• Chuka Nwanazia

A Fatherless Son ... (Cont.)


The Medicine Man's Visit

It was only 5 a.m. in the morning when Nwike heard a knock on the door. He was contemplating opening it or waking up grandma when grandpa walked into the sitting room to ask who was knocking. He must have heard the noise from his room as Nwike could see he was rushing to to tie his wrapper around his waist.

"Who are you?" He asked the person at the door.

"It's me Ochendu, the messenger of the gods", the person replied.

Ochendu was a known native doctor in the village and people usually dreaded his visits. The villagers only visited him when they had problems only a native doctor or someone with the knowledge of herbs could solve.

"Open the door Nwike", grandpa said. "And also clear the table when you're done", he added.

There were plates on the table used for snacks the previous night and as Nwike opened the door, grandpa rearranged them so it would be easy for him to pick them up at once.

Ochendu was a tall, lanky man who always looked like he had no stamina and would fall at the slightest encounter with the strong eastern wind. He always carried a staff made from bamboo and there were pieces of red and white fabric dangling from the tip. He also had some peacock feathers and cowries on a string attached to the top of the staff. It looked worn from years of being carried in the rain and the sun and also had a very bad smell coming from it. He always carried a shoulder bag made from the skin of an antelope and his teeth were dark brown from eating too many kola-nuts. His nails were always long and unkept from uprooting weeds on his farm with his hands. He always wore bath slippers and his head, though shaved, looked like it had been done by someone in a hurry.

Nwike had always been scared of Ochendu because he looked like something out of a creepy horror movie. He always had a menacing look on his face, his smile, always sinister and his eyes, blood red. His eyes scared the living daylight out of Nwike and his siblings.

"Ututu oma, Ogbueshi Okechukwu", he said.

"Ututu oma Ochendu." Grandpa replied.

"What brings you to my house this early morning. Hope all is well?"

Ochendu looked into space for a while - like he was in deep thought and then said, "The frog does not leave its quiet abode for nothing. It's either chasing something or something is chasing it."

"Speak my dear messenger of the gods", said grandpa. You are the mouthpiece of the gods and when you speak, we mere humans listen." He added.

"But before you start, can I offer you something to eat or drink?" Asked grandpa.

Ochendu loved his gin, just like every other elder in the village. He sat on the floor, as he is never known to sit on chairs and carefully placed his staff right next to his bag on the floor. His red gown spread over the area where he sat and his left eye kept twitching as he spoke. He always applied native white chalk on his left eye and was fond of constantly chewing kola-nuts or chewing sticks.

He turned down grandpa's offer of a kola-nut because he had already had some and instead, asked for a drink.

Medicine men were always old and since they had to remain medicine men for life, the villages never had one for more than 10 or 15 years. Some were chosen while they were in their late 60s or 70s and as a result, only served for a short period of time. In Ochendu's case, he was chosen at a very young age. He was only 20 when he was called by the goddess of the river to become the Medicine man of Asaba and as much as it hurt his parents, they had to let him go live in the shrine to tend to the gods. He was now in his mid 40s and while the elders appreciated how active he was in affairs affecting the village, they also felt that he lacked wisdom - the kind that came with age. Nevertheless, they held him in high regard and always gave him the respect his office deserves.

Being called to be a medicine man was almost the same as being called to be a priest. A medicine man had to be the mouthpiece of the gods, a spiritual guide to his people, serve in the royal council, act as the village herbalist by healing ailments with the help of herbs and also help appease the gods when people strayed.

It wasn't an easy job, and while many families never wanted their sons to be chosen (because medicine men were usually seen as a weird and misunderstood bunch), they all agreed that every village needed its medicine man. Someone had to interpret the messages from the gods and make sure that the traditional rulers didn't abuse the divine power given to them.

It was no secret that Lord's Dry Gin was one of the most popular drinks in Asaba and in the village of Umuda. Every elder had a bottle at home and whenever they gathered to talk about the matters affecting the village, they ate kola-nuts and drank Lord's Dry Gin. It was just like apple pie and whipped cream, one couldn't be served without the other (unless of course, a guest asks not to be served one or the other).

Nwike rushed into grandpa's room to fetch the bottle of gin. Grandma was already awake and making the bed when he walked in. She asked who the visitor was and when he told her, he could feel her shock fill the room.

"Why is he here this early and I hope all is well?" She asked.

"I have no idea grandma and to be honest, he creeps me out sometimes", Nwike said.

"Well, he is a creepy man. Years of being alone in that shrine will do that to anyone", she said, as she folded the old bedsheets from the previous day.

Nwike grabbed the bottle of Lord's Dry Gin and made his way back to the sitting room. Ochendu and grandpa were talking about the maize and cassava harvests that year and how it wasn't really favourable compared to the year before.

"The rains haven't touched the ground in the past six months and that is the reason why our harvests haven't been good", Ochendu said.

Nwike handed the bottle of dry gin to grandpa who passed it to Ochendu.

Normally, the oldest person pours the libation and recites praises and greetings to the gods, but according to tradition, grandpa had to allow Ochendu to do it because spiritually, he was the oldest. It was also an act of respect seeing as he is the eyes and the mouthpiece of the gods.

The pouring of libation in Asaba (and in most parts of Africa) is a practice that is as old as time. To make a libation, the drink (usually alcohol) is poured into a small calabash or a glass and drops of it are poured on the ground accompanied with words of praise or greetings for the gods and/or the ancestors. This practice has evolved with the coming of Christianity to Asaba, as elders who pour libations recite praises not to the gods of their forefathers but to God.

As Ochendu was done with the pouring of libation in the local dialect, he poured some gin into a glass for himself and then passed the bottle to grandpa who tapped the head (as a sign that he won't be sharing a drink with the guest). Grandpa never drank so early in the morning and he was still very curious as to why the medicine man was in his house at that time of the morning. He fixed his gaze at Ochendu and without saying a word, made his intention known. He wanted the medicine man to let him know why he came calling so early in the morning.

Ochendu took a sip from his glass, rinsed his mouth with the gin and swallowed with a loud gulp sound. He took another sip, looked straight into space with eyes filled with anger and seriousness and then began to speak:

"The gods are angry! Our people have enjoyed bountiful harvests the past couple of years and it seems that they have forgotten who made it possible. We used to make sacrifices to the gods by bringing our goats, tubers of yam, maize, cocks and hens, cassava and bags of rice to the shrine as a token of our appreciation.

These days, we don't show gratitude anymore."

He took another sip and then continued:

"Ever since the white man's religion came to our town, our people have slowly forgotten the ways of the gods. They enrich these so-called "Men of God" and give them all the praise that belongs to the gods of our forefathers."

He turned from looking into space and looked directly into grandpa's eyes. It felt like his red eyeballs were going to pop out of their sockets as Nwike could see that even grandpa was a bit uneasy by the look.

"Ogbueshi Okechukwu.

I have come to you just like I will go to your fellow elders.

The gods are really angry!

We must find our way back to them and give them the respect and gratitude they deserve.

My shrine has been empty for a long time and the gods tell me that it is time to start offering sacrifices to them as we used to.

We must do better or else!"

He looked away and acted like he just woke up from a trance. He took another sip from his glass and started rummaging in his antelope bag, looking for a kola-nut.

Grandpa took some time to think about what Ochendu had just said. He was quiet for almost 4 minutes and then said,

"You have spoken well, mouthpiece of the gods.

I too, believe that we have all been so busy with the white man's religion, that we have forgotten the ways of our forefathers. In my opinion, it is totally unacceptable!

I am very sure that if you pass the message to the Diokpa and other elders with as much verve and energy as you have done this morning, the Diokpa will call a meeting in no time and we will have a discussion and decide when the next sacrifices will take place."

Grandpa knew Ochendu was only jealous of how good the Christian priests have had it in Asaba. Their churches were always filled up with some of the town's richest people, who made huge donations every Sunday and offered the produce from their farms to the church during the "General Harvest."

He understood it was a bit too much for Ochendu to bear.

This was definitely something the Diokpa would have to handle with care, so as not to offend the Christians and/or traditionalists in his council.

There had always been a heated strife between the Christians and the traditionalists. The traditionalists felt that Christianity had to be done away with as it was the "white man's religion" and has done nothing but hinder the locals from being proud of and celebrating the ways of their forefathers. On the other hand, the Christians felt that the ways of their forefathers were outdated, barbaric and ungodly and locals had to embrace Christianity as it was the only road to heaven. If it was up to them, they would abolish all the pagan traditions that had been passed down from their forefathers and replace them with only Christian holidays.

Grandpa had always believed in freedom. He believed that every man should be free to practice whatever religion he felt was his calling. He also believed that if a man wanted to combine both, he should be free to do so. He didn't like how religion brought out the worst in some people and he also didn't appreciate how most people forced their ideologies on others.

They talked about the size of their farms for a while and then changed the topic to the kinds of manure they used. Grandpa talked about how he was thinking of switching from cow dung to fertiliser and Ochendu immediately discouraged him not to, reminding him of how their forefathers had all used cow dung manure and never had problems with crop yield. He didn't seem to like the ways of the white man and that was clear for all to see.

Ochendu asked about grandma, and grandpa in turn, asked about his family (he had four wives and twelve children).

It definitely isn't easy taking care of four wives and twelve children, especially when you're a full-time medicine man who had acquired no useful skill in his youth and depends solely on the offerings from the villagers to the gods.

Times must have been hard on Ochendu to make him come out of his shrine and threaten the villagers with anger from the gods as punishment for not offering sacrifices. He must be really desperate and his desperation was what scared grandpa. A religious conflict caused by "desperation" was definitely something the village could do without. It could spread to other villagers and that was not good for the town.

After a few more glasses of gin, he stood up and made it clear that he wanted to be on his way.

As grandpa walked with him to the door, he thought about how other elders would digest what Ochendu just told him. He thought about how some of the elders might not even let him come into their houses due to their Christian beliefs. He also thought about how some of the blunt ones would immediately call out his jealousy and desperation and probably ask him to leave their houses.

He looked up into the sky and noticed how dark it was that morning.

A storm was coming to Asaba and the village of Umuda. A big storm was coming and he knew it would take some divine intervention to calm it.

To be continued next week ...

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