Nights in Yala was very thick in darkness : there wasn’t the luxury of electricity of any type, aside the one that came from hotels such as Premier and Travellers Lodge hotels, who’s owners, I shall be telling a story about, in the days to come.
There were Tilley lamps, owned largely, by rich Ibo traders and a few Headmasters.
The darkness was so dark, one couldn’t see his fingers, no matter the proximity in which they were held. The darkness was huge and ‘feel-able’. It was so dark, many blind people saw it, while the deaf heard its eerie whispers, strolling by ones shoulders in huge figure, like a giant in the dark!
In those days, in Yala, no child was allowed a whisper in the darkness that blanketed the night, for fear, snakes may crawl by.
The natives believed that, whispering was the language of snakes, and that language was heard by the snakes, only at night. Similarly, no kids were allowed to draw a line on the ground at night, because, the devil’s snake danced upon the lines.
When it was evening, noises were heard from nearby houses, inviting kids to bed. Mothers screamed their voices hoarse, calling on the mischievous evening players to run home or be caught by idā or ýakplā: idā and ýakplā were a female goddess and her husband, the god of thunder.
They patrolled in the evening and deep night ; they went about, searching for witches and wizards.
When ýakplā passed by, children and other non-initiates were made or advised to put a stone in their mouths, crossing their fingers, believing that the god would see, only a heap of ant hills, instead of humans, as they walk stealthily by the shadows of the earth that hovered over their heads, until the verbal echoes of the priests of the goddess and god disappeared into the forests.
Forests were not far away. In Ugaga, the forests were at the backyard of one’s únu epē (hut house). In Okuku, the forests heralded the visitors’ visit to the warrior’s house.
Okuku, amidst the locally generated hullabaloo that filled the streets as a result of drunken soldiers who returned from Idāh Ogaŕ Agī , harassing passers-by, there was also the cacophony of pounding mortars and pestles, rising into the air by housewives who must cook fast enough to avoid their husbands quarels.
Most of Okuku women’s husbands returned home, especially on Okuku market days, half drunk and half soaked in self urination. They shouted and cursed the day they were born. In some cases, they sang and danced to an imaginary drum. Another day, the drunks abused an imaginary ghost, ‘léhu gbóo ye’ ( walking big headed ghost).
The most famous drunkards song, sang by Okuku women’s husbands was ’emúo kālamī, amī chīchī kálēmúo ‘(palm wine gossips me, I too gossip palm wine).What ever that means, only the drunkards and the drinkards could tell.
When the husbands arrived home, no one spoke, aside them. They spoke like the canary birds. They called for their foods from the main roads, cursing their wives as they entered, especially, if the food was being pounded at their arrival.
In Yala, many homes cooked and ate late. Most fires were set at between the hours of 6pm and 7pm. Actually preparations started at thirty minutes after the set fire.
Fingers were busy, turning the ákpo (fermented cassava) in a mortar, after it may’ve been squeezed out of óba-yākpo(ákpo bag). Then it would be par-boiled, pounded for the first time, before the second and final time. Many children, while waiting for mother’s food, slept off, near the fire side, especially, during the harmmattan periods, where many of those kids were awoken, looking as white as Imaje ghosts!
Imaje is the closest village to Okuku, whose people, in Yala folklore, were noted for absolute foolery.
There are many songs and stories told concerning them : there is the story of Imaje bereaved families, hanging bells on their corpses while they carried them on their shoulders or heads, walking to the grave sides.
The song goes like, ‘alī Imáje oģagboŕ da’āta kwóku, iģbo né kókanī ēh du’ūnu kwóbo’ . Translation : Imaje people hang bells on their corpses, but before any one could complain, they would charge for a fight!
Another one sang thus: Agbó Ogaŕ dī manģoro chá’aŕe, olónto bo’ochi né ńyi manģoro jéni mā.
Interpretation : Agbó Ogaŕ broke a mango seed as if no one has ever sucked one.
It meant that, if an Imaje person didn’t want any one to suck a sweet fruit with him or her, he or she would destroy the seed, for fear it may be replanted for consumption by the one ‘greedy-ing’ over the said fruit!
I often sang this song to tease one of my younger sisters, Agbo-Dorathy, whose name fitted so appropriately.
Agbo-Dorathy hated my singing that song, and would often jump to high heavens, rolling and rubbing herself on the bare Okuku dusty ground, screaming like ogūgū (owl)!
But her cry caused in me, the sweetness of a mischief chief.
When vehicular form of transportation was introduced in Yala, it was reported that an Imaje passenger would carry his/her load on the head while sitting in the lorry, for fear of being charged a double fair. No entreaties saved the situation!
After the ákpo had been pounded and packaged in pátaprúf (water proof/nylon),the soup gets busy, dancing on the fire.
It begins with stone-grinding the pepper, most of the times, mixed with onions, as the rińyi or/and okpéhe escorted the pepper.
Rińyi and okpéhe are products of locust beans. The smell that comes out of these sauces stinks to God’s beautiful Heaven. It smells sweeter while being cooked in soup. Many times, greedy and hungry spirits, came from the heavens, gallivanted about, sniffing around to have some morsels of the meal.
My best, uptil date, is rińyi and éhia soup. Okpéhe comes very rare, being the maggi cube of the Yala people.
If it was yam season, many men claimed they didn’t like ákpo because it smells. The same men ate it, voraciously, during what is known by the locals as ‘twenty hungry’, being a period where all crops had been buried in the earth, awaiting their ressurrections, a year after wards!
Pounded yams often followed with quarels and fights. It must be well smoothed for easy swallowing by husbands. The soup must not be overly peppery. That too, was met with a punch or in milder cases, slaps by husbands.
If a husband complained about úkpo wóna(improperly pounded yam), what the knee-jerking woman must do, was to plead the ‘chu-chū adā wóle yū, āwotu nī kó’o’ (please, father of my household, don’t be angry-o!).
If the defaulting house wife kept mute or uttered a negative word, it would take idā, the big goddess of the land, to intervene.
Children cried as mothers were being beaten. Stubborn women refused to run, they held their husbands waist side trousers, screaming, agēh dū mgbo īche, ke’éh āwo óghronī (you’ll kill me today, else, you are not a man).
In some cases, instead of the wives crying, it was the husbands who would be heard wailing “ebélachī onýa núma gē dū mgbó mē kó’o!” ( “this animal in the bush woman will kill me o!”), as their testicles are being grabbed and dragged about by the angry stubborn wives. The wives would be shouting at the top of their voices, gúrijē gē niī mūo (beat me let me see you).
When that happened, neighbors gathered to appeal to the wife, advising her to be careful, else, there would no more be pregnancies for her.
Today, the voice of the angry wife can still be heard in my ears as she boasted, “koh nī dója olója héh tańu ge’éhda (let me cut the thing away, after all).
After such bitter experience, the men with such wives stood far when quareling with their wives. But that’s after they may’ve managed to eat the ‘krow-krow’ pounded yam!
Yala women were a very strong specie of womanhood. They worked round-about the year : they cooked for many members of the family, including fathers-in-law, who usually, had their sons living in the same compound while they watched after their aging fathers.
The Yala married women awoke, early in the morning, tearing fire-woods, boiling soup, while warming the ákpo obáchā or ómakā yā ákpo (over night ákpo or the par-boiled ákpo), or they prepared fresh, early morning fufu for the entire family of at least six to ten, and in many cases, up to ten or more ; she worked all the way, cleaning up the children for school, fixing the meals, in advance, for the children’s lunch, after school, while she hurried, ahead of her husband to the farm, weeding the grass, collecting fire-woods, fetching water in the bush for husband’s drinking.
The Yala woman was an extra ordinary woman. She returned from the farm with her head, carrying cassava, which she often removed alone, without the helping hand of the man, who, in most cases, may’ve been through with his clearing of grass or making of mounds, and had left, immediately he was done with those engagements, hurrying to join the fading afternoon Age Grade meetings.
On top of the cassava, were piled up of the hewed sticks of woods.
Back at home, she hurriedly had her bathe for the family’s night, sorry, evening meal.
Many times, if anything went wrong with the children, she was held responsible, and if there arose an argument, she was reminded by her angry husband of having been brought up by a bad mother or parentage!
The Yala woman was a loner. Not many of them had a relationship with their husbands, especially, those of illiterate, polygamous homes.
The man visited and slept on the same bed, only during mating, for the increment of farming population.
Mates took turns in having their men sleep in their únu epē (huts). Some of the women were heard crying at the wee hours of the night as husbands beat them up for refusing to give them the satisfaction of sex, having been too tired to let their man play the mid night game!
It was a common sight for wives to be asked by their husbands to pack their belongings and return to their fathers/parents. The next day, or in subsequent days, in-laws were heard talking in low tunes, appealing to the man to take back their daughter, as she may’ve, at the time of the trouble, been possessed by apŕija ońgwegā (the talking or talkative demon). Apŕija ońgwegā normally spoke to itself.
Today, many streets of Nigeria are filled with them. I mean those apŕija ońgwegā. This is borne out of economic brouhaha!
When she finally returned home, the exiled woman pledged humility and taciturnity, almost pad-locking her lips or acting the dummy, if not for any thing else, for the sake of her children, fearing that, if she was divorced, the children would die of starvation and hunger, in the hands of her mate/s!
The children of those Yala women have grown stronger and more resilient to the weathers of life.
Many of them have reached out to the skies ; they’re lawyers, medical professionals, professors in primary and secondary schools, while a few of them have reached at making it as academic Professors.
Many of these Yala women are married to top military officers, supporting them in many gallant and enviable ways.
The children of those mothers whose backs bent under the blows and canes of their husbands have grown to become good and very responsible husbands, unlike what their fathers were to their mothers.
The Yala woman has deliberately refused to revenge at the society, by indoctrinating their children to pay back in like coins on their husbands and wives.
In fact, it is to the credit of the suffering mothers that many Yala boys and girls of today are a good parents and couples, be it at the home front or in the diaspora!
As much as modernity has its challenges, the tender loving discipline of the Yala woman has insulated her children from the maddening drives of modernity and its attendant western cultural idiocy!
The warmth that generated from the backs of Mama Yala, warming up the child on the back, with the manna that flowed from Heaven through the breasts on her chest, has supplied the required wisdom, knowledge and understanding, that make her children a clan of successes.
It is that milk from Mama Yala that reminds a typical Yala child or Yala upbringing, to stand in solidarity of ‘a blood’ of Yala, no matter how minute.
It’s that blood of Yala that flows in the veins of an Yala child, be it on Yala soil or in the diaspora.
It’s the divinely ordained blood that cries, ‘ayī ochúmode!’, piercing the spiritual ears of every Yala soul, to which like Gabriel Okara’s ‘The Call of the River Nun’, keeps calling me, calling you, calling all of Yala blood, home and abroad, to remember the mothers’s suffering, demanding for a more united and progressive Yala nation!