TITLE: The Chronic Custodian
By wallacetrust watosen
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Thus attempts have been made to expose my readers to the hazards of life that the Obanleku-speaking people of Cross Rivers have come to appreciate as their harsh reality. Scenes in this story may throw you guard, but they remain real.
Most of all, this article zooms into the voracious influence and grip that the old seem to still enjoy; plus or minus the way they use this.
My joy will be indeed complete only if this peice is critically reviewed by your patience...
The disturbing coos took origin from a nightblack owl some yards away. The wrinkled eyes that spelt the 73 years of an old man had met with the two ugly penetrating owl-eye binoculars sitting on the thickly woody Khaya grandifolia African mahogany. The standoff was stern. He believed that owls only coo to the target of whatever omen they carry; and it was certain that this owl was particular to him. Unlike other times, he discerned what this omen was. Giving up the stare, he settled his gaze on the 18 year-old figure that stretched on the tuft spread beneath the Chlorophora excelsa iroko, where his ancestral shrine had been situate--below the Oban hills, just before the Cameroonian boarder.
The figure was clumsily bathed in fetish ointments, dried ferrosal mud and dirt all glued to his skin by sweat, blood and herbal fluids, like his father had been nine years ago. Isn’t this the heir to the relics of their ancestors? So it was. In fact, aside the loss of his son’s wife to child-birth, the greater omen this dibia has seen was his son’s demise.
Old wounds cannot heal when the abscess refuse to cease. Memories of nearly a decade stormed the recesses of the witch-doctor’s subconscious who was feebly fixed on the rickety wooden donkey. Deep in the dense rainforest that fills up the rift between the Oban hills of Cross Rivers State, he had been sculpting that same stool he was on from a fallen hardwood trunk of a Fraxinus ash-tree, when the militants had brought that news. His only child had been offered the calabash-choice to either seal his fate with the gods as their oracle or to encounter their wrath.
The exuberance, if any, of an old man in sixties had quicked him to the banks of River Cross where his son lay. Dead abominably at the water-side square, his pension in death had come with an abandoned carcass to scavengers of the Evil Forest; with his head and manhood cremated as offals of libation, garnished with Elaeis guineensis palm oil and cowries of marine mollusks.
Will this also befall the only perpetual link he has to mankind?
The mooing bellows in the byre at such an unholy hour brought the dibia back to reality. Below the idols, the coal scuttle that fumigated the sacrament in an incense of lotus spices and snuff was almost flickering out along with its dizzy effects. Now, the potency of the bitter anodyne concoction of Papaver somniferum poppy plant with opiate cambium, morphine and water-lilies (sweetened in fresh Raphia vinifera palm wine) administered must be easing. The cicatrix of injuries the posse of hunters, warriors and anglers had inflicted on him gave the boy a tough look--nearly softened by the rosary dangling from his neck.
Unlike his father, his stand was for religion. For over umpteenth contacts with missionaries from Calabar, the herbalist knew there was a God; and he never considered himself a healer. He had merely known what right herb to give because he had been involved in the 1945 Bamenda-Calabar Cross River Agricultural Resettlement Scheme, which, though non-existent, would have covered the Baise Local Government Area where they were. Yet the traditions were so woven around him that his grandson must pledge solidarity to ancestral spirits and scar himself in that same calabash ceremony, which his father had resisted to death. Well, he must; better still, he should; or, can’t he…
Never! Not a compromise of Faith! Not he, but it—the tradition; CAN’T IT CHANGE? Something must be done! The old man was not only firm but resolved. So, it could be changed after all!?!
In a positive convalescence, the lad moved. His right hand knocked over the cup-potion of native quinine extracts of the wild Cinchona, both juice and sponge, ground in kernels and kola-nuts, and prepared should he feel feverish. Clenched therein was a scrap on which were these Mosaic words of Leviticus 19:28… “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you; I am the Lord.” (KJV)
In Nigeria, only none of the over 250 non-communicable nor motorable ethnic identities subscribe to the idea of quitting fetish marks. Of the 51% of rural settlers, almost all respect their grand parents so much that even religion is traded to earn their respects.
The fearless few, who do not, face doom-spelt fates. So say the grandfathers.
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