The king of Etinosa had panicked when he heard
that his men had killed Captain Philips and some
of his soldiers. In his attempt to save his town,
from the punitive measure that must come, he called
in his witchdoctors and embarked on actions that were
more barbaric than the initial offence, making hundreds
of sacrifices at all the shrine across the town as we later
Yesterday, the king had placed his twenty season old son on his laps and said he was the crown prince. Today, soldiers came to take the king away so his son fled from town.
There wouldn’t ever be a king in Etinosa and no one should parade himself as crown prince, D.O, the white District Officer for Etinosa said where he stood opposite a long line of his soldiers, the king, chains flowing from his wrists to his feet, standing between them.
Behind D.O, the ruins of the palace sent up smoke; battered bronze heads were in scattered piles, and broken wooden statues sent up sparks as they caught flame– remnants of what the soldiers had not packed into boxes and ferried to their ships on the sea. The pond’s surface on the far side of the palace ground remained calm, seeing for hundreds of seasons happenings around the palace but testifying to nothing, just as it would never testify to what D.O, his soldiers and their canon had done to a palace that was more than a thousand seasons old. But the canon itself bore testimony – it stood to the left of D.O, its dark round inside gazing at the king and his people who had fled but had been herded back with guns to watch their king in chains and hear D.O, the new ruler of Etinosa.
I want you all to give your support to Chief Yimwen who, under me, shall serve as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in charge of the administration of Etinosa, D.O said, stopping to stare at the hundreds of black faces with eyes fixed on him.
Then he continued: It’s the pleasure of Her Majesty’s Government to protect all natives and chiefs,but only those chiefs who are ready to abide by the treaty in which the outgone king here has pledged that no native shall oppose government’s civilizing mission, and on which paper he has marked X.
After a day’s march from the Coast, we arrived
the first set of villages that were vassals of the
king of Etinosa. We gathered the chiefs in order
to get useful information from them and about
the town, also to read to them the offence of the
murder of Captain Philips and his soldiers, as well
as the punishment we would mete out to the king
The pile of dry grass among sticks puffed more smoke than flame, the film swirling and twirling as it rose up in the narrow footpath next to the corn farm. Mudia walked down the footpath, a machete in his right hand and in the left was a tuber of yam he had rooted up on the other side of the farm. With the machete, he bent the grass bordering the rows of pepper plant on his cousin’s farm and sat, the smoky pile of sticks between him and his corn farm. The upper part of the yam tuber in his hand was dark and hairy, the lower end was milky white, telltale that it was his earliest harvest after the first three months of rain in the year. He had made sure he covered with earth the tuber’s crown, the uppermost part that linked it to the vines and leaves. The crown would grow again and the tuber from it would be bigger when he harvested it after the rains had stopped in about six months. He scrubbed earth and the hair sticking through it off the tuber and placed it on the ground. He knelt and blew into the pile of sticks, drawing his head back as it burst into flame. He placed the tuber on the pile and stood to watch the flame spread out around it. For a moment, he imagined the flame surrounded the tuber as warriors would surround their captive. The smoke was lighter now, spreading out like morning mist as it travelled towards the bright green leaves on his corn farm to his right side, and over the pepper plants on his cousin’s farm to the left.
He walked into his corn farm, stepping across corn rows until he got to the foot of a mango tree, a wide arch around it without any corn plant because of the shade. He picked up a climbing rope made with raffia, and a mattock, and headed for the palm trees on the other side of his farm. The palm trees owner had said Mudia had work to do for richer farmers and that was why Mudia didn’t have time to harvest his ripe palm fruits as he had requested. He didn’t want the man to say so the second time; he paid on time and Mudia knew he shouldn’t lose him to another palm fruit harvester. He almost laughed as he arrived the foot of the first palm tree, recollecting one other thing the owner had said. He said Mudia wanted squirrels to eat to their satisfaction before he would harvest whatever fruits was left on the trees. As he removed the climbing rope from his shoulder and placed it around the palm tree, tying it at his back around the waist, he stared at the brown squirrel on a bunch of fruits on the palm tree. It had held a ripe fruit in its paws, ready to take a bite of the red flesh when it saw Mudia. Now it stopped. It didn’t bite, and it didn’t run.
Mudia thought it was an adult, braver than younger squirrels that would have dropped the fruit at the first sound of an intruder and fled into the trees. He wondered if the squirrel would wait and watch him climb the tree. He didn’t take his eyes off the squirrel and the animal too didn’t take its eyes off him. Then he looked at the palm tree, at the base, in search of one of the protruding spots where he could place his foot and climb. He had a knock on his head then, felt his head with the palm of his hand and looked up. The squirrel was already two trees away, but the half eaten fruit was on the ground next to his right foot. He laughed, wishing the animal had gone away with what it stole instead of giving him a knock on the head; the fruit was no use to him anyway.
He climbed the tree, moving the climbing rope the size of his wrist up first, pulling and drawing himself up with it, his left foot placed on a protruding spot on the side of the palm tree first, and then the right foot on another. A voice hooted in the distance. It didn’t sound like that of his mother; she didn’t say she would come to the farm. He continued to climb. At the neck of the tree, he leaned his back on the rope and looked into the distance, at the farms with their yam ridges and stakes, rows of corn, pepper plants and cocoyam. Clusters of banana and plantain trees stood at intervals on each farm, and once again he thought of groves where masquerades dressed up, and like he had heard as a child, where witches gathered for their nightly meetings. The smoke from the fire he had made which he could see from here wasn’t so thick as the smoke hovering over a farmstead to his far left; he knew it meant his tuber was roasting well. He would make a farmstead soon, he reminded himself as he had done for the past four seasons since he arrived the village. He had built a hut for himself and one for his mother, cleared the farmland his grandfather gave him, planted, hoed, and took to the market what he had harvested during the period. His grandfather had said he could live in his house but Mudia had said he would build. What of when I get married? he had asked the old man who had said no matter how small a hut was, no one ever had to sleep outside.
Where he was on the palm tree, Mudia lifted his mattock off his shoulder and struck the base of the bunch of red palm fruits closest to him. Two, four, six, eight strokes, and he heard the thud as the bunch flew past him to the ground, a few fruits scattering on the footpath and into the bush. Bush rats would have plenty to store away overnight, he thought, pulling at his rope and shifting to another side of the tree where he began to strike at the base of another bunch. He returned to his farm not long after; the rest of the harvest was the work he would have to do when he returned to the farm in the morning. But he hoped it wouldn’t rain in the night. If it did, his feet wouldn’t have enough hold on the sides of the palm trees that would have become slippery. Those who had been harvesters for longer might do well on wet trees, he knew, but not him that took to harvesting palm fruits last season because it brought him money faster than his yam, corn, and peanut harvests.
He returned to the footpath between his corn farm and his cousin’s pepper farm. His yam was not in the fire he had made. As he walked towards the spot he had thought it rolled off the burning sticks, but now that he stood next to them he could see there was no yam anywhere.
He started to laugh.
Ovie, bring the yam, I am hungry, he said as he scooped up soil, and poured it on the sticks to put out the flame.
How did you know I was the one who took the yam? Ovie asked, walking out of his pepper farm, the peeled roasted yam in his hand.
Who else would take my yam, if not you? Mudia said and sat down, a pepper plant resting on his back.
I should have eaten it, if not that you arrived on time. Let’s go to my farmstead. I have palm oil, Ovie said.
I had said I would bring palm oil from the village but I forgot, Mudia said.
You are not a farmer, that’s why, Ovie said. If you were a farmer you would have a farmstead and all you needed for you to have a good meal after a hard day’s work would be there.
Mudia laughed, moving behind his cousin who walked down the footpath before he turned left into another footpath on the far side, moving now between the pepper farm and a cocoyam farm. Ovie had mortar and pestle and clay pots in his farmstead. He made pounded yam and vegetable soup sometimes, and he had always invited Mudia to meals. The farmstead stood to the side of the pepper farm; mud wall rose from the earth to the waist level, and wooden poles stood in the wall to carry a thatched grass roof. The low swing door made with split bamboo never kept bush rats out and after they ate too many of the tubers of yam stacked in it, Ovie had begun to set traps in his farmstead.
Where is your trap? Mudia asked, looking around as soon as he bent under the thatched roof and stepped into the farmstead behind his cousin.
It’s behind the water pot, Ovie said, pointing to a giant clay pot that sat opposite the three stones that served as his fireplace.
Mundia said, I want to be sure where it is so that it doesn’t catch a human rat that even you won’t be able to eat.
Has it caught another bush rat after that last one? Mudia asked.
How would it? Didn’t you say I was a lazy hunter and that was why I didn’t go to the bush, but caught rat in the house, as if this is a house.
Mudia sat on a log of wood that served as stool.
That doesn’t mean I have warned the bush rats not to come here for you to catch without breaking a sweat, he said.
Maybe the bush rats heard you, and have become wiser, Ovie said as he brought a bottle of palm oil down from a rack formed with forked poles. He rummaged a pot next to the giant clay pot and brought out two calabash bowls. He poured palm oil into one and collected water with the other. He sat opposite Mudia and they burrowed their fingers into the roasted yam, dipped their takes in oil and ate.
If you were married, I would have come to your house to eat pounded yam and good soup, Mudia said, chewed and took a sip from the bowl of water.
What about you? If you were married I would have come to your house and expect to eat something better than roasted yam.
What happened to the girl?
The one is Siaro village?
Her father didn’t want me. He wanted her daughter to marry one of the chief’s son in town.
I hope she won’t come and look for you after she’s married.
Ovie nodded but said, I will run for my life. Didn’t you hear of the man in Gudero village who slept with a woman whose husband had made her step over a Kukunte.
What happened to the man?
He crowed like a cock and summersaulted three times, of course; that was the end of him.
Mudia held a piece of yam, but his right elbow remained on his right knee, the yam neither going into the bowl with the palm oil nor to his mouth. He stared at a point beyond Ovie, outside the homestead, on the patch of vegetables his cousin planted and from which he regularly plucked and made soup in the farmstead.
I know what you are thinking about, Ovie said.
Mudia nodded. His cousin knew; everyone in the village knew why his mother, after she was married off, had returned to live with her father. He had on his mind how his father had escaped the trap of death that his mother could have been, but the cheat in Gudero village didn’t. One husband had suspected his wife and made her step over Kukunte, but the other husband hadn’t; that made the difference, he thought.
Which girl do you look at now? Mudia asked.
Ovie shrugged and said, Maybe I will start to search for a girl when I make more money from my crops, but not now. What about you?
I want to be careful; I don’t want a woman who will look at another man when she is married to me, like my mother had done.
Women don’t look away until we call their attention. And I know no one will call your wife’s attention unless he wants his head to go off his neck; in any case such a man must have tintin here, Ovie said and touched the side of his head with the forefinger of his left hand, turning it on the same spot as though he wanted to drill a hole.
Mudia lifted his hand and placed the yam in his hand carefully on his tongue, the same way his grandfather would place aasa, ground brown tobacco leaves, on his tongue. He closed his mouth but he did not chew the yam, his eyes on Ovie who was as light-skinned as he was dark.
Why are you looking at me?
When do you think you will make enough money and get a woman to marry you? Mudia asked.
Ovie shrugged and said, Maybe next year when I sell my tobacco harvests. I intend to plant tobacco next year, and with a good harvest from my pepper farm I should have enough money.
You can never make the kind of money you have in mind, not with the amount the white men pay farmers for their tobacco leaves and cocoa, Mudia said.
I learnt white men had built a school in town, Ovie said.
Mudia nodded: And some white priests who come from Lagos want to build more schools, he said.
Priests like those who carry string of beads and say a woman gave birth to a son for a god?
Yes. The last time I took my tobacco harvest to town, one of them told me that if I made that son of a god my god, I would inherit a palace up there, Mudia said and pointed at the sky.
Palace in the sky? Who will build it? Ovie asked.
Not one, many palaces. He said the son of a god has gone into the sky to build the palaces. Then he said the son had once died on a tree and anyone who drank his blood would never die.
Ah! Has the priest drunk the blood himself? Did you ask him?
I didn’t because with his head all turned grey he didn’t have too much time left to live; so, he doesn’t need to drink human blood.
Ovie laughed, rolling off his low stool to the ground: I didn’t know white men also drink human blood, and I had thought only witches do, he said and pulled himself back on his stool.
There must be white witches. If not, what did D.O and his white officers want to do with the statues and carvings in the shrines they took away with them at the time they removed the king?
Has your mother asked you about the woman you want to marry? Ovie asked.
And how will you make enough money to ensure the woman you marry does not look away from you?
Sometimes I wonder what made my mother look away from her husband; he was a wealthy cocoa farmer. Why do you think she did?
I think she just wanted your father, that’s all, Ovie said, wiping the bowl clean of the last drop of palm oil, and licking the side of his forefinger.
Then we’ll find girls who want us even if we don’t have money, Mudia said and stood up.
On our way to the town, we briefed village chiefs
with regard to our mission. It was impossible to tell from
the faces of the village chiefs what they thought, but it
must have been with a shade of incredulity that they
heard that the king was to be no more, that his town
would be taken, his priests killed, and the shrines,
twenty in number, burned
Mudia knew his mother was at her spot; the aroma of the palm fruits she was cooking got to him, and he could see in the distance the smoke from the fire under her large pots as it rose above trees. Beside him on the path where he walked, peanut plants on his grandfather’s farm showed off their bright yellow flowers. He knew they would be ready for harvest after four market days, and he would have to join the old man for the tedious work. To his left, a fallen raffia palm he had split open to pick grubs of beetles the previous day lay where he had left it; its dark brown fluffy inside made him imagine the bowels of a slaughtered cattle. Ahead was the cocoa farm and he knew his grandfather was there, planting new seedlings. Mudia had thought he should clear a piece of land and plant cocoa seedlings; but it would take five years to harvest any pod of cocoa seeds. He needed money to build a house in the city, and move there before the next harvest. Harvests from a cocoa farm would be too late for that, and what with the white buyers paying whatever they felt like, the same thing they did with palm oil and tobacco. He had been thinking of the trade he could embark on when he returned to the city; he hadn’t decided yet, but he was sure he would find something to do.
Mudia, someone called.
It was the voice of his grandfather. He was about to turn to the right on the footpath and head for his mother’s spot but his grandfather saw him from the cocoa farm and called. He turned to the left and walked to the cocoa farm. Fallen cocoa leaves on the ground could have been one long seamless mat; every spot was covered under the canopy of the tree branches that touched one another, leaving no space for the sun overhead to see the ground. He thought about oversized earrings as he walked past tree trunks with the green cocoa pods hanging from them. The dry leaves rustled under his feet as he walked to where his grandfather stood. Sometimes his mother picked the leaves and took the bundles to sell in the market, but that was whenever she had no palm fruits to cook to make palm oil.
Grandpa, Mudia said and greeted the old man who stood erect now, a brown singlet lying on his shoulder, plastic bags filled with earth and cocoa seedlings at his feet.
You are getting to be a real farmer, his grandfather said.
You don’t leave your farm as early as you used to, his grandfather said.
I was harvesting palm fruits for–
We are saying the same thing; when a farmer has work to do, he never thinks of returning to the village. So you are now a real farmer.
Mudia laughed and said, I am not sure I can be as good as you are.
Why, you can be–
By now you should be back in the village yourself, Mudia said.
I want to plant these last few seedlings before I go. The palm wine tapper brought some for me. It’s over there; take it along with you. I will come to the village shortly.
Mudia walked over to the foot of one of the cocoa trees. This one had a yellow pod on its trunk. He held the pod, twisted it and pulled. He hit the pod on the trunk, splitting it. He picked a few seeds and dropped them in his mouth, feeling the sour taste of the seeds’ milk jell. He picked up the gourd; a bunch of leaves was placed on its mouth, covering the white foam that oozed under it.
You can take from it if you want, his grandfather said, now bent over his seedling.
You know I won’t drink palm wine, Grandpa, Mudia said.
You are the first young man I have seen who doesn’t indulge himself. When I was your age, mothers in all the ten villages around here hid their daughters behind them anytime I sauntered past. I doubt if you see how the girls around here show you all the signs.
Mudia laughed and said, What signs?
Haa, so you don’t see the signs. It means you need to learn some old tricks. It will cost you some practice, because I won’t tell you. Pay more attention when you walk through any village, and when you go to the village stream, open your ears and eyes when the girls come to fetch water and they ask you for a favour.
The old man placed his right hand on his head and said, Gbaribijabi o! You mean no girl in all the ten villages around here had ever asked you for a favour?
Mudia said, No.
Haa, this child does not know anything. I hope you have not been closing your eyes when you walk, because that’s the only reason you don’t see what I see.
What do you see?
Yesterday, didn’t I meet you at the stream where you hid behind a tree, taking your bath?
Why did you think I stood there? I was expecting the girl who had stood by her pot of water to ask me to help her lift it to her head? Instead she had waited, and it was after you had your bath that she said, Mudia, please come and help me.
Maybe, she didn’t want to disturb an elder like you.
Haa, Gbaribijabi o! the old man said, placing the palms of his hands on his head in mock surprise.
Mudia was laughing so much he feared he would drop the gourd of palm wine in his hands. He bent and placed it on the ground.
I’m sure you didn’t even see when she was making eyes at you, the old man said.
The girl you had helped with her water pot.
How did she make eyes at me?
You mean as you helped her lift her pot of water you didn’t see how her eyes were all over you. I can almost swear that I saw her blinking rapidly at you.
Mudia said, Maybe a fly was about to enter her eyes.
Haa! Now I know you don’t know how to see a girl. I trust myself. If it were that time when I was in the morning of my long life, not now that I am in the night I would have–em–em–
What would you have done? Mudia asked, laughing.
His grandfather said, Go, go to the village, go; you are not like me.
Mudia was still laughing as he picked up the gourd and walked away. The aroma of the cooking palm fruit was much stronger, and he stepped on palm kernel shells on the darkened oily surface of the ground as he got closer to his mother’s cooking spot. He found her stirring the boiling yellow liquid in a large pot, smoke from the fireplace rising to meet the canopy the branches and leaves of an Obeche formed above. He placed the gourd at the foot of the tree and sat down.
His mother turned around from the pot, her left hand on the stick she had been stirring the boiling liquid with.
You return from the farm late these days, she said.
I stayed with Grandpa for a little while; he said staying a little longer on my farm makes me a real farmer, Mudia said.
Baba Eghosa said he told you to harvest his palm fruits. He wants me to cook them for him, Have you harvested them? His mother asked.
He told me to harvest, but his fruits are not ripe yet. At this time last year, they were ripe, but not this time.
It’s the harmattan wind; it has not been so strong this year. There are more palm fruits when harmattan is strong, and they ripen faster.
Who owns the palm fruits you are cooking?
Your uncle. He says he wants to see you.
Is he still in his place in the city?
A den is for a lion. Where else will Chief Osasuwa live, except in his house? He has a shrine to take care of, remember.
I will take my tobacco to the city during the next market day.
Greet chief for me.
I didn’t say I will go to his house.
Didn’t you hear what I said? He asked for you, and he sent someone to say you should come and see him. You have to go and see him. And that girl in Gudero village said I should greet you.
Girl? I don’t know any girl in Gudero village, Mudia said. It was not the first time his mother had told him of some girl who had sent him greetings.
He watched his mother draw out woods with their flame from under the pot; it made him think several tongues that had been lapping the bottom of the pot were drawn back into a mouth. The foaming red liquid stopped flowing over, and the live embers under them that had been hissing as his mother poured water on them became silent.
She dropped the calabash bowl in her hand into a pot of water, faced her son and said, The girl that sent me to you had said she would not greet me again if I didn’t deliver her message; so don’t pretend you don’t know her.
I don’t know her, Mudia said.
Which of the girls in Gudero village do you know?
I don’t know any.
Since you arrived this village you have not talked to any girl?
I have, but–
But what?his mother asked, her hand on her waist, leaning forward and staring at her son the way a mother would stare at the child that had complained of toothache, the kind she never heard before.
Mudia was laughing. Why are you looking at me like that? he asked.
When will you get married? his mother asked.
I will get married.
I said, When?
I have so many things I want to do first.
Like what? his mother asked, turning away.
Like when I am ready, and one day get back what belongs to my father, Mudia said.
On that her mother turned around so fast to face him that Mudia thought she heard him utter a curse.
We set out on a half-day’s march towards
the town and camped for the night.
Early in the morning we took up strategic
position at the three most important
gateways, ready to attack Etinosa
from three points
The weigh-in man weighed the bags of dried tobacco less and paid Mudia less, as usual. Mudia walked away from the back of the hall, past the pile of bags that had been weighed and paid for, and past the crowd of farmers that waited to have their bags weighed. A woman who sat towards the back of the crowd wiped sweat from her face with the edge of her wrapper, a bag of tobacco next to her. She turned to the man opposite her, and Mudia heard her say, Baba Uyi, if the weighing is going to take time, let me return home and breastfeed Uyi; he must be awake and hungry by now.
Mudia turned a corner and arrived at the other side of the hall. The other weigh-in man here looked up from a bag, poured the handful of cocoa seeds in his hands into the bag and said, I have always told you to let your cocoa seeds dry well before you bring them. Are you the only farmer that needs money in Etinosa?
Mudia walked past the weigh-in man and the farmers around him into Market Road. He walked down it, crossed to the other side and to a dirt street opposite him. He had not taken more than ten steps when he saw a crowd running towards him.
They are coming, they are coming, voices shouted and everyone ran faster; a woman bumped into him.
He walked on.
Where are you going? Don’t you see D.O’s soldiers? one of the men shouted to him.
Mudia stopped, looked at the man who had run past him, and then down the dirt street. More people ran towards him. He turned then, and ran. He didn’t see the soldiers but he went with the crowd that ran down Market Road. Running footsteps were louder behind him; these were boots, not bare feet, so he knew D.O’s soldiers were closer. He turned off the road, looking around for Chief Osasuwa’s house. He had not been to his house for several years. He ran past houses, his breathing coming in short gasps but he didn’t stop. He had seen D.O’s soldiers shooting before. He didn’t know what the soldiers were running after this time but he wasn’t sure they wouldn’t shoot anyone on their path. He ran to the front of a mud house with brown rusted roofing sheets. He was at the door before he realized he was three houses away from Chief Osasuwa’s. He ran past the three houses, got to the doorway and entered the compound. He looked at the mud walls around him, and the long wall opposite him shielding off the inner recesses of the house. Chief Osasuwa came out of one of the rooms in the inner recesses of the compound, his torso bare, his eyes on the ground. He turned to the left of the wall, picked the wooden deck chair that stood against the wall, unfolded it and he had sat before he looked up.
Mudia, when did you come in? No one told me you were here, he said.
I came in not long ago, Mudia said.
What have you been doing with yourself? Look at how bushy your head is. Bring that bench here and sit, Chief Osasuwa said, indicating a spot next to him.
Mudia sat, his mind on the chief’s hand that had shook as he stretched it out. He watched him where he sat, packing ground tobacco to the centre of the palm of his left hand with the thumb of his right hand. Both hands shook but the chief was able to pack the brown stuff with the nail of his thumb into his right nostril and then the left. Mudia knew the sound that would come. It came, a loud sneeze that could blow a house fly away for several yards. The chief wiped his nostrils with his left hand, and he wiped the palm of his hand on the wrapper around his waist before he turned back to his cousin.
Why have you been hiding from me, young man? the chief asked.
I don’t hide from you, uncle.
You don’t? Tell me the season I saw you last, the chief said, turning his face away from Mudia, his chin tilted up, and his neck held stiff.
It’s been several seasons, uncle.
I said, Tell me the season, the chief said, his neck held in the same position.
I can’t remember, uncle.
Uhm-hmn, I knew you would say that, because I could see guilt on your face, the chief said, turning to face Mudia.
I am sorry. It’s because I have had to work hard to–
I know. Are you married?
There was no way I could have married without you being aware.
When will you get married?
You must get married soon. I said your mother should tell you to come.
She said so, Mudia said.
There’s something I want you to do.
What is it, uncle? Mudia asked, worried that the chief would tell him to do something he didn’t want to do. It would be difficult for him to say no because Chief Osasuwa and everyone in the chief’s family were his relatives in a way he could not fully understand. What he knew was what his mother said that only the chief and those in his family could prepare his body for burial when he died, as they had done to his ancestors. He didn’t understand that part as he didn’t understand so many parts to Chief Osasuwa’s role in Etinosa Kingdom. But he had accepted what he was told was the way things were done, like Chief Osasuwa and his family being the ones to make his grave and offer sacrifices on his behalf to the ancestral spirits when he was to be buried.Mudia knew his uncle should have been dead at the time D.O came to the City with his soldiers. But he had escaped to Ile-Ife and that was how D.O’s soldiers didn’t get him seasons earlier when they hanged everyone in Etinosa involved in the killing of Captain Philips. Since the chief returned, Mudia had heard him saying he shot the poisoned arrow that killed the captain, a claim that further endeared him to natives who never forgave D.O for sending the king to exile.
I want you to go and see your eldest half-brother, Chief Osasuwa said.
Why? Mudia asked.
Chief Osasuwa looked up at Mudia as though the young man had asked why he had to eat food. He said nothing for a while.
On the other side of the wall behind him, Mudia heard a woman saying, You brought tubers of yam from the farm and you placed them here. Is this where they should be? Do you want goats to eat them?
Mudia knew the voice; that of the eldest of the chief’s six wives. She was talking to one of the slaves. Since D.O arrived Etinosa he had said all slaves could leave because the Queen of his country had said no man should be in bond to another man; but none of chief’s fifty slaves left. Mudia remembered how the eldest wife had kept the chief’s house and farm while he was away in Ile-Ife, and sometimes he imagined she was the wife of a past king in Etinosa whom he learnt had said she should be buried alive as a sacrifice to the gods, in order for her husband to overcome enemies who had wanted to remove him from the throne. He couldn’t recollect the name of the king’s wife; but he knew where she was buried in the centre of town, and how everyone believed whoever walked across her grave would die because of her prowess.
When you go to see your brother, you have to do what your father had wanted you to do so long ago, Chief Osasuwa said.
Mudia said nothing, but waited.
I have told your brother about it and he has agreed.
What did you tell him? Mudia asked.
I told him what the oracle told me. It was also what your father wanted for you as the child from a woman he wanted so much but whom your grandfather married off to another man. You will know what this is all about when you get to your brother. You may go inside and eat.
Mudia walked outside after he had finished eating, thinking of returning to the village. He walked into the dirt street, and up the street back to Market Road.
See him. He’s here! he heard a voice shout from a street corner and he was yet to turn around when soldiers surrounded him, their guns pointed.
We had the king arrested, sent everyone
in his household packing, and we lodged
in the more than four dozen rooms in the
palace, the large courtyards serving as
stores for food and ammunitions. And in
the afternoon of the last day, a strong
party of soldiers went to town burning
the compounds of not a few chiefs of
Etinosa that natives were ordered to
Mudia knew he would be brought to D.O’s office in the palace premises before the soldiers emerged on Palace Street. He thought once more about how a white man had become the landlord of a palace no stranger would have dared to step into without the king’s permission. But the king had been sent to exile in Calabar for more than ten seasons. As he was pushed and pulled, guns at his back, Mudia remembered how his grandfather had always said the absence of the cat from the house could make the mouse become landlord. Well, a cat might return after a long absence but the king never would, he thought. D.O had said so, and Chief Yimwen the palace chief who carried out administration had begun to carry himself about the city like a king. He learnt that when the soldiers had arrived the city Chief Yimwen took them to the houses of the foremost chiefs and they were hanged. D.O then had the king arrested and said he was the representative of the Queen, and he had since become the owner of the two storey concrete house he built in the palace premises.
Go that way! one of the soldiers said, jabbing the nozzle of his gun into Mudia’s back.
Mudia turned towards the left, to the foot of the stairs and walked up to the second floor where another soldier stood next to a door.
Come this way. Come!
He walked towards the soldier. He was pushed inside and the door closed behind him.
Well, Mudia, so you are among those who cause trouble for Her Majesty’s Government, D.O said from where he sat behind his desk.
What do you mean, cause problem? Mudia asked.
D.O rubbed the right side of his face, and Mudia thought his cheeks sagged more than he had remembered them. And the strands of hair on his temples, did they appear greyer or whiter? He wasn’t sure from what the light streaming through the window from D.O’s right side showed him.
D.O said, I have information you have been scheming against Her Majesty’s Government all these while, like one of the disgruntled elements that had escaped deserved justice at the time I arrived this city, D.O said.
And who gave you the information? Mudia asked as the door was pushed open behind him. He turned, and there beside him was his uncle, chain dangling from this hands and feet.
Now the round-up of all disgruntled elements in Etinosa is complete. You came from the village and went to Chief Osasuwa’s house to finalize your plan to attack government officials, weren’t you? D.O said to Mudia.
What do you mean he was in my house to plan an attack? And why do you have him in chains? Chief Osasuwa asked.
I guess you will ask me why you too are in chain? I have information about the role you played when Captain Philips and his men were murdered. I have kept quite since I learnt about your role. And now I understand what natives say about a leopard that can’t change its spots.
Mudia could hear the fast rhythm of his own heart beat, worried about his uncle.
Where are the rest of the people in your group that are planning to kill me and run all Her Majesty’s representatives out of Etinosa? D.O asked.
Who told you anyone plans to kill you? the chief asked.
I have my information.
The door opened.
Chief Yimwen, do we have all the tax returns now? D.O asked.
Yes, we do. The five stubborn villages have sent in their tributes after our soldiers went on expedition and spent ten days among them.
Our soldiers! Mudia thought, watching as Chief Yimwen walked past Chief Osasuwa, turned as he got to the side of D.O’s desk and wiped him and his uncle with his huge eyeballs before turning away again. He placed a file on D.O’s desk and sat in one of the two chairs opposite the white man.
D.O opened the file, read its content and said, These tax figures are lower than we projected.
Chief Yimwen said, I know. But this is the first time we get the troublesome people in the five villages to pay up. And the harvest was poor last season. I know we can’t think of building another school as we plan to do unless our revenue improves. But we will gather more tax next season, I am sure, then we can embark on the school project.
The government can’t afford the cost of building more schools for the next couple of years. We don’t have the fund. We leave school matters to the missionaries.
But missionaries don’t come to Etinosa.
They do. They write to me seeking for my permission to establish schools; it’s just they are not the right ones, D.O said, closing the file.
The man from CMS had opposed us in the past. He had criticized Her Majesty’s Government when we took over Lagos. So we can’t have him here. He will cause us more trouble.
Mudia knew the CMS missionary, and it occurred to him that D.O referred to a matter that happened twenty years ago, at the time the king of Lagos was removed when the British accused him of trading in slaves. As for Etinosa, D.O had said the king engaged in human sacrifice, although Mudia knew it was because the king had shut out white traders from the palm oil and Gum Arabic trade that they were also interested in.
We can encourage missionaries from the other churches to come, can’t we? Chief Yimwen asked.
They won’t, they are fighting each other. Leadership tussle.
So what do we do about schools for the growing number of children?
D.O shrugged and said, We haven’t got jobs for those that have completed elementary school; we will be brewing trouble if we have too many of them in the city.
I learnt that a new Governor-General is now in Lagos, Chief Yimwen said.
Governor-General plans to pay us a visit before long. And here are the two people behind the scheme to kill me and run every vestige of Her Majesty’s Government out of this city, he said, pointing at Mudia and his uncle.
Chief Yimwen didn’t turn around to look at the culprits but said, Let the soldiers lock them up until the time they would appear in court.
Exactly. I wanted to hear their confession so I said the soldiers should bring them here, D.O said.
Lock the criminals up and forget about them, Chief Yimwen said as he stood up and walked out of the office.
Mudia almost smiled. He had heard that Chief Yimwen was telling people he would become the new king because D.O had said the former king would never return. Mudia didn’t doubt that the former king would never return, but that Chief Yimwen who was a palace chief among several other chiefs thought he could become king sounded strange to him. Etinosa had been under kings for more than six hundred years, no chief ever had such a thought.
The two of you aren’t ready to confess your part in this scheme yet, are you? DO asked, placing a finger on the bell on his desk.
Having found where the king’s war general
had his habitation, which natives didn’t want
to show us, another strong party of soldiers
was sent to burn the compound which was on the
outskirt of the town. This was easily done resulting
in the capture of one parrot that kept shouting what
I was made to understand was the name of the
general whom we had previously hung along with
his fellows involved in the murder of Capt. Philips
and his soldiers. The compound consisted of about
a hundred houses, whose roofs made a good blaze
Mudia stood at the edge of the grave, the priest opposite him. He was about to carry out the rites, but from the time he sat on his father’s laps everyone in Etinosa had been saying he had bought the right of the firstborn from his eldest half-brother, Ehi. The boy was a bastard but he had bought the right to be the first son, because his father liked him better than his eldest son, it was said. Was his mother not the wife of another man at the time his father caroused with her? He bought the right of the firstborn and now it would be of no use to him. Mudia had heard from fellow prisoners what everyone in the city said at the time D.O had him locked up. Now he had been set free, because D.O said no one had brought forward evidence showing Mudia and his uncle had planned to kill him and run everyone connected to Her Majesty’s Government out of Etinosa.
Mudia watched the priest where he stood on the other side of the open grave, a white piece of cloth tied round his waist, shaking the gourd shakes in his hand and chanting, his eyes on the banana stem wrapped in white cloth that was in the grave. Mudia stared at the banana stem, too. It had been buried seven days ago, but now he had removed the soil as the priest ordered. Ehi was at the head of the grave. The priest had said,Ehifirst, Mudia next. One would renounce his right of the firstborn,and the other would take up what was renounced. The priest continued to chant, Ehi repeating what he said. Now he stopped and waved to Ehi who dropped into the grave; he lifted the banana stem up and the priest said Mudia should take it from him. The priest made him kneel down and he scrubbed his head with sponge and soap, chanting. The priest rinsed the head with the water in a calabash bowl at his feet, placed his right hand on Mudia and chanted the more.
Put the banana tree down and prostrate before your half-brother, the priest said.
Mudia prostrated, then he stood up.
Again, the priest said.
Mudia prostrated, then he stood up.
Mudia prostrated, then he stood up.
That’s the last time you will ever prostrate for your half-brother. From now on, he’s the one to prostrate before you, the priest said.
The priest touched the side of his head with a finger as he turned to Ehi and said, Beware, if he ever prostrates for you, you will lose your head.
Ehi nodded. The priest turned and walked into the footpath, going on until he got to the cocoa tree farm which leaves covered his back, and he was gone.
Mudia turned to his half-brother.
Why did you do this, Ehi? he asked.
Uncle said I should, Ehi said. He picked the calabash bowl, and walked to the path, heading for his farmstead.
But you didn’t need to agree to do it.
I had to. Uncle said the oracles ordained it.
Still, you could refuse.
Ehi shrugged. He said nothing, but he had decided there was nothing he needed the right of the firstborn for. He had learnt D.O said no one should dream dreams about becoming the king in Etinosa, and in any case Reverend Gerald Hopkins had said from his pulpit that in all he wanted to do, he should set his mind on the kingdom above and store his treasures there too.
Ehi stopped in front of his farmstead.
You will come to the village with me. There are some papers I want you to take away with you, he said.
What papers? Mudia asked.
I don’t know. I can’t read, you can.It’s better you have them.
But why do I have to do all of this?
All of what? Ehi asked.
Mudia spread out his hands, and with the right hand pointing to the open grave they had left behind.
Ehi had bent low under the thatched grass roof of his farmstead, about to enter. He remained in the same position as he turned around, staring at Mudia.
Ask uncle who knows. I don’t, Ehi said and entered.
The afternoon of the same day, a large party
of soldiers proceeded to the house of the
Queen Mother and destroyed it, so burning
one more of the centers of human sacrifice
in the city. The usual demolitions were carried
out, and much work was done at a good pace.
It was our last day in Etinosa and the
soldiers were not sorry to leave behind
and in ruin a city filled with so much blood
as none of them had ever seen before
Pupils ran about on the playground of the elementary school as Mudia walked past on his way to see D.O. The school had not been opened when he was their age, and his father had had to send him to the missionary school in Calabar. Now the role had changed, his father was in Calabar, he was back in Etinosa. He walked towards the shrine at the fifth station which each chief in Etinosa had had to visit once the king had honoured him; he wondered if D.O knew how many of the children in the elementary school belonged to Chief Yimwen. D.O had asked the chief to get more children into the school but he had filled it with his. Twenty of the pupils, out of a total of fifty belonged to Chief Yimwen, the same way he had fifteen shop spaces out of thirty in the new market that the administration built down Market Road. Now he had begun to go about the city with drummers and praise singers, calling himself King-in-Waiting. Mudia thought it must be that D.O didn’t notice all of it, or he believed the lies Chief Yimwen had told him about how things were done in Etinosa. He didn’t have this kind of authority at the time he was just one out of eighteen other palace chiefs. Now, he was the only chief happening in Etinosa. Mudia had asked his uncle if he spoke to D.O about customs in Etinosa and the old man had shrugged and said D.O heard only whatever Chief Yimwen said.
A truck went past him at the road junction that led to the fifth shrine, its blue front that had both the engine and the driver’s seat had the word, Ford, and in the wooden passengers’ compartment at the back tubers of yam were stacked to a side, with tins of palm oil, orange and packs of broom on the other side. Mudia tried to recollect what his uncle had said about the fifth shrine as he walked past it. He said it was the fifth out of fifteen stations that honoured chiefs must visit; its four chapels and a cathedral were meant to be a church and that King Esigie had built them? That was at the time missionaries came to the city so long ago, and King Esigie had taken a vow to worship the son whom the missionaries said a virgin gave birth to for a god. Mudia smiled as he arrived another street, and walked down.When the church became a shrine it had meant the death of the worship of the son of the god, he thought. He imagined how King Esigie had at that time summoned courage to call his chiefs and told them he would no longer worship the gods of Etinosa, but the god of the missionaries. Mudia learnt that the chiefs had received the news badly, and they had brought a foreign king to help them push out Esigie’s missionaries. The missionaries had helped Esigie to buy guns which he used against the foreign king, and in appreciation Esigie built the chapels and the cathedral. But after he died his chiefs were happy to add the chapels to the shrines of their several gods.
Mudia walked across Market Road, and after the next six houses and the prison house he turned into a corner on his left. It led to the palace ground, a part of which had been turned to prison’s farm. He knew Chief Yimwen turned this part into a farm where prisoners were made to plant corn, pepper and yam. His uncle had said other chiefs told Chief Yimwen at their meetings to move the farm away from the palace ground, that it was a sacrilege, but D.O had sided with the man he had begun to call Sole Native Authority. His uncle with other chiefs had been staying away from the palace meetings since then, and this made Mudia wondered more why D.O sent for him. He might want to talk to me about my uncle about the row, he thought as he arrived the front yard of D.O’s office.
One of the six soldiers loitering in the front yard stopped him and asked in pidgin English: You, wetin you dey find for here?
I want to see D.O, Mudia said, his eyes on the scattered tuff of hair on the sides of the soldier’s mouth and he thought of cat’s whiskers.
You wan‘ see D.O. Who you be, and why you wan‘ see D.O? Whiskers asked, looking at Mudia from the head to his feet, and back again.
My name is Mudia.
Who dey ask you for ya name? Ya name no mean anytin to me; or, you hear me ask for ya name as I stand for here? Whiskers asked.
See as ’e dey look me. You say ya name na wetin?
My name is Mudia.
My Dear? You say ya name, My Dear?
Whiskers turned and called his fellows: Come, come. Make all of una come hear person wey say ’im name na, My Dear.
My Dear! the four soldiers said at the same time where they sat, and laughed.
I say make you come here come hear am, or unadey craze?
The four soldiers ran over. One of them said, ’E talk say ’im name na, My Dear?
Na so he talk; or, wetin you call ya name? Whiskers asked.
So una no no wetin Mudia mean, eh? one of the soldiers asked.
Wetin ’im name mean? Whiskers asked.
It means, God gives.
Ehn-ehn, you for talk like dat before. You come first say ya name na, My Dear. I no be ya dear. Go find ya dear for anoda place, you hear? Whiskers said to Mudia, and the rest of the soldiers laughed.
Mudia waited. He thought the soldier that gave the meaning of his name must be from Etinosa, but he was not so sure. The tiny marks around the mouths of four of the soldiers showed they were from other tribes across the Niger river, to the north. He would have thought they were Hausa because they spoke in Hausa but he had been taught in school that not everyone from across the Niger river was Hausa. As for Whiskers, he thought the man was Ijaw and he must have lived in Lagos where natives spoke in pidgin English to white traders.
By the way, you no go fit see D.O for dis time, Whiskers said.
Why not? Mudia asked.
You dey query me? Who you be to dey query me? I say you no go fit see D.O for dis time. ’E dey busy. You dis people wey don go white man school, na so una dey do. Una too get strong-head sake of say una read white man’s books. Which school you go?
Mundia said nothing.
I say, Which school you go, or you deaf for ya ears?
St Mirnas’ College, Calabar.
You see am? You don go read too many white man’s books for Calabar so ya head don dey turn-turn. But dat one no mean say make you come here come dey rude to me, you hear me so? Look ma face well-well; I no be ya mate for anytin. Me, I be soldier; I fit kill anytime.
I have not said anything rude to you, have I?
Sharap ya mouth dia! I say, Sharap! Who you besef? Everything wey I talk, na so so query you dey query me. I tell you say you no fit see D.O, you dey ask me, Why? Na me be de why, if you no know. You people for dis Etinosasef, una too wise for una own eyes. Or unatink say una still get king? Oba atopeyeeh! Oba atopeyeeh! wey all of unadey shout say make the king live long as if na only Etinosa people get king; all of dat don end, make I tell you. King no dey for dis town anymore. For now, na me be de king for here. So if you like you fit go away; you no go fit see D.O. Quote me for anywhere; na me talk am.
He asked me to come and see him, Mudia said.
Ehn-ehn, D.O talk say make you come see am?
Ehn-ehn.But why you no talk dat one before? You for talk and I for know how I for do your case. Okay, go siddon for dat place yonder. I go tell you when you go fit see D.O, Whiskers said, turned and walked away, the gun on his right shoulder bouncing on his right thigh.
Mudia turned around to see the spot where Whiskers said he should sit. It was the raised part of the concrete wall on the outer part of D.O’s office. He walked over and sat down.
When dem talk say Governor-General go come from Lagos, or ’e no go come again? one of the soldiers asked his fellows.
I hear say na next week. Na D.O’s Clerk tell me, one of the soldiers said.
I hear say war don start for dem while people country, na true?
Dem say nadem German soldiers dey fight Her Majesty, the Queen’s soldiers in the war.
From where Whiskers stood close to the gate he said, Na de reason why Governor-General wan‘ come here be dat. He wan‘ get more soldiers and more corn and yam weydem soldiers go dey chop for de war for Kenya and India.
And palm oil too, Mudia thought where he sat. Palm oil was a reason Captain Philips had come to see the king years ago. He had wanted to get the king to mark X on a paper, which would make Etinosa sell its palm oil only to traders from the Queen’s Country. The captain had been told he had to wait because the king was in the middle of the Igue festival. But he came towards the city with his soldiers. The king’s warriors met him and the captain with his soldiers were killed in a battle.
The door of D.O’s office opened.
One of you should call Chief Yimwen for me, D.O said to the soldiers and pushed the door close. He opened it again, looking at Mudia.
Why didn’t you come in when you arrived? Come in, he said.
Mudia walked past D.O, who closed the door and sat behind his desk that had the name plate – Major M. H. Rowland.
Do have your seat. I have been waiting for you. Chief Yimwen will come in now and we will discuss what I have–
What was it you invited me for? Mudia asked, standing where he was.
Do sit, and–
I won’t sit, white man. Why do you say I should come, Mudia said, his hand on the backrest of one of the two chairs opposite D.O’s desk.
The door opened then.
I learnt you sent for me, Chief Yimwen said as he walked past Mudia to stand next to D.O’s desk.
Yes, I did. Do have your sit, D.O said to Chief Yimwen who sat in the chair on which backrest Mudia placed his hands.
Mudia, sit and let’s discuss, D.O said.
Chief Yimwen turned around where he sat, and said, Sit, young man. D.O says you should it.
D.O can tell you what he wants done, but not me. I owe him nothing and he owes me nothing. As for people like you who lust after what belongs to others, anyone can order you to eat shit and you gladly will.
Chief Yimwen turned to D.O and said, When you open schools for people like him to attend this is what you get in return. Many of his type in Etinosa don’t hear words of correction from elders anymore. They think they know it all.
You can say what you like. In this town we know those who are worth the beads they wear on their necks and we know those who are empty wind; people who will do anything in order to be what they are not, Mudia said.
And don’t you insult me, young man, or I will have you disciplined, Chief Yimwen said.
You discipline yourself first. A man that’s worth a bag of sand who thinks he’s a basketful of gold nuggets.
Chief Yimwen was on his feet, turning to face Mudia, the forefinger of his right hand raised.
D.O said, Chief Yimwen, please sit down. Have your seat.
Chief Yimwen sat.
Mudia, please, sit, DO said.
I will hear what you invited me for, before I sit.
Alright. I invite you to offer you an appointment.
As an agent of Her Majesty’s government in one of the districts. I need trustworthy men like you to administer Guariro District.
I don’t want your appointment. Give it to him, Mudia said, pointing at Chief Yimwen.
D.O said, He’s at the head of the Native Authority Administration at this headquarters, I believe you are aware of that.
Mudia said, I’m aware that he was one of the eighteen chiefs under the king of his land. Just one. Until you came, he had never had the kind of airs he now surrounds himself with, calling himself the sole native authority in Etinosa. And if he takes this too far, white man, even you will have problems on your hands.
He had expected an outburst from D.O when he said that. Instead, the white man had on his face what Mudia knew was apprehension, and he wondered why. Now D.O did not look at him, but at the top of his desk. He picked up his pen, tapping it, tak-tak, on the desk.
Then he said, I assume your refusal to work for Her Majesty’s Government is because you feel you will be directly under Chief Yimwen.
Mudia stared at him.
You need not entertain such a thought. You will reside in Guariro and you will directly be answerable to me, D.O said.
Mudia stared. Now he knew there was a reason D.O wanted him to work for his administration, and he decided to find out.
Why do you suddenly pick on me as a district head? he asked.
I have said it already. I thought it would be good to bring hardworking, trustworthy and educated young people like you into the administration of this Province. You are the future of the administration, foundation of a modern city, to take it far away from the past bloody era of human sacrifices, slavery and pagan worships, and especially now that the king has died.
You mean the king has gone to join his ancestors? Mudia asked.
DO nodded and said, He died on his hospital bed in Calabar two days ago. .
Mudia looked at Chief Yimwen whose back was turned to him. He turned again and looked at D.O. He wasn’t sure that was all the reason for the white man’s apprehension. So he walked to the door, and out of the office, not bothering to answer D.O who said, What’s your final word about my proposal?
It aroused our curiosity that one of the major shrines
in the centre of the town appeared like a chapel
– four chapels and a cathedral, yet they were shrines.
We became more intrigued when told that it was once
built by a past king of Etinosa who had been converted
to Christianity, was trained as a priest in Portugal
at a period reckoned to be in the 18th century. But
he left the priesthood under pressure from his chiefs.
After his death, both the four chapels and the cathedral
became shrines of some pagan god. It’s not inconceivable
that had the chapel and the Cathedral continued to be a
source of light, the debased barbaric practices in this
townwould not have been of the scale we met
It was not the first time Mudia asked himself how the statues and sculptures around his uncle’s compound had escaped the interest of D.O and his soldiers at the time they came to punish the city for the death of Captain Philips. At the time, they had carted carvings away in boxes to their ship on the sea. Mudia knew the soldiers had visited every shrine and they had come to his uncle’s compound on their last day in Etinosa. They must have looted more than they could carry; that could only be the reason these statues and sculptures in his uncle’s compound remained where they had always been, he thought as he walked past a carving with elephant’s face that stood next to the front entrance to the compound. Chief Osasuwa was not reclining on his deck chair outside the wall of the inner parts of his house. Mudia didn’t expect him to be there late in the afternoon when the sun seemed unable to decide whether to run home or stay for the rest of the day. He thought he knew who was speaking on the other side of the wall before he saw the person. He heard the voice better as he walked in.
That was what I said I should come here to tell you, the voice said.
It was the voice of the clerk to D.O, and the man squatted opposite Chief Osasuwa who stood in his farm clothes, listening.
You are the son of your father, not a bastard. Come and hear what Clerk is saying, Chief Osasuwa said when he saw Mudia.
What did he say?
Tell my nephew what you told me, Chief Osasuwa said to Clerk, drew a low wooden stool and sat.
I have seen four letters recently, Clerk said as Mudia drew another low stool and sat opposite his uncle. Clerk continued: The first letter was from Governor-General who said now that the two territories up and down the Niger river had been joined together, he wanted Etinosa to have a paramount ruler as it was the case in Hausa towns across the Niger river. He said it was necessary because Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t have so much money and enough personnel, but with paramount rulers, administration would still be carried out effectively. The second letter which I had typed went from D.O to Governor-General. In it, DO said he wanted the approval of Governor-General to crown Chief Yimwen as the new paramount ruler.
Mudia looked at his uncle who had his temple with its fluffy grey hair turned to him, biting into a lobe of kola nut hanging between his lips as though it would fall off any moment. The chief bit and chew, but the lobe didn’t fall.
Clerk was saying, The third letter was the one from Governor-General in which he said if D.O was sure Chief Yimwen was the best choice as the king of Etinosa, he should go ahead and crown him. The fourth letter which I had typed yesterday was from D.O seeking the indulgence of the Governor-General to come to Etinosa and crown Chief Yimwen; meanwhile, D.O said he had already presented the chief with the certificate appointing him the new king of Etinosa.
Mudia waited for his uncle to speak after Clerk had stopped. But the elderly man stretched out his legs and ran his hands over each of them, making Mudia think they itched and he was rubbing them to sooth. The chief stopped, bent forward, the palms of his hands resting on the knee cap of each leg, his jaw moving in a rhythm as he chew his kola nut. His eyes were on Mudia now, and he imagined his uncle was saying, Now it has happened as I have said it would, has it not?
But the chief turned to Clerk and said, Thank you. I will send for you later.
Mudia watched Clerk rise and walk out of the compound. He was one of the children of one of his uncle’s slaves, and at the time D.O said chiefs should send their children to school, he was the one Chief Osasuwa sent. D.O employed him as a clerk at the Native Authority Office after he had completed elementary school.
Can D.O do that? Mudia asked his uncle.
White men can do whatever they want; they have the guns.
But he wants to make a chief king, one among his fellow chiefs; is that possible?
White men have made former slaves kings among the Igbo on the eastern side of the Niger river.
Warrant chiefs, Mudia corrected.
His uncle shrugged and said, Warrant chiefs with the authority of a king.
So, what will you the chiefs do about this? Will you look on as D.O makes that usurper king over you?
Not over me; over Etinosa, over you, over everyone. If it’s over me, I’ll rather take my life and go to meet my ancestors than watch that slave parade himself as king of Etinosa.
Was Chief Yimwen once a slave?
His great grandfather was. He was a favourite of your great-great grandfather who honoured him by making him a chief. It is his title this usurper inherits. And now, what can anyone do about D.O? It has become a world of white men?
Mudia said, I learnt that so long ago after several of such attempts, there was an agreement that no chief in Etinosa should have the king removed and become a king in his stead?
Chief Osasuwa nodded and said, It’s true, and it was written down for them by one of the missionaries at the time; both the king and each of the chiefs had marked X on the paper where the missionary wrote the agreement. The agreement was reached at the time of your great grandfather when some chiefs banded together to have him removed; the negotiated settlement was that chiefs should never remove the king and make one among themselves king in Etinosa. But this is different. It’s D.O who wants to make Yimwen a king, not any of the chiefs.
We don’t know the version of our custom that Chief Yimwen had narrated to D.O? He might have fed him with lies, the very opposite of what the agreement stated.
Chief Osasuwa nodded.
Did you say that agreement between the king and his chiefs was written down? Mudia asked.
Do you have a copy?
My great grandfather whose title I inherited did not give his copy to my grandfather, so my father didn’t hand a copy over to me. Chief Osasuwa said.
Do you think one of the chiefs has a copy?
I don’t know. What do you want to do with the agreement paper?
I need it as an evidence that what D.O is about to do negates our tradition. He can’t crown a chief when the late king has a son.
He won’t listen to you. He’s a white and he has the gun.
Help me get the paper of the agreement from one of the chiefs.
I doubt if any of them has it, Chief Osasuwa said.
Chief Osasuwa nodded.
Having heard of the direction the war general
and his men took, we sent soldiers in pursuit, and
somehow caught up with them. There were
no two things to do when the war general
was brought back with his accomplices
apart from meting to them what they had
done to Captain Philips and his soldiers.
He was hung in the presence of the deposed
king whom we later took away from the town
You no fit see D.O as you no get appointment with am, or you get appointment? Whiskers asked Mudia who had come to the palace ground.
Tell him I am here; I am sure he will like to see me.
I be ya boy-boy dat I go dey take message to D.O for you? Ehn, I say I be ya boy-boy?
The door of D.O’s office opened and Chief Yimwen walked out, laughing, DO behind him.
Ah, see our young man here. Come, Mudia. Come over. I believe you have news for me. I am on my way out but I can see you briefly.
Mudia walked past Chief Yimwen into the office.
It’s good to see you, Mudia, D.O said, walking to his seat.
I have come to see you about what you want to do to Chief Yimwen, Mudia said.
O, your coming to see me has something to do with Chief Yimwen. If that is the case, I think he should be present. Please, open the door and call him. He couldn’t have got to his office yet, D.O said.
I won’t; it’s you I come to have a word with. You can’t make Chief Yimwen a king over Etinosa.
And why not?
He’s only a chief among his fellow chiefs.
Well, he’s the choice of Her Majesty’s Government.
You mean he’s your choice. He is not the choice of anyone in Etinosa, and you can ask around. That’s the way you and your soldiers carted away the treasures, the carvings and the statues in the palace. I guess you would also say it was Her Majesty’s Government that wanted you and the soldiers to steal our carvings and take them to your country, some of which I learnt ended up in private collections.
D.O said, If I were you, I won’t look at this matter of Chief Yimwen that way. Rather I will–
By making a chief the king, you want to do what no one in this land had ever done and get away with, Mudia said, the forefinger of his right hand pointed, his voice raised.
I will advise that you calm down and–
I should calm down when you do whatever you want like a feudal lord among our people and claim it’s Her Majesty’s Government that does it?
I’m the representative of Her Majesty, remember that.
And I remember also that wherever Governor-General had removed a king and placed another, especially in Hausa cities in the North, he had always selected a member of the ruling house, not just any chief like you want to do here. Now I know why you had desperately wanted me to be your stooge as a district head. Governor-General ordered you to install a paramount ruler, but you want to install a man with no history behind him.
I have made my choice and nothing will change it, D.O said, staring at Mudia, his pen making tak-tak sound on his desk.
Mudia said, I won’t be in this land and watch you bring your choice to the throne. You are taking advantage of the fact that not one person in Etinosa had been in school beyond elementary level, fourteen years after Governor-General raised the Union Jack over our land. But I completed secondary education and I was five months into my education at Oxford University when you had my father removed from the throne, sent him to exile in Calabar and I was forced to return home. What you are about to do will destroy the seven hundred years of history that’s behind my father’s throne, and behind me; I won’t let it happen, not even if it would cost me my life. Common working class person like you; you come here and turn yourself into a feudal lord, hiding under the umbrella of the authority of the Queen. I have history behind me too; I don’t know where you are coming from, so I will fight you and your stooge with my last breath. I assure you of that.
Mundia walked out of the office. He was barely ten feet away from the door when D.O came outside and said to the soldiers:
Look at that boy. The next time I see him anywhere near my office I will have all of you court-martialed.
Yes, sah! the soldiers chorused.
There was this sense of fait accompli about it all.
We had thought to spare the palace in order for it
to serve as the new seat of an administration that
would be civilizing in its every ramification. But
it seemed it would not miss what was destined to
be its reward for having been the focal point head
of everything barbaric, the worst any civilized
mind could imagine. And so on this last day as
we were preparing to leave the town and return to
base for further instructions, the palace caught fire
from the foundry of our metal workers who had
been attending to some of our lighter equipment
and munitions, and so on this last day we watched
what the palace, the seat of blood, deservedly
should have befall it.
Mudia was cleaning his new room. He had swept it and now he drew out a box that had clothes and papers in it; he sat down to set them in a neat pile. He had rented the new room in a house not far from his uncle’s, and he was cleaning it because his uncle’s daughter had promised to come with her friend and see him later in the afternoon. He had met the friend when he went to see his uncle three months ago to say he wanted to go to Ile-Ife, and then Oyo. He had learnt that one of his ancestors back in the ninth generation had been the king of Ile-Ife and his son who had come to Etinosa and left a son on the throne, had later departed to become the first king in Oyo. Mudia had wanted the reigning kings of both towns to talk to Governor-General on his behalf, to let him see the disregard for tradition that DO was about to perpetrate in Etinosa. Both kings had promised him that they would talk to Governor-General, and he had returned home to wait. The previous day, he had gone to his uncle’s house to ask him again if he had got any copy of the agreement paper. His uncle didn’t get the paper, and Mudia had no sooner heard him than he sought out his niece in the large compound, pleading that she took him to her friend’s house. Mudia didn’t laugh when his niece said her friend’s father had a loaded gun close by his deck chair at all times, and he was known to be too happy to shoot any young man that loitered around his house, so she would instead come with her friend to Mudia’s new house to assess with females’ eyes how the eligible bachelor had set up his new room.
Mudia drew a few of the clothes in the box out, and as he flapped them cockroaches fell and scampered for cover. He eyes caught the letterings on the back cover of some stapled sheets of paper – Major M. H. Rowland. At the time Ehi gave him some of the papers he had said he found them in the palace ground after soldiers departed with the late king. Mudia lifted the cover and opened the brittle pages, all the way to the last page of what he knew was a diary. So this was the lie he recorded about the palace he and his soldiers had set on fire to hide how much treasures they looted, Mudia thought. It was the last entry D.O made before he made the mistake of dropping the diary somewhere in the palace ground where Ehi had later found and picked it with some other papers. Ehi. He was clever for a man who didn’t attend even elementary school, Mudia told him as he had often done in the past. He didn’t understand why his father approved him rather than Ehi as his successor, except for what he had been told about his father loved his mother who was married to another man. Mudia placed the diary and other papers to a side on the mat, next to the wooden bed a carpenter had delivered earlier in the morning. He would have to go to the market and buy a grass-filled mattress. He didn’t want the girls to arrive and see that his room was not ready for visitors as he had boasted.
He pulled the box outside the door with him, and squatted beside it. More cockroaches walked out and fled. Small brown cases of cockroach eggs lay among the papers, and he knew it was because he had never looked through the box since he brought his loads to town in the last few months. He had been applying for contracts to build dirt roads and streets in town, and his last job had been to sand fill a large pond that he learnt had been behind the palace for over four hundred years. He knew his proposal papers for contracts got to Chief Yimwen’s table, and D.O’s. When he applied the first time he didn’t expect to be selected among several other applicants, but he was. He didn’t know how it happened and he didn’t care, although he suspected it was because the two men still wanted to have him on their side so that they could have their way. Mudia brought more papers out of the box, looking through them. He didn’t have any problem with the two men except for the throne of his father that D.O planned to hand over to Chief Yimwen. Earlier today, Clerk informed him that Governor-General had postponed his visit to Etinosa, and that meant crowing Chief Yimwen wouldn’t take place anytime soon. He hoped the kings in Ile-Ife and Oyo would speak to Governor-General soon. But he was worried. What if Governor-General didn’t pay attention to the two kings?
I won’t let Chief Yimwen have the throne that belongs to me. I must do something fast; but what should I do? he asked himself.
He heard someone call and he looked up from the papers in his hands.
His niece. She stood there, her friend beside her, both of them dark, the skin of their arms glowing, their white set of teeth showed a smile that made him smile back at them without realizing he did. His eyes were on her niece’s friend now, on her face, on the plaited corn-rows on her head, and back to her teeth. He thought her teeth were closely set and they gleamed; he was sure she and her niece had been laughing about something just before they arrived his front yard and found him bent over papers and a box. He looked away from her, and down at the layers of paper in his hands which he had separated into two, one in his right hand and the other in the left. His eyes caught something and he bent his head, staring more closely at the paper in his right hand as he read:
We, the chiefs, and the king of Etinosa, this day, July 5th 1704 do hereby agree that–
Mudia read through, and he read the name of the then reigning king, as well as the eighteen chiefs whose names were written, an X as a signature marked in front of each name. It was his great grandfather’s copy. Mudia shouted as he stood up, and he was barely erect when he ran past the two girls into the street, down the street, his torso and feet bare.
Tell D.O that I wait for him to come and carry out his duty here in my throne room. He can bring my certificate along when he comes, Mudia said where he stood in the open space next to the prison farm that he had ordered moved to another part of town.
Whiskers said he heard Mudia, turned and went away to inform D.O that Mudia had said he would not honour the invitation to come his office.
Above, the sky was sulking, its eyes ready to shed tears. Mudia didn’t mind. This day was his, and no rain would stop him. He had arrived the palace ground with men to erect a shed with a few poles and roofing sheets that he had bought. He stood watching the men as they dug and ground the poles. If it rained D.O would stand under the shed, pronounce him king and then crown him. As for his people, many of them had arrived, beating drums and dancing several meters away from the palace ground. D.O had sent soldiers to them, saying he didn’t want so much noise and they had moved away but continued with the beating of drums and dancing. After he was crowned, he would bring his people nearer to him, Mudia had decided. He could hear their songs about white man that they called Oyibo from where he stood:
Oyibo thinks he can do us in
Now we say we will do Oyibo in
Oyibo says he will take what belongs to us
Now we show him we take back what belongs us
It’s our land
We own it
Oyibo is a stranger
So he can’t tell us who should be our king
We tell him who our king is
For we know our king
Only a bastard will not know his father
We are not bastards
We know Mudia is the firstborn of our king
And today we crown our king.
Mudia wondered if D.O knew the meaning of what his people were singing. He doubted it; D.O had learnt the native dialect, but the weaving of the lyric of local songs didn’t ever lend itself so easily for a non-native to understand. But if D.O did, there was nothing he could do about it. Order had come from above, and he hadn’t been able to do anything when Governor-General invited him to Lagos and showed him the signed agreement Mudia had brought in the company of the kings of Ile-Ife and Oyo. Mudia could still remember what Governor-General had said. He said he wanted the cooperation of the natives, that payment of tax was important to the running of the administration, and the best way to get the tax was to have on the throne of each town the man that natives recognized as having the most legitimate right to the throne. He had said because of the war Her Majesty’s Government was fighting against the Germans, the colonial administration could not afford unrest among the natives when such was avoidable. D.O had had nothing to say to his superior that time. He returned to Etinosa, invited Mudia to come and collect his certificate as the new king, and he had set a date for the coronation.
Mudia hadn’t been to DO’s office to collect the certificate in the last five weeks, and now D.O sent Whiskers to invite him once more. Mudia knew he would never work fine with D.O. He knew it from how D.O had said Chief Yimwen would continue to carry out his function in the native administration in the same way he had been doing it in the past, except that he was not the paramount ruler. As he watched his men place roofing sheets across the wooden poles that they had erected, nailing them, Mudia thought all he needed to do was wait. His father had always said there was nothing good under the sun that patience wouldn’t roll in a man’s direction. Clerk had told him he saw a letter indicating D.O would soon be transferred from Etinosa to another town. When he was gone, Mudia thought, I would have Chief Yimwen placed where he belonged.
The singing from his people had become louder; Mudia knew it was because they saw D.O coming in this direction to perform the crowing ceremony. They became more daring even, the crowd of drummers, singers and dancers showing up around the corner of D.O’s office. They avoided the soldiers, moved closer to the burnt palace where they set up their drums, and dancers engaged in some energetic display. Mudia could see his niece and her friend among another group of people that had arrived, all dressed in uniform asooke clothes. Chief Osasuwa turned the corner now with the rest of the chiefs and they sat on the chairs that had been set opposite the shed. D.O walked past them. Mudia sat on a chair placed to a side of the covered part of the new shed, Ovie standing behind him. He had decided Ovie would take over the role of Chief Yimwen when the time was right.
D.O was brisk and brusque as he said, Today, 15th day of June, 1914, I hereby pronounce you the king of–
He placed the crown on Mudia’s head shortly after he had read his long speech listing the duties and responsibilities of the new king to the Government of Her Majesty the Queen. Then he signed a paper and gave it to Mudia.
Here is the instrument of authority. Make a mark of X on this side of your name as a signature, D.O said, his forefinger placed on the spot he wanted.
Mudia looked into his face and said, I will not mark X; I will append my signature; I was once in the classrooms at Oxford University which you never attended, remember?
D.O said nothing, his arms akimbo as he watched the king sign. He collected the instrument, gave Mudia a certificate, then he turned and marched away.
The crowd gave a loud cheer, hailing their king. More dancing and singing followed. The singers and the dancers trooped to Chief Osasuwa’s house, and there they celebrated till night descended. But the king spent his night and several other nights under his shed that was soon covered on all sides with roofing sheets. And from this new palace that was completed five seasons later he ruled Etinosa for several seasons that followed.