In the past, when the skies were closer to men, and men could see the face of the Supreme in the lobes of the kola nut, there were two villages torn by the eye-paining haziness which history sometimes takes upon. They were Nnekaechu and Efufemmiri. Before now these two were neighbors, trading peacefully with each other, coming to eat and wine in each others’ festivals and even taking wives from each others’ hands. They had mutually shared a river which was said to flow from a place far away where the skies touched the earth. Mmirichiha, as the river was called, was also said to come from a place where the gods took their bath. No one could trace the head of this river which gave water sweet enough for drinking and cool enough to restore a man’s strength after a hard day in the farm.
And so it was until two maidens from the two villages met each other in the river with their pots, and started to talk about which village was richer among Nnekaechu and Efufemmiri. At first, it seemed like the talk of two women whose husbands had visited long enough in the night and had stayed till the morning. But as the sun burst out, its heat seemed to touch each of these maiden’s eyes that they forgot their children who were waiting for breakfast and soon started to point at each other’s mouths in defense of their respective villages. The two were Nwanyịdiya from Nnekaechu and Udumma from Efufemmiri.
As their words tore through the thick bushes around them, driving little animals into their holes and fishes farther down the river, all were silent who had come to get water from Mmirichiha. They instead chose to hear these women go at each other as their argument then took the form of which village was more qualified to produce the District Commissioner, a position which they had overheard that the white man was looking to install someone in. These women decided that whoever would take charge of this exalted position which entailed herding two villages and dining with the white man must be from the village which knew its history well, the village which knew Mmirichiha well enough. It was as though the ikoro had been sounded in both villages. Children left their mother’s fire places, girls left their games and boys left their hunting to come and witness Nwanyịdiya and Udumma as they wagged their fingers here and there and at their own faces. As these witnesses stood there, and as words were falling, heavy as ụkwa, bitterness began to fill their hearts. These witnesses began to think that it was the case of the leper who having received a handshake had opened his arms for an embrace – children and young people of Nnekaechu and Efufemmiri were saying within themselves, “Mmirichiha belongs to us. Is it because we gave them the privilege to share in it that they now think that it is theirs?” A market rose from the hearts of these ones and anyone who was far away would think that a flock of birds had found a new home and were working on it fiercely.
It was at this point that Atakata, coming from his village, Mmịmị, was using a path near Mmirichiha and had to halt like a hunter does on sighting a leopard. He craned his neck and stretched his ear, and being the great medicine man that he was, he went the way of the noise without fear. When he arrived at the river, the skin around his eyes folded in awe. Children had taken on children. Boys had taken on boys. Girls had taken on girls. In the middle of these were Nwanyịdiya and Udumma, and he made straight for them. When he asked what the problem was and saw that his own voice was eaten up by the noise, he drew his voice deeper so that it clapped like thunder as he asked for silence. Mmirichiha itself fell silent.
Atakata reprimanded them on how such an assembly would disregard the sanctity of the river side and choose to raise a market in its centre. “What is the problem?” he asked.
Nwanyịdiya told of how since time was created, her ancestors had been the ones looking after Mmirichiha, getting water from it and sacrificing to its gods. “And, now, this woman from Efufemmiri says that this is their river. Listen to our name, Atakata, great dibia of Mmịmị. Our name is Nnekaechu, ‘mother gets the most water’. That name was given to the first woman who found this river when our people were only few.”
“And what will you say of Efufemmiri, ‘the wind of the river’? Is it not to our village that the wind coming from Mmirichiha first blew and still blows?” People from Udumma’s side screamed their Yes and stamped their feet on the ground. The other ones shouted their disagreement and brandished their elongated lips at her.
Atakata shook his head as though he was in a child’s funeral and said, “Your husbands are in the farms trying to dig life from the earth and you are here raising voices for something which does not matter…”
“It does matter, great dibia,” Udumma burst in. “I know Mmirichiha well enough from my ancestors that I can take up my bag at this moment and go to the head of this river and return with the moss which grows on the rock there.”
“Me, I know this river enough to go down to its head and return with the cloth of the gods having their bath there.” These were confident words from Nwanyịdiya.
The words that these women spoke stung the great medicine man; and he recoiled at them because they had not just insulted the Supreme and his smaller gods but they had also taken themselves to be equal to goddesses. He bent down, scooped up sand in his hands, blew spittle in it, rubbed the sand and the spittle together and said, “Now, I talk to you as the great custodian of the oracles which I am. Touch this sand and rub it on your chest, both of you and from here immediately proceed to your various homes where you will pick up your bags and go down to the head of Mmirichiha to get these things that you spoke of. By the time the sun makes its way round the skies, I’ll be here to receive both of you tomorrow. Whoever shies away from this shall be swallowed by Mmirichiha the next time her legs are seen here. I have spoken.”
Silence as cold as death froze them all. The great medicine man would never play with words. He had made a proclamation with sand and spittle, something that could not be reversed, no matter what. Knowing what awaited anyone who would foolishly go looking for the head of Mmirichiha, the two women turned around and went home, without caring to carry their pots which were already filled with water. And they never came down to the river again until they both aged and died because the words of the great medicine man stood like the justice of the Supreme, firm and everlasting. But everyone who was present in that event carried on with the animosity against their neighboring village. They passed it to their children and the children of their children, and it became something that would never stop claiming their lives through the mortal wars that they soon began to wage against each other.
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