By Uche Nworah, Ph.D
Choi! Seeing this picture of fallen fresh udala fruits reminds me of village life and the days of our youth. My late father, Nkaọnadi, will usually transport us from Aba where we lived, and deposit us, his four boys, in the village at Enugwu-Ụkwụ every long vacation to stay with our grand parents. Strangely, my two younger sisters were never part of those long vacation trips. This was his way of getting us to know our people and culture. He did this during the Christmas holidays too when the whole family will take part in the ‘Mass Return’.
Those were glorious days as we would roam everywhere, almost all the 18 villages of Enugwu-Ụkwụ, fearless and adventurous. From fetching water at Nimkpa stream in Ụmụakwụ village, to picking fallen udala fruits (it’s taboo to pluck them, they are also not meant to be sold). Those were sweet childhood memories.
We will sing folksongs and listen to folklores as we played Egwu Ọnwa under the sultry moonlight. We will also visit our maternal home, Avomimi village in Enugwu-Ukwu and spend some days with my mum’s family, the Eduzor -Ifeagwu family, bonding with our maternal relatives and learning about our patriarch, Warrant Chief Eduzor Ifeagwu. At night we will congregate at the village square (Ebe Ezidiuka),
and listen to more folklores. We will indulge in some traditional ceremonies such as ‘Ita Ikpukpa Oku’ and ‘Ima Mmonwu’. In the morning, we will all troop to Ochichi stream to fetch water, relishing the events of the previous night.
I remember Mama Uju who sold ‘Igba’ at Umuakwu village. What Enugu state people call ‘Ọkpa’. Igba Mama Uju was heavenly. They were one of life’s little pleasures. We also had a local akara (fried bean cake) plug. I can’t remember her name now. The combo of her akara and ChetaChụkwụ bread are stuffs legends are made of.
When we started visiting home newly, our relatives would tease us and call us ‘Natad people’ or ‘Ndi Nnata’, meaning ‘Returnees’. However, over time as they got used to seeing us regularly in the village, the teasing stopped. Probably, they considered that we had truly become one of them.
My late grandmother, Nwachinwe, will reward us with pieces of broken dried fish for completed errands. My late grandfather, Nwora Okeke (Nkaọnadi Senior), a jolly good fellow, great orator, farmer and renowned raffia twine (akwara) maker, after regaling us with stories of his life, including encounters with the early missionaries and Christians, and the activities of his Otu Agada group, set up to fight injustices in the community, will give us drops of sour and stale nkwụenu from his gourd.
My grandfather ensured that we were spoilt for choice when it comes to food as we could sample from the kitchen of each of his three wives. Nwachinwe was the first wife, followed by Mmankwọ , and lastly Nwogọ, the youngest. They all lived in peace in their different ‘Mkpuke’ (Quarters). Men of his era were something else. How they managed to hold down a harem of women and got them to do their bidding without squabbles should be studied.
Village life then was pure and unadulterated. I miss those days of innocence.