By CHUKWUEMERIE UDEKWE
If it had not been Somadina, a friend I had known from childhood, with whom I toured every corner of our street, shared sweets from parents’ stolen money and kept the little secrets of children, I would have termed him crazy. If not for the benefit of the doubt you give to one you recognise entirely, the ones you think will never hurt you, even in their craziest moments – or so you believe, I would have run away and not turned back. Somadina was behaving weird.
“Eureka! This is it. This is it.” Then he let the exclamation, “Boom,” congruently doing his hands like some smoke and fire were to come out of them.
“This is what, nwoke m? Allow me to enjoy this music in peace, and the voice, biko.” I interjected.
“This is it. Open those doors. Open those damn doors.” It was Somadina again.
At this point, I was perturbed. I had to be. Any good friend should be incited at the sudden weird behaviours of his better half spurting ridiculous words in hysteric ecstasy.
“What’s wrong with you, Somadina?” It was becoming serious. “Are you okay? What is wrong with you?” Fear set in.
“This is it, Nna. This…”
“This is what, my friend? Are you possessed?” I cut in, with intense curiosity stained with fear and anger.
“The song. ‘Egedege.’ These guys may not know what they did there but this is exactly what we have lacked. Where we had always got it wrong.”
“How do you mean. I don’t understand,” I asked, half confused, half relieved. He was speaking well now, he has at least, not gone mad.
In a reasonably composed tone and recollected outlook, Somadina paused the song by Larry Gaaga, featuring Theresa Onuorah, Flavour and Phyno, which had been playing in the room before all of these strange attitude and conversation began.
“Let me tell you something. Permit me to take you along this road.” Somadina did not wait for me to accept nor decline. He went on. The request was only a formality.
“I see a revolution. A paradigm shift, embodied in this song,” Somadina started.
“I see the ‘bringing out’ of the Igbo culture from its long held shells of antiquity, the local, the mysterious, fetish… to a friendlier, more welcoming and contemporary path. The meeting of the ancient oji and the modern anyara. A revamp. Allow me to take you down this path, Nna m. Let me hold your hand.”
Somadina led me to many years back. Commencing with his university days, his voice echoed:
“Once, I was co-opted into the editorial crew of a magazine. It was themed around diverse religions and peace across cultures. I cannot be so certain now. We pursued to interview some recognized personnel that touched the helm of the theme. We got a Catholic Bishop, and by luck we contacted an Iman from faraway North.
He was very happy to welcome us, expose us to Islam and answer all our questions. I can never forget that day. But the one right in our backyard charged us money. Around fifty thousand naira or so. As far back as 2014. It kept me in wonder. It was the first day of the puzzle that this song settled today.
A supposed stakeholder of the Igbo Culture and Omenala charging us money to tell us about his practices and belief. Then I thought about the shrouds of mysticism they impose on our natural rivers and caves that scare tourists away. Our masquerades that flog the hell out of us while the Santa welcomes us with amiable arms.
I recalled the iha mmiri that despite many years of its purported practice, has neither been critically written down nor studied. I could not even find it in Google recently.
Why do our people hoard knowledge? Look at our traditional medicine. One man begins it, he’s proficient in it, and then he dies with it.
This is why I call science the culture of the West. See how they brandish it with pride. Excited to teach whosoever cares to learn. In daylight and free space! Why must ours be done at night, in the dark? Why must I be initiated into the cult before I learn about the Mmuo? Why cannot they entice me with their transparency; than mixing it with some air of privileged inspiration gifted by agwu?
Imagine Einstein and Edison had claimed it was Angel Gabriel that revealed to them their discoveries in a dream, refusing to provide their formulae like my people do now, and eventually dying with them.
But this is what my people do. They scare us from the things they should freely teach and expose us to. From the sweet fragrance of our culture.
Man better appreciates what is known to him. He better evaluates it, shreds it, adds to it and gives it development.
I remember taking my phone to the most pronounced shrine in my village. Then on trying to capture and make videos, I was sternly warned by elders not to dare. That it would cause my screen to explode. That the goddess would be mad at me. Why would she want to do that when my only crime was to admire her and make memories of her?
But churches stream everything they do. Their masses, services, even their most intimate rituals. Yet we wonder why they grow and expand. Why they call ours fetish, devilish, satanic and whatever those might mean? Are we even proud of what we do? Or there are things we do not know? Why the concealment, the blinding secrecy?
Why can’t I showcase our rituals like these others do? Why can’t I have them in my phone and appreciate them again and again, whenever I want?
We need to open these doors!”
I looked at Somadina in surprise while he spoke. I tried to explain to him. He said I looked like the flummoxed faces of the Catholic cardinals when Pope John XXIII spoke of the Vatican II council and the need to open the doors and windows of the church, in the 20th century.
Somadina impressed in me the story of a profound Igbo farmer.
“He always had big yams and won the Ide Ji in his home town and across yearly. The last time, his smallest yam was as big as the legs of four hefty men. The biggest was hard to describe. One day, some interested youths went to him to inquire the secret of his success, so they could learn and become great too.
Ojiofor drank his palm wine, shook his head and said to his visitors, “when you are interested in your farm, your yams speak to you. You hear them and they tell you what they need and what to do at different points in time.””
“My friend,” Somadina said to me, “when did yams have mouths that they speak to men? Rather than drill the technicalities of his science to young men who are the future of his art, he choose to mystify them. In the end, the young men left, learning nothing. And today, Ojiofor is dead, and his mighty yams gone with him. So are our numerous Igbo sciences and arts.
See Chinese culture being taught in our universities. You can learn all you want about them without being part of them, then choose to belong or not. You can Google the processes and celebrate the Catholic mass without even being a Christian. We will leave its efficacy for another day.
But these things cannot be said of our cultural and religious practices. Those who do them conceal them. At best, you necessarily need to join them to learn them. This inhibits our growth, and our culture continues to die.
Remember the tale about Theresa Onuorah and her being a marine spirit, her legs never to be seen. Since then, I had always been scared of her and her music… until Larry Gaaga came. Now, I can love her and her voice and dance to her tune without fear but love. Why do our Igbo vanguards prefer to sell our culture in fear not love?
See Theresa gaining the popularity and fame she never had over the years just within days. How else can we promote our culture and Igbo legends than like this? See her now in YouTube to be enjoyed by all and sundry, her angelic voice savoured, other than in her ‘hut,’ feared.
This is what we need. ‘A coming out.’ The ambiance of the Igbo culture and tradition is too stuffy. She needs a Vatican II council. And this is what Larry Gaga together with his crew has given us. The starting steps to a boulevard whose end we will love to see. We need more of them. Transparency encourages growth.
We must fight against this problem that has kept us where we are for many years.
Why do we hide the facets of our culture? What are we hiding?
Beautiful things are guarded and secured but more beautiful things are exhibited and displayed for admiration and praise. The Igbo Culture and omenala are more beautiful things. Igbo to the world.”
Somadina gazed tightly at me, like the incoming words were specifically for me alone. I said, “Zukwanuike. Somadina, zukwanuike!” But he continued and said,
“Go get those Igbo legends and icons out from their huts and lead them to the CONCERTS. Igbo isn’t of the Old; a culture of antiquity!
Can we now disregard the childhood myth that Theresa Onuorah is a mermaid, whose legs you cannot see, plus they do not touch the ground? And just savour her for her voice, relishing her musical prowess?
Demystification is a very sacrosanct part of cultural growth!”
- Can anyone take this song to TIKTOK? A dance challenge with the Igbo trademark ISIAGU will not be bad.