In those days, those good old days.
In those days, while growing (up) in Yala, there were things that we loved. There were things we also loved to hate. Some of the things we loved, we did, yet some, we couldn’t do. The things we loved to hate were mostly forced upon us.
While growing in Yala, that my mother’s home, that home of cultural romance that keeps calling me, like Gabriel Okara’s ‘Call of the River Nun’, as children, we didn’t like to have our bathes. We went to bed sticky dirty with dust and bicycle grease. We woke dirtier than we slept, as if we played soccer un our dreams. Our mouths stank. Yet our teeth were a collection of green vegetation that could make an agriculturist envious.
In Yala, my mother’s Yala, we loved to ride bicycles. Bicycles were ridden on one side of it. We called it ‘monkey style’. The bicycle repairer’s workshop was our delightsome garden of play. Then, we used to call it bicycle shade. It actually shaded us from our master’s wives. Those of us who lived with other people outside our biological parents never had the luxury of being pampered. The bicycle shade pampered us as we stole one penny or later on, one kobo to hire a bike. We rode our bikes in Okuku to Imaje. We dared to ride it to Ugaga Army Barracks, where, in later years, a radio station known as Ugaga Radio Station was situated. It was a juvenile excitement of being good petty thieves who invested our stolen wealth in the lucrative job of biking!
The grease from the bikes, not withstanding, we went home and laid on our mats or on the bare floors. Just like that.
In Yala, we hated long vacation/holidays. That wasn’t a good period for us. Son and daughters. House helps or relations.
Long vacation wasn’t, for us, a period of embarking on holidays to foreign lands. Those lands that seemed to us like Jerusalem in Heaven of God. Our long holidays were spent in working the farms. Yes, farms, not some backyard gardens in some lush homes. Yala farms were tens of miles away from home. The farmers thought that the farther the farms, the better the yields. They went into the other hinter lands. The Okpoma farmer went even as far as to the borders of Yahe. The Yahe man went close to Ukelle. The Okuku farmer, comparatively, was the lazy one. Quite psychedelic. If there were farmers at all in Okuku, they were domestic.
The Ugaga, Ijegu, Okpoma, Yahe, Imaje, Ebo, Abachor, Okpa-onēhi, Okpa-Oloko, etc, farmers were the real native farmers. Those ones farmed in large quantities, taking their wares to the famous Okuku Oga-Agi’s market.
In those farms, the bushes were as grown as the ‘African Night Entertainment’s Kumirukiki, ‘the forest of death’. We were awoken early when the early morning rains either had stopped or began to drizzle. We grudgingly left home for the Yala man’s ‘greener pasture’. The adults trekked behind us. The men held long cutlasses and machetes. Some of the men placed the hoes upon their backs like school bags. The cutlasses were fixed against their waists like a warrior’s sword of war. The sleak raffia-like bag strewn to the men’s waists. They carried another little bag, known in Yala language as ‘ahikó’. In ahikó were some rocks for aiming at birds, while a catapult was readily held in the left hand. In the same ahikó were pieces of ikpāri (kernels). The adult man of the family pulled and ate while we watched, greedily. The women carried large baskets and basins. In those baskets, there were pieces of rags to act as a bridge between the head and the anticipated loads of fire woods, cassava stems, yam seedlings, etc.
While moving in front of the older ones, we beat the grasses, in what was then known as ‘womé’. The act of it was to ‘gwómē’. That was the act of beating the chilly droplets of dew off the grasses. In so doing, the adults could pass safely, and we could learn the life of surviving in discomfort.
During the dry harmattan seasons, we were made to spend nights in the farms. It was our best period. We roasted yams, pepper and went with our fish hooks to get some tiny fresh fishes which we roasted and ate along with our roasted yams.
In the farm nights, mother’s or mistresses made very native atāje (pepper soup) for us. It was atāje made with roasted pepper, dawadawa(locust beans), roasted crayfish and slightly heated cotton leaves. It was a major farm night delicacy.
We, the kids, ate and licked our fingers, demanding for more, even when the pepper made us to shed some soupy tears.
Harmattan farming was my best. As a lazy Okuku boy in Ugaga, which by our local standard, passed me on as an ‘ajebo’ kid, the harmattan farming had much promises. I roasted ‘ikpriyihi’ (seedlings) at will. I peeled the black bark with sticks that were carved like knives. The cutlasses were too big for my tiny fingers to grasp.
The roasted yams were dipped in red palm oil, garnished with roasted pepper and tiny fresh fishes.
In Yala, the harmattan was a welcome season. To the adults in Okpoma to Ijegu, Akreha to Woda, from Ugaga to Imaje, etc, harmattan heralded plenty of the excitement that went with it. It was a period of harvest of the king of crops, yam. But it was also a period of hunting.
Hunting in Yala was a great deal. In those days, the adults carried their dane guns on their shoulders, akwraja on their waists, head lamps tied to their fore-heads and a tiny black piece of ogbó (amulet) in their pockets. They moved in the late evenings or early part of the nights to the forest.
Those hunters were great ones. They hunted and returned home with pythons, antelopes, tigers and even elephants. In very rare cases, some of those farmers killed lions.
In those days, they were no many display of pictures on the walls of our family heads homes. In place of pictures, there were the display of animal skins and skeletons. Those were the signatures of how brave the family heads were.
A visitor, easily, could sight, on the unplastered walls, skins and skeletons of pythons, lions, elephants, tigers, buffalos, etc.
We went for the small hunting known in Yala as ‘úbi’. The bigger one as described earlier was known as ‘wóteh’. In the úbi, the younger men dug the holes, set fire into the end of the holes, while some of the young men stood with wooden rods or long sticks to hit the animals, mostly rats, rabbits, snakes, etc.
In some cases, cobras were dragged out with the bare hands!
We ran like fulanis, holding our sticks and cutlasses, shouting, ‘ala kwó gē ‘ and ‘oyēma, oyēma’ (translated as ‘you people should catch it’ and ‘it’s passing here’).
Reaching home with spoils, the one who saw it or killed the animal would be given the head to eat.
Little kids tied the dead snakes round about their necks. For me, it was an expensive joke. I was not going to be part of that sort of expensive joke. I preferred to be called a coward. I never ate it, for fear that the snake may eat up my intestines!
In those days in Yala, we gathered in Okuku market to watch magicians who sang “come and see amlika wonder”. Those magicians proinounced America as though it was amelika. Those magicians were Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani folks. They soaked garri in a basin for one man to take all. The eater ate an entire basin of it. Then, suddenly, the standbys felt their stomachs swelling. But all were too excited to understand they were being voodooed in the magic feast.
The Hausa-Fulani magicians went with boxes of snakes. They were a great snake charmers. They danced and rolled on the floor with live snakes. Some of those snakes were carried, with its mouth into the charmers mouths. It was like a kiss of death. We, the children dreamed of when we shall be such great magicians. We went home, practicing, by imagination, the act of magic. Christianity wasn’t the vogue. Juju was the vogue!The Igbos were the super men. We called any of them ‘super man’! While in school, our headmasters announced to us that during the recreation periods, a super man was in town to display his prowess. We prayed for a speedy time out to recreation. Recreation was the long break period. Those super men were really powerful. They bent over with their bellies facing the sky. The tallest and fattest of the teachers or head boys were asked to climb on their stomachs. We clapped and hailed. Then, the super rich headmasters who had motor bikes were asked to start up the engine of the bike with the intention of speeding away. The superman would hold back the bike while it kept raving to no avail of moving any where. We would clap and scream our throats out.
While growing in Yala, stories were told of ghosts and how they floated in the air. We feared that part of the story, especially, if told at night. We would be so scared, no one child would dare to go alone to pass urine. A ghost may be by the mud thatch houses to slap us. Most times, our fears resulted in urinary bed wetting!
While growing, we saw our older ones with novels. They wore white pair of canvass shoes, strolling the streets of Okuku. They were the big boys. They gathered to discuss about college life and a thing known as “refectory”, where each student was given an iced fish and in some cases, two of them shared a tin of Peak milk.
On Saturdays, two guys were paired with a chicken. There was no speaking of pidgin English in college. Every where was clean and sparkling. We saw those South African students who were under the Nigerian government’s scholarship. That was the era of apartheid in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe. The regions were collectively known as Rhodesia. That was carved from the name of Sicil Rhodes.
It was an era of black and white pictures. We had the ‘A-like stand of the photographer. The photographer often, was seen covering a red cloth over his head whenever a photograph was about to be taken. Pictures were ‘washed’ in a dark room. It took 5-7 days for pictures to be ready for collection.
Later, the first colored pictures began to arrive Okuku. The Mary Knoll College (Marco) boys and Teacher’s Training College (TTC ) students of Igoli were seen with a camera that could produce instant colored pictures. The camera was known as Polaroid.
Outside Polaroids, other color producing cameras took pictures whose films were sent abroad to England or America for production. It took 2-3 months to have one’s photos in one’s album!
In Yala of those days, corpses were kept at home. There were no mutuaries, neither were there hospitals with mogues. The rich corpses were taken to the big city, Igoli-Ogoja.
Yala deads were kept on a high stake for at least, five days to, in some extreme cases, two weeks before burials.
Holes were dug and woods were fixed in those holes, high enough, as high as 12-14 feet. The corpses were wrapped in some wrappers and tied like refrigerated or ‘iced’ fishes upon the high platform of wood.
Burial guests were exposed to the sight of decayed bodies, dropping with liquids. The hens and cocks, plus their chicks could be seen drinking the droplets of that ‘water’ from those corpses, lifting their heads in gratitude to God for such delicious sauce!
We went to those burial grounds, squeezing some lemon grass into our nostrils, believing that it stayed off the stench. Actually, the entire environment stank like death.
In Yala, barbing salons were clean and tidy. The barbers used razor blades and scissors to scrap our hairs off the skulls. Our skulls were infested with lice and dandruff. It was a painful experience. It was a punishment by our family heads for our dirty habits and the inability to bathe.
The heads bled. We cried. We screamed. The barbers knocked our heads, robbed red ‘duck soap’ or ‘key soap’ into the bare skull, right upon the bleeding wounds. Back home,me were robbed with ‘úcha-apihī ‘(local black soap)
For the bigger boys, the barbers used manual clippers. There was no electricity anywhere to apply today’s electronic clippers. The barber’s shop was a nightmare.
In Yala, most local adults and all the local children never used mouth brushes to clean their mouths. It was chewing sticks. The chewing sticks were carefully picked from medicinal trees. Those ‘medicine trees’ gave us the chewing sticks that cured our malaria and ‘yellow fever’.
Orthodox drugs were not patronized. If any member of the family was down in health, paw-paw, ‘dogoyaro’ (nim), mango, orange, lemon grass, lemon orange leaves, etc, were used or prepared for us to drink.
The women boiled the herbs, sat us by the pots and covered us with their wrappers, over the heat of the herbs. We shook, inhaled and bathed the herbal water for complete healing. If after 3 days or at most, 7days, the little ones didn’t get healed, they were termed lazy and afraid to do the farm work.
In those days, all trouble making and the resultant fights were reserved for school closure. The aggressors would be engaged in road fights. The one who was thrown to the ground was fed with sand by the one on top. We called it Garry Cooper garri.
We watched cinemas. Not movies. It was the era of celluloid ‘movies’. The word ‘movie’ is American. We called it ‘e-cinima’.
Before the night of the cinema, a town crier was sent to announce throughout the village environments.
For those in Okuku, the town crier announced through the streets.
The headmasters announced to the pupils and the other teachers about the cinema show. Added to all of those, to the excitement of the people, a mini bus, mostly Volkswagen ‘cumbi’ bus went to town, announcing, “cinema show, cinema show!”. Both adults and children went wild with excitement.
Children and other wards were compelled to impress the adults, failure to so do, will end with a sanction of no watching the cinema on the St Joseph’s Elementary School field. Most films came from Enugu. Enugu was the headquarters of educational stuffs. Mary Knoll College, Okuku ‘borrowed’ films from the British Council. In those days, there was nothing called cultism. Every one was serious. Neither the teachers nor the students were even imagined to be known as cultists/ gangsters. Every one minded his or her time, studying the books like never before. In elementary schools, pupils’ exam results were read in a big school hall. Parents and guardians trooped to hear their wards’ results. Those who failed cried for days. Christmas dresses were denied them. Neither was there the opportunity to go out with other kids on the day of Xmas nor were they treated to some Xmas sumptuous meals!
In Yala churches and schools, vernacular was the in-thing. We were taught vernacular. We were taught on how to write the alphabets and history of words and names of both humans and animals! In Okpoma, a white man translated the English Bible to Yala New Testament Holy Bible. He was coronation as one of the local chiefs. He became one of the big hunters in Okpoma.
Christmas was celebrated in all homes. The Muslims shared with the Christians. Children went out in their best dresses. It was a day for free and unofficially legalized begging. We begged passers by. We begged adults. Parents waited to count how much we got. Part of the money would be saved by wise parents to buy some of our pencils, biros and ‘olympics’ exercise books.
Little masquerades were allowed on the streets and home of Yala people. Those masquerades never ate in the open. But they took money in the open.
In those days, school was exciting. Teachers were like demi God’s. Parents worshipped them. In St Joseph’s Elementary / Primary School, Okuku, our headmaster was one Mr Atabi, a Yache man of Yala heritage. Yache and Yala people are children of the same Idoma man. Mr Atabi was a tall and handsome man. Quite a brilliant teacher. He knew all the calculations and practical excercises(P.E). He was both loved and feared by the pupils. We thought he knew everything. He looked like an oyibo man. He may’ve been born in Edinburgh or London, we thought. Mr Atabi had a long nose that adorned his handsome face. His voice echoed through the airwaves like thunder. Those of us who dodged to escape to Okuku market, Mr Atabi saw. We even thought Mr Atabi used his long nose as antenna to locate our whereabouts. He also had a bit of an opened pair of nostrils to perceive our body odors. He would, like a dog, sniff our whereabouts and pick us by the collars of our ash-upon-milky-brown uniforms. If he didn’t hold us by the shirt collars, he held our ‘pinafore'(cross belts). Mr Atabi ran like a jaguar. We argued that he, Mr Atabi ran faster than Ogalama Ogamode’s 404 Peugeot car !
Then, came Mr Tony Ogbeche, the headmaster. He was as hard as he was unsmiling. We didn’t like his style. But we liked his story telling time-out. That was when we had the choicest of St Joseph’s mango fruits. We were forced to tell the stories in English. It wasn’t in English grammar. It was to be told in pidgin English. Yet, it was a tug-of-war for many of us, except for the teachers’ children.
We told real and fake stories made up of imaginative lies. We told of the gorrila in Abang Omeka, that slightly insane man’s house, opposite the famous Okuku Round-about. We told stories about the fight between the rat and the groundnut, and why the rat still eats groundnuts. Stories were told by us about Mr Tortoise, the cunnying animal. Yet the hare seemed to us, a better trickster. The hare could run from the earth to heaven. But the Tortoise could only borrow the bird’s feathers to fly to heaven when all the animals were to hold a conference with their all mighty king, the lion. But because of the tortoise’s greed, the birds took back their feathers, compelling the tortoise to jump from heaven to earth, causing a great back break. That’s the reason for the tortoise’s broken stitches of the back. Folklore were told for wisdom and future lessons of life!
In those days, they were no many cars, neither were there exotic ones. Travellers went by lorries. The first lorry I ever saw was in Okuku market. It was called ‘Austyn Power’. It had an uncommon key to start up the ignition. Rather, it had a z-like iron that was inserted into the burnet of the lorry, like in a Lister generator, then, spinned round for a kick. Suddenly, the vehicle would start up, while every one looked at the oyibo man’s magic on land. Then, came the 911 lorry, loading ‘akpu’ (fermented cassava) from Ugaga, the home of akpu, to Lagos. We thought that Lagos people were a set of oyibo that never ate akpu. To worsen it, some of the Lagos boys who returned home for the great Yala new yam, told us that the akpu exported to Lagos was meant for feeding of pigs. We believed them!
On festive days, the big boys wore long, over flowing pair of pants (trousers) christened ‘apoki’ OR ‘keep Lagos clean’. The big babes wore an equally over flowing dress known as ‘maxim’. The boys wore the hair style known as afro. The babes also had their style of afro, adorning it with some flowers.
Those who had a date fixed a rose or sun flower to their afro hair-do. The guys wore the ‘Ray Parker’ style of hair style. They kept side buns, with a large pair of goggles. The ‘baddoos’ lit a piece of cigarrete and held it stylishly. Those were largely, the Lagos boys.
The shoes worn by the guys were called ‘I swear to God ‘, ‘high heels’ or ‘steps’, knock-on-wood, ‘agarra kupa'(Garry Cooper), etc.
Our fathers split their hair with a line which was called ‘bogi’. They walked majestically with walking sticks and an ‘ihikoŕ'(snuff pipe ) stock to their mouths.
The ones who studied abroad and on holiday to mother Africa, placed a piece of cigarette in the pipe or they had an Erimoore, a sweetly smelling sort of snuff. That was for the bourgeoisie JJC (Johnnie Just Come) African scholars. They were the new elites. The new imperialists that would become the neo-colonialists!
In Yala, life was sweet and free. There existed no fences or walls. Neighbors spoke by way of ‘trikóko'(echoe-screaming) to one another.
In Yala of my growing, every man’s child was every body’s child. Children were corrected by strangers. Teachers were the law keepers. Parents idolized teachers. Teachers never took bribes. Neither did they drink or eat in public. Teachers were a complete set of gentlemen and women!
In those days, there were very few televisions and radios. There were no telephones in Yala. Telephones were in Igoli, the headquarters of old Ogoja region, comprising of Abakaliki and Afikpo.
Children clogged over the windows to watch neighbor’s TVs. Radios were held upon the shoulders by adults as they strolled to friends homes for the evening round-the-world gossips. Only teachers held radios and read newspapers!
In Ugaga, our headmaster, Mr Wonah told us that in big cities, radios and televisions were plugged to electricity. We called him a liar. We couldn’t imagine, ever at all, how a mere string of wire, not loads of batteries, would play radios and televisions.
We did our ironing or pressing of clothes with coal iron that had an image of cocks on it. Only a few teachers and tailors had it!
Children stood by Ijaja in Okuku to hear the purported voices of telephone users that spoke from far away Calabar and Lagos to the big man called D.O(District Officer), Chf Odibu.
The telephone wires were connected over-head like NEPA poles and wires of today.
The D.O was an equivalent of today’s Council Chairman. Comparatively, his office was by far more than today’s commissioner’s office!
We trekked distances to fetch water. We filled drums of water and fetched fire woods for teachers. That was in those days.
In those days, we were saner and more focused. Better lyrics were played in music. Dances looked saner as steps were taken to match the lyrics and beats of the music. We danced like people of sanity.
There were no raps. The only rap music was the American Curtis Blow. There were highlife music. Several of those music made complete sense and wisdom for the future. Even the reggae and rock music were sane in listening.
The ladies did no make-up on their faces. They didn’t wear devil-like nails. They looked very natural and extremely beautiful. They never looked like educated masquerades!
Our fathers were a collection of disciplinarians. You dare not go out without permission. And dare you return home late. Coming late meant returning home by 7pm or at most, 8pm. No parents would accept that !
In those days, men married women, not club girls. In those days, children were not called kids. In those days, a father was called papa or sir. A mother was addressed as mama or ma. Not mummy or aunty!
A teacher was addressed as sir or tutor. Not uncle or lecturer!
In those days, we walked on the streets with novels, not cigarrete or codeine or tramadol.
Politics was played by wise people who read out their manifestos. In those days, Dr Offoboche, DJ Ogar and Ogalama Ogamode played politics of Zik and Awo, devoid of street bitterness and thuggery or carry-over fights!
But all these happened in those days!