By Anayo M. Nwosu
I’m no longer in doubt that many of our ancestors died with them, many useful knowledge thereby setting aflame, a rich library of Igbo cosmology, and what happens to the humans immediately upon death.
Igbo heritage and real existential knowledge are now being further diminished by teachers whose knowledge is limited by their holy books or the indoctrination of their late or living spiritual leaders.
How does one explain the experience of my grandfather?
Nwosu Ezeechedolu, my grandfather, was by the fireside with his sick son, Obadinka whose whistling breath could be heard from two huts away when he got a message that his cousin, Anajemba wanted to see him. The emissary said that it was urgent.
“Not at this time”, Ezeechedolu murmured.
Not when his sick boy had clung to him, a sign with a message only elders could decode.
Obadinka’s health had not improved for the past four days since the onset of the harmattan. To make matters worse, the preparation from native doctor Ọnwụama didn’t seem to help.
Ezeechedolu sent a message back to his cousin that his son was not in a good shape and would be unable to come immediately.
But Anajemba was unrelenting.
He sent a more senior messenger to come to call Ezeechedolu with a scary message that “you can beget another son but cannot replace a brother”.
That was a hard one.
But, that was an era when brotherhood was supreme. A brother’s cry was never ignored for whatever reason.
My grandfather had to hand over the nursing duties of their son to his wife, Nwazọlọ, and left for his cousin’s house which was half a kilometer away.
Ezeechedolu was halfway to his destination when a sprinting young man caught up with him with the news of the death of Obadinka, his son. He died a few minutes after Ezeechedolu left him.
But my grandfather would not turn back.
“Tell them to cover him with palm tree leaves, I will soon come back”, was the response my grandfather gave to the startled young messenger.
“Ezeechedolu my brother welcome”, Anajemba mustered with borrowed strength in greeting his cousin. He appeared to be saving his last breath for the meeting with Ezeechedolu.
“Ezeechedolu, I am happy you made it. I have been waiting for you. I’m dying, I won’t survive it. Ezeọnyịdo has killed me. He hit me so savagely. He killed Okafọ and now me. You may be the next target. You must do something immediately. You know what to do”, was the last Anajemba could say before he breathed his last.
The death of Anajemba in his presence accentuated the crushing sorrow of the loss of a son, his last and beloved son.
Without minding his high ranking Ọzọ title that forbade him from crying out loudly in the public, Ezeechedolu screamed, “ewu ataa m ịgụ n’isi!” meaning “I have been robbed barefacedly by the unarmed “.
“Ọ gba juonana dọlụ!” meaning “all has come to a standstill”
“Nna m ha anọkarịana m mana afụkarịanam ha na ife”, meaning that “my ancestors have lived longer than me but I have seen more gory things than them!”
As customary when an iroko like Anajemba fell, an oloo or loud cry would be made by a trained voice with high decibel that would be heard a mile long. It was incumbent on any Nnewi citizen who heard that characteristic loud oloo sound to start moving towards the origin of the sound. It’s a death announcement.
As other relations and friends started converging, Ezeechedolu had to understandably take his leave.
He needed to go bury his 8 years old son early enough for the burial of his cousin late in the evening. Ọzọ titleholders were not buried until late in the night, not in the full glare of the non-initiated.
Anajemba was buried after the preliminary rites but the full funeral ceremonies would be conducted another day. The funeral would be well prepared as all the relations and friends must be notified and invited.
Just as Anajemba was being interred into his grave, Ezeechedolu asked few elders of the family to wait behind. He needed to discuss what Anajemba told him before he died. They agreed to a course of action and Ezeechedolu was to execute.
My grandfather left his house by the first crow of the cock to consult Nwokonkwọ the great native doctor. It was an hour’s journey by foot.
To his surprise, Native Doctor Nwokonkwọ was already inside his okwu agwụ or his consultation hut waiting for his August visitor.
“Come in Nwosu Ezeechedolu the son of the great Nwosu Ezeonwaneti, I have been expecting you”, Nwokonkwọ said to his visitor who was not surprised because he knew that the native doctor wined and dined with the ancestors.
“Ojena mụọ (meaning the man who moves in the spirit), we need your help otherwise vulture would feast on my kinsmen, Ezeọnyịdo, our dead brother took his trade to the grave. He wants to finish us before our time”, my grandfather pleaded.
“Ezeechedolu, you need not say that much. The ancestors had told me about your mission and judgment has been passed on Ezeọnyịdo. He must be exhumed today, this evening, before tomorrow which is Eke day. He already has a list of victims to attack on their way to the Eke Ogwugwu market”, the doctor said.
Dr. Nwokonkwọ detailed what was required for the attenuation and liquidation of Ezeọnyịdo including his consultation fees or ife agwụ ya na eri.
Before the sun was about to set, Nwokonkwọ was already at the compound of late Ezeọnyịdo.
He fortified five young men with palm frond which he soaked in an unknown solution. He also robbed a special chalk or nzụ on the eyelids to make them see beyond the ordinary.
Nwokonkwọ stabbed his Oji or sharp-pointed staff to the ground, exactly at the eastern end of Ezeọnyịdo’s grave where the head of his corpse was positioned.
That was to pin down the spirit of the dead man in the grave.
Then, the young men were instructed to excavate the grave to exhume the corpse of the rampaging dead man.
And the digging began.
With a long machete in his hand, Nwokonkwọ stood by the graveside prying his eyes like an eagle aiming at any animal that would try to escape from the grave. It had to be killed.
The excavation was ongoing when a huge cobra emerged from the grave. Just as the cobra was about to charge or pump its neck into attack mode, Nwokonkwọ’s machete artfully severed the neck from the trunk of the snake.
As they dug deeper, one of the young men involved in the exhumation shouted “nwoke a riri amuosu ooo, ọ dịkwa ndụ ooo!” meaning “this man is still alive, he must have transformed to an immortal!”
The supposed dead man’s body was as smooth as that of a baby. His eyes were so wide open and steadied like someone at a pulse.
Nwokonkwọ, the great dibịa swung its action.
He called out the dead man “Ezeọnyịdo, your time is up, do you want to die with all your kinsmen? An ugly man with an ugly heart, you shall be stripped of your powers today!”
The native doctor sprinkled a preparation on the still but living corpse of a man who had been buried over nine months before.
He flung the wicked corpse unto the land surface supposedly using a juju called “ibu adị nfe” which helps the holder haul or carry a heavy object with minimal energy or effort.
Without much delay, a crowd of stunned relations were dispersed and the corpse of Ezeọnyịdo was cremated or set on fire using dried ogirisi and ụkwa firewoods until the remains became smooth ashes.
Nwokonkwọ, the native doctor personally gathered the ashes into an earthen pot container, sprinkled it with palm oil made from Ojukwu species of oil palm tree, and went home with the pot.
The next day, being an Eke market day, and subsequently, nobody, not even my grandfather, was attacked again by Ezeọnyịdo.
What the dead Ezeọnyịdo did from his grave is known in Igbo land as “ị gba ụmụnadị” which has no definition in English or in the foreign holy books.
The above is a true-life account of what happened in Otolo Nnewi Southeast Nigeria as told to me by my elders. A couple of names are pseudonyms for obvious reasons.