For many years, every Autumn season here in the United States, as the leaves start falling and cool winds begin to blow, I become very nostalgic. I find myself thinking about the place I grew up in, the town I will call home and cherish, the place called Nnewi. The Autumn season, with its attendant cool winds, reminds me of the beginning of the harmattan season in the land of my fathers, which also heralds the onset of my favorite season- Christmas. Nostalgia takes me down memory lane, through the Nnewi of yesteryears, the hometown I knew as a little boy; the one I grew up in as a teenager and then a man. It is the quaint town of decades past with pristine surroundings dotted by refreshingly inviting landscape of greenery and trees of assorted nature- udala, ube, ube okpoko, ugili, oji, okwe, usuke, mangolo oyibo and mangolo igbo.
Then, Nnewi was serene and inviting; the people were very friendly and welcoming. If you visited friends or relatives, even if the visit was unannounced, you still got the utmost of receptions – roasted maize and pear (oka na ube), afufa, oji, ose oji and okwa ose. Those were the days when elders welcomed friends with ite otu or ekwekpu, filled with original and home-brewed palm wine (ngwo) devoid of chemical additives. Then, the kids would go down our village spring- Okpuani, not just to fetch water, but to mingle and socialize with other kids, especially those on the opposite side of the human spectrum –oops. Descending the hills that lead down to Okpuani spring, we could easily see other kids with buckets and jerry cans balanced carefully on their heads, with aju as the cushion between their heads and the water containers. They would equally be descending or ascending the hills of the springs in their villages like Obiakoloma, Nnenkisi and mmile eze. We would stop and jokingly holler, “ndi nnenkisi-o-o, otolo gbagbue unu-o-o, ndi Obiakoloma-o-o, otolo gbagbue unu-o-o, ndi mmili eze-o-o, otolo gbagbue unu-o-o”. As much as otolo(running stomach), in this context is a form of curse, we said it light-heartedly with no malicious intent and the other kids understood it as such. They would also respond in kind: “ndi Okpuani-o-o, otolo gbagbue unu-o-o…”
Life was good or so it seemed then. It was all hakuna matata, to borrow from the movie- Lion King. The kids actually had no worries. There were no competitions then as to who had more money than the other. Kids were satisfied and proud of what they and their families had. As a result, serious robbery and get-rich-quick schemes were practically alien to the town. The villages were safe. Neighbors looked after one another and the kids freely roamed the dusty pathways and every time it rained, they indulged in the rain dance we called igba ogogo mmili. I would set out, on foot, from our house in Okpunoeze, Uruagu and head to Umuezena in Umudim, with my little brother Nnamdi in tow, to a funeral ceremony (akwam’ozu) just to behold the “magnificence” of the many masquerades like Odogwu Izeji, Nwansi ndi Umuezena, Odogwu Bob Ike, Ikedinaodogwu Nde Ngbu Otolo, okpoka ndi Edoji, Ozokwamkpo and Ajukwu. The funeral ceremony grounds were always dusty and it seemed like every time we went to one of those, one would go home with a cold (azuzu). We did not mind the effects of the cold because it was always fleeting but the general precaution, to minimize it, was to cover our nostrils with handkerchiefs while watching the masquerades do their thing inside the dancing arena (ogbo egwu).
As kids, we were not always allowed into the dancing arena for fear of being stomped on by the more manly and imposing adults, dancing to the melody of the masquerade songs. Mmodile, the charismatic World War II veteran, from Uruagu, who was always invited to funeral ceremonies to keep the peace and maintain order, was always on hand to show the kids out of the dancing arenas. Part of his charge was to ensure that masquerades did not stay in the dancing arena past their allotted time. I have heard him, on one occasion, say that he fought during the Second World War in Burma. He called it “agha Burma” (the Burma war), I guess he served in Burma.
Aside from the display by the many masquerades that grace such funeral ceremonies, umu okpu, of the bereaved family, were always on hand to sing the praises of the deceased through a performance called “itu ukwe”. “Nnamo-o”, they would say, as they firmly stamp their feet on the dusty ground and with the picture of the deceased picture firmly held in one hand, they would gracefully gyrate their waists, while moving their hands and feet in synchronized and elegant fashion. “Nnam oyoyo”, others would say while stretching out the picture in their hands for further viewing by curious visitors. Guests would sometimes drop some money in the plates they carry, in appreciation of the mini entertainment. It was fun to watch. We loved life and were very happy indeed.
The end of school year, at the St Mary’s school, used to be in December. There was a short song that kids sang in reference to the end of the school season. It went something like, “December, ndi n’ochi, ndi n’akwa”. It meant that during the December period, some kids would be happy and smiling while others would be unhappy and crying. We got our final report cards for the year in December and in January, those who passed would go on to the next class. It was always emotional as we would gather in the assembly hall, excitedly awaiting the slow but majestic entrance of the school headmaster. He would walk into the hall and after the necessary end of year announcements, begin calling out the names, by class, of the top three students in each class. Subsequently, others would go to their various teachers to get their report cards. Successful ones would be all smiles (ndi n’ochi) while those who failed would be crying (ndi n’akwa). Getting a good result means that one would have a good and happy Christmas season. We always raced home to break the good news about doing well in school for the year and then begin to ask for Christmas clothes, shoes, hats and knockouts (firecrackers).
So as Christmas 2023 comes again, as leaves start changing color here and as cool Fall winds descend on us here, if truth be told, my nostalgia for my homeland has become tempered. What, with election malfeasance everywhere! What with young graduates roaming the streets without work! What with armed robbery kidnappings, insecurity and all manners of atrocities and abomination of lives! What with common food items as scarce or so costly that many are unable to make ends meet. What with inflation out of the financial charts and the naira so devalued vis a vis the dollar that it is hard to still call it a legal tender? I told a dear relative that I was still somewhat nostalgic and hoping to still make it and the response? “nodugodu n’America k’anyi malu ife obodo g’enye” meaning, stay back in America until we know where the nation is headed.
I have heard people say, “nobody should run away from their dear land”. It is true but no one is truly running away. When I visited my dear country every December, until COVID struck, it was usually to get a break from work both physically and mentally. Relax in the village, mingle with dear family and friends and make new friends. But if I go by what folks who visited lately say, “Aaaa, I stayed indoors during all my visit and made sure no one knew I was in town”, is this not a definition of going home to go to prison? What is then the joy? What is the mental and physical relaxation? Ndi banyi, Nigeria needs to change. Igboland needs to change. Give young graduates work so that the reason for any and all these journeys towards perdition will peter out. We also need a healthy dose of paradigm shifting and ethical revolution. So, on this day, October 8, 2023, that nostalgia is there but not strong enough to propel me and many others eastwards. I am hopeful that things will change for the better.
Happy Sunday Folks!
The opinions and views expressed in this write-up are entirely those of the Writer(s). They do not reflect the opinions and views of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or any of its employees. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of materials herein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or its employees concerning the legal status of any country, its authority, area or territory or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers. Equally, the sketches, images, pictures and videos are gotten from the public domain.