“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth…for where there is jealousy and slefishness, there is disorder and every evil practice.” James 3:14-16
As the eight Umunnas sat in circles, waiting in front of Ogwugwu shrine with Kolanut and palmwine, for Isichie to appear, clarify the mess he supposedly created and swear his innocence, they discussed about the gravity of the offence committed by Isichie.
“I can’t believe that Isichie will do something like this.” said Diokpa Abato.
Ndemili scoffed, “Why don’t you believe it? Because all of you think he is a good man; honest and transparent, who doesn’t like money okwaya? Now, he has exposed himself and here we all are waiting for him to come and clear his name; giving him an opportunity to deny his offence. Isn’t that stupidity!”
“Don’t talk like that, Ndemili.” Kalu whispered from behind. “We are in front of Ogwugwu. Plus, we are only following tradition and tradition gives the offender a second chance. So let him come and swear before the elders and Ogwugwu, if he is lying he will die and if he is saying the truth, he will live.
“Biko, this is errant nonsense! The evidence can’t be refuted, what is that thief swearing for again. He sold the community land to the Whiteman to use build school, so Ogwugwu’s wrath can be awakened! If it was Ndemili or myself that had been accused, we would have been banished long before we even get the chance to explain our innocence. But Isichie, mba.” Odenigbo shouted angrily and stood. He began to pace back and forth. “Where is the traitor now, or has he ran off with his family?”
“Odenigbo, may thunder fire your tongue and Ogwugwu smite you dead, you weed amongst plants! Why are you so anxious to castigate your fellow kinsmen? What do you stand to gain? We all know that you and Ndemili always hated Isichie right from your youths, but the extent of your hatred has never been clear up until now.” Diokpa Ude rebuked Odenigbo strongly and also stood. He stick-walked to the centre of the circle and faced Odenigbo squarely. “I wonder what you’re up to. If at the end, we find out that it had been you all this while selling us off to the Whiteman and his people, I won’t be surprised.”
Odenigbo was appalled but he held his peace. The others were watching him closely, waiting for him to dig his own grave so they could throw him into Ogwugwu’s shrine where he will be eternally damned. If only, they weren’t in front of Ogwugwu, he would have taken the old cargo, Ude, down and shown him why he was called Agu by the villagers, he thought. But rather than give in to anger, he stepped around Diokpa Ude and went to stand away from the group.
“Ude, you’re a snake. Always pointing fingers and sowing discord where there is none. I’m sure you helped Isichie sell those lands, you should also be swearing your innocence right now; Anofia!”
Diokpa Ude spat on the floor and turned to face an already standing Ndemili.
“Alu! Ndemili, you call me anofia and snake? Do you know the number of market days with which I use to senior you? You cursed son of the soil, it is your fore-fathers that are snakes na, who did not know them in Umuatu village? You’re not any different from them; as cunning and deceptive as the men before you.”
Ndemili was about to pounce on Diokpa Ude’s small frame when Odenigbo announced, “Here comes the traitor o! Devil amongst devils! Sly to his bone marrow and more deadly than all the white men of this world!”
Isichie said nothing. Rather, he walked slowly to the centre of the gathering and addressed them all; standing and seating. “My fellow kinsmen, ájié. I greet you all. I won’t waste your time or keep you any further, I didnt sell the community land to the Whiteman. I followed him when he asked me to but I didnt sell the lands to him; I don’t know who did either….”
“Will you shattap there!” thundered, Ndemili. “Odenigbo and I saw you the day you took the Whiteman to the lands. You were smiling with him and you were showing off the lands. Who else would it have been if not you? Who else is close to the Whiteman if it isn’t you? Why waste our time with ya already planned speech? I suggest this man be banished immediately!”
“I agree. There is no point wasting time again, he sold the lands. Eye witness has said that already, what are we still doing here?” Odenigbo seconded.
Diokpa Abato stood. “Everybody take a seat!” he commanded.
Diokpa Abato, as well as Diokpa Ude, were the eldest kinsmen in the village. But Diokpa Abato was the voice of reasoning amongst them all; when he spoke, they listened and complied. He was also the one who called the meeting in front of Ogwugwu’s shrine because he believed strongly in the traditions. And if anyone could savage the situation and prevent a massive mishap from taking place, it was Diokpa Abato.
“Odenigbo, Ude, Ndemili, go and have your seat and let’s continue…” he paused and watched as the men complied.
Continuing, he said, “Isichie has said what he wanted to say. There is no point in wasting more time, let him swear to us and Ogwugwu that he is indeed innocent. He will eat the kola in Ogwugwu’s bowl and drink from Ogwugwu’s river. If he is not innocent, surely Ogwugwu would strike him down immediately and he will die from severe stomach ache. But if he is, he shall live. Isichie, ngwa go nearer to Ogwugwu and swear aloud.”
“Go to where? Do you want him to run? How can you ask him to go to Ogwugwu alone without been accompanied? Have you all lost your minds?” Ndemili jumped up and ran to hold Isichie who was already walking towards the shrine.
Isichie pulled his hands free. “What’s with you, Ndemili? Why act like you don’t know the tradition or do you also want to swear with me? You summoned me here and I showed up, why would I run away after coming all the way to stand before Ogwugwu?”
Ndemili sneered, “You’re going there to eat and dine lavishly with Ogwugwu and you can talk? If the others decides to be stupid enough to let you go in there alone so you can run away, I won’t o.”
Isichie pushed Ndemili away. “I can see you want to die; it’s hungrying you. Since you want to accompany me to my grave, fine and good, let’s go together. You can also dine and wine lavishly with Ogwugwu, snake!”
“Have you two lost your heads? Only one person at a time can enter the shrine! Ndemili step back, kanyi pua ne ba! Why are you standing in the way? Do you want to confess to something?” Diokpa Ude shouted, panic very evident in his tone. But Ndemili will not listen, he held on tightly to Isichie and wouldn’t let go.
“I will not let this traitor go!” he shouted back at Diokpa Ude as Isichie pushed him away.
A fierce struggle ensued between the two. Ndemili wouldn’t let go and Isichie was becoming increasingly irritated and impatient. They fought and fought and the others watched on. Nobody could dare go near to separate the fighting pair since they stood one leg inside the shrine and another leg out of it. It was clear an atrocity was about to happen; nobody fought in front of Ogwugwu and went away free. No two people stood in front of Ogwugwu either and went off alive.
So they watched on as the two long term enemies fought. Watched as Ndemili produced a pocket knife suddenly and passed it through Isichie’s stomach. They watched as blood began to flow from Isichie’s belly down his leg and into Ogwugwu’s shrine and Isichie cry out in pain for vindication. They also watched Isichie fall forward and lifeless and seconds later, Ndemili follow, convulsing as he too turned lifeless.
Odenigbo screamed in horror and ran off. All the others did the same except Diokpa Abato and Diokpa Ude.
“Umuatu is doomed!” pronounced Diokpa Abato. “The wrath of Ogwugwu has been awakened indeed.”
Diokpa Ude sighed, “Who then sold the lands and caused all this confusion?”
But the answer was obvious. They found another lifeless body not too far from the hills leading to Umuatu.
The saga just began!