By Peter W.Vakunta
I woke up feeling bruised. I hadn’t slept a wink. The whole night I did battle with her.
“I want your blood now!” she said, baring her protruding teeth. Terrified, I stared into her hooded eyes. I knew I was going to die. Her thick lips shook with anger as she threw her elephantine weight on me, gripping the nape of my neck with gorilla-like hands.
“Leave me alone!” Who are you? What do you want from me? Let go of me!” I shouted, struggling to free myself from her strangling grip. She burst out into thunderous laughter, exposing her charcoal black gums.
“You don’t know me, little one?
“l don’t know you! Go away from here!” I shouted.
“Well, I am your father’s mother’s grandmother, little one!”
“I am the grandmother of your father’s mother!”
“But I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. You were dead before I was born. What do you want from me? Go away now!” I screamed breathlessly.
“Today is the day. I will not leave without you! Come with me little one!”
I gasped for breath as I woke up. Cold sweat ran all over my body. I had been dreaming. It was a nightmare.
“You’re hallucinating, Mbifonyi,” my mother said when I told her about my dream. She did not believe in dreams, not even when I told her that it was the seventh time that haggard-looking woman had appeared to me in a dream baying for my blood.
“The Bible does not talk about dreams, my dear son. I think you’re under the spell of the Princesse of Darkness,” she said.
Angry with my mother’s reaction, I left her and went to see my father. He was in his tang, main house in the compound when I entered.
“We’ve got to pour libation. The gods must be angry. When our ancestors are unhappy, the gods are angry. We’ve got to do something to appease them,” my father said. My mother had followed in my footsteps.
“What are you talking about?” What has a fifteen-year-old got to do with pagan sacrifices?” My mother asked, biting her thin lips.
“Woman! What are calling pagan sacrifice?”
“Your so-called libation! This child goes to a Catholic church and you want to drag him into your superstitious beliefs, all because of a bad dream he
had? I won’t let that happen,” my mother said, half closing her brown eyes.
“Woman if a single word comes out of that big mouth of yours again you will see what stuff I am made of, do you hear me? You refer to the customs of my ancestors as superstition! What about that so-called catholic church of yours? What’s it? Isn’t it superstition too?”
“You want to know what it is? It’s the house of God. Yes, that’s what it is. It’s not a heathen house!”
“Woman, I have heard enough of your nonsense,” my father said, smacking my mother straight in the face.
I was so angry. I could have kicked my father if I had the strength. For the first time in my life I thought of fighting with my father.
The following morning when my father got up he noticed to his astonishment that his better half had vanished. My mother had gone back to her father’s compound. The next day my father summoned all members of his lineage to our compound. Everyone came, young and the old, men and women. Only my mother was absent. I knew my father would go and fetch her after some time but I was so cross with him. How could he treat my mother like a slave? With my mother gone, who was going to cook food for my four siblings and myself? Who was going to wash our clothes and shave our hair? When silence fell on the assembly, my father told them of the ordeal I had been through during the past seven days.
“Our son, Mbifonyi, has been having very bad dreams these past days. The terrible thing is that in his dreams he puts up a fight with his great grandmother
“Aago! Aago! Aago!” The crowd moaned,
“We must do something to appease our angry ancestors,” he said, facing his assembled relatives. He had brought a black cock, a jug of palm- wine, a bag of kola nuts, a basketful of smoked fish and a calabash of palm oil. That day was a Country Sunday, the Sabbath, according to our traditional calendar. They all wore black sackcloth made out of raffia fiber and painted their faces with white clay. Women wore scarves; men were bare head. They stood in a circle around my father. He was stark naked except a piece of multicolored loincloth won between his stubby legs and fastened onto his broad waist. He had smeared his pitch-dark body with ground camwood.
“Brothers and sisters, I greet you all in the name of our ancestors. We’re assembled here today for a purpose,” my father said, turning his head from left to right in order to maintain eye contact with the entire audience. His ndikong[i] worn on his kongilibon[ii] head gave him the allure of a local monarch. It was adorned with two porcupine quills and the red feather of a woodpecker, symbols of social status in our village.
“Our ancestors knew better when they said that a single hand cannot tie a bundle. I would add my voice to theirs. One man cannot build a compound.”
“Wuulee, Wuulee, Wuulee!” the crowd shouted in agreement.
“My brothers and sisters, you all know that dreams like these are signs of evil in the making. When a child puts up a fight with an elder dead or alive, it’s a sign of bad things to come.
“Aago! Aago!” the crowd screamed again.
“We can’t see our ancestors but they’re here in our midst. The dead are not dead.They see us. They talk to us in different ways,” my father continued.
“We have to make sure that our ancestors are never angry with us again. If they do, we are doomed!”
“How do we know that our ancestors are angry with us?” asked my father’s younger brother, Bunkwe.
“Those who have gone before us to Nihamboloho, the land of the unknown, may show their anger through an unnatural death in the family, a stillborn, bankruptcy in business and more.” My father replied.
“Hmmm, hmmm!” the people groaned.
“It is up to us to make sure that this never happens.”
“By doing what?” Bunkwe cut in again.
He had been away from home for twenty-five years, going to school and working in the white man’s land. He did not understand much about the culture of his people.
“We will appease our forebears by feeding them with palm-wine and fish. That way the wrongs we’ve done against them will be forgiven. That’s our custom.”
“How do we feed dead people?” Bunkwe interrupted.
“By pouring libation,” my father answered without looking at him.
“Wuulee, Wuulee, Wuulee!” the people responded in unison.
After a while, I saw Bunkwe leave the gathering. He walked straight out of the compound and never looked back. Nobody tried to stop him. They simply stared in utter bewilderment.
My father suddenly closed his panther eyes, bit his bulbous lips and went into a trance. Nobody in the assembly spoke. No one moved. They watched starry-eyed in dead silence. After a long while, my father opened his eyes. Arms akimbo, he murmured inaudible incantations as if to himself. He shut his eyes again, spat on the dust that surrounded my grandfather’s grave in the north end of the compound. He did a few dance steps around the grave, grabbed the black rooster that had been sitting on the grave from the very onset of the ceremony, waved it fourteen times in the air and wrung its neck with his bare fingers and intoned the Ndonyi[iii]:
Beuh nyi meukoh
Ho ho ho !
Ho ho ho!
Bah teu yah fia yoh bi
Bi chi ba mbeutu, chi ba ndeunechi
Ho ho ho!
Beuh nyi meukoh
Bi chi ba yoh bweubelo
Bi chi ba yoh bweumeusoh
Ho ho ho!
Bi soheu shi yah
Bi boh yobeu mbweu bah
Ho ho ho! Ndonyi
While the singing was going on, my father tore the rooster into two equal halves, sprinkled some of its blood in the four corners of the compound, still dancing. When he had finished, he took hold of the jug of palm-wine, poured its content into his ndeuh mbeuh [iv]and spat it out over the head of everyone in the crowd. Then he addressed a propitiatory prayer to the ancestors:
The fathers of our fathers, the fathers of our fathers’ fathers,
The mothers of our mothers, the mothers of our mothers’ mothers,
Here are your children gathered here today to salute you.
We are here today to pay our respects,
We are here today to ask for protection against all kinds of evil.
May you have pity on those who have offended you,
May you pardon those who doubt you,
May you smile at those who have disrespected you,
Watch over us in good and bad times,
Watch over us day and night,
Give us more children,
Give us more crops,
Give us more chickens,
Give us more sheep and goats,
We salute you all!
“Wuulee, Wuulee, Wuulee” the assembly chorused.
My father rolled away the burial stone that lay on his father’s grave, poured a calabashful of palm-wine into the grave saying:
This is your wine given by your children
May it serve as drink for you and all our forebears in the world beyond.
He took an earthenware pot full of smoked mudfish mixed in red palm-oil. Dropping the fish one by one into the grave he said:
This is your fish given by your children
May it serve as food for you and all our forebears
in the world beyond.
It was pitch dark outside when my father dropped the last fish. Everyone went home happy and at peace with themselves. That night I slept like a lock; no dreams, no fights with my great grandmother.