By Amarachi Okpunobi
The cool breeze from the ukwu ọjị was comforting and chilling. A perfect night for a stressful day. We had finished dinner and done the dishes while Papa and Mama sat in their chair at the other end of the hut gisting. I envy so much the kind of love Papa usually demonstrated towards Mama. Mama, on the other hand, was ever ready to reciprocate.
That night, we sat under the ukwu ọjị and Amaka, our Adannem shared with us what the family life was before our births; I and Chikamdinaka. It wasn’t a full moon so we barely saw the ants on the ground that night.
Even if it the moon did not rise, we would still be under the ukwu ọjị till our parents finished munching the aṅara leaves with ụkpaka. It was in the tradition of my family to rest under the ukwu ọjị every night and at least share a story or papa would tell us of his adventures as a young wrestler.
Papa used to be a wrestler and as they say, old soldier never dies, only that old age is beginning to tell on him. He was the dike of his own time. Stories had it that his contemporaries never won him in any of their combats during the iri ji ọhụrụ celebration of our land.
He was so strong of a might that even the neighbouring towns feared him and trembled anytime he was to compete in any inter community matches. Papa would say he inherited his strength from his late father, Nze Obigadi. I knew my grand father just very little. I remember he always chews bitter kola.
I remember he would tell me and Chikamdinaka that it was in the tradition of the elderly to always eat akịinu as it cleared their vocal cords and as such allowed them to speak very well, Moreso, it repelled evil spirit that may try to hurt them as they are seen as the truth sayers in the community. “Okenye a dịghị atụ asị, okenye na-atụ asị bụ Okenye arụrụala”, he would always say that to us.
This made us believe every word that proceeded from the mouth of our grandfather. Papa is a true replica of his father and he too has joined in the chewing of bitter kola. Papa is gradually becoming an okenye.
We were still enjoying the stories of how Amaka would finish the meat in the house prior to the advent of our birth. How papa would carry her to the village square for wresting before we heard Papa shouting on top of his voice. Few minutes later, he blew the mkpanaka and went inside.
That action alone confirmed our curiosity of papa having finalised his decision over an issue.
Over the years, I have come to understand that the mpanaka serves as a symbol in my family. Apart from giving us light in darkness, it also serves as an object of finality. When ever Papa blows the mpanaka in a middle of a discussion and walks away, it indicates that he has chosen his stand over an issue and of course it certainly would not be in the favour of anyone but him.
Rarely has he blown the mkpanaka in favour of anyone else if it’s not him. Most times, the outcome of the discussion will end up being against the other person he spoke with. A typical example is his last discussion with my uncle, Maazi Okenta.
Maazi Okenta had visited our house four market days ago to formally tell Papa of his daughters traditional marriage with the intention of going to Mgbommiri, a neighbouring town to hunt for antelopes to offer his inlaws in return of his appreciation for marrying his daughter.
The discussion was moving on a very wonderful scale till Maazi Okenta revealed his intentions to Papa. No doubt, Maazi Okenta was a great hunter. The villagers and other towns talk so much of his bravery in hunting antelopes even in the most dreaded forests.
He was fearless and filled with so much strength. But that particular hunting before his daughter’s marriage ceremony, Papa discouraged it. Maazi Okenta vehemently disagreed with Papa that Papa had to blow the mpanaka leaving my uncle outside the house. One mystic about Papa is that he has this sense of instinct that whenever he disagrees over a matter with you, the end will never be in your favour.
He had warned Maazi Okenta not to embark on his journey to Mgbommiri. Papa never said his reasons for his skeptical opinion over this particular issue with his brother. Time was allowed to tell who the mkpanaka would favour. Few days after Maazi Okenta left the village to Mgbommiri, news filtered in to the village that he was bitten by a deadly snake. Papa along others hurriedly went to bring him back. Unfortunately, on their way back home, my uncle joined my grandfather. Papa was right along while and I feared the mpanaka also determined the fate of my uncle.
Last year, it was Chikamdinaka, he wanted to join the village masquerades. We had finished dinner and were enjoying the interesting stories of Papa’s youthful days before Chikamdinaka chipped in that he wanted to be initiated into the otu mmụọnwụ . Papa warned him. Papa said he was too small to be there. He may not be able to withstand the initiation rites. Chikamdinaka insisted. Mama supported him.
Papa angrily labelled mama to have been the one spoiling the mind of their son who was supposed to be a wrestler like him, but on the contrary thinking of getting initiated into the otu mmụọnwụ. Mama disagreed with papa over the allegation and that became the end of our story telling that night. Papa blew the mpanaka and went inside the hut, leaving us in darkness.
The day for the initiation, Chikamdinaka prepared so well. Mama cooked ofe ụgba too, that is Chikamdinaka’s favourite. In the middle of the initiation rites, my brother couldn’t withstand the pains, he ran home from the shrine in tears. Mama massaged his body with warm water. Papa came back from the farm and laughed ostentatiously at him. Again, the mpanaka was not in favour of Chikamdinaka. My brother never mentioned joining the otu mmụọnwụ again
And today, Papa blew the mpanaka again leaving us outside the hut with mama. Amaka immediately paused her stories. Thanks to the half moon for its light. We hurriedly went to Mama who sat looking at the moon with her hands on her head like she was expecting a warm hug from someone above.
Amaka asked Mama what the problem was? Mama who was still gazing at the moon replied as tears tickled her cheeks that Papa wants to take another wife. Amaka became furious but Mama pleaded with her to calm down, after all Papa has made up his mind to marry a second wife. I didn’t say anything, what do I know. Such talks are meant for adults too , I am only a growing child.
But then I wondered if the mpanaka would be in favour of Papa this time. What if he marries another wife and the peace we enjoyed in our little hut would fly away. What if Mama gives birth to another child who would take after Papa as a wrestler since his main reason of another wife was to have a child who would keep the name of the family, Chikamdinaka obviously wasn’t showing any interest in wrestling.
I feared the fate the mpanaka would have for us and papa too. After much talks from Amaka, we all went to bed. The days after these became bizzare in our compound. We stopped our night stories. Papa wouldn’t agree to sit with us any longer since Amaka didn’t subscribe to him marrying another wife. Mama does not eat with him any more, they don’t also eat the aṅara leaves with ụkpaka they formally ate together most market days.
Things were beginning to change or rather things changed. I wished Papa never blew the mpanaka, he should have just gone into the hut without blowing the mpanaka. What exactly was going to be the fate of my family. Who exactly did Papa blow the mpanaka for? Time, time they say will tell. I only hoped for the better each day but of course, things were turning sour for us.
Gradually, things began returning back to normal. Maybe Papa never blew the mpanaka completely. Or maybe he blew the candle in good fate, or he never meant to be angry after all.
The Mpanaka was lit again in my family few months later. Mama gave birth to Kaodibarachukwu, my little brother. Papa was happy, everyone was happy too. Things returned to normal eventually. Kaodi as I fondly called him became Papa’s favourite and a wrestler. Papa didn’t marry another wife. The mpanaka was in our favour this time, in fact in everyone’s favour. Papa didn’t loose. Neither did mama. Maybe Papa never blew the mpanaka completely.
…the mpanaka was good to us afterall.
Nelson Mandela wrote his best selling books while in prison. Jesus christ before his betrayal isolated himself from the crowd and went up to the mountain to pray. Even God understands the importance of moving away from the crowd.
The nation has been on lock down for quite some time now, what have you been doing? The truth is that if you can’t make out something now that you are left with less distractions, you may not be able to do anything when you are left to move with the crowd.
The crowd is not the best place to build oneself. If you want to grow bigger than you are today, embrace quietness. If it requires you being awake all through the night to get that one task off your table, then be awake. At the end, you will be convinced that it was worth it
No great man has ever and I still doubt if any will make it to the top while enjoying the cheers from the crowd. Don’t be deceived with people’s applaud. Learn to move away from the crowd and see how well you will grow.