When the vulture-eaters gather together, the basket is lowered. [Reference to vulture is idiomatic. The Igbo do not really eat vultures. Lowering the basket means the meal is served. Probably this means that when like-minded people are assembled, critical matters can be introduced.] So what Nonyerem and his age-mates discussed when they met in the Dunu village square following the masquerade the previous day was how they should round up their age-group and give them titles, because something done at the proper time is not labeled as greed.
There were several age-groups in Alaoke, some with only three people left and some with many hundreds. But the age-group that was the most influential in that town was Ajaba. The leaders were Amaka-ekwu and Otiokpo.
Other age-groups in Alaoke were Udele, Omumu-oku, Ichele, Abiaka-asi, Ekwueme, Ocholu, Ochoku, Amaka-ekwu, and Otiokpo.
They then decided that they would assemble their age group on Orie day, to tell their group members that the year-old hen was no longer a baby chick. [It was time for them to assert their manhood.]
Nonyerem joined in their decision and then went home, but when he arrived and told his mother and father they were not pleased, because Nonyerem's association with the members of his group had made them afraid. But when they scolded Nonyerem, like the yam-stealer he made up his mind to sharpen his digging-stick to go and steal yams again.
But the elders say that a stick does not poke a man in the eye twice, because if the old woman falls down twice, people count the things she is carrying in her basket.
On Orie day, they warned him and told him to be careful when he and the others were together, because what had happened to him when they had gone hunting could easily happen again. They told him that one who did not know his mother should not go to meet her at the market, because of the heartless Amaka-ekwu people, and any sensible person would run away.
He agreed, but told them that he understood that a person who ate with the spirits should be careful, because one should use common sense to drop food to the dog. They agreed, but doubtfully. He then went out. But he told himself that he would do no harm to man or woman, but if anyone tried to quarrel with him for no reason, that person's two hands would be cut to the ground because one who chases chickens is destined to fall down. [Looks for trouble.]
When Nonyerem and Chukwuemeka and Nnabuife reached the Dunu village square, the crowd there was numerous as sands on the beach.
Their leader then told those who were chattering like market women to stop, and it became quiet everywhere.
He then addressed them, "Our people, listen!'' They answered him, "Yaa.'' He said that three times and they replied, "Yaa.'' He said that when a bachelor got up early in the morning and went out, when he returned, the ashes from the morning fire would surely be waiting for him, because the water in the broken pot is always left for the dog. They replied that he spoke the truth.
He then told them that as the bat that flew to the top of the iroko tree was no longer a baby, so they would not be children every year, and that when the bachelor gets married, he has paid the spirit the debt that he owes him.
They all clapped and said that they were like the pot that is underrated but it boils over and extinguishes the fire. [They felt small but mighty.]
Onwuasoanya, who was their chief speaker, then spoke to the very few people who were in the Amakaekwu age group, telling them that they should come back when they would have a new age group, as was their custom. They told him that there was no dance that was bad. [Indicates graceful acceptance.]
They then selected their leaders, and a treasurer, and someone who would make the announcement any time they had a meeting. They also also decided on how much money each one must pay before he could enter the age group, and how much they must pay every year, as well as naming the fine that anyone breaking any rules must pay to them. [I am told that only a pittance is involved, so as not to exclude the poorest boys.]
Before dispersing, they said they should kill one cow for the age-group above them, cook food for them, and buy them wine, and then tell them that they had matured, because Emecheta's son said that if a lizard climbed down and could not speak English, he was like the person who jumped to the ground from the top of a mud brick wall.
The name they agreed to give to their age-group was Odozi Obodo [peacemaker of the town], because they said that they were the ones who would atone for the abominations of the elders.
When the elders heard this, they said that the chief who was told that his mother was returning from market replied that he was just watching and waitng. [Seeing is believing.] Others said that when the small bird grew up, it seemed that he would be superior to his mother, but before long the same thing that happened to his mother happened to him.
At daybreak, the sun shone its beams of light everywhere and the people of Alaoke, both men and women, got up and staggered around sluggishly, because many had completely consumed what they had gathered for the feast of reincarnation of their gods.
The children had dragged out the goat head and the dog they had killed. It seemed to them that every day had become a day of eating and drinking, because they thought that one goat or animal their fathers had killed would not be used up, because the child who gathers twenty yams thinks that he will be eating it forever.
Nonyerem took a broom and swept their compound and their house, then collected some things he wore around his neck [catapult equipment] and some smooth pebbles, and put them into his pocket, then went out.
His parents called him seven times, but the arrow did not pierce the swallow, and they said that wherever the girl sees, there she sprouts breasts. [Possible meaning: he will return in his own good time.]
His father was just in the midst of saying something when someone called his praise name. Ezeonyekwelu answered and told him to enter. The person entered, Ezeonyekwelu called him by name, Ekwuofu, and he responded. They asked each other about their families. Ekwuofu took up his leather bag, laid it in a corner, put his walking-stick there, ground his teeth, brought a titled person's chair and sat down, gathering up his cloth and putting it between his legs. They then proceeded to converse with each other as adults will do.
Ezeonyekwelu cleared his throat, ground his teeth noisily, and asked him if he had washed his hands that morning. He told him that he had not.
Ezeonyekwelu summoned Ugonwa and told her to get a calabash bowl and bring them some water for the morning hand-washing before they chewed kola. Ugonwa brought them water and they washed their hands. She greeted Ekwuofu, and they inquired about each other's children. Ugonwa told him that she would go and make some soup. Ekwuofu told her to go and cook because the morning's journey had been long, so he would eat some bitterleaf soup before going home.
Ugonwa smiled and waddled off happily into her kitchen. Ezeonyekwelu brought out a chalk bowl and marked a chalk line [sign of hospitality], picked out some for Ekwuofu, and he did the same. Ezeonyekwelu went to the pocket of his leather bag, brought out some kola nuts that were split, examined them, and laid them out on a saucer.
Ekwuofu observed him carefully as he went to one side of the house, selected a container, and put it on the fireplace shelf. The container was sooty.
He then opened it, selected a woven cloth that was folded over, uncovered it, took out a white kola nut that was inside and put it on the kola platter, picked up four small pieces of alligator pepper and put them on it, then presented it to Ekwuofu and told him that kola had arrived.
Ekwuofu nodded and responded, telling him that the chief's kola was in the chief's hand. Ezeonyekwelu smiled and replied that one did not see the head of the yam and continue to poke around with the digger. [Implying that he knew his duty and went straight to the point.]
Ekwuofu assented, took the kola from him and blessed it, but while he was opening it, Nonyerem opened the door and entered. Ekwuofu smiled surreptitiously and said that Nonyerem had returned to the world from the house of the spirits. Ezeonyekwelu told him that he was just watching to see what might happen.
Ekwuofu took a piece of kola and ate it, then a piece of pepper and ate it, and offered some to Ezeonyekwelu. He took kola and pepper and ate, then set the kola dish on top of the earthen bench. The two of them sat down cross-legged. Ezeonyekwelu took a small broom straw and rubbed it between his teeth.
Nonyerem entered the house and greeted Ekwuofu. He thanked him and asked if he had been well. He replied that he had.
The elders say that when the child eats the thing that has been keeping him awake, he is then overcome by sleep. Nonyerem had been going regularly to see if the head of coconuts he had planted had borne fruit and had become dry.
When he went to check it that morning, he was delighted because it was starting to dry, and he went to tell Ezeonyekwelu. He then shouted and told Ekwuofu that he thought that they should pick that coconut, because one does not kill a tortoise and set it aside for tomorrow, because it is not the titled people who will cut it up for you. [Do things promptly.]
Ekwuofo agreed with him, and they went to pick it. Ezeonyekwelu took a bamboo stick and knocked down twelve coconuts plus two others, so that if one of the passersby came out and stood waiting until the coconut was cut open, he could scoop out and eat some for himself.
Ezeonyekwelu then cut open six coconuts, scooped them out, and everyone ate, but the only ones who could eat the coconut were married men who had children and married women who had children.
According to Igbo custom, only a person's parents could eat the first fruit of the trees that person had planted. Therefore, Nonyerem could not even taste it. He hissed in disgust, nodded his head and said that what the husband refuses to give his wife can always be found in the marketplace.
Ezeonyekwelu then asked Ekwuofu to castrate his he-goat for him. Ekwuofu agreed.
Ezeonyekwelu went and put red palm oil inside a coconut shell, put water in a bowl, got a razor blade and set it down, then went and grabbed the he-goat.
Ekwuofu gathered up his cloth and folded it between his legs, brought a chair that women sit on for conversing, sat down, and placed his legs on top of the goat's two legs.
Ezeonyekwelu grabbed the goat, lifted it upward, Ekwuofu took the knife and cut off the goat's testicles. The goat cried out in pain, "baa, baa, baa.'' He then rubbed oil on the wound, put oil on its mouth, and it licked it. He let it go with a pat on its bottom and it ran limping to a corner of the house and stood there.
Ezeonyekwelu thanked Ekwuofu, then gave Nonyerem the goat's testicles to give to Ugonwa so Ugonwa could cook them for the two of them to eat. Nonyerem did as he was told.
The elders say that the palm-wine tapper should not discuss everything he sees from atop the palm tree, so the young woman should sip hot soup very slowly.
And Nonyerem remained
at home, growing in body and mind and wisdom. Let it be the day of the
hunter that we hunt the bush-rat behind the house.
~~ *TO CHAPTER 9* ~~