Many years ago, before the Advent of colonialism, there was a man called Orianu. He hailed from our village. Orianu had a wife called Amuche. Amuche bore him a daughter called Iruoma.
In Afoma, my village, when a female child is born, a man who has a son would approach the parents of the girl child and indicate interest to engage her with his son. That was just the custom we grew up to see.
At that time, female children were hardly born. Many men couldn't marry, not because they weren't interested, but because their parents could not secure a girl for them to marry at their tender ages.
Iruoma was engaged to Chike, a two-year-old boy when she was eight days old. Though, this engagement was never a license for them to live together or have intercourse. Unless they attain a certain age, and get married according to our tradition, they would not see themselves as husband and wife.
When the Europeans came, during the colonial era, Iruoma was enrolled in school. Then she was eight years old.
Chike was not opportune to go to school. Though, it was not his fault, or that of his parents. It was the mentality of the locals who believed that school was for the females, the slave, and lazy men.
In our village today, the lineage of those who were captured in war and brought down to the village to serve their masters are the ones leading the community.
Story had it that when the Europeans came into our village and were soliciting for students, the villagers would hide their children and compelled the slaves to go with the white men. They believed that the slaves were going there to be tortured and dehumanized, unknown to them that they were empowering them to take over the leadership of the village.
Iruoma became a role model after schooling. Her dressing pattern, way of reasoning, and approach to things baffled the villagers. She lived a life worthy of emulation.
Now, Chike had become an adult and wanted to marry Iruoma. Iruoma was no longer a kid. She had equally grown to an adult.
Iruoma wasn't happy that the man who sought her hand in marriage was a common village wine tapper. She could not accept the marriage proposal, even though the engagement was sealed 23 years ago.
Orianu, her father, was not happy about this. He knew the implication of what Iruoma was doing. No one had ever challenged the tradition of Afoma village and went unhurt. Those who tried it went mad, while some became imbeciles.
Though Iruoma was aware of this, but her exposure and enlightenment made her regard it as an archaic tradition. "Any tradition that suppresses the rights of the natives should be considered as obnoxious, and therefore discarded. I have the right to choose my husband. I equally have the right to remain single. It's none of anybody's business," she angrily told Orianu.
There was a man called Omaiko. He was the mouthpiece of the gods, and was widely respected. When he speaks, we believe the gods are speaking.
His visit to Orianu's family marked the beginning of Iruoma's problems. According to our tradition, when there is a disagreement between a man and a woman who were legally engaged, Omaiko would take to their homes, an iron staff which is believed to be the gods.
He would warn them to return the staff to him within four days. Anyone who fails to return the iron staff is considered to have rejected the marriage and would be visited by the gods.
Iruoma didn't comply with this. She stood firm to defend her right. She said it was better to die than to marry a man who can not write his name. "Is this not madness? How can I belittle myself to marry a man that I can't be proud of?" She questioned.
No one supported her. Not even her parents or those who were victims of this tradition. They were afraid that the gods might be angry with them.
A month after Omaiko's visit, strange things began to happen to Iruoma. One certain night, while she was asleep, a mysterious fire lit the bed in which she lay. The fire completely raised it down without hurting her.
She was frightened when she woke up in the morning, only to find herself in a heap of ash.
A few days after the incident, a vulture with red beads on both legs visited. It perched on a palm tree behind Iruoma's family house.
It was getting dark that evening when the vulture came. Birds were already retiring to their nests. The vulture launched an attack immediately after it sighted Iruoma.
It was like the vulture came to kill. Such an attack had never been recorded in our village, though it is said that he who fetches a firewood full of ants deliberately invites lizards for a banquet.
Iruoma tried to resist it but the beast was stronger. Her shirt was torn, and undressed, as the vulture kept on gripping and dragging her with its claws.
The villagers couldn't assist, even as she screamed for help. They knew it was the gods that had come against the erring woman. They watched as Iruoma battled with the vulture. At last, the vulture fled with the torn shirt.
Iruoma's calamity became the talk of the town. It was as if the gods had instituted a disciplinary measure against her. Each time she went to bed, an unknown spirit would whisk her to the shrine of the gods where she would be tormented.
This persisted. No remedy was suggested, other than that which she never wanted anyone to mention. "How could any sane man advise me to marry a daft, a popper, a stack illiterate and above all, one who is not my wish?" She would query.
It was clear that Iruoma had chosen to die, which the elders and leaders of Afoma village would not allow to happen. She was the only one the village had and would boast of. She had been a true representative of the people. Through her, the colonialists had brought development to the village. School, health centre, and pipe-born water were all brought to the village in her effort.
For this reason, the elders and leaders of the village assembled to design a solution to this pending doom. Orianu greeted as he went on to address the elders. "Though, I am directly involved in this, but it is said that an open wound can't be covered, else it would decay."
"Should this be the way the village would pay my daughter for the good things she has done for us? Why should we pretend as if all is well?" He ended.
"What do we do, Maazi Orianu," said another elder, "You know how dangerous it is to challenge the gods, which our ancestors have never done," he said.
"That isn't an excuse, Maazi Amanu," interrupted another elder. "It was our ancestors that instituted this tradition, and we can say no to it."
"I suggest, Omaiko should be involved in this meeting. Let him tell us what to do to appease the gods and abolish this tradition. We can't just stand akimbo and watch our daughter perish." Gbam! Echoed the elders in unison.
Omaiko was not happy about this development. As the chief priest, he was duty-bound to preserve the culture and tradition of the village.
He tried as much as he could to convince the elders and leaders of the village that the tradition needed not to be tempered, but nobody listened. Iruoma's life was more important than the tradition.
Omaiko was the only one who knew the secret of this tradition, but never wanted to expose it. That could cost his own life.
The villagers ganged up against him, since he refused to consult the gods. They seized and tied him to a tree.
When he noticed that he was no longer safe, he raised an alarm, saying: "Do not kill me for nothing, people of Afoma village. Do not waste my blood when I am the solution to your problem. Take me to the shrine of the gods and sacrifice me on the altar. My blood would wipe out this tradition that you have collectively rejected.
"Don't waste my blood, else your problem will continue. Do as I said to regain your freedom from the gods." He ended.
The elders took him to the shrine of the gods and sacrificed him on the altar to appease the gods and save Iruoma and the entire village from the obnoxious tradition.
© 2022 Chigbo Douglas Chiedozie