Table of Contents
1. The Creation Story- Yoruba
2. The King and the Cock’s Daughter- Calabar
3. Abassi and Atai- Efik
4. Obaledo- Igbo
5. Omonose- Urhobo
Tales by the Fire (0): Introduction
Hidden deep in our culture and buried under western influence lie the very backbone of our culture and civilisation: stories. Though, in this day and age, it is very easy to ignore the impact these stories have had on us. But dear reader, bear with me as I tell you some of the tales that once guided our ancestors and their culture. These were narratives that directed how they lived, what food they should and shouldn’t eat, what hand to use for interaction. These, in time, became more than just stories, they became our culture, our norms, our lives. They influenced the very way our ancestors looked at the world. They were blind and unfocused but with these stories, their eyes reflected brightly the gleam of the fire as they heard and told tales by the firelight. Tales that would be passed on from generation to generation, each time bringing an old light to a new pair of eyes. These stories played a great part in the derivation of our culture and social norms, so a great question is begged: did we make the stories, or did they, in fact, make us?
In Nigeria, we are blessed with hundreds upon hundreds of cultures and tribes most of which remain, till today, unexplored and I will try my best to bring them to new light and see in a new perspective the kind of heritage we have inherited. We will see what guided our ancestors down that haggard path to the country we all live in today. Firstly, we’re going to take a look a story by the Yoruba, a proud people whose stories, culture and language have, with great persistence, survived through the ages.
But these are myths that were told by different people and different tribes within them. You have to understand, this was a long way from the invention of digital communication, meaning that most of everything was told through the word of mouth. This may be why there are so many variations of the stories told and why some of the gods and goddesses have varying names in various places. In this series, we’ll try our best to focus on a central line of myths and names to avoid confusion but if you notice that these aren’t the names or the exact stories you grew up with, at least now you know why and don’t have to be confused.
Where to start with this series is not a problem, though. For where else is there to start but the beginning of all things? Join me as we take a look at the creation of the world as told by the Yoruba.
1. The Creation Story
Kò sí bí ilẹ̀ ṣe lè mọ́ tó, kó máà ṣú, kò dẹ̀ sí bí ilẹ̀ ṣe lè ṣú tó, kó máà mọ́.
No matter how bright the day, night will fall, and no matter how dark the night, it will yet become dawn.
Like in most creation stories, in the beginning, there wasn’t much. Sure, there was life in the sky with all the Orisha living up there but apart from that, nada, just water and marshy wastelands below. I’ll introduce you to the Orisha properly later on but for now think of them as the all-star team of the Yoruba. This group had everything from a lightning throwing god to a small pox deity. With all of this, some of them felt like there was something missing. Now, I don’t know why but maybe some of the gods were getting a little bit bored with the whole daily routine, there was no excitement. And that’s understandable, with gods you’d imagine that since they’re perfect beings, everything about them must be perfect but the thing about this is that life must seem like a big infinite cycle beginning and ending in the same way. What they needed was something new, something random, something… human. These were probably the thoughts that ran through the god, Obatala’s head as he went to the chief god, Olorun, to ask for permission to go to the earth and maybe create something worthwhile.
Out of all the Orisha, Obatala was the most creative and innovative. He always looked forward and sought out ways to improve what was already there. His curiosity always won over. He was that one deity who always wondered and asked questions (it annoyed the other Orisha to great lengths but with family you just have to deal with it). Olorun saw this in Obatala and thus, was not surprised when Obatala came with his request.
“Baba, I have come with something to ask you.” Obatala said as he prostrated, laying flat on the ground to show respect as was the Yoruba custom.
“Rise,” Olorun said with a simple hand gesture, in his baritone voice that could be heard for miles and miles. “What have you come to say?”
Obatala rose up and dusted his clothes, the simple loincloth he wore. “Baba, I’m grateful for the paradise we are all living in but I feel like it could be better, I want to — “
“Make new clothes for all of us to wear?” Olorun said, rising slightly from his throne with excitement. “These garbs we wear are itchy and always get in the way, I was thinking of maybe a collection of men and womenswear based on — .” Olorun stopped as he saw the confused look on Obatala’s face, it would seem that introducing a new fashion trend was not what the young god had in mind.
“Uhm,” Obatala began again, their eccentric leader always threw him off, “I’d like to go down to the earth, explore it a little maybe even create a few beings. I’ve had this idea for a long time about little people that look like us but without powers or — “
Olorun waved his hands in a shooing motion. Anything that didn’t relieve him of the constant itch he felt in his groin was none of his business. “I give you my blessing but you must first consult my eldest son, Orunmila, he can see the future and will be of help to you.”
Obatala bowed again and left the chief god’s chambers. Olorun was a wise god and he saw more than his subjects could, his eyes glittered in the light as he hoped Obatala knew what he was doing. What he planned to do was no easy task.
So, Obatala went to Orunmila’s abode. The other gods steered clear away from this god out of fear mostly. There was something about his silver eyes and manic smile that sent fear rippling through the spine of even the strongest gods. He had the power to see the future, and all other threads of time. It was said that Orunmila had even foretold the age of the death of the gods. Obatala shivered, knowledge like that was something that even the gods should not have. And yet, he kept on walking to Orunmila’s home, he knew this was the only way.
He was about to knock on the door when it opened widely and he was greeted with the face of the eldest son of Olorun. He was smiling his usual frenzied manner, gesturing for Obatala to come in.
“See?” he said as Obatala followed him in. “I knew you would knock on my door at this exact time and I also know what you have come to ask me”
Obatala expected nothing less from him but it shook him a little, did this mean that Orunmila had seen the whole course of Obatala’s life?
“So, will you help me?” Obatala asked.
Orunmila scratched his beard for a moment. “I will, but remember young god, I have seen the future. Beware the liquid that dulls the mind.”
Obatala didn’t understand what Orunmila was saying but he was overjoyed on the inside. His request had been accepted!
Obatala was preparing his bags for the journey, remembering the word Orunmila had spoken to him some time ago.
“You will need some things for you to be successful in your journey,” He said stroking his long grey beard. “You’ll need a long gold chain, a snail’s shell filled with sand, a white hen, a black cat, and a palm nut.”
Obatala looked at Orunmila with a little scepticism. “These objects have nothing in common,” he said, half wondering how he’d even obtain them.
“Just follow my instructions, it’ll all make sense, in time.” Orunmila said, already turning his back on Obatala to focus on one of his other projects.
Obatala secured his bags with the items inside. The white hen and the black cat had to be tied separately and tightly since they caused the most trouble. He slung them both with a string he tied on his back, picked up his bags with one hand and the chain in the other. As he walked out of his hut, he could feel the other eyes of the gods boring holes into his back but he didn’t dare look. This was something he felt he needed to do and he wouldn’t allow anything destroy his confidence.
Orunmila was at the edge of the sky, waiting for him. “Okay, young god, give me the chain and I will tie it to a tree and you will climb down it until you reach the bottom.”
“What will I do after?” Obatala asked.
Orunmila simple stared at him and answered, pointing to his items. “Do not worry, you already know. Now give me the chain.”
Obatala simply nodded, he had made it this far now, what was a little shimmy down?
As he climbed slowly down, he realised that the task was harder than even he had thought. The winds up there were harsh and cold, it whipped his clothes in a frenzy, He constantly had to adjust his grip on the animals and he had also moved the bag to his shoulder to avoid them from falling. The trip lasted for days and nights, as time passed even Obatala became wary of this endless journey.
He climbed down until he realised that the harsh winds were replaced by a kind of mist. He kept on climbing down until he realised he was finally at the bottom of the chain. The mist obscured most of his vision but he could still see a little because of the faint glow of the chain. He was confused about what to do next when a gentle idea nudged him.
He reached into his bag and brought out the snail’s shell and spilled the sand all over the mist, he heard the sound of it hitting the surface and some liquid splashed on his feet. He realised that maybe the whole earth was covered in water. As he poured the sand, it kept on flowing from the shell until it settled in a small patch of land. He let go of the chain and his feet met the warm hard ground.
He realised that he still needed to spread the sand across the whole earth when another idea came to him. He untied the hen and let it roam. Immediately, it moved around, clawing its way into the earth, spreading it around. Soon, it had created vast mountains and valleys.
He decided that the land looked a bit too plain and so he planted the palm nut Orunmila told him to get. Then, it became an incredible palm forest!
And so, Obatala settled down in this new land with his cat as his pet to keep him company.
Days soon passed and months and then years with Obatala alone on this strange land with only his cat as a companion. As to be expected, he became bored, the days started to become monotonous. So, one day he began moulding figures made of clay as he drank his palm wine from the gourd he brought down with him.
Obatala was a creative god and as he worked, the clay seemed to be all that mattered to him. He kept on drinking, immersing himself in this creation, but the palm wine was slowly muddling his mind. Obatala didn’t care, and he just kept on moulding the clay, figure after figure, his eyes like that of a madman. In a sense, that is what the palm wine made him become.
As he was rounding up, he called on Olorun to breathe life into his figurines as the breath of Olorun was the spark of all life. As he did this, he promptly collapsed, drunk.
Obatala woke up, expecting to see his wonderful creations frolicking around on the earth, smiling and waiting for their patron god to wake up so they could worship him. Only as Obatala woke up, sober, did he realise the weight of what he had done.
He had made humans, yes, but due to his intoxicated state, he had gotten the proportions a little differently than he had already imagined. These were humans, just different than what he had planned. Obatala saw this and wept, cursing himself and swearing not to drink again. Only then, did he remember Orunmila’s words to him what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Beware the liquid that dulls the mind.
He should have listened. In his heart, body and soul, he knew he should’ve listened. He stood up and embraced them all, for they were his creations and he still loved them deeply. After this, he set on creating more human beings, this time sober, paying more attention to them as he should have. He called Olorun to breathe life into them once again and they became humans. They soon began populating and building their own civilisation with shrines to worship the gods. Obatala became the patron god of humanity and the disabled. He took exceptional care of them, knowing he was the reason they had even been brought to life in the first place
The Orisha had been watching Obatala’s progress and they were pleased with the product of his work, all except Olokun, who felt resentment for Obatala and his creations since he was never consulted about earth and the humans.
Olokun was a proud sea god but he knew waging a battle against Olorun would end in him losing and being banished. He also knew that if he fought Obatala, the other gods would be forced to take sides, resulting in a civil war among the gods. Olokun knew that he had to do something, but what?
He looked down from the heavens and he saw the humans once again, they were growing exponentially and as Olokun looked, he saw that they did not even respect the land they were gifted with. They were crass, clumsy and short sighted, never fully thinking in the direction of the future.
Olokun’s anger soon grew the more he saw, and in his destructive mood, he caused a great flood that ravaged the lands. Homes were destroyed and humans drowned under the cruel waters. Lives were lost and the remaining humans cried to the gods, asking for an explanation. The gods never answered.
From then on, the remaining human beings took nature more seriously, treating it with a kind of reverence.
Or so the story goes.
2. The King and the Cock’s Daughter.
This was a story that caught my eye a while back that I found interesting. It’s a tale that was told around some tribes in Calabar as a way to discourage bestiality.
It was a bountiful land, they never lacked much. All they had was there: clean water from the nearby river, healthy large livestock and a plentiful harvest every year. Duke Town, Calabar, was the place to be. Around this time, it was ruled by King Efiom, a ruler they all agreed was kind and benevolent but one whose weaknesses shone brighter than his crown.
All in the town and the villages over knew that King Efiom had one major fault: women. It was like a cycle that only the villagers could see while King Efiom carried on with nothing but lust in his eyes. He was incredibly fond of pretty women and day by day he’d send his informants into the village to scout for the prettiest maidens. They would come back reporting that, in fact, this certain woman was the most beautiful among them all. King Efiom would then send for her family and propose to the woman, agreeing to whatever the dowry was. And don’t forget, he was the king, there was no price he couldn’t pay, most of the money being earned from his booming slave trade.
And so, it went on, every time he heard of a beautiful woman, he’d pay the required dowry and marry her making her his newest wife. He did this until he had two hundred and fifty wives! Now, though I’m not married, it’s clear that this is a commitment that requires a lot of time and dedication. How the king committed to two hundred and fifty other women is beyond me.
I mean, can you even give your heart to that many people? I wonder if they had a timeshare.
King Efiom lived in his royal chambers for years, trying his best to keep his many, many, many wives happy and occupied. He was in his throne room one day, maybe trying to enjoy some time alone when one of his messengers busted in, sweating and panting.
The king stood up from his throne in anger. “How dare you come into your king’s throne room in that manner! Guards!”
As the heavily armed guards rushed into the room, they half wondered if they should’ve even allowed the messenger into the throne room in the first place, the man had said it was important…
The messenger spread his hands in surrender as he shouted to the king. “No, my lord, I have found her. The most beautiful female on the face of the earth, one who surpasses even your two hundred and thirty-two wives.”
“Two hundred and fifty,” the guard who held his right arm muttered as he coughed.
“Two hundred and fifty wives!” the messenger said quickly. “Our king, she is the most beautiful we have ever seen.”
King Efiom was divided. On one hand, he wanted to have the messenger killed, but on the other, how could he resist even the promise of the most beautiful woman in the land?
In the end, the stronger side one.
It was two days after the messenger had given him the information that King Efiom made sure his finest tailors and decorators made him and the palace look as beautiful as possible, awaiting the arrival of the new bride.
After moments of seemingly endless torture, he asked the messenger, “Slave, where’s the chick?”
The messenger flinched. “Well, my lord, there is one thing I didn’t mention…”
The royal trumpets were suddenly sounded rendering the messenger inaudible. The king quickly switched his focus, his bride and her family had come!
He made sure his clothes were freshly pressed and presentable and as the doors opened, he smiled to himself, happy with the fact that he was about to married to the most beautiful woman in the land.
She came in and the king’s eyes widened, she was the most magnificent being he had ever seen. He beak was sharp and polished, as if made from gold and her feathers were the brightest colours he had ever seen.
Yes, she was a chicken and he was happy with that. Some other stories say that the king had been bewitched by a local sorceress but that’s a tale for another day. Or maybe the king was just a really twisted man, either way he was attracted to the hen and that’s that.
He barely looked in the direction of the hen’s father, the cock as he gestured to his servants to bring the six puncheons of palm-oil that was meant to be the dowry and immediately started flirting with his new bride to be. The cock said something in warning, something about corn but the king didn’t listen, dismissing the bird focusing only on the hen whose name he found out was Adia Unen.
Days passed and soon, Adia was all the king cared about, all he talked about, all he thought about. She was everything he wanted in a person and he was pleased. His other wives though, not as much. They all brooded in anger and jealousy. “Why should she get all the attention?” they asked themselves. “She’s just a cock’s daughter.”
As they continued to plot and plan, a scheme to shame Adia started to form. One that would embarrass her and make the king see that she was unfit to be a bride.
The king’s parties were known and revered throughout that land and on this day, it was Adia that was by the king’s side. As the king cheered and laughed boasting of his wife’s beauty, one of the wives passed by, spilling corn seemingly by accident in front of the throne. Adia, unable to escape her nature, immediately leapt to the ground, pecking the corn from the ground.
The king watched this happen, shocked at his wife’s behaviour and as everyone around laughed and jeered, the king ordered Adia to be taken away back to her parents in anger.
The days after were the king’s worst as he became sad and lonely, he felt empty. A week later, it is said he died of a broken heart. After the people saw this, they passed a law that no one should ever associate themselves with animals in that way.
Though, you’d think that would be obvious.
3. Abassi and Atai
This a tale told in some Efik mythology that I thought was really…lit.
They lived in the sun.
Atai loved her husband, Abassi a lot but he got on her nerves sometimes, in the whole universe, he chose the sun for both of them to live in? Abassi was the supreme creator god with Atai as his wife, the goddess of mediation. He was a distant being on some days and Atai could see it in him, something was missing, he was searching for something but what could it be?
“My husband” She said to him one day as he picked at his Afia Efere and pounded yam. “What bothers you?”
Abassi sighed, looking up at her. “I am tired of all of this, what are we living for?”
Atai had never considered that but this life was enough for her, as long as she with her love, she was content, assuming that Abassi had felt the same way.
“Are you lonely?” Atai said, her hands tensed. They were both sitting opposite each other but Abassi looked like he was far away.
He looked at her and smartly chose his words well. “My love, all I’m saying is that maybe we should create more of us, being like us.”
Atai looked at him without a word, where was he going with this?
He stood up, pacing around, a wild gleam in his eyes.
“We could make them in our image,” Abassi said, twirling his hands, fantasising about these new creatures he wanted to create.
“What if they become more powerful than us?” Atai asked, trying her best to be calm. “What if we’re overthrown by your ‘creations’?”
“Okay, we can make them less powerful than us, smaller. We’ll give them guidelines, make them dependent on us.” Abassi replied, seeming sure of what he was doing.
Atai looked at her husband and rolled her eyes as she cleared her plate. This would end badly, she just knew it.
And so, Abassi created two new beings, and called them humans. One male, one female, and he sent them down to the earth to live.
They both lived in peace for a while under the strict instructions of Abassi. They were never to reproduce, as that would increase the population and they could usurp them, they couldn’t allow that to happen. They were also never allowed to work, or perform any form of labour or do anything independently. They were always to wait for Abassi to ring the bell and they would come and collect whatever they needed. It was meant to be paradise, or so they thought.
For years, this was the arrangement until one day, the first humans decided to… let’s say experiment. And so, they learnt about procreation and joys of it too. Sooner rather than later, the human population began to grow and soon started ignoring Abbasi’s commands; they no longer needed him.
“Look at them,” Abassi said in shock, looking down at the people that had now begun to learn and develop societies. They had harnessed the power of nature and were on their way to becoming… gods.
“I told you this would be a disaster,” Atai said, putting on a long cloak.
“Where ae you going? Are you just going to — ” Abassi said in anger before he was interrupted.
“I’m going to fix your mistake.” Atai said coolly.
And so, she went down to the earth, her skin blazing with anger. She had had enough of the tiny humans but destroying them would not be enough, she wanted them to suffer.
But what could she do to make their lives a living hell? How could she make sure that they would never be able to reach the height of the gods?
And as she looked at them, smiling and laughing in their little communities, living in peace and coexisting, she gave a smile of her own. She knew just how to destroy them. She brought humanity two presents, Chaos and Death, that would forever plague the humans.
Two gifts that would inevitably destroy them.
Ebe onye dara ka Ndụ ya kwaturu ya.
Where one falls is where his god pushed him down.
A week was all it took for Obaledo’s life to be destroyed.
In a small village like theirs, there were few who hadn’t heard of Obaledo’s beauty and none who were more beautiful. Day after day, she was approached by a number of suitors who wanted her hand in marriage and day after day, she rejected. Her parents were already getting nervous, what was wrong with their daughter? Didn’t she know that she was getting older? She had two elder sisters who had already been married off and here she was, still in her parents’ house.
Obaledo on the other hand was disinterested in men. She found that she enjoyed time by herself, taking walks, striding by the nearby river. She loved the isolation, the feeling that she was the only one in the world, this is what made her come alive.
She had gone out for one of her other strange walks when her parents started to take notice of their daughter’s strange behaviour.
“Adanna!” Her husband called as he sat down to eat his White soup and pounded yam, using his hand to move his wrapper out of the way. Adanna walked into the main room, wondering what her husband wanted this time.
“Yes, Obinna?” She said, brushing the bitter leaves from her hands, remnants from task she had been busy with.
“That your daughter, ehn.” He said, stuffing his face with food.
“So now she is my daughter?” Adanna asked, giving her husband a look. “So, she isn’t our daughter again?”
“Look at what she’s doing, walking around the village alone like a mad person.” He replied, gulping some palm wine, “Does she think she’ll stay in her father’s house forever?”
“Nna…” Adanna said.
“Well, the only thing we can do now is just wait. My friend has invited me to his home next week in Ojugwu, he thinks that his son will be a good match for our daughter. Both of us will go and see him.” He said.
“Okay oo.” Adanna replied, heading back outside.
Obaledo, on the other hand was enjoying her time outdoors. She could feel the stares of some of the boys fishing in the river, their eyes glued on her. But she was already used to that.
She didn’t think she would ever get married.
In fact, as she thought about it, she wished she would never get married. She sat on the river bank, placing her feet in the water. It was said that there was a spirit in the river that granted wishes but Obaledo sent her own wish down to the great earth goddess Ala, her Chi. She prayed that her wish would be answered as she stood up from the river bank as she heard a blaring horn.
The hunt had begun.
There was a small forest just beside their village, the forest thick with green forages. As little children, they were all told to stay away from the forest but then again, Obaledo was not one for listening.
Once a month, the village’s bravest would enter deep in the dark forest and once a month, Obaledo would stealthily follow them. She would copy their movements, as quiet as a lead, watching and observing them. She had once asked her mother whether she could be a hunter one day but her shocked expression was enough of an answer. At eighteen years old, even she was at a loss of what her role was supposed to be.
After the long day she had, she collapsed on her mat as she got home, she needed the rest. She gave a small laugh as she stared up at the ceiling, this was life. And she loved it.
“Papa, I’ve told you, I don’t want to get married!” Obaledo shouted as her father picked up his bags.
Her father promptly ignored as he left outside the house to begin the long journey to Ojugwu. They had been arguing for a week now and he hadn’t budged, hadn’t even considered her perspective. Her mother looked at her apologetically with her bags in hand. She stepped forward to Obaledo and kissed her softly on her forehead.
“We’ll be gone for only a day ehn. But my dear, there are two things you must obey.” Her mother said, her voice stern.
Obaledo braced herself for another one of her talks but her mother sounded sober. “Don’t leave this house, my daughter, just stay inside. And when you’re having dinner this night, roast the yam first, if you roast the snail first, it will quench the fire. Just do that, my daughter, please.”
She kissed Obaledo on the forehead again and with that, they left And Obaledo was all alone. She smiled to herself. Finally! She was alone at last. She wanted to go out immediately, have as much fun as she could but something stopped her, the way her mother looked at her, it was almost scary. Maybe she should obey this time, just maybe.
And so, she stayed in the house, pacing around and playing with some of the things she saw from the other rooms to keep herself busy. Evening soon came and Obaledo’s stomach growled, she had to get some food. She went outside to where her mother had kept the snail and yam and started the fire.
Once the fire started, hunger in her eyes and mind, she placed the snail on first and sure enough after a few minutes, with the slime dripping on the fire, it quenched.
Obaledo sighed, why did this have to happen now? She looked at the yam tuber and knew she couldn’t eat it raw, she needed fire.
She searched the whole house but couldn’t find a single matchstick. Seeing no other option, she left the house. She didn’t go to any of her neighbours as they were all sleeping at this time, instead she went to the dark forest to look for dropped matchsticks that the hunters left during hunts. Staring at the forest at night, it was a bit scary but she didn’t mind, she wasn’t afraid.
She should have been.
As she walked around, with only the moon’s light to guide her, she heard a noise behind her and she whipped her head around. In all her eighteen years, she had never screamed louder.
It was the ugliest creature she had ever seen, with two horns sticking out of the corner of its mouth. It was taller than her by more than seven inches, with dark fur that glinted in the moonlight and Obaledo could not help thinking that she wasn’t ready to die, not now.
The demon looked at her with its blood red eyes and spoke in an eerie voice one that Obaledo would remember forever.
“You are beautiful,” it said, drawing loser as Obaledo tripped and fell. “I like it.”
It touched her cheek with its fingers and Obaledo felt all her energy leaving her as she screamed again, into the silent empty night.
Obaledo woke up with a searing headache and she quickly ran back to her village, thinking that maybe the previous night had just been a dream. As she got to her house and she saw her parents, they screamed, shouting the names of the gods.
Obaledo stepped back in shock but they kept on screaming. Her neighbours came to see what was wrong and once Obaledo turned to face them, they too screamed and ran.
Obaledo, placed her fingers on her face and she gasped in horror. No, no, no. She ran to the river, leaving her screaming parents.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror and she screamed also, this was not her, she wanted to rip out her hair only to find it was all gone, her face looked gnarly and mutilated. The demon had taken away her beauty, leaving nothing but Obaledo behind.
Nothing but her.
A short tragedy, one of the more recent stories in the collection.
Omonose was known throughout Okpara as a strong healthy hardworking man, his work ethic was one to be admired. He had always been like that, right from when he was a young man and now reaching the age when it was right for men his age to marry, his hard work paid off.
Because of his reputation, finding a wife was a n easy task. This was a time when marriage was a necessity, not a choice. And so, his family members found a beautiful young woman for him, one who matched his strength and hardworking nature in unparalleled beauty. He sat down in the main chair as his family began the negotiations with the bride’s. He looked at his soon to be wife and he couldn’t help but fantasize about the future. This was what he had been looking forward to for so long, finally a companion he could share with. They would definitely have some children to help out, a son would be good. Yes, a strong boy. Omonose smiled to himself, life was finally turning his way.
It was their wedding day and everyone in Okpara was welcome, it was truly a day to celebrate. Lavished with food from all over and attendees wearing clothes made by the finest tailors around, the whole wedding was spectacular. A few words were said to the new couple, words to bless their marriage, protect their sacred union, give them abundant blessings and of course, beautiful children.
It was the night of their marriage and as was expected, this was supposed to be the beginning of the new couple’s physical relationship. It was the night which after the in-laws would all gossip and wonder if the wife was a virgin or she had prior experience.
It was also the night that Omonose’s life fell apart.
News soon spread first to the bride’s family of the tragic happening: Omonose couldn’t perform, he was impotent. In a time like this, hypermasculinity was definitely a word used to describe what the average man had. And anything beneath this standard was a disgrace, a taboo.
Word quickly spread like wildfire and soon everyone knew the news. Gossip swept the streets, people laughed and jeered as they soon heard Omonose’s name, a man who was once respected throughout the village. It wasn’t long before a meeting was called in Omonose’s family to sort out the predicament.
The elders in his household all sat as Omonose came in with his bride, who had refused to even speak to him after the events of her wedding night.
“My boy,” one of the elders said, “We know you a brave man, who has made this family proud throughout most of your life but this, this cannot happen. We have devised a solution.”
Another of the elders continued, “We have decided to give your bride to the youngest in the family, as a way to preserve the family line and our reputation.”
What would be remembered after Omonose was gone was the strange calm he seemed to exude. He did not fight, he did not shout, he simply stood there, staring at everyone in the room, his wife included, as if cataloguing them in his mind. It was that very night that he left, once a hero in the village and now a disgrace. He disappeared into the night without a word to a single soul.
But that, was not how the story was fated to end.
It would be years before news of Omonose would start again. It was a strange incident, a couple, Omonose’s ex wife and his young cousin were both killed in their sleep with deep cutlass wounds that were precise.
And then, the deaths started to compound, each time, growing in the violent manner in which the victims were killed. The cutlass wounds began to change into gunshots. One thing the victims all had in common was that at some moment in time, all of them had mocked Omonose and his predicament.
He crept silently into his family home and killed the two elders who spoke and plotted against him, leaving the ones who he deemed innocent. Omonose had killed 14 people when the people in Okpara started to get scared, who will be next?
Would Omonose come for their family?
It was then a young man stepped forward, Omonose’s namesake who was his childhood friend. He claimed to know the whereabouts of Omonose and that he could calm down the now vengeful spirit.
There was once a clearing on the outskirts of the village and there was nowhere else he would be, he was sure of it.
He came into the clearing knowing that Omonose was close by, and he raise his two hands up in surrender.
“My friend, my namesake.” His namesake said. “Kill me if you must, but please spare our home.”
Omonose already had his gun aimed down when he heard the footsteps but the words moved him. He knew he couldn’t kill his namesake, namesakes were considered precious, a sign of the divine.
And so, tired of the havoc he had caused, Omonose gave himself up and was arrested and promptly hanged.
Though, a body was never found.
As a young child, stories were an important part of growing up, of learning. I, unfortunately, grew up with just stories from just western culture. There were tales of Cinderella, Rapunzel and other pale faced damsels in distress. Hardly did I ever see stories about the tortoise and his antics on television or in popular culture. It was quite a while before I discovered that there was a brilliant world waiting for me to explore that had all the stories that represented my culture and heritage, stories I could see myself in. But still, these stories had to be searched for, and when they were eventually found, I treasured them like gold.
I found that unlike their western counterparts, African folklore didn’t really always have a happy ending. In fact, they hardly ever did. I think that this was the way of our ancestors to depict the reality of life, that in fact, all things weren’t going to your way and that there was this invisible, incomprehensible force that was just outside our control. From the Omonose tragedy and the fall of Obaledo we see these traits blaringly, staring at us in the face, challenging us.
Stories like the Creation Story as told by the Yorubas were also used to explain the world around us, to give us answers that we couldn’t find by ourselves. The King and the Cock’s Daughter is another tale that aims to explain the current state of the taboos in society and why they are what they are. In the tale of Abassi an Atai, we see a vivid explanation on why there is death and pain in this world.
So, while writing this collection, I wondered what really made a story, what made it so compelling?
What was that one component that made something even worth reading?
For me, though, the answer was simple. Stories and writing have always been a challenge. A kind of fight with reality on the poor lots we were given in life. Stories were our opportunity to reinvent ourselves and the world around us, and if you could impart a lesson along the way, then all the better.
A story has always been a lie, a bold faced one, a lie that was told to the empty void of the universe, forcing itself to be real. So, in a way, ironically, the strength of a story, the lie, is how true it is.
How well it was able to stir a certain emotion, how well it could make us angry or sad or even scared. How well it could make us feel more human.
This collection is the first step in my goal to somehow write more on stories that have been forgotten and give them a new audience, one that is ready to listen to the tales by the fire. To tell old new lies and make them true again, and if I can impart a lesson here and there, then all the better.