This is a story about a village;
This is a story about my country home
This is a story about Umuomaku from my eyes.
I wasn’t born in Umuomaku but Umuomaku heard the day I was born.
My earliest memories of Umuomaku are filled with long trees, mud houses, traditional lamps/candles, clay pots, bird chirps, calabashes, masquerades and loads of other beautiful things.
A picture of a mud house in Umuomaku
We used to travel to Umuomaku every Christmas and some Easter holidays but Umuomaku is and always would be more fun during the ‘mass return’, which is usually after every two years from the last one.
I’m not so sure but I think ‘The Mass Return’ was initiated considering economic situation of some families thereby giving them the opportunity to save and return at least, once in 3 years.
We never missed any Mass Return…
Back then, my parents used to ask us our preferred dates and it always fell between the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of December. The 22nd always came up tops ‘cos that meant we would stay a little longer in Umuomaku.
Driving into Umuomaku
Travelling from Aba to Umuomaku takes about 3 ½ hours and once we drove into the compound, Nne’s (Grandma) voice always welcomed us with the words “Fa abata go oo” (They’ve arrived) and then, our “already arrived” cousins will rush out to hug you. Hmmm…..We are all grown now and we no longer get that sort of hug (maybe a BB smiley for hug). Sometimes I think growing up sucks!
Bags are moved from the car(s) into your section of the house as most extended families stay(ed) together in mini houses in the same compound or in houses not so far from each other as people from your “Umunna” (Kindred). Though tradition says that people of the same kindred are meant to stay close by and No, you cannot marry each other, Yeah, even if he or she is hawt like that☹.
Back then, there was no borehole in the compound and just because we needed to clean the rooms we immediately had to rush to any of the streams “Ngene Ocha, Akara or Mmiri Igwe” to fetch water.
I love the stream most importantly, I loved the multi-functional use of the stream; bathing, washing and even fetching drinking water, different people came to the stream at the same time to get water for different reasons. My friends back in the city always worried about water diseases and all the issues of today but I always quoted this saying that “a flowing river does not pass you twice”. So all these fears never really affects anyone.
Road to Ngene Ocha
People in the Ngene Ocha river
Nne once warned me that anyone who killed a fish in the “Ngene Ocha” would face the wrath of the river. It would visit your house and will not leave until you appease the gods. I never tried and will never try that.
First day of arrival was always filled with different stories and these stories are shared with our favorite delicacy “Ji ahuru na oku” (Roasted yam) eaten with “Ukpaka” straight from “Odo” (mortar) under the tree with “Npa na aka” (Local lamp) providing lighting and then “Mmanya Nkwo” (Palm wine) is used to wash it down.
Npa na aka (Local lamp)
Yam Barn (Oba Ji)
The morning after a night of “Mmanya Nkwo” starts with going to the stream and coming back to meet a breakfast of “Abacha na Aki oyibo” (Cassava flakes and Coconut) or “Akpu na Ofe Ora” before heading out to watch “Nmowu” (masquerade) in the field.
Aki (Palm Kernel Nuts)
The masquerades in Umuomaku are believed to come out from Ant Hills and women are not allowed to look at them directly. Trust its a fearful sight to behold as a man, and once I swear I nearly wet my pants just starring at it. Its like it starred into you soul, judging you for some wrong doing or another. Almost like approaching a “god” of sorts.
Ojukwu masquerade of Umuomaku
The masquerades goes about with young men that hold the “Utali” (whips) and before you can do that, you have to go through an initiation rite called “Izi mmadu nmowu”. The Izi Mmadu Nmowu rite equips you with the secrets surrounding the masquerade (making you like almost a semi or demi “god”) and that automatically qualifies you as an adult but such secrets are not to be shared with a woman or another man.
Like they say “Ana ha ano ofu ebe enene muowu” (One does not watch the masquerade from one spot) so this takes us from one field to another and by the time we got home we would be tired but trust Nne to present us with “Ji na Mmanu” (White yam & Red oil) straight from the “Oba ji” (Barn) served in a big tray for all but when we got older we started stopping over at Mama Emeka’s Point & Kill joint for “Azu ndu” (Fresh fish pepper soup).
“Azu ndu” (Fresh fish pepper soup)
Our stay at Umuomaku was always very interesting, with various activities lined up:
24th December = Meeting Umuagbogho /football competition in the evening.
25th December = Church service and masquerade dance /football competition in the evening. Oh Christmas day. I loved “popping the tags” off my Christmas clothes and heading out to the church with my toy gun filled with all sorts of coloured lights. As kids, we usually spent a greater part of the service outside the church “showing off” our Christmas clothes. 🙂
26th December= Umuomaku day. People based in different towns like Lagos, Onitsha, Aba, Enugu, etc will come together at the village square with their dance groups to compete for Igwe’s grand prize.
27th December=UPU (Umuomaku progressive union) meeting.
28th -31st December = Village meeting/kindred meeting/ football competition.
My most interesting night in Umuomaku has always been the night of December 31st. We prepared for this night specially. We equipped ourselves with loads of “banga” also known as fireworks from Aba, we prepared for the night like soldiers. It’s also special because we had the opportunity to hang out with babes AT NIGHT.
Dark night in Umuomaku
“Uka Abali” (Night service) starts at 10pm but for your presence to be noticed it was always better to stroll in around 10.30pm and then walk the entire aisle all the way to the front in search of a space to sit but more importantly to announce your presence in the church. I can’t remember paying much attention at any of the “Uka Abali” but we all waited for the priest to shout “Happy New year” and almost immediately its past 12midnight the activities began. Outside the church is another story all together. Tyres are burnt, fireworks and knockouts compete for air space and grownups looked for babes to take to the nearest bush/dark corner or home.
People celebrate the New Year in their own special way but nothing beats New Year rice prepared with “Anu Efi” (Cow meat) bought specially from “Eke Market”.
Motor from Eke market
The concept of communal sharing comes to play on the 1st of January every New year. The New Year rice is something that goes round and you can visit as many people as possible and nothing stops you from eating outside your home (even though you’ve been told that the other families can jazz you).
Most people start returning to their cities of residence from the 2nd of January but for us that is the day we visit “Ikpa Nne” (Grandma’s farm) to harvest yam and other food stuff for her but the highlight was usually the Ikpa lunch of “Oka na Ube” (Corn & Pear) or in some cases “Aku na oka”.
“Ikpa Nne” (Grandma’s farm)
I was in Umuomaku recently for my sister’s wedding and may be going home for Christmas this year but one thing is certain, I love Umuomaku, it’s my “country home” and I look forward to retiring there someday in the future….Thank you for reading.