We called it Porto Kiri, they called it Fernando Po. That's were I set out early to prove a point in my life. Maybe to prove a point to my beloved Adaure. She was the loveliest of all fruits in the largest of all trees; succulent and stunning. My village, Umuaki, was the largest village among the six clans, that's why the old men described it as okeosisi, big tree. In this big tree a beautiful fruit hung, every passerby wants to pluck this fruit including the Whiteman in our town, the district officer. We called him Nwadishi. He drive a beetle, a Volkswagen car. Children would happily pursue Nwadishi's car just to touch it—then you could hear them shouting in Ibo, "Emeturum moto Nwadishi aka" ("I touched Nwadishi's car.") Then it was the first car to set its foot in Umuaki. On a Sunday you would see him in his car, his white hair swinging like palm trees on a hamattan day. From a far distance the first thing you would notice was his color, like a ripe mango fruit. His back would bend upwards, as if the car was made to give people hunchback. Nwadishi would ride down the dusty road that lead to Adaure's house. I noticed how Nwadishi's eyes were riveted to Adaure's body whenever he came to their house. Papa Emeka, Adaure's father, would limp, nodding his head like a lizard, and bring kola for the Whiteman, with all his tobacco dyed teeth showing, smiling and absorbing the sun's radiation. Her father would usher the Whiteman into his obi, a place were the people of Umuaki received visitors. It was it thing of pride for the Whiteman to visit you, because he only visited few of our village people; mostly those from the royal family.
I was betrothed to Adaure right from birth, we grew together, and our grandfathers fought the white men together, and from history they died together at the market square were they were hanged by the white men. My father and Adaure's father agreed that in other to seal the relationship between our fathers, their children would marry each other. My father told me that the day Umuaki was conquered that day spirit of Umuaki died at that market square; he would point at the shrine in our market. I believed him; the spirits are really dead, the Whiteman now wants to take what belongs to me, and Papa Emeka received him well, forgetting what our grandfathers died for, forgetting what our tradition stood for, he now goes to church. He came back one day and called the villagers that his name is no longer Okoro, but now Jamis. James. The Whiteman has turned Adaure into a miss; she is now one of the educated few in our village and teaches in a primary school at the neighboring village. At times after the days farming I pass through their house, and give Adaure squirrel I killed at the farm. With her smiling face and beautiful sets of teeth, she would say Ndewo, thanks you, in our Ibo language. I wanted Adaure beside me forever, I wanted her in my life, and I didn't like seeing Nwadishi beside her.
As a young man with blood in his veins, I wanted to marry Adaure; I wanted her in my bed forever, a place for a queen like her. Early in the morning I woke up my father and told him about my heart's desire. I told him it was time for me to pluck the fruit that belongs to me. My father agreed, and even congratulated me for being a man. He sent Obioma, my brother, to tell the diochi (palm wine taper) to tap fresh palm wine for the visit to Adaure's parents. Early the next morning Diochi hung four kegs of palm wine on his neck, whispering the legendry palm wine tapping song, "Ihe'm huru na elu oshisihi hu, emechilam mu anya" (what I saw from the three has blind me). He went straight to our barn and dropped the keg, my father paid him with some few pennies, and he left with the song on his lips. The Ibo people says Ofu onye anahu alu nwayi, marriage is not one man's affair. At the first sun rise, six elderly men from my kinsmen, including my father and I, set out to raise my castle in the sky.
The eldest among them was my kinfolk and great uncle, Ikuku; he was a titled Nze man and called Dike na Aha one of Umuaki. Nze is a sacred cult in Ibo land, which elderly men join. If you an Nze, you are expect to live by certain guidelines and principles, but the one they were known for was that an Nze always stands for truth. He was a warrior, that's why they titled him that, meaning the warrior. Even in his old age he still tied his machete on his waist wherever he was going, his gaits as though he wanted to pounce on someone, only that old age has added some limping. And many times he did pounce on people, even in the market places. He was a man who believed that everything comes from the strength of the hand, even your survival. When we got to Adaure's house, we were warmly received into his obi. A lion skin hung at the back of the seat that Papa Emeka limped to. For me, Papa Emeka was too weak to have a lion skin at his back, such strong animal skin should be given to men like my living legendary uncle, Ikuku. Uncle Ikuku brought out his bag, and turned it into a seat; that's another thing with these Nzes, they don't sit on any seat; any ceremony or meeting they attend, they take their own seat along with them. And this seat can also serve as a bag. In that bag he will pack everything he needs, including his Chi (gods). Everybody sat down and was smiling, but inside me I knew that Adaure's father was not happy, but as a cunning man he was, he didn't show any of it—all you can see was his tobacco stained teeth absorbing the morning dew. I sat in between my father and Uncle Ikuku. Adaure's father went and brought kola, the kola was passed to Uncle Ikuku as the eldest, and he blessed it by saying ""et blessing follow the big and small, the life of the fishes and the life of the sea, let the eagle perch, let the kite perch who ever refuses the other may his wings break."
They all replied "iseeeee" (amen). Uncle Ikuku broke the kola into pieces and gave it to me as the youngest; I passed it around from the eldest to the youngest. Adaure's father cleared his throat and spoke after chewing his own kola, "My elders, I greet you all."
They all responded to his greeting. "Our father's say that the toad does not run in the afternoon for nothing, is either something is pursuing it" and my father cut in "or it is pursuing something. But before we speak, every drop of wine in this keg must finish. Papa Emeka, drink first and don't forget our custom." Papa Emeka first poured the drink and said "this must be from Diochi Itu." And my father replied "exactly." They all drank and chatted, Uncle Ikuku didn't drink from the public iko, he brought out his own iko from his bag; this is a traditional cup carved out of cow horn or from a special tree. Not sharing an iko is also one of the Nze's codes. As the youngest, I drank the bottom of the keg, as tradition demands; by this, the last drop was consumed. Uncle Ikuku cleared his throat so that nothing would block the flow of his speech. In an old tenor that sends sparkles of voice even into the holes, he spoke up:
"Papa Emeka, you inquired about our mission to your house through the sayings of our fathers. Then, the wine didn't fulfill its own tradition, but now the wine has. And now is the time for the mouth to speak for itself. There is something that brought us to your house. We saw a ripe fruit in your house and have come to pluck it." With these words Emeka fully understood our mission.
Adaure's father cleared his throat and spoke also, "It is true that our fathers were great and died great friends, they fought great wars, from Umuali to Okelu, the last kingdom; with Itoku, the great dibia medicine man, they conquered them all. It also true, as they told us, that our two children must marry. The words of our father's are supreme. But when the beat of a music changes, we change the dance steps. The music has changed, Christianity is now here, and I am one. And also it teaches us many good things—"
Uncle Ikuku cut in "Papa Emeka, please we are not here for your preaching. Our culture still stands supreme. Go straight to the point."
Papa Emeka continued, "that is it, then. A good man has been sponsoring my daughter's education—the Whiteman in our land of course—and wants to marry my daughter. Nobody would like to see his daughter taken to a Whiteman's land, to see her no more, but I can't help it; he is a good man. He turned my daughter into a miss. And through him I have been surviving. So if I am to give my daughter to another man, I must first repay him for his deeds in a thousand pounds, or I will pay with my daughter." He bent his head, not looking at any of the elders.
Uncle Ikuku spoke: "Well said then we must leave. But you have played a trick on your fathers! You smell like spirits!" He shouted his name in a way that it would annoy him "Okoro! Prepare for market let me also prepare, on the market day lets see who will take each other to market."
Adaure's father stood up and looked at Uncle Ikuku with disdain. "Is that a threat. All of you are FOOLS." I can remember the Whiteman always saying that words FOOLS; he used it on our people when they blocked his car, maybe that's where Emeka learned it. None of us knew what it meant then, but we knew it was an insult. Uncle Ikuku was the first to leave, followed by my father and me, and then the rest joined, grumbling. That was it; I thought about it, and realized I could never make a thousand pounds, even with my hardest work.
The next morning Uncle Ikuku called me to his house. His face was painted with anger, his first word started in fury. "If it was when Ikuku was Ikuku, I would have given him the beating of his life. But yesterday I found that age is no longer by my side. My bones are weak. You see our market?"
I answered, "yes."
He continued "Many years ago, before the coming of the white men, that was were our gods lived and disputes were settled there. There was this dispute settlement, a famous one, that took place there between two men struggling for land. So all the elders gathered there, my own father was among them and he was an Nze, so I always carry his bag for him everywhere he was going. And I happened to be there. The chief priest of Agugu presided over the case. Before the case started he warned them that if you must speak in this case speak the truth. He looked up and said, 'the gods have arrived,' and immediately a big snake crept out of that bush and stood in their midst. Fear gripped all the elders that were for the man who was lying, and they didn't talk. But the man insisted and lied, the snake bite him, and he died there. That's how the truth was found out. Well, that was then. Today, no such thing happens, the gods no longer administer justice, and the white man has ruined our land. So, I agree with what Adaure's father said, 'the music has changed,' but if you must get what you want, you must change your step."
He spoke no more, and waved me away. I left and thought about his words. Then I knew that the words of our father doesn't matter any more, what matters now is paying the Whiteman a thousand pounds that I can not afford.
I sold my farm produce at the market, that's how I earned my honest living. My products ranged from cassava, to pumpkin, to yam—any one that the season offers in our family farm. Then my farm was offering me yam; I took twenty tubers to market and sold them all out to different people. As I was leaving a man approached me. He dressed like the Whiteman, but he was a black. He wore a long-sleeve shirt and a tie, with a bola hat on top. From his looks he wasn't an Ibo; he had a tribal mark that showed he was a Yoruba man. He spoke to me in broken English, which I could understand well. "You must be a hard working man," he smiled. Well I had nothing to say other than give a smile back.
"Can you work abroad? The pay is good," he said.
"Were?" I asked.
"Panya, Fernando Po," he said.
"No," I answered.
He brought out a tiny paper and gave it to me. He told me that he was a government agent; he also told me that if I happened to change my mind, I should come to their headquarters at Calabar. I had heard about people that traveled abroad and made the money that jingles, eat with the Whiteman, and spoke through their nose. But who was I going there for? The only woman I loved had been made a miss. I can never be a gentleman, wear a coat, speak through my nose.
Early the next morning, before the cock crows, I went to Uncle Ikuku's house. I met him performing his early morning prayer to the gods in his obi. He laid his entire chi on the ground and worshipped them, then asked his ancestors to intercede for him before the gods. After his prayer, he called me into the obi. Brought a kola, blessed it, before I told him why I came. I told him about the black gentleman that approached me. He smiled and called me "Ebube," I answered him, then he began again, "Many years ago, when your fathers were kids, my name spread throughout the clan as the warrior. I was feared and respected among the people. But today, the kids now pass me without even greeting me." He put his hand under his seat and brought out his machete, "With this I returned the head of king Alandu of Ochiaha, a land known for their warrior. But today they no longer require my services; the white man now fights all our wars, not with hand or machete, but with their intelligence." He looked into my eyes and continued, "My son, the strength of your own hand will fail you. If you must marry that girl, you must acquire the Whiteman's sense and know his ways. Not only because of her . . . you know Samuel, Mr. Njoku's son? He now uses only a pen to write all the money into his father's house. So, go and learn the white man. Go."
I thought about his words, I saw truth in it: Uncle Ikuku, a great advocate of the strength of the hand, now encouraged me to learn to use my intelligence. My father also depended solely on the strength of his hand, but seems poor. For me to live by the strength of my own hand would to live in poverty. So that was how I decided to go to Fernando Po; so I can make money and learn the Whiteman, then marry Adaure.
Early the next morning, I called my father and mother and discussed it with them. They welcomed the idea as way for me to better my life and meet up with the trend of modern development. I packed my belonging, the next day and went to town. There was this friend of mine, who drove lorries for the white people; luckily for me I met him at the park. He greeted me in our village accent, which is thicker than the town people's own; he said, "ndewo" and embraced me tightly We asked each other a couple of things like, how are village? How is your business? I told him that I wanted to go to Calabar, to the Labor Migrant Office, he said he knew the place, that he had seen a couple of guys going there, but had not seen them return, but that they send money to their people here. He said I should wait, let him go and talk to the manager and see of there is anything to transport to Calabar. He came back and informed me about that he would be transporting some food stocks to the market the next day, so I should prepare. That was how I fell into luck, and then I knew that I was really meant to be there, and I would never come back empty handed. I was determined to learn the Whiteman's ways.
Early in the morning I left Umuaki. I had few people to say good bye to, just my family and my lion uncle, Ikuku. I wished Adaure was there. I imagined her crying, seeing me leave. But she wasn't here, even though it was because of her I was taking that step in my life. Maybe with that money that jingles, I would get married to her. I trekked to the town before the sun rose. I was at the park. Our lorry left around nine o clock. We got to Calabar around four in the evening. My friend took me to the migrant's office personally. That's why I will never forget my dear friend, Theo. I presented the card the government man gave me at their office. The Calabar at the reception went and called him. Still dressed like a white man, and with a smile in his mouth, he welcomed me. At his office I was presented with two papers that I didn't know what was written on, then asked to sign in a space. I didn't know what to sign; they said I should just dip my hand in ink and print it at the space, which I did. Then he gave me a sealed paper that I would present there. That was how I left to Fernando Po, in search of a white-collar job. He put me on a ship sailing to Santa Isabella port.
I boarded with my knapsack containing my little items: a shirts that look like the Whiteman's own, a pair of trousers, and some important things I would need. All my life I had heard about ships, that day was my first time setting my eyes on such a large beast that could swallow a multitude of people, multitudes like the priest from Ireland who prayed with the sailors and at times came to tell us about Jesus, the king who died for the people; the captain that always shouted at the white sailors, saying orders; the Ibo young man with a round face and cunning look who laughed at me for saying that I was going to find a white collar job in the white man's land Fernando Po, he only said "Nwanne I na aga iko ubi na ala nde ojii," my brother you are going to farm in a black man's land; the English professor who was going to study Fernando Po, he talked a lot, some I understood, others I didn't.
Like when I was on the deck looking far into the sea as if I would see a land, but I only saw the sea meet with the sky. As I turned, someone was beside me, he said many things that I didn't get, but I heard him say, "Professor Sam Mark." From what I know, a professor is someone who knows a lot of things. From the knowledge of my own broken English, I heard him say "Fernando Pó, an explorer, really saw a gold mine there, you know him?" I didn't reply, he continued "he sailed to the island in 1479. He was a captain like that man," he pointed at the overzealous captain still ordering his sailors. There was one thing with this particular professor, he seemed good and humble; he didn't look at me with disdain, like other white men, who looked at me as if I was a piece of shit infecting their beautiful ship. When I realized that he wouldn't laugh at my broken English, I started to reply to him. When I looked at him closely I noticed that his head was bare; maybe knowledge ate it up, I thought. He asked me were I am from, I told him. He asked if there are some important things in our village, I told him about the warriors, the palm wine taper, and our history; how we migrated to our present location—he became excited to visit it. He asked me were I was going, I told him I was confused. After hearing my story in broken English, he pitied me.
There was sections of the ship where we were told not to enter. These places were filled with white men; the upper class was there. That's where the professor took me by hand, and passed the aggressive captain who didn't utter a word, but muttered something beneath his breath; something like "naughty professor." He introduced me to a man as his good servant at Calabar. The man was the owner of Ricardo Punch farm. That was how I fell into luck, which was how I stayed at Santa Isabella. That changed things; I was paid twenty pesetas, other workers received less than that. Ten given to me, and the rest kept for me at the headquarters at Calabar, and also a comfortable accommodation. For my hard work I was made capuchin at the farm; that's what they call head boy at the farm.
We anchored at Santa Isabella; everywhere looked mountainous and azure sky was bright and beautiful on that November day. I was taken to Ricardo Punch farm in Santa Isabella and given a cabin. There I met the Ibo man I saw at the ship; truly he told me the truth, there was no white-collar work to do and the place was crowded with the indigenous Bubis and Fang who we meet at the town and communicated with in pidgin English. We learned how to plant cocoa, harvest it, and process it to some certain extent. I took him as my bosom friend; he said his name was Nonso.
The farm was a very large one, covering not less than twenty-two hectares of land. Some part of it was used to cultivate cocoa, which I soon learned all about, becoming a skilled laborer. But I never had that money that jingles, to pay off the Whiteman at home. Most of the workers there were Ibo, plus a few from the indigenous Bubis and other part of Nigeria. At other farms we had cases of maltreatment by the white supervisors, but at ours they just overused us; we worked from morning to night without rest. And you could not show sign of weakness before the supervisors. There was also the local police there to punish anyone who went contrary to their rules; like when Nonso fought at the farm, he was flogged five times with a long whip. My supervisor saw how hardworking I was and made me the head boy—capuchin, that's what they called us. My work was also to oversee the affairs of my fellow workers, and at times report to the inspectors from Nigeria. Their land was very fertile. Later I realized the differences between white men, I learned that the white men here was the Spanish, and they spoke their language when they were together and communicated to us with pidgin English. The farm was full of life: drinking, dancing, and sleeping with harlots was common, which was why many died from sexual disease. You couldn't resist such a life. Nonso advised me to follow him to town one day. "Stop thinking about someone who is not thinking about you," he told me, as he referred to Adaure. So I followed him the town, we danced with the Bubis girls, and later made love to them. That later became our life there, every weakened we went to town and enjoyed life. The indigenous people thought of nothing, only how to enjoy themselves. A good gramophone is enough for them. I had a consort there at the harlot house named Elizabeth, she was from Liberia. She was a wild one, wore wild things, wild hair, and wild lifestyle, and also did wild things in bed. Truly I loved her, but not as much as I loved Adaure. During the weekends, I took her by my hand, and walked up the mountains of Santa Isabella. I'd point the way: "I will sail back to her one day. We will sit at the mountain top talking, at times make love." That was the story of me and Elizabeth.
At the farm, I had a good relationship with my supervisor, Amadeo; he took me like his own brother, which no white man did to any other person at the farm. But he loved me like he his own brother, because he was a young man, by this time I became accustomed to his accent, but it was a bit slippery to the ears. In the evening we would sit at the farm and talk about the world beyond, how the production were shipped out of Fernando Po, also world politics. He once told me how the British came to have a station there, and also how the came to terms in bringing us in as labor. He told me that the British had a share in money, that we were paid more than fifty pesetas, he said all this. At times we slept at the farm house with bottles of rum in our hand. The farm house was well-built, as the official house for the farm. He had his office there, and also the manager's office was there. His own office was a simple one with seats and table, some African art hung on the wall. Some I didn't now what they mean, but some were masks. He always told me about this particular girl that he would like to marry, named Angela. He told that after his service here he would travel back to Spain and also marry her. The similarity of our stories of love, made our relationship stronger, like welded metal.
Days passed, Elizabeth was still there and a little bit older in my eyes, but what other choice did I have? My white friend, Amadeo, was also there. With a bottle of rum in hand we told more tales about ourselves. Nonso stayed at my house, and joined us anytime he felt like it.
One day, I saw something, something that could fulfill all my dreams; in the evening I saw Amadeo move thousands of pesetas into the farm house. It was kept at Amadeo's office and locked. I hadn't any interest in the money, but when I got to my cabin and to Nonso, he said in Ibo, "Nwanne moo! I wu ewu?" My brother! Are you a goat?
I answered him, "Kedu kwanu Ihe I choro ka mu mee?" What do want me to do?
His eyes fluttered round me, as though I should know what to do, I could read it, saying kill him, even before he mentioned it.
"Ka anyi gbuo Amadeo," Let's kill Amadeo.
It rang like the chirping of okwa, guinea fowl, in my ears. Amadeo was a very good white man; he didn't treat us with disdain. In fact, he made me his own brother. We shared our dreams, but at the same time I needed the money, it could change my life forever—but I couldn't go to the length of killing Amadeo.
Nonso was a great orator, coupled with his cunning attitude; he knew how to push his visions on a weak mind. For that moment I agreed, I was a weak man.
"My brother, many years ago this white man used our fathers to make money, even today they use our toil to develop their land and economy. Why should you think about one man who is to die, where our fathers have been murdered by them, hanged and killed like fowls? Why should you bother about Amadeo?" It was like a spell on me—anger, hatred, overtook me—every white man seemed the same to me: Exploiters. I had a mind to bring my dreams to reality; I could see myself driving into Umuaki with a Volkswagen, just like the district officer. Then pay him off and have my bride.
That night, with a bottle of rum in our hands, Amadeo and I shared more dreams. Dreams of being with our loved ones. He told me that he would like to see me again, "Ebube you are a good friend," he said. When he was drunk, he told me that he wasn't feeling fine. I helped him remove his shirt. I wasn't drunk at all, because I had a bitter kola in my mouth and I was ready for it. Nonso crept into the room with knife in his hand. Quickly Nonso went for his throat and cut it open. The blood of a white man spilled on our clothes, it covered our hands. As he struggled for his last breath, Nonso cut the artery on his neck open. Then I knew that Nonso was a professional killer. He even licked the blood on the knife. I thought that was the end my friend Amadeo, but I was wrong. Tears rolled down my eyes, but I wanted to sound real, like the stories I tell Nonso about my uncle Ikuku; I wanted to show that I had his blood flowing in my vein. So I made a swift move towards the safe, I broke it. Brought out a bag full of currencies—behold, in my eyes were thousands of pesetas. Money that can fulfill my dreams. I took it out of the bag and arranged them in a sack we came with. We didn't carry it to our cabin; we made our way to mountains out of the city and buried the money. Cleaned our clothes, and pretended not to know anything about the murder. It was never traced to us, but the white men didn't have any relation with the black peasant farmers. The suspects were those who knew about the money, mostly his fellow whites. The police never questioned us; Nonso and I went to farm the next day. Work was as usual. Soon a new supervisor came. That's my story of Ricardo Punch Farm.
We were on a two year contract, renewable after two years. We didn't bother to renew our contract. I had already spent six years of my life in Fernando Po. Nonso wasn't ready to spill my blood, so we stood with our agreement and split the money in two; I got ten thousand pesetas, and he also got ten. My life seemed fulfilled; I could see Adaure before me begging me to marry her. Nonso and I made our way back to Nigeria. He left for his home town, and I went back to my village. With all my hard work I had fifteen thousand pesetas to spend.
When I got there, I realized that I wasn't getting younger. Adaure was still teaching at the primary school. A lot of things had happened, like the death of my father and my great uncle. It was, to me, like I had lost the war of love. I wanted my father and Uncle Ikuku beside me, to ride in my car. I cried at the news.
Not even has only my village changed; the country has changed. The white men had gone back to their country, including Nwadishi, the district officer. So I had nobody to pay back. Our people ruled themselves my; they said it like this "Nwamu, anyi ewetago independents," my son, we have independence. I became the richest man in Umuaki, riding in a Volkswagen like the district officer. I became famous and relevant in the society. Even the king in our village came to me for advice. Then, to fulfill my dreams, I married Adaure. That was my life with my loved one.
But our marriage life was a very unhappy one, right from the day we said I do till this moment. The gods didn't bless us with any child. Soon something bad happened to me. One night I saw Amadeo in my dream, asking me why I killed him. He laid in pool of blood. I thought the white man doesn't have a spirit. He hunted me till I ran mad. All the money I made was used in taking me form one medical doctor to the other. Still, my illness persisted. Then I knew that I had made the greatest mistake of my life in killing Amadeo; a bosom friend, a good white man, a person that never treated me with disdain.
So, young men from university, this is the story of my life. Today I lie down on a tattered mat. Although I recovered from the madness, I had an injury on my leg. It's a very deep one, which I can barely move with. No child to look after me, my wife was killed in a car accident. My people say that I am cursed. My old age brings suffering and grief to me. I will lay here till my dying day. I lived the rest of my life knowing that the blood of a white man is in my hands. I am dying for love that I never enjoyed. No one saw me, not even a single eye, but I tell you that were they to have caught me for the crime and punished me, it would have been better for me, than facing God's case, to which there is truly no appeal.
Go in peace and follow destiny with patience, and remember that things have changed. Read your books hard, for without it you remain irrelevant in today's society. The beat of the music has changed. We have had coups, seen war, and seen hardship. Hold your ears so that you don't die like me; FOLLOW LIFE WITH PATIENCE, EVEN IF YOU LOOSE WHAT YOU WANTED MOST, LET IT GO, ITS NOT YOURS.
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