.’ She yanked up Adanna. Please give her water to drink.
Nne Osita ran to her hut and came out with a clay bowl filled with water. She positioned Adanna’s mouth to fit the curved part of the bowl and helped her to a long drink. She gave the bowl to Obioma who rejected it and started crying again.
Adanna robbed her eyes and scratched her thighs simultaneously. Obioma stood up suddenly from the ground and pulled her daughter. Nne Osita looked at her with much confusion. She wiped the tears from her eyes and started walking away from the compound. Nne Osita rushed after her to find out where she was going to, but Obioma only kept walking and her pace increased as she walked. She took Adanna along and she followed.
‘Obioma, where are you rushing to?’ nne Osita rushed after her.
‘To the only place where I can sleep and drink water peacefully without Ndukwe complaining or reminding me that everything my late husband worked for belonged to him.’ She increased her pace and adjusted her wrapper, and as she got to the junction where three roads meet, she turned to the one leading to the shrine.
‘Ewooo! Abomination! She is going to Idemmili! Please help me stop her!’ She snatched Adanna from her and pulled her close to herself.
‘Nne Osita, please leave my daughter now or I will scream.’ She grabbed her daughter by the hand and whisked her from nne Osita.
Adanna followed her mother and they both walked fast. A woman who was coming from the road leading to the stream heard nne Osita and ran into the village.
Obioma and her daughter got to the shrine and walked closer to the big iroko tree; the ancient tree she had been told was the source of life to the Idemmili people, the tree of truth. She starred at the shrine in silence. The big human faced totem, carved from an iroko tree stood in the middle of the shrine. Its bulgy eyes staring back at her. It was covered in both stale and fresh blood. Fowl feathers littered everywhere. Lobes of Kaolin were neatly placed in front of the totem and fresh lines drawn with the kaolin were still visible on the floor in front of the totem. A curtain was made round the tree with twisted freshly plucked palm fronds, and beneath the curtain was a small clay pot filled with cowries and coral beads of different colours. Beside the clay pot were six tubers of yam tied together with dried palm fronds. A cock rested on the tubers of yam, its legs were tied tightly together and it failed to neither make any sound nor move as Obioma moved closer.
She knelt down and her daughter knelt with her. Her tears became uncontrollably.
‘Idemmili, they have burnt my hut, alongside my belongings. I am a poor widow and right now, I have nothing to offer you because everything I have is gone. All I have left is my daughter.’ she sniffed hard.
‘Please don’t do it.’ a voice came from behind. It was nne Osita. She ignored the warning and continued.
‘I know you hate it when people come before you empty handed, so I have come with her. Take her, in exchange for this request I am making. I will not leave her here with you though, she will come home with me but she is yours now. We are both yours.’ she helped Adanna up and pushed her forward.
‘Obioma, biko, stop now before it is too late.’ She clasped her breasts.
‘I am leaving. I hope my sacrifice is acceptable and my request not too much. Idemmili fight for your daughter.’ she took her daughter by the hand and walked away.
As they got closer to the junction where three roads met, she sighted the woman who ran into the village as she approached with some men and women. They paused and watched her corner into her compound without speaking a word to anyone. Nne Osita followed her in tears.
It was done. She had given herself and her daughter to the shrine and would thenceforth be regarded as osu, outcast. No free born would marry her daughter when she comes of age, or go to the stream with her, or to the market. She would always be favoured, yet feared by all, to avoid incurring the wrath of the Idemmili deity who had become a special guardian to them. The guardian would thenceforth guard them radically. Ndukwe would finally let her have her farmland and the trio who had burnt her hut alongside her properties will secretly rebuild it even after they must have faced or would face the wrath of the Idemmili deity and the Igwe. That would be the last day she would cry or be oppressed by anyone.
Nne Osita secretly offered her Osita’s hut. He was away in the forest, training with other teenage boys of his age for the coming of age ceremony. She wouldn’t want to be associated with her, lest, she would be called osu as well. After all, she was also seen with Obioma. She offered them food, water and clean wrapper. She also offered to rewash the ones they had gone to the river to wash earlier before the whole incident took place. That night, Obioma slept peacefully, even with the broken heart, for she knew that she would be safe thenceforth; herself and her daughter.
* * *
Adanna buried her mother as a young teenager and had attended nne Osita’s funeral as well. The farming year after the deaths, the white men entered Idemmili from Onicha. Osita didn’t like the white men, so, he didn’t accept the opportunities which came at his early adulthood, when the white men entered Idemmili. He refused their way of life and thought it was funny and senseless. His peers went for special trainings as adults and got menial jobs as court clerks, messengers, house keepers and office assistants in different locations. They received salaries from the government and bought wooden doors for their huts.
Adanna on the other hand joined the white men who accepted her irrespective of her social status. She sat alongside other osu girls on the long chairs made with bamboo sticks in class. Parents then believed that female children were only meant to marry and bear children. So, only the male children were allowed to go to school. She also attended church alongside other osu converts from their village. She grew up to become a beautiful young woman.
Regions were created in the country and the Idemmili people fell under the Eastern region. The state creation processes took place and they were called Enugwu state.
Having been nominated as the most brilliant child in the community, the state government awarded Adanna scholarship to study in the Queen’s College, Lagos and University College of Ibadan. Upon her graduation, she made distinction in journalism. She was offered a job in the state broadcasting services in Enugwu city where she worked as a news editor.
One Monday afternoon at her office, a news reporter presented her with a file containing the news headlines which she was meant to edit for the evening broadcast. The headline read thus:
“WE ARE ALL EQUAL, FREEBORN OR OSU.”
It got to her notice, that at a seating in the Eastern Region House of Assembly on that day March 20, 1956, the house had deliberated on the osu caste system that segregated and practically promoted discrimination against people in the Igbo land. Therefore, they had collaborated and sponsored a bill to abolish the devilish cultural practice in the geo-political zone; stating that it runs against the provisions of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights of the United Nations General Assembly, which guarantees human rights and freedom from any form discrimination.
The headline caught her attention and she had to listen further to both news on the radio and also bought newspaper from the vendor who had a stand at the office gate. She rejoiced, knowing that that she would go home to her Idemmili people as a non-osu.
She travelled home months later as a free woman. As she walked into her father’s compound, she spotted Osita’s wife coming out from their newly renovated hut. As their eyes met, she ran inside and shut the wooden door. The act didn’t surprise Adanna. She had been treated like that in the past by Osita’s wife, who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school because she was a girl child. She had ended up in Osita’s house to practice all she had been thought in his kitchen.
‘Osita! It is I Adanna. I just came back from the city. Are you home?’ she called as she walked closer to his hut.
‘Ada, welcome. I hope you journey was smooth.’ Osita replied from behind.
‘Where are you?’
‘I am working in my barn. I am very dirty. I will see you later.’
She was about entering her house which had been finished with rusted corrugated iron sheet, when Osita’s sons came back from school.
‘Nnoonu, Welcome.’ She greeted them. They all ignored her and ran into their mother’s hut. The last son stood there admiring her high heeled shoes, and in a flash, his mother rushed out and whisked him away.
Adanna couldn’t believe it. They haven’t heard that the caste system had been abolished and that had made her equals with them. She never saw Osita or his family any more until she traveled back to the city. She learnt from her colleague who came from the same village with her that she Adanna had a suitor, a medical doctor from their neighbouring village who returned from the United Kingdom after years of study. She made her colleague understand that she wasn’t sure of what she was saying, because she had traveled to the village and had spent the whole weekend without meeting any suitor or being told about it.
‘From what I heard, he spotted you at the motor park and traced you to your compound later.’ Her colleague narrated.
‘I see. But I didn’t meet him.’
‘That was because he wasn’t successful enough to get to your compound.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘He was informed that you are an osu. So his father discouraged him from going any further.’
‘What? I thought you said he was a medical doctor who studied abroad. I am very sure he knew better than to segregate. That is breaking the law.’ she paced back and forth in her office.
‘My mother said he is a medical Dr. His name is Ndubuisi or something like that. I heard his father, one of the new warrant chiefs threatened that he would disown him if he went ahead to marry you or any other osu, educated or not.’ she hissed. ‘Illiteracy and ignorance is bad I must tell you.’
‘But, the government has passed the bill.’ She sat down.
‘My dear, the government might have it on paper, but not in the minds of the greater part of the Igbo populace who already have the segregation deep in their heads. I just feel for you. You just have to pray you marry a man who won’t care so much about your social status. Most of the osu girls have turned to prostitutes in this city, because no man would marry them.’ she sighed. ‘It shall be well.’ She excused herself and left the room.
Adanna bent her head on the table and remembered all she and her mother had passed through while she was growing up. She thought of the children she would give birth to, if ever she will meet a man who would disregard her social status to marry her. She thought it would be necessary to tell her children, and those that would come after them the story of her life. She hoped that one day, her child or her descendant would correlate the whole story and talk about how finally the system was abolished from the minds of people, and that the word osu went extinct, and was only used when teaching history subjects in schools. She picked up her pen and a paper to write and her telephone rang. It was the receptionist.
‘Hello Nneka, how may I help you this afternoon?’
‘Miss Adanna, there is a man here to see you. His name is Dr. Ndubuisi from Idemmili. Do you have an appointment with him?’ The voice came from the other end of the line.
‘It is okay. Tell him to wait there in the lobby. I will come and meet him.’ She smiled and dropped the telephone receiver. She thought she would start writing her story later or perhaps, tell it to the children verbally.