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THE PACIFICATION OF UMUNNAKWE

THE PACIFICATION OF UMUNNAKWE

By Mike Ekunno (Nigeria)

[Overall Winner]

Igbo-Adagbe Ancient and Autonomous Community, South-East Nigeria. May 26th 2020, Tuesday, Nkwor.

There was an unmistakable balefulness to the cooing that night of an owl that dived through the sleepy village and came to perch across from Agbara’s shrine like a boomerang returned to base. The vicegerent of Agbara Ahuru Gbuo Okuko (the terrible spirit whose presence is acknowledged with the life of a fowl) was sound awake and didn’t miss the omen. The bush lamp inside his hut was turned down low for the night’s sleep or its lack. Nweke Idigo, who upon his ascendancy to the high priesthood of Agbara, now adopted the deity as his cognomen swamping his personal name, stretched from his earthen platform of a bed and turned the lamp’s knob a little clockwise. The room woke up in the translucent light.

Sitting up, Agbara gazed at the grandfather clock on the opposite wall. The time was 2.46. There was nothing in the Monday, Afor, that had just given way to warrant this owl-borne omen, he thought. It had been a regular day spent consulting with clients. As he reminisced on the inanities of the day gone by, the owl belted out another note. Agbara felt the chill course through his arched spine and have his head swell to a virtual boulder. He reached for the walking stick beside his bed and schlepped to his battened door. Sliding back the staple, the door swung ajar on its own dead weight letting on a doorway of light in the pitch darkness of outdoors. Agbara hurried to come out and shut back the door; whatever this was would not tolerate illumination.

Outside, he chanted the praise names of his deity. Reaching for the eaves of his hut, out came an open pod of alligator pepper and white chalk. With his left hand leaning on the walking stick, Agbara broadcast the alligator pepper seeds as he made incantations asking every evil portent to return and the good to stay. The bird in the thicket flapped ruffling the leaves. Agbara picking out its approximate position now turned properly to address it blindly repeating his earlier charge. Calm returned. Agbara got done and picked his way back into his hut.

Once inside, he engaged the staple, turned down the light and returned the walking stick to his bedside as he stretched on the mattress. Whatever sleep that lurked had taken flight. He was in that state when the windstorm struck. Its sibilant harbinger whistled menacingly in the trees like an old man whose incisors had fallen off. Agbara was worried: a rainstorm in the middle of the rainy season – what is the world turning to? The windstorm did not abate. The sound of metal debris knocking together outside was audible – the pans, kept to collect rain water below the eaves, enamel plates, empty cans. Tree branches which couldn’t bear the stress test, gave way and got air-borne as well. The thatched roof over Agbara sat pretty much unscathed apart from the staccato of hits it took from flying debris. Agbara lay face up anticipating the downpour that would bring up the rear and diffuse the angry storm. It never came. Then with the commotion outside still providing a macabre ambience music, sleep overpowered him in what must have been pre-dawn hours.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. May 26th 2020, Tuesday, Nkwor.

The next morning, all across Minnesota there was calm. Not like the calm after the storm of Igbo-Adagbe; this was the calm before the storm – a placid calm while cyberspace tried to come to terms with how a human with blood flowing in his veins could clamp the jugular veins of a fellow human below his knees while his prey begged for life and the predator posed for the impromptu photo shoot by bystanders all the while pinning down his prey for all of eight minutes, forty-six seconds.

At different times in the past, George Floyd had worked full time as truck driver, security guard, bouncer, rapper and church worker. Having been convicted eight times in the eight-year period from 1997-2005, it could also be surmised that he worked part time as jailbird. But seeing as it’s un-African to speak ill of the dead, that statement is hereby withdrawn.

So that fated evening, Floyd had gone to a grocery which is American for just a provision store, and allegedly passed a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. Again, this is American for being accused of paying with a fake twenty naira note only that the twenty-dollar bill approximates all of eight thousand naira. Again, who ever calls the police here for Ijebu money? You got it sandwiched with genuine currency and passed it off like the dutchie to the next mugu. But that’s beside the point. The point is that he had re-entered his Mercedes Benz SUV when the shop people unleashed the police on him having other passengers in the car flustered and running for cover like chicks at a kite’s approach. They then handcuffed him – in all of his six-foot-four and over 100kg glory dragging him across the street and having their other colleagues homing in on the scene with police cars like vultures descending on a carcass. That was how across the street, four hefty men descended on a handcuffed, compliant, suspect and flattened him on the tarmac. While two officers held his lower body with his hands handcuffed, Officer Chauvin went for the prey’s neck – going for the proverbial jugular. As for the neck officer, with a surname like that, chauvinism of the racial variety should be within easy reach and was it! Chauvin sat with his knees on the prey’s neck while the prey begged for air. There was no death struggle as both hands and legs were in vice grips. For all of eight minutes and forty-six seconds, Officer Chauvin brought the full weight of lawlessness to bear on his prey’s neck which continued even after the victim breathed his last invoking his late mother.

People watched Darnella Frazier’s video clip of the strangulation and flinched from the sheer horror and callousness. Then the video went viral like the extant pandemic. But its epicentre was not in some Chinese city. It was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The world over, wherever the clip was watched, the reactions were the same – people’s appetites deserted them; the squeamish easily scrolled past subsequent replays; social media netizens cursed the (in)justice system.

Then the angst coalesced as the day wore on. People in Minneapolis began to gather, sprung to spontaneous action by the brutality of what they watched on social media. That Tuesday night, protesters flooded the streets. They were a motley crowd – young and old; masked and non-masked; men, women and all genders in-between; black, white and all colors in-between. They were socially un-distanced and chanted, “We can’t breathe!”

Igbo-Adagbe, South-East Nigeria. May 26th 2020, Tuesday, Nkwor.

Agbara woke in the morning full of suspense at what the outdoors held. Unlatching his door, sunlight hit him as well as a distressed compound. His door mouth was strewn with odds and ends and cans and plastics and polythene bags littering everywhere. No wet grounds from rain was in sight. At the plantain and banana grove beside his hut, two stems lay outstretched on the earth while another two with maturing bunches leaned over their other tall sisters for support.

“Chai! Chai!!” Agbara kept muttering as he took in the devastation himself leaning from age, not a stormy visit. His first port of call was his obi which doubled as his consulting room and altar. An open hut with dwarf walls, it had a devastating story to tell. Agbara took in the jumble that was his animal skin mats, divination cowries, plastic chairs for clients, kola nuts and alligator pepper pods, totems and figurines in a pile with no regard for those that must remain isolated. Then his eyes happened on the Ikenga, his psychic alter ego that used to sit squat like chairman at the head of a roomful of other statues and statuettes. The Ikenga lay face down – not a good omen.

Agbara’s shrine was not alone in the devastation suffered from the maelstrom of a windstorm. Throughout the rest of the village, there were tales of blown-out rooftops, blasted cornfields and broken cassava stems, broken tree branches and premature fruits shaken off tree tops. The village had no power lines to be downed – the vulture has no business with a barber, thankfully. The devastations were much but compared to the ominous portents of what stared Agbara in the face at his shrine, they presented as easy as eating a piece of cake.

Soon Agbara’s assistant, Jacob, and the shrine habitués arrived. They didn’t wait to be told to commence the clean-up. When they took their clean-up to the innards of the obi chamber, Agbara spoke: “Not those!” he cautioned referring to the upturned Ikenga and pile-up of totems. He knew better than to try to physically respond to a psychic signal.

By noon, a cock which American diffidence has contrived to call a rooster, had lost its life in sacrifice to access the gods’ prognostications about the night’s happenings. The divination was at the blood and feather-festooned shrine of Agbara Ahuru Gbuo Okuko a bit removed from the obi. Uduko smoke swirled into the air from the hearth while the okwa nzu, ritual baby mortar, sat squat by the medium’s left. Sitting with his legs folded inwards at the knees, with Jacob waiting in the wings, white chalk marks circumnavigating his left eye, Agbara delineated and secured the boundary between the human and spirit worlds before he began to throw his cowries on the animal skin mat. It was a monologue with some of the feedback muttered out loud by the medium.

“Uhm … Speak on, I hear you.”

“Aru!” Abomination!

“Uhmm … Umunnakwe, the ancestor? Aru emee!” Abomination!

“Chai! Chai!!”

By the time it was over, Agbara had heard an earful. The reincarnation of Okoronkwo Umunnakwe, the great half-human, half-spirit potentate who founded the clan as a hunter had come to some harm in a faraway land. If his spirit be not appeased, great disasters awaited both the land of his re-incarnation and this village of his origin.

“Wherefore did the re-incarnated ancestor leave this land to migrate to the Whiteman’s land across seven seas and seven wildernesses?” the medium asked the deity.

Ohu, the Slave Trade, is to be blamed, he was told. The incarnate alter ego had been sold into slavery and shipped to the Whiteman’s land. He found himself stranded there seeing as great waters separate the two lands. He then went on re-incarnating there through many generations all the while sworn to the integrity of his face which has remained the same.

The medium immediately had a basin of water fetched and having performed the necessary incantations, the ancestor’s face that resembled the great Okwomma mask could be gleaned from the water surface complete with his imi oba, hippopotamus’s snout, and lips thick enough to weaponize a kiss.

Turning away from the basin, Agbara pinched off bits of kola nut and flicked inside the basin in obeisance at the manifestation of the venerable ancestor, Okoronkwo Umunnakwe.

Then the deity reeled out what was required for sacrifice to appease the ancestor’s spirit and avert a catastrophe for both the Black community and the White one. At the head of the requisition was a spotless white ram. Also a symbolic coffin complete with traditional funeral rites. The sacrifice and rites must be done on Nkwo market day, the victim’s birth native week day. And done by a river, typology for the sea that ferried the ancestor away.

Across the USA. May 31st 2020, Sunday, Eke.

While Agbara assembled the requisition for the sacrifice, America boiled. What started as a gathering of tentative protesters in Minneapolis had escalated across American cities climaxing on the weekend when protesters outside the White House scared the President of the United States and Strongman of the world to scamper into an underground bunker like a burrowing rodent and shut down the White House. From his warren, Donald Trump was firing off tweets one of which yelled in a combination of upper case and lower case letters:

…These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The world is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is this what America wants? NO!!!

The world could not help not laughing of course; not at the protests but rather at a loquacious leader with fire in his pants. Whether Trump thought that Little Rocket Man from North Korea had come calling, no one could tell.

The events of that weekend had been short in coming, not long. Earlier in the week, the protests docking with the Black Lives Matter movement had coursed from Minneapolis through at least 140 cities across the US. Before leaving Minneapolis, the protest left in its trail a burnt police station and charred shops.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a restauranteur was killed when the police and National Guard troops shot at protesters. The Louisville police chief got fired for that.

In Austin, Texas, a Black protester was shot in the head.

In St. Louis and Las Vegas, officers got injured from shots fired during protest rallies.

In New York, police officers were injured by drivers who slalomed through their cordons in their vehicles.

In Chicago, six people got shot while one was killed.

In Atlanta, protesters took over the area around the city’s Centennial Olympic Park smashing windows and spray-painting graffiti on CNN headquarters.

In Detroit, a 21-year old man was killed as he sat inside a car.

It has been widely acknowledged that not since the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King jnr in 1968 has the USA witnessed such massive street protests. In all, about thirty people lost their lives.

Igbo- Adagbe, South-East Nigeria. June 9th 2020, Tuesday, Orie.

While the commotion in the US was far removed from Agbara’s bubble in Nigeria and wouldn’t stampede him, he knew better than to delay the great deity’s instructions. He had foraged for sacrifice items from far and near and had been able by dint of networking with his distant professional colleagues, to finally get everything assembled. D-Day was to be an Nkwor day and seeing as the next Nkwor was yet two full days away, Agbara took the liberty to continue his regular consultations.

The first clients who were ushered into his now restored chambers were a wife and her husband. For accessing him, they had left the mandatory consultation fee of a live cock or its monetary equivalent with Agbara’s assistant. It was the poultry from clients and yam tubers from the grateful ones that fed the continual party mood of shrine habitués.

The day’s clients came masked. The woman taught biology at the community’s secondary school while her husband was a trader in the nearby metropolis. Agbara beheld the spectacle of two adults covering their mouths and noses and decided to mute his disgust with the apparent rudeness. Members of his generation were constrained by civility to not even show any discomfort at the noxious fart of an elder. And if the environment was odorous which is surely not the case with his consulting chamber, must the client knowing they have come suppliant, be so uncouth?

The couple took their seats opposite the medium with the animal skin divination mat in the intervening space. Agbara sat on the floor with his cowries doting the mat like players awaiting the start of a game. Greetings were exchanged and Agbara summoned Jacob to present his guests with kolanuts from a previously blessed saucer. The man took a piece but his wife declined with a reverential touch of the serving saucer.

By way of opening protocols before tabling the matter that brought them, the man asked Agbara if he doesn’t wear the mask.

“My abode is not smelling for me: why?” Agbara fired back.

The couple guffawed behind their masks further compounding the old man’s irate bemusement.

“Nna anyi, it’s not about any smell,” cut in the woman sensing Agbara’s disapproval. “It’s what the government asked everyone to use to avoid infection from the disease in the air now – you haven’t heard of it, Nna anyi?”

“What disease?”

“It has been killing people everywhere around the world,” answered the husband.

“Even in our country,” the woman added.

“And you think the Whiteman’s ailment can come here and overpower Agbara Ahuru Gbuo Okuko, the great deity of this land?”

The two people did not reply.

“The great plague that came with the Whiteman during the Slave Trade, do you know how this Igbo-Adagbe land was spared? And during the Nigeria-Biafra war, do you know that all our neighbors were devastated but no single Nigerian army boot stepped on this land. You should leave the Whiteman to his ways.”

The couple remained docile at the sage’s words but the woman had had a hard time convincing her husband earlier about the coronavirus pandemic and now ran the risk of having him proselytized by a gross witch doctor. She spoke.

“Nna anyi, it’s not about the Whiteman now. Even our own government is advising people to wash hands and stay away from others.”

“Leave that, woman,” said Agbara. “That bad windstorm of about three native weeks ago, did it reach your place?”

“Well-well!” chorused the two.

“Do you know it’s the Whiteman’s felony that brought that disaster on us as warning signal?”

Silence.

“That’s why I say, leave the Whiteman to his ways and let’s discuss what brought you two. At least now I know my premises is not smelling.”

Clients and consultant laughed to that before the male client spoke outlining the couple’s problem with frequent miscarriages.

Agbara asked some probing questions including whether they had given birth before and their respective names and how long they’d been married. Satisfied, he began throwing his cowrie shells looking intently at the formation with each throw and mumbling. When he was done, he informed the couple their problem wasn’t witchcraft-related but simply down to a weak uterus. The woman would be given some herbs and monitored for sometime and all will be well. The couple’s gratitude was profuse as Agbara summoned Jacob for instructions on which gourd to measure which liquid quantity from and the concomitant cost. The couple rose and followed Jacob out for the next client to enter.

Houston, Texas, USA. June 9th 2020 Tuesday, Orie.

George Floyd’s funeral at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston was packed as much as the demands of social distancing could allow. The open golden casket lay by the altar while guests milled past to pay their respects. They were all substantial brothers and sisters decked out in black and shades of white. None of them was of a stature you’d rummage for in a crowd making you wonder at the gains of proper nutrition on the trans-Atlantic Dispersion. There was a sprinkling of white foreheads in a sea of masked faces. Speakers took turns at the podium overlooked by Floyd’s outsized portrait – one of two on the altar in which he was portrayed with wings. However, his black features remained intact challenging the default portrayal of angels. There was rapturous singing by the choir in the best traditions of Black soul music. Floyd’s family occupied a central column by the casket all turned out in white asoebi only this time it was all English suits and gowns instead of agbadas and iro/bubas.

The Rev Al Sharpton’s eulogy lived up to the billing. He described the killing of Floyd as not just a tragedy but a crime. You’d think that it being a crime would’ve been so self-evident as to be trite. It apparently wasn’t so; not across the colour divide. If it had been treated as a crime – the unprovoked killing of Blacks by police – maybe there would have been no George Floyd moment. For before him had gone many whose killers were set free, indeed set loose by the (in)justice system. If the killers of Rodney King and Michael Brown and Trevor Martin and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and the many other Black martyrs had not gone scot-free, maybe there wouldn’t have been a Floyd moment. The iconic civil rights leader underlined this when he said, “Lives like George’s will not matter until somebody pays for taking their lives.”

The reverend whose message was taken from Ephesians 610-13 condemned wickedness in high places (one of which address must bear Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC.)

After the funeral which was more of a celebration of life of the deceased, the mourners trooped out to the cemetery led by a horse-drawn carriage. There, George Floyd was interred to mother earth beside his mother’s grave. Somebody said the world was transformed less by what he did than what was done to him.

The next day, any hopes that the whirlwind protests would subside on account of the burial of the raison d’etre, were however, misplaced.

Igbo-Adagbe, South-East Nigeria. June 12th 2020, Friday, Eke.

Agbara woke with a fever that Eke day as Nigeria commemorated the June 12 1993 election and civil rule struggles of late Chief MKO Abiola with a work-free day. Most of the country was already on lockdown so what use was an extra opportunity to stay home if not an attempt to water the ocean? Workers asked on Facebook whether the holiday could be postponed until work started. Agbara put his fever down to the previous day’s exertions.

The previous day, Nkwor, he had set forth at dawn on his bicycle with Jacob bringing up the rear. They headed out of Igbo-Adagbe to the neighboring community that had the River Ngene flowing through her land. The requisition for the sacrifice was complete and split between the rear carriers of the two bicycles. The ram was tied in a rectangular ukpa basket that sat astride Agbara’s rear carrier. Both master and apprentice cycled away on the narrow footpath that led to the Ngene River which is a tributary of the River Niger.

After the rituals, both men returned with the slaughtered animal for the funerals to start. The symbolic coffin for Umunnakwe was buried at the shrine back in Igbo-Adagbe. The shrine habitués were on hand to prepare a feast with the sacrificial animal. Palmwine flowed from gourds and kegs and the community layabouts converged on the shrine for the merriment which lasted till late in the evening.

Having done his part, Agbara was less concerned with the raucous merriment. Without any prompting, Jacob knew the parts of the animal that belonged to him and made sure to have them smoked in the fire to a crimson dryness and delivered to his master. They would take their place among his collection of smoked venison in the basket hung over the fireplace and cut into chunks as meaty snacks inside his goatskin pouch. Agbara had no wife and recused himself from eating any meal prepared by a woman because the monthly flow was antidotal to the potency of his charms.

Overnight, the tiredness he started feeling that evening escalated to fever and headache. When morning broke that Friday, Eke, he was bed-ridden in his hut. He managed to limp to the door to unlatch it when Jacob came calling. Jacob knew the antidote for malaria fever and after exchanging morning greetings with his master, repaired to prepare a decoction of leaves, herbs and roots. By evening, Agbara’s condition worsened. The community’s patent medicine shop dispenser was sent for. He came in his face mask and stood outside interrogating Jacob.

“What symptoms does he show?”

Jacob reeled them off.

“Does he have sore throat and a dry cough?”

“Let me ask him.”

Back from Agbara’s hut, Jacob nodded in affirmation.

“What of loss of smell and taste?”

“Yes, because the palmwine we took yesterday, he complained it had no smell or taste. Meanwhile, you could smell it from outside this compound.”

“Hmm-hmm,” intoned the unlikely doctor. “Who has been attending to him?”

“Me … myself.”

At that, the medic instinctively stepped back.

“Why?” asked Jacob.

“Nothing,” lied the medic who further asked, “Does he harbor any old illness in him?”

“Ahh, you ask a dog if it has flea? Agbara has arthritis, High BP and other undiagnosed ones.”

That got the medic laughing. When he came to, he spoke from behind his face mask: “Don’t go near him again. I’m coming.” He then turned and left.

POSTSCRIPT

From the 12th of June 2020, calm has descended on the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests across the world. Where people still gathered, they were mild. All became quiet on the western front.

The Igbo-Adagbe community has dwelt in equanimity and free from every natural or man-made disaster.

As for the vicegerent of Agbara Ahuru Gbuo Okuko, of a truth was it said that the novel coronavirus is no respecter of person, the vicegerents of African deities inclusive. His people, the Igbo, ask: Dibia na’gwo otolo, odebelu ike ya ebee? The doctor curing dysentery in patients, where has he hidden his anus?

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