In the days that I speak of a man was a gift that a woman rejoiced in receiving. It was a time when a man was not called a man because he was born a man but because of the content and depth of his character. A man might be called a woman or a woman called a man depending on how they carried themselves. A man might thus be shamed or a woman elevated by such perceptions.
In such days lived a great medicine man, who was feared far and wide, whose name was Udenwa. He was a man of small stature but had a baritone voice which could reverberate as if thousand thunders were clashing together. Udenwa came from a long lineage of powerful people. Their fame and power in the art of traditional folk medicine knew no bounds. It was said that in their family a seven-month old baby could speak to rain and rain would listen. One might liken Udenwa’s family to original Africans. They would tell you themselves that this power is their inheritance from the great One. Leaves, they claimed, have power and potency; only the uninitiated do not know the magical power of plants. “There is money in the bush, if you know your right from your left,” they would boast.
The Ishans, in the present Edo State, had a great reputation in alternative medicine. They could talk to plants and leaves at any time of the day and always get a response.Udenwa went to Calabar on several occasions and interacted with the Efiks who are also a notable people in the medicine in Africa. It was said that he visited Togo, Ghana, and the Benin Republic in search of herbal knowledge.So when Udenwa inherited the trade, an ancestral occupation, after the death of his father, he aspired to replicate the art and even to surpass his progenitors! And he frequently left his native land Toko and traveled as far as Ishan to gather more knowledge about leaves.
Udenwa also claimed to have the powers of an oracle. He could talk to anything and could tell you everything about yourself if you told him your name. He could also use someone’s possessions to reveal things about the person. Toko people regarded him as god. No one dared to question his authority or to doubt his words.
Now Udenwa had a wife named Ahanwa, a smallish woman, although, she was the daughter of Okoma, a great wrestler, farmer and warrior in Toko land. But Ahanwa was very sickly and fragile as she was growing up, making her parents Okoma and his wife Ifeka to lose hope of her surviving for very long. For this reason they negotiated her marriage to Udenwa in advance for her, though she might have done better but for her ill health, accepting this as her fate.
Thus when Ahanwa did not die and became a woman, Udenwa who had no wife, and was really passed his prime, did marry her. As it turned out, the marriage was blessed with five children: two males and three females in quick succession. The girls were beautiful, in fact, Spring’s Gift, the second daughter was the village queen; tall, brisk, elegant, with round face and figure. She could command the attention of any observant male. Udenwa didn’t spoil his children. He gave them equal treatment and trained them all in medicine. It was said of him that he wrapped thunder one day in his clothes and showed his children how to carry it.
Apart from medicine, Udenwa was a great story teller, tempting village children to flock his house on moon lit nights to hear his luminous stories. Among the children visiting his house was Adabuife, a very pretty girl. So later when she was being married to a very wealthy and powerful man, Isika in a neighboring community, she convinced her aged parents to visit Udenwa to help prepare her for marriage. And how might Udenwa be able to do this? Well, Udenwa was frequently consulted in preparing the Toko people for war or for any other important action they might engage in. Udenwa,it was believed in general, could turn a toddler to a lion.
“That is hardly true child, but tells me what is on your mind.” Udenwa replied.So when Adabuife came to Udenwa’s house one night, he was curious as to how he could help her. “Oh great one,” she commenced, “look at me clearly and see what you can do for me, for you are like our father in this village.”
“As your daughter is leaving her home to become a wife in the way and manner required of women, do this thing for me.”
“Let it be that any new woman who my husband would marry would not find things easy in this new marriage whatever qualities they bring.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes great one.”
“Yes, the great one.”“My daughter, you simply wish to secure your marriage, is that what you are saying?”
So he consulted the oracle for her and did all the binding and loosing. He gave her a padlock and key and told her to throw both in the river on the very day of her marriage.
However, it was not long after this, that a distinguished man approached Udenwa to marry his daughter, Spring’s Gift, the village queen. But Udenwa did not know that he was also the husband of Adabuife whose marriage he had protected with magic. Udenwa, as a matter of fact, did not hesitate in giving Spring’s Gift to the man. He could not believe his luck at this point in time.
However Adabuife of course, knew well what had happened and feared that Udenwa might reverse the magic in time. So she never trusted Udenwa’s daughter and did all she could to make life unbearable for Spring’s Gift. They lived like cats and dogs. They never saw eye to eye. In addition, Adabuife was giving birth easily while Udenwa’s daughter did not. It was not that she would not conceive and deliver but that her children would mysteriously die before their third birthday. In a short time, Adabuife had given birth to five healthy children, four boys and a girl, a heavy claim on her husband’s heart. Accordingly, he gave her and her children a lot of attention making Udenwa’s daughter to curse the day she was born.
Soon many people were laughing at Udenwa to his face.Male children are the pride of the people, and the first male child usually inherits the family’s property and every other thing. So any wife who could give birth to four male children while her competition could not, was worthy of honour and respect. She was to be considered a real woman, a gift from God, while any woman who could not produce a male child was given all sorts of names and would not be respected, how much less a woman with no child at all. A barren woman was regarded as a stick or a man…………. Spring’s Gift had buried seven children and had lost faith in her womanhood.
“Doctor heals yourself.” How shameful it was for the great medicine man to see the shame of his most beautiful daughter and not be able to do anything.
But this was Udenwa’s fate. He tried everything he knew in medicine, but it was all to no avail. As Udenwa sat sadly one evening with his daughter, after Spring’s Gift had just buried another child, he did not know what to do. Luckily for him an Ishan friend was visiting him. When he asked Udenwa what kind of things he had been doing for other young women in the village, Udenwa suddenly realized that the only one he had ever done anything for was Adabuife. He had not put together his innocent gift to Adabuife and the misfortune that his own daughter was experiencing. Udenwa, the great one, fell down and cried like a child whipped by an angry god. “Oh! Oh! I am finished, so I am responsible for all the misfortune that has befallen my daughter.” He would have hung himself on the spot if not for the sweet counsel he received from his friend.
“Is there anything you can do for me, now that we understand what has happened?” His daughter asked.
“It is very difficult,” he replied. “This is the strange thing about our business. It is so easy to cast a spell but to reverse a spell is difficult. The gods are not to blame.”
Udenwa knelt before his friend and asked him for his advice. “Brother, see,” his friend commenced, “the gods always leave some loopholes for us mortals. There are few things I know that can be done. But this may help. Let Spring’s Gift keep her hands clean, let her not be jealous, or voice any kind of complaint. She should treat the other woman’s children as her own. She should love the woman and not see her as a bad woman. She should forgive any insults from the other woman. She should serve her husband and his people very well. Perhaps the gods will smile on her.”
Spring’s Gift returned home and did as she was advised. She did not show any animosity. Although the other woman remained suspicious, and mistreated her, she did not let it weigh on her anymore. She was a faithful wife and a mother to all of her husband’s children
As the years rolled by, she gave birth to a female child whom she named Ofiaju, meaning that bush would spare this one. Though initially she too was sickly and fragile. Spring’s Gift was overjoyed when Ofiaju survived her third birthday. Ten years later, she gave birth to a second very beautiful daughter named Obiajulu. Later on she gave birth to a son named Ndidiamaka. No more children died, but Udenwa’s wife, Ahanwa, died the following Spring.
Two years later, Spring’s Gift’s husband Isika died after a brief illness. But after a very expensive burial, making a show of respect for his father, his first son, Johnson, refused to honor his late father’s will. His father had intended to share his properties with both wives and their children equally. Spring’s Gift and her children got nothing; Udenwa’s spell’s dying gasp.
But when Udenwa heard what had happened, he passed the breaking point. He sent for his daughter, gave her sole possession of the keys to his own home, knowing his other children would be taken care of, and took the blame for everything on himself. The next morning, Udenwa laid out all his instruments out and destroyed them with fire. No one really knows what transpired next, but Udenwa was found dead of natural causes a few days later. Divorced from his craft, perhaps the oracle simply did not exist anymore. If he died sad, wishing he could have done more, still he died knowing two things. His beloved Spring’s Gift was now tempered steel, the fruit of her womb, of Ahanwa’s womb, the future, and that life, well, life is always a mystery.
About The Author
Sunday Igwebuike is one of African youngest and finest poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, social critic, public commentator and journalist. His books are enriching, educating, informing, and entertaining .