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Dibia Okamma sat in his shrine communing with the gods, his eyes fixed on the cowrie shells. Few moments ago he was ejaculating to the gods, praising them for their awesomeness, all they had wrought through him. But his sudden quiet demeanor meant they were responding. Only a trained eye would notice the trembling fingers, whatever they were saying, wasn’t good. He picked up his cowrie shells again, shook them in the palm of his right hand, and cast them again. Each shell returned to the position they were before, to his astonishment. Three more times he repeated his ritual, three more times the response was same. This cannot be coincidence, he mused. Mba, the gods cannot allow this to happen. If they deemed it fit to warn him before hand, then they must have a solution as well. He stood up and moved around his spacious shrine. Made of wood reinforced with mud, wooden roof scantlings with dried grass piled on it, his shrine was the most modern of all the shrines around. It was testament to the strength of the gods he served that his deeds were mighty, bringing people from far and near to his abode. As was his ritual, he passed through any door backwards, and immediately he exited his shrine, he went to the rafter where the palmwine tapper usually keeps his stock of fresh palmwine. Selecting the fresh keg, he took a mouthful, rinsed his mouth, then spat the sweet wine out. He repeated this move four more times, rebuking the revelations he had received as tradition demanded. Once done, he went into the chicken coop and selected the fattest white male cock, took it to the shrine of Odobo, the eldest of the family gods. In one swift movement he tore the chicken’s head off and sprayed the hot blood onto the footstool, appealing to the god to be his intercessor in the inner chambers of the gods. He was breaking out in sweat by the time he returned to the main shrine, took his time in ejaculations once more, reminding the gods of the various pacts they have had, how he has been loyal to them, and the sacrifices he had given them. In trepidation, he picked up the cowrie shells once more. He shook them slowly this time, and taking a deep breath, he cast the shells with his eyes closed. When he opened his eyes again, he found all the shells to be in the same place as before. His eyes stung with hot tears, desperation setting in. ‘Take a good look’, an almost familiar voice said to him. He opened his eyes and searched his mat. All the cowries were in the same position once more, except one. Immediately, he breathed deeply in and out in relief. He tried to find out from the gods what the change meant, but they were silent. But he didn’t care either, his life had just been spared. The voice he had heard moments ago, was that of the Odobo, who visited him in his dreams in the form of his late elder brother. It pays to have an ally in the decision chamber of the gods. Taking his Oja, his staff of office from its revered stand, he backed out of the shrine once more, this time in a happy mood. Savouring the freshness of the early morning dew and the light breeze for a moment, he walked off into the woods to seek the herbs that form a major part of his condiments.
Only the watchful eyes of his wife observed all that had taken place. It was so early in the morning that not even one cock had crowed yet.
Dibia Okamma was the most powerful dibia in the town and it’s environs. He was well known to the different communities around that his shrine was the place of last resort for impossible cases. If he said something cannot be done, then no one ever, could do it. His influence brought him into constant skirmishes with the other dibias. He was a principled man and a good character. One thing he would never soil his hands with is arbitrary killings amongst siblings and friends. Even for warring factions, he would rather make peace than to empower one side alone. That set him apart from the other dibias.
However, in that period, two communities were at war. Umunwene and Ijekauto communities were embroiled in a war of supremacy. The young men were at arms to protect their own and ambush their opponents. Surprise attacks by the Umunwene community were the order of the day. Young men spent their days sharpening the matchete, while the beautiful young virgins sang their praises. At the center of the war was a large swathe of land belonging to the Ijekauto community, however, if Umunwene wants something, they must get it, no matter the amount of blood that would be shed to get it. Moreover, the power of the superior voodoo they engage in means that most of the casualties come from the other side. Theirs was a formidable position. In the Obi of Igwe Ikenga, Igwe of Umunwene community, a war council meeting was being held. Present were all the leaders of the community, as well as the chief warriors. Ozioko Umunwene, the custodian of the lands of the gods stood up and raised his hands for silence. Normally, thirty percent of the lands captured in wars were offered to the gods, and as it’s custodian, it fell on him to plant and harvest such terrains. This in turn made him influential and wealthy, and a darling for young widows and wayward wives.
“People of Umunwene, I greet you all. It a slap on our respective faces, that a small child will insult an elder, and we do nothing about it. Ijekauto has insulted us! They have berated us! Are we going to sit here and wallow in shame?”
“Mba!!!” responded the aggrieved warmongers. He continued.
“Our forefathers used to go and farm in that desolate location now called Ijekauto. They should be our slaves, and not our competitors! In fact, I suggest we make them beholden to us after this war, let them be our ‘ohu’, our slaves. This will teach them and other communities to respect us wherever we are.” The assembly reverberated in approval of his speech. Ichie Nwoke Diuko stood up to speak. An unbiased elder, he was known in the community for speaking the truth matter how ugly it seemed.
“My people, I urge you to listen to me,” the almost sightless, aged man began. “Our people say that despite the size and strength of the elephant, it chooses to live in peace. The hyena’s laughter is always mistaken for happiness, even when it is mourning it’s dead. Why are we pushing to engage ourselves in this needless war? We have lands that spread as far as the eyes can see! We are still recuperating from our last war with the Ugwunwodo community. Are we not tired of war? Ijekauto has not wronged us. The land belongs to them, and we all know it. Let greed and envy not lead us…” He was shouted down by Nze Obi Akpo, a fierce looking man with a huge build and scary eyes amid boos from others gathered there.
“Ichie, I am extremely disappointed with your speech. If I hadn’t been a young man when you made your exploits in the theatre of war, I would say that those legends about you were mere fiction. What has happened to you? Has old age robbed you of your courage? Agu ka ibeya, you were called in your heydays. If this is what old age does to one, then I won’t want to grow old.” Others nodded in agreement.
“To the case of Ijekauto community, I say we crush them, every single one of them. Only the virgins can be brought home as spoils of war for our young men. They dared step on the tiger’s tail, let them face it’s wrath. What we need now, is to hear from our chief warrior what the report of his scouts are, and from there we proceed as deemed fit by our Igwe.” He courtesied the Igwe and sat down.
Towards the tale end of the assembly, a group huddled together in conversation. The representatives of the warriors were discussing amongst. All eyes were laid on them expectantly. After a while, a young man stood up. He looked nothing like the men he was representing. Scrawny and haggard, Okoro Ekwe looked like an outcast who had been starved food for eight market days. But looks they say, can be deceptive, for he was the deadliest of the young men in the community, and a wise strategist. Umunwene nearly lost the war with Ugwunwodo community, but for his wise intervention which saved them. All gathered in the room feared him, and no one made a sound as he spoke.
“My fathers and elders, I greet you all. I shall go straight to the point as I am but a fighter not a politician. As we speak, I am well informed by my spies that Ijekauto is well prepared for this war. They have the backing of the Abejiri gods…” Whispers all round, “…which means we are at a disadvantage. If we attack them at this moment, it will be a suicide mission. I cannot sacrifice my men this way. But all is not lost. The only dibia capable of countering the powers of the Abejiri gods is dibia Okamma, of the Umuinyere community. If you can get his services, we will win this war. The only drawback is that he only works for those who are on the receiving end of an injustice. Like Ichie Nwoke Diuko has said, we know we are the aggressors, and our cause is not pure. Without his help, we cannot win this war. I greet you all once again.” Silence reigned in the room as everyone assimilated this latest piece of information. The Abejiri gods were known as the gods with the final say in war matters, except where dibia Okamma is involved. The silent conclusion was that dibia Okamma must be involved. Igwe Ikenga stood up to address his subjects. The young man was known to be so scheming that he was nicknamed ‘Mbekwu’, the tortoise.
“My children, why are you so dismayed by this insignificant piece of information? The warrior gave us the situation, and gave us the solution: to get dibia Okamma. Ichie Agboeze, take some men and set out immediately for his abode. You shall invite him. Okoro Ekwe, set up an ambush for our maidens going to fetch water tomorrow morning, and our young men going to hunt as well. Make sure the ambush party are dressed like the Ijekauto youths. Maim the hunters, rape and injure the women. We shall present them to the dibia as evidence of ijekauto’s aggression. He will have no choice but to help us.” The gathering were amazed by the igwe’s wiles. They nodded their appreciation of his wisdom, and set out to do his bidding.
Okamma sat in his shrine with his visitors who had come from afar. As was customary, they had brought a four piece kolanut with alligator pepper and some cowries to offer the gods. But to his greatest surprise, the gods had refused to acknowledge the visitors or say anything about their problem. The gods that normally sprang to action in the face of injustice, were suddenly quiet. His confusion stemmed from the fact that his pact with the gods, which was the same his father before him had with them, was to do their best to prevent the shedding of human blood, and to address injustice wherever it was found. Now Umunwene community have brought their problem to the gods and they refuse to say anything! A people that just wanted to protect themselves! This is strange, he mused.
“Egwu Ajibo n’oshoka Amegu, Okamma kwu n’ihu unu oooo!” he intoned. “Unu so dar’agaa be obu nkiti b’unu gbar’umu unu nu! Obu n’ikerike aso eg’ g’ikerike, so obu n’unu eg’ agwu n’oshua? Ite mmanya juru g’ana etikpo n’el me unu as’g ihe. Omenu agaa….?” He continued his incantations for a while.
“Where do you say you are from?”
“Umunwene, your highness,” said Ichie Agboeze.
“The gods are silent on your matter, and it is highly unusual. I have a mind to not entertain your request,” he said as he cast his cowrie shells again, his brows furrowing as he read the message, “but the gods insist that this is a mission I must undertake. Aside that, they say nothing else. I have no choice but to follow their wishes, get ready, we will leave in a bit. I shall warn you before hand that the charm I shall prepare for you shall only be for protection against your enemies, if they attack you they shall be vanquished. I require a thousand cowries, a male termite and a virgin fowl, a he-goat that bleats thrice daily, and a white cock that crows at midday only. Add ten tubers of yam to that and my remuneration is complete.” Ichie Agboeze smiled and nodded his acceptance of the terms. As the group began filing out of the shrine, the elder spirit spoke to him, urging him to ‘cast your shells’. Taken aback, Okamma complied. To his bewilderment, the cowries took up the positions they had occupied four market days ago. This was the journey he was forewarned about, a journey that might cost his life, but a journey he was destined to undertake. He then made a firm decision to take more precautions than was necessary. When he rejoined the group, he cast a spell on all of them that will prevent anyone with evil intentions from seeing them and off they went. When on their way, they encountered an armed party of Ijekauto youths who paid no attention to them, the Umunwene men were pleasantly surprised and shared this with their kinsmen on their arrival.
The voodoo preparation process was destined to take six days to complete. For four days, Okamma worked hard at the process, paying attention to every detail. It involved steaming a pot of water on fire for three days (the water in the pot was filled only once and despite its boiling and apparent evaporation, the level never reduced), then the addition of special herbs to make the charm. Throughout this process, the Dibia Okamma never ate nor drank anything, even water. He had gone round the village after arriving and saw the mayhem visited on the peaceful community by their neighbours and was determined to help Umunwene avoid further disasters. He became friends with a young boy of about five, Nwadikachi, the grandson of Ichie Nwoke Diuko. The boy would always come around to stay with him, and kept him company.
While he was working hard to finish the charms in record time, the community elders were having their own meetings. They called it a security gathering, but it was actually the war council.
“Igweeeeeeeeee,” hailed Nze Obi Akpo, “I must commend your wisdom on how to make Okamma work for us. You are a great leader. May your days be long.” Igwe Ikenga smiled and waved his fan in acknowledgement.
“Yes Igwe, you are a great man,” cut in Okafo, “with this charm, we will be invincible. See how he cured all the youths that were maimed! They are all brand new, no scars. I wonder if the virgins that were defiled have gotten their hymen back. If they have, then I want to send my wife to him to reclaim her hymen once again…” Laughter bawled around the room. Okafo, even though a warrior to reckon with, had a great sense of humour. But the laughter didn’t affect the Ozioko.
“What troubles you, Ozioko,” asked Igwe Ikenga.
“Igwe, may you live long. I have been bothered by the fact that Okamma might discover that we are actually the aggressors, not the victims as we have claimed to be. If he does, he might be inclined to go to the assistance of Ijekauto community, thereby rendering our charms ineffective.” Grave silence followed this observation.
“The truth in this is absolute,” declared Ugwuama, another elder. “I know of this man Okamma, and trust me, he will undo what he has done for us anyday he discovers our deceit.”
“So what do we do,” asked the Onowu. But no one had any suggestions for how to tackle the situation.
“Kill the man,” suggested Igwe Ikenga, after a long while. The whole room hushed at such a deadly suggestion. The igwe’s eyes were piercing and bore no traces of humour. He was dead serious.
“Yes, kill him, and no one else would be able to undo what he has done. We will be superior to everyone and conquer all the lands without any interventions.”
“But the wrath of the gods will befall us,” volunteered Obiora.
“We can appease the gods,” declared Ozo Mgbada, the chief priest of Umunwene. The gods have been silent on his visit. I believe they do not approve of his work, even though they mandated him to come. I think they have decided that he will meet his end here.”
“We will allow him to finish his work, then we will send him off. But we will send people to ambush him as he returns to his home,” the Igwe concluded. The atmosphere in the room was solemn as they dispersed. Going to war was one thing, killing the most powerful dibia around was another, but no one wanted to counter the Igwe. It meant putting your life at risk.
Unknown to the gathering, a keen pair of ears had overheard the discussion.
On the final day, the cock crowed earlier than usual. The residents of Umunwene went about their early morning duties briskly in preparation for the unveiling of the new charm that will empower the village in its fight against the Ijekauto. Igwe Ikenga could not contain his happiness at outwitting the famous chief priest Okamma. The gods had rendered him spiritually blind so as not to be able to forsee what will befall him. He smiled in the pitch darkness as he cuddled the young bride of his cousin. The gods had truly blessed him, he could have whatever he wanted and no one would question him. His second nickname ‘Enyi’ – the elephant – was in reference to his personality. Nothing stops him. The youths, led by Okoro Ekwe, had their weapons ready and hidden to commence the attack once the Dibia had departed. Four able young men had been dispatched the day before to lay ambush for the mouth piece of the gods on his path home. It was going to be a glorious day for the community, even Ozo Mgbada, had confirmed it.
Inside his hut, Okamma completed the rigorous ritual he had been going through since the day before. No one had set eyes on him for the past twenty four hours, he had barricaded himself inside. The ritual was an unusual one, and impromptu at that. He understood now why the gods had remained silent. They needed him to be here, although his work could lead to a catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions. Finally, he was ready. The charm the village had requested for was primed and ready to go, but in the last twenty four hours, he had also had time to prepare another highly unusual charm. It remained to be seen about its effectiveness, but he trusted the eldest spirit Odobo who guided him through. He sat on the heath and poured libations to all the gods, including the gods of Umunwene, asking for safe passage home. Just before he stepped out of the room, he repositioned the still steaming pot he had prepared to a corner of the room and sat it on a stool.
Outside the room, the community was gathered in anticipation. Okamma presently appeared, looking tired but happy.
“People of Umunwene, today all is well!. The gods have listened to your cries and has granted your wish. Today shall be an unforgettable day in the history of this community. May the gods be with you.” The crowds roared ecstatically.
“Thank you so much, half-man, half-god. You have given us hope that we won’t be exterminated by our enemies. We are eternally grateful.”
“You are welcome, Igwe Ikenga.”
“I can see you came out alone, what of our charm? When do we take possession of it?” He could barely hide his anxiety, but the Dibia assuaged his worries smilingly.
“The pot cannot be open while I’m in this town, it will render it powerless. At anytime in the future, if I am to visit this community, the pot must be covered before I arrive. Is that clear?” The Igwe smiled broadly. The pot will never need to be closed, ever again. The Dibia continued.
“When the pot is opened, the spirit behind the charms will begin to manifest. Each warrior will dip a finger in the pot and lick it, as a form of covenant with the chi, so the chi will see you as its protege. It will protect you from dangers. But that will be only when I’m out of the boundaries of the town. You shall be victorious in repelling attacks from your adversaries.” The crowd was jubilant.
Okamma took his Oja, his staff of office, and pinned it to the ground in the centre of the village. He asked the community to bring his remuneration and place them on the Oja. The Igwe and his war council, knowing fully well that the man would be murdered on his way home, gave him cows and large tubers of yam, things that will be recovered once the man is dead. Okamma was grateful. He began to chant his incantations, dancing erratically. As he danced, he set fire to the offerings and they began to smoulder. He kissed his friend Nwadikachi, proceeded to the to the center of the offerings. With a large smile on his face, he put his hands on his Oja, and in a spasm jerked the Oja off the ground. What happened next left the spectators stunned. The smoke billowed as from a large fire and covered the whole place, swirling. By the time the smoke vanished, they offerings and Dibia Okamma were no where to be found. The war council let out a cry of horror. Frantic search for the priest was carried out to no avail. The man simply had disappeared. They became distraught. Igwe Ikenga called together his war council.
“My people, it seems that the priest was not spiritually blind at all. He had foreseen our plans for him. How sure are we that the charm he has prepared will do what he has said it will do?”
“Igwe, we have put ourselves at a disadvantage here,” Okafo cut in. No humour in his voice this time. “If Ijekauto community finds out about this, we are doomed.”
“My Igwe,” said Ichie Agboeze, “it is truly a disaster that has befallen us. My father used to say that the gods cannot be lied to or deceived. What we have witnessed is a first hand experience of that saying. Who knows, this might be the beginning of worse things to come for us. We should appease the gods. We should make right with them.” But Nze Obi Akpo was not having any of this recriminations. What the council had done, he reasoned, was what any council would do to safeguard it’s citizens in the time of war.
“People of Umunwene, let is not be saddened by what has happened. We have always had great warriors in our midst, who, with or without charms, have been victorious in battles. Victory in a war is our right. Let us not grow somber! Let us not lose heart! Ijekauto community knows we approached the priest. They know he came, but what they do not know is what has transpired today. If the fraudulent man of the gods has duped us, we need not bother with the charms. We can make do without it.” His words rekindled hope in many of the men. Ichie Nwoke Diuko however appealed for silence.
“Igweeeeeeeeee, I greet you. People of Umunwene, I would normally start by telling you that I had warned you about the consequences of deceit, but this is not the time. I know dibia Okamma, I know what he is capable of. His yes is yes, and his no, means no. If he said the charm will give us victory, it will. Do not cast aspersions on his personality, we are the ones who tried to deceive him. Our chief priest, Ozo Mgbada can speak with the gods as to verify the contents of the pot, it’s authenticity. I believe he can give us the answers we seek.” All eyes turned to Ozo Mgbada. The Igwe nodded his agreement, and Ozo Mgbada set to work. After consulting with the gods, he looked up cheerfully to the gathering.
“The gods have confirmed that the charm is as Okamma has said. The contents are genuine, and will lead us to victory once we open the pot. However, they say that it is the Igwe, and Nze Obi Akpo who will go to unveil the pot.” The crowd cheered. All is not lost then. Okamma only escaped with his life, he didn’t defraud them.
The council gathered the villagers for the unveiling. With great pomp and happiness, they awaited the chosen two men. The Igwe and Nze Obi Akpo made their way elegantly to the hut, savouring every moment. On getting to the hut, they nodded to each other, drew the coverings aside and went in to locate the pot. In the din outside, the spectators could not hear both men in the room shouting. They only noticed something was amiss when both men made their way outside, groping around. The noise subsided. It took a while before it registered to the people present that both men had gone blind. Screams of horror permeated the air. The war council gathered themselves around the men and couldn’t believe their story. All had been fine until they set eyes on the pot. A blinding light had disoriented them, and that was the last thing they saw. Despair tore through the people like wild fire. After consultation, the Onowu and Okoro Ekwe summoned courage to go inside the hut. When both men returned blind as well, pandemonium ensured. No one noticed one young man who slipped back into the bushes, to return the good news to Ijekauto community. There won’t be any wars anytime soon. The gods had spared them.
Dibia Okamma sat in his main shrine, observing what was happening in the village of Umunwene with satisfaction, through his mirror. When you approach the gods with deceit, they deal with you deceitfully too, he mused. They got exactly what they asked for. It couldn’t have gone any better. He was grateful to the eldest spirit, Odobo for its assistance in his escape. His grandfather, Ugwu Okamma was the only one ever known to have travelled this way. No one knew how he had managed to pull it off. But the thing with the gods is that you have to be specific in your request for knowledge. He had asked, and the eldest spirit had shown him the way. All his wife, who was home when he arrived, heard was a heavy log of smoulder firewood smashing onto the roof. The bemused woman watched the wood roll into the floor, and from it emerged her husband and the offerings. Upon his arrival, he immediately sacrificed two cows, one to the gods, the other to Odobo. He also offered the gods a spotless, black male goat for his young friend, Nwadikachi. It was the young boy who had overheard the discussion and informed Okamma of the war council’s plan to murder him. Unknown to the villagers, it was the boy alone who possessed the power to open the pot, powers Okamma bestowed on the little one when he kissed him. For now, let peace reign. Time shall come in the future when they shall need it. That was why the gods mandated him to go there in the first place.