Tag Archives: Igbo

Colours of Christmas in Eastern Nigeria

As an Igbo girl, eastern Nigeria is my default Christmas destination. I go right down to my roots, to my Father’s village! I have done this for all my life and I can hardly remember Christmas not spent in the village. I am not alone either, every Christmas, there is a massive exodus of Igbos from the cities down to the east. I join that exodus every year and it is fun. The fun starts with the trip – the mad scramble for bus tickets (for the many who do not have cars), the packing to fit everything that we MUST carry in bags and boots, then of course, the accidental meeting of friends on our way homewards and the mad frenzy to get out of the city before the 25th of December. To sound religious or romantic (whichever) I could say the origin of Igbos travelling home for Christmas is rooted in the bible when Joseph and Mary had to travel to their hometown to be counted but I will be the first to admit right here and now, amaro m. I don’t know why we go to the east, I just know we go to the east and Christmas in the eastern part of Nigeria is fun!

Maybe it’s fun because everybody comes back, those cousins you haven’t seen in ages, those family friends who you haven’t visited in forever in the big city, everybody comes down and its communal living all over again with the beautiful harmattan breeze, burning firewood smell in the air and general laziness that comes with the season setting the mood really nicely for all of us.

Maybe it’s the general laziness that makes it fun, the endless “gists” about anything and everything while we nibble on everything in sight in tranquillity, that could be the reason we all rush back. If not, It could be the ceremonies that make it fun! Because all of us have run away from the hustle and bustle of the different cities and have found ourselves in the east, we fix memorable occasions to coincide with it too and then we jump from one igba nkwu to one birthday to one wedding and another title taking and then a get-together gorging ourselves on lavish food, meeting people, spraying money in the air and “gisting” as we go!

It could be the joy of our grandparents that makes the visit to the east so appealing at christmas. The visits to the nneochies and nnaochies who are ever glad to see us.

There is healthy abi unhealthy competition in the east too, that could be what makes homegoing fun or not so fun, we don’t set out to compete when we get there we just tell stories that drive very scary competition by their very nature “nwanne, I nukwa na Emeka bu G-wagon nata obodo a?”, “Enyi, I makwa na-anyi ga-egbulu umunna efi this Christmas”, “Bia, I fuu Obi? A nu m na o si obodo oyibo nata and o na-eme ofuma” and on and on we go, telling success story after the other and setting scarier higher standards for those who have no stories to tell, wahala!

I personally think it’s the sleep that makes it fun, that very satisfying sleep at the end of a day spent catching up, visiting friends and partying, when you fall into bed with a smile on your face and hug Mama’s wrapper tighter to create a cosy cocoon without the intrusion of the harmattan breeze. Then the mornings when no alarm goes off and you wake up late with thoughts of what next to eat, who next to visit and what to wear for the day’s activities.

I don’t know what makes Christmas in the east so much fun, I just know I am headed that way again this Christmas!

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OSU MY FOOT!

“Osu! Tainted by association!” my Uncle Ike roared at me while I stood, a lone figure amongst members of my kindred, my only ally in the gathering although she was a bit shaky too was my mother.

“Richard is an Osu, tainted by association” my Uncle roared again, as if to burn his words permanently into my head. He really needed to roar at me to bring me back to him, because I was already lost in thought, examining the phrase “tainted by association”. I had never heard it before in life but I easily understood that what my Uncle was trying to say in a colourful way was that my Richard was contaminated, like germs on good food or like food that had fallen to shit.

“Tainted by association!” Uncle Ike roared again jolting me out of my thoughts and of course irritating me by his constant use of the phrase! O gini di? Couldn’t he talk without saying those words repeatedly? It was beginning to annoy me biko! “Omalicha” he called me, “I gaghi anu Richard, he is an osu!” thankfully he refrained from adding the hated words this time.

My darling Richard, strong determined, dogged Richard, caring friend, motivator, advisor and lover. My 1st and only choice, he wasn’t born osu, his family had been free from that horrid, senseless tag all of his life and his relations were currently still not regarded as osu. So why was Richie m different? I will tell you after I explain what osu is.

Osu according to my people in Igbo land refers to people who took solace in idols either for respite from persecutions or for protection from their enemies. Bottom-line was, once those people asked the deity’s protection, they became outcasts, living sacrifices to the idol, outright lepers not to be interacted with. Nobody was allowed to have relations with them, marrying them was definitely out of the question. Marrying an “osu” did not liberate the “osu”, it made you “osu” too whether you were male or female.

Back to my Richie! He became “osu” by interaction, let me rephrase, prolonged interaction. My dogged darling had lost his parents in a freak accident immediately after his service year and had had to fend for himself and two younger sisters. The Sisters quickly attached themselves to Uncles, Aunties and friends and got by while Richard struggled to make a proper home for them. A wealthy couple from Richie’s hometown had offered to help him out. They were osu! My Richie was advised repeatedly to disdain any offer of help from the couple, wealth did not make them acceptable in the eyes of his people, but he refused and accepted their help. With them, he spent many years, he secured his plum job and established his part time business, he made a home for his sisters and brought them all under one roof again, he prospered! His benefactors were awesome people who cleared the part for him while he struggled every year he stayed with them, he was regarded as one of them, apparently he stayed so long he became one of the osu people.

I met my Richie 2 years back and he told me his story. I loved and admired him for it and I confidently told him that living with people considered osu did not make him osu and such nonsense was outdated. How little I knew! I brought him to my family to announce our intentions and my Uncle Ike was practicing his borrowed lines on us. Uncle Ike and elders who knew nothing of his struggles, nothing of his strength and perseverance and absolutely nothing of his love for me. I was still deep in my recollections when Uncle’s voice pierced through again, “Omalicha, I nuo osu, I bulu osu and you cannot spoil the family history and lineage by tainting it with osu blood. I still think hearing the taint word that last time was what pushed me over the edge and I burst out, “Osu my foot!”. I can still hear the shocked gasps of the entire family and see the expressions of outrage on their faces, the slacked jaws of my immediate family.

In 2 days’ time, I will be safely married to Richard, I do not expect my kinsmen to be there, only immediate family and our friends, this means that in 2 days’ time, I will either become osu or remain a normal human being to normal people who do not hold on to ancient customs? Which is it?

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