I have lived in a land not my own, my Mum and Dad fled from their homes to a place very far, and now I’m ready to find myself. My name is Chinwemma Bulo Bello Omemgbeoji. At the mention of my name, I had always expected questions like, Are you a mixed blood? And with a warm smile, I would gladly answer, Yeah, I’m a perfect hybrid.
My Mum was Fulani while my Dad was Igbo. That type of marriage between a Fulani woman and an Igbo man was hardly seen in my country. It would have sounded much more acceptable and less shocking if it were to happen between an Hausa and a Fulani, but quite incredible for an Igbo mother to allow her son marry a Fulani. It was like forcing two parallel lines to meet. The Igbos as I learned were zealous and fueled by great entrepreneurial spirit.
They were majorly farmers and traders. They could travel miles away from home to another city and would not only conquer, but would also make sure that their success resounds at home, and this is found in their saying, Aku ruo ulo. A strong desire to make their people happy and better. My father said they were descendants of a great man called Nri.
On the other hand, the Fulanis were known for their utmost devotion to their cattle. A harm to one of their cattle equals a harm to hundreds of people who caused that harm. They could trek thousands of miles to see that their cattle were well fed and protected, living in bushes all through their lives and keeping their wives at home. My Mums father was said to come from the 13th generation of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio. Among the Fulanis, I was told, virginity was not placed at high pedestal.
And they had a system of marriage called Endogamy (which limits marriage outside a persons local community, clan, or tribe), and my mother had broken this. And I learned that the status of a bride increases with each child she bears, especially if they are male. And I have loved the Fulani dish called Nyari, a heavy grease made of flour, eaten with soup. Ive grown to know both languages at best. My physical appearance said Fulani, having inherited my mothers striking facial features and body type; I would very much be welcomed in any gathering of the Fulanis.
But there was another me, another me that was perfectly hidden in that beautiful Fulani facade, the one that suggested to me that there were two strong persons in me fighting very hard to subdue each other and take charge. My Mother, who in my Fulani dialect I call Maduujo meaning Mother always said I looked very much like her mother Bulo, which means Beauty, and I guess that was her reasons for naming me after her mother. My father at the other side of his observation, affirmed that most act unknowingly done by me perfectly pointed to the fact that his mother reincarnated, thus I was said to be Chinwemma come-back.
And as I grew up, I started to believe in that story that surely Bulo and Chinwemma were me. I sometimes feel like the blood running in my veins were two different and stubborn nations, each having its own territory, with care never to mix with the other. And this is the fight Id been settling within me for years.
There was a third part of me, the part I knew more than the above two, this part ruled that Trinity. And thats the Igede part of me. A land we found joy in, the land that shielded, sheltered and homed my father for years. His pains and scattered future during this 25 years of exile was made whole by this gracious tribe.
The Igede people live in the central part of Nigeria, Benue state. They can be found in four out of the 23 local government in Benue State: Oju, Obi, and Konshisha Gwer local governments. And my father had resided in the Obi Local Government mainly because the name sounded familiar with his Igbo culture. Obi in Igbo land as I was told by my father was the capital of every household, owned by the father of the house, a little house mainly found at the center of each compound, where the father of each household offered prayers to the gods and his ancestors, where visitors are received in a special way. A man as I was told couldn’t be hurt in his Obi, for he believed that there his ancestors would protect his family better.
So I was born and bred with the Igede people in Obi Local government. I loved them and they loved me, I loved in a special way the musical flow of their language which had the likes of the Korean language, I found myself more Igede than Igbo but the Chinwemma spirit in me couldnt allow me rest. It had always set my spirit into the quest to know myself. Yeah, I had asked questions, and I had learned that my father was from Onitsha, their language I had learned how to speak so well and a little bit of their culture I knew, but what I was denied and which my father had always seen as an abomination was to visit them, They will reject you, he would say. Then the silence he would always give to my Why was so painful and unnerving. But the year 2008 got me closer to my people. It was a greater year of joy for my friend Ogonye, which meant it was a greater one for me too. She was the sister I never had. The beautiful Ogonye’s marriage with her personal Prince Odeh was scheduled for August 2008. It was a ceremony known as Uganyahuonyewe in the Igede cosmology. It was the last ceremony when the groom would come with his people to pick their newly married wife, and this was actually done after the bride price must have been paid by the groom.
Bride price in Igede land was called echwuotaba. It had no fixed amount; it could be paid in instalment. It was expected that the balance of the bride price would be paid shortly before the girl was taken to the mans house. Good gesture shown by the husband towards his in-law in time of hardship or need was also part of the bride price. In fact there was a saying in Igede that, Payment of bride-price cant be exhausted. In Igede tradition, bride price was said to be paid when twelve bundles of brass bars were provided, which today would be equivalent to N10, 000 or above. The amount paid for the brass bars varied from family to family and according to the social status of the family.
With all these done and settled, the final ceremony Uganyaahuonyewe which would seal up the marriage was drawing near. In the weak hours of a Friday morning, one week to Ogonyes marriage ceremony, she visited me. Came to me happily and in a tone that resonated the joy in her, she said, Chinwemma Bulo Bello Omemgboji, will you follow me to Onitsha main market on Monday to buy some materials for my traditional wedding? I couldnt find the color I need in any Benue market, and my tailor directed me to Onitsha.
She recited my full name as if she knew she was appealing to the two spirits in me. Onitsha! Thats wonderful, you would love to see your people wont you? the Chinwemma in me said convincingly. “Dont even try that, they will reject you as they rejected your father, the Bulo in me snapped. Lost in the conversation with my trinitarian humanity, the voice of Ogonye brought me back. Will you follow me? she asked again. I would love to follow you, dear, but I have to speak with my parents first, I replied. Fill me in once youre done discussing it with them. Take care, dear, she said as she left.
I spent the whole weekend constructing and reconstructing how I will present this cherished request of my friend to my parents. On that cool Saturday night, pausing the voice of Bulo in me in order to concentrate well, I made my friends request known to my parents, employing all my convincing skills, but my Dad saw something threatening with my going there, and thus dismissed that request immediately as they came.
I went to bed that night feeling a little sad for this denial of not knowing my people. Then on Sunday evening, Ogonye came visiting again. I was inside when I heard her voice, she was exchanging pleasantries with my Dad. I looked at them from a tiny hole in my window which gave a very nice view of our compound as he gave her a seat and in a father like voice said to her, My daughter, your friend Chinwemma told us about your request of her joining you to Onitsha but Im sorry she wont go there.
But why Papa? she said, her face tightened with disappointment. My father kept quiet, his face lost in confusion, maybe trying to find a better answer that would placate her or using silence as a tool to keep away from the questions as he had always done to me. Then my Mum said from where she stood, Sorry to tell you that Chinwemma is hodophobic, as she adjusted her loosened wrapper carefully.
Everyone was shocked by that statement, my Dad was surprised to how his wife could come up with such a beautiful lie. When did I become afraid of traveling? I asked myself. I felt very sorry for my friend as I walked her back that evening, but before we departed, I whispered something into her ear. She smiled.
And the night came, sweet and cool, though I lay awake all through waiting for the time. It was 5:30 a.m, I tiptoed into my fathers room to check whether he was still awake, this was probably the fifth time of trying but that man seemed to be having an endless meeting with his ancestors. His eyes looked dizzy but were wide open, fighting sleep. “Is it that the drugs arent affecting him?
I shrugged. It had started working well on my mother, she lay on the mat, neatly coiled up in her sleep at the other edge of the room. This time I checked again and luck found me. He had dozed off.
I laughed as I surreptitiously opened the door and locked it back gently after me. I kept on the act of tiptoeing till I was out of the compound. Immediately I reached my safe ground, I fled. I started towards the town hall where I had asked Ogonye to wait for me. And when she saw me, her joy was indescribable. How did you do it? she asked. With a tone of guilt I said, I mixed their egusi soup I served them as dinner with some sleeping pills. Ogonye opened her mouth in disbelief, but I quickly assured her that they would be fine while we fled. The next thing we were on our way to Onitsha. My eyes were wide, my heart filled with the euphoria of seeing the Igbos. What do their women look like? What do they wear? How do they fall in love? All these questions were rushing into my damned busy head. Before I know what was happening, I slept off.
9th-Mile ga-apukwa, Ill drop at 9th-Mile, the voice of an aged woman about to alight from the bus woke me from sleep. Where are we? I asked Ogonye. 9th-Mile in Enugu state, she replied. I looked around, our bus was under a flyover, there were hawkers everywhere, majorly carrying soft drinks, cashew nuts, Okpa and water. They were mostly women, industrious by their looks. Immediately, I remembered my parents, would they still be sleeping now? What would their temperament be like on finding out what I did to them and that I have fled?
They would find a way and calm down, I encouraged myself. That was when I remembered that I had not eaten. I became ravenously hungry. One of the hawkers came to my window and said in the Nigerian pidgin language, Aijiya, you go want okpa? and I replied in Igbo, Achoro m ofu, ego ole? I saw her face change to a kind of disbelief at the language I replied with as she whispered to her fellow hawker with an inner city accent and a dialect which I later learned to be Enugu- Igbo dialect, Unem, o nekwe asuota igbo. That I was not able to figure out the meaning but, years after I learned the meaning, I laughed at myself.
After eating the Okpa with Ogonye, I entered the second half of my sleeping tournament.
Then came the tap, I managed to open my eyes. It was Ogonye waking me. We have reached Onitsha, she said. Onitsha? I asked as if I didnt hear her the first time. No, Canada, she said playfully. I cleaned my eyes as I alighted from the bus as if cleaning them would help me get a nice view of the almighty Onitsha.
It was far more different from what I had seen in Benue. It was busy, people filled each corner, some going the way we came and others moving up, and some were even above us, as I saw cars moving in different corners of the zigzagged built flyover.
Our ears ached with noises coming from the different motor parks, of motorists who scrambled for passengers. So, this is my people, I felt home. You’re to take charge of the speaking, Ogonye told me, and I nodded in acceptance. Main Market, Main Market! the conductor of a yellowish bus was shouting. Kwụsị, ego ole? I asked. Fifty naira, Aijiya, he replied. Aijiya, I remembered vividly that that was the same title I was given by the hawker at 9th-Mile, Enugu. I smiled. We entered the bus, within five minutes of being driven pass different types of busy markets, we arrived at Main Market Onitsha. I was expecting to see a market with a huge bigger expensive gates and guards at the sides, who would probably be checking people in, but I found none. It looked more like the streets in the Benue, though this time around filled with a lot of people.
Someone directed us to a place called the white house which according to him was where we can get what we needed. As we moved in, the market became larger and larger, people were trooping in and out, Ogonye held her bag tightly as her eyes watched in surprise. We reached the white house and a woman who seemed cheerful greeted us warmly. Fine girl and beautiful Aijiya, wetin una want, she said in that arcane language spoken by Nigerians. You dey sell Ashoke material? I replied, with the same language. Of course my child, she said, as she invited us into her shop, the shop was narrowly built and rolls of different colors of Ashoke material were scattered everywhere.
Ogonye carefully examined the colors and after a long examination she found it. Thats it, it matched the pieces I came with, she said joyously. The lady smiled and assured us that it was of high quality. Ego ole kwanu, nwaanyi mara mma? I asked her. I saw her face glow with happiness at hearing of my Igbo, instead of tightening in disbelief like the others Id seen.
Na 1500 naira per yard we dey sell am.”
It is too expensive, I replied in Igbo just to make sure she heard my Igbo well. I no dey speak Igbo! I just dey hear small small. I no hear this one wey you talk oh, she said. I was amazed, even non Igbos were very much welcomed in Igbo land, and there my father was running from his own father land. Since they accepted this woman here, they will surely accept me.
I was still on this thought when we heard some noise which seemed to be coming from some distance away from us. After some minutes, the noise came closer. We started hearing voices chorusing a chant. The rhythm seemed like something Id heard before, the voices came closer and closer, the lyrics was now clear. They chanted…
Iwe iwe oh. iwe
Iwe iwe oh iwe
Iwe na ewe anyi!
The owner of the shop ran out to see what was happening. I stupidly stood up, sang and danced to their voices. Ogonye looked at me and laughed. That was a war chant my father used to sing anytime he told me those Igbo folklores. I felt more at home now. I needed to see those men singing. I needed to see how broad their shoulders looked and how manly their structures were, this I thought would somehow serve as my test of how they would be in bed. With those voices I heard, I could achieve orgasm.
I immediately ran out to see what was happening, and Ogonye followed me as fast as possible. There was a huge number of them, chanting angrily, approaching fast. They held two men, dressed in Hausa regalia. Another Hausa man dashed out to the road carrying his cobbler tools.
Jide ya.onye ugwu, hold him.he is a Northerner, the potbellied man said angrily, the Hausa man was held captive immediately. They were crying for mercy. I stood there shocked. Then I saw the woman whom we had been in her shop all this while running towards us. Aijiya enter inside, enter inside, she said as she pushed me inside her shop together with Ogonye. Whats happening? I asked breathlessly.
They said an Hausa soldier shot dead an Igbo bus driver at Moore Street after a little quarrel, she said, trying to catch her breath. That was the first time she spoke good English. They are now arresting every Hausa person seen, and Im not sure they will spare the FulFulanis, she mumbled. But Im not Fulani, I snapped, forgetting my looks.
Immediately, a round short man rushed into the shop without invite, and when he saw me, he held me tightly and called on the crowd. Hapu m aka! I struggled. Oga please, have mercy, Ogonye and the other lady cried. He dragged me out of the shop and continued shouting to draw attention of the crowd.
The chanting crowd stopped and two men rushed and carried me while I struggled and struggled. I began to speak all the Igbos I have learned from my father. A bu m onye Igbo oh, unu ekpochikwana nwanne unu! I exclaimed. Ogonye was running after them, crying more than everyone.
They dragged me to where the crowd was. I knelt there, face downward gasping for air, Ogonye running after me, shouting my name. Raise up your head! the deep voice of a man shouted. I looked up and what I saw filled me with a shivering shock. It was my father, standing in front of me, but he was wearing shorts.
My father never wore shorts, but the man here was my father. Nnam, Im very sorry for running away, I rushed to embrace him. Onye bu Nna gi, adaka fulani? he said, pushing me hard to the ground. The crowd laughed. I noticed a second thing, his voice didnt sound like my fathers, but their looks were identical. Ogonye was near now, she knelt beside me as he looked at the man in surprise. Im sorry Papa for running away with your daughter, forgive us Papa, she said. Gini ka umuanuofia na-ako, kechienu fa aka, the man said again, and started leaving with the crowd.
Those men began to tie our hands and legs. Omemgboji Uchenna nnam, what has come over you! I shouted. The man stopped at the mention of that name. Kwusinu! Stop! he ordered the men. He moved closer to us and in a gentle voice he asked me, How did you know that name?
I kept mute. Answer me, he commanded. Thats my fathers name, Omemgboji Uchenna, I answered. He froze for some minutes and then let out a loud, bitter cry, Okwanu Ejima m oh!
My father is a twin? I asked in disbelief.
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.