It all started when a certain stranger who did not know the laws of the land desecrated the sanctity of Idemili River. The man was said to be running away from a fierce battle in his town, tired and exhausted. He must have eaten one of the fishes from the river with the blood still in it. Whatever his deeds were, he incurred the wrath of the gods upon the land.
And so strange things started happening all through the thirteen villages. Two of their highly revered Chiefs were drowned within a week; their bodies were never found. Seven days later, the maidens went to fetch water from the stream, and without any premonition of any kind, the water suddenly turned to blood, leaving everyone running halter-skelter in fear and confusion.
No one could tell exactly where what was happening was coming from, but at the same time, they didn’t want to risk their lives for nothing.
And so for several days, the people of the eastern coast had to trek to the neighbouring villages just to fetch water for their domestic needs, while they waited patiently for the elders or ndi ichie to consult the oracles and find ways to appease the enraged deity.
But then, in the course of going to other people’s land to fetch water, argument ensued. There were allegations that their maidens were being molested by the young men of their host community. There was also the question of whether or not they should pay taxes to the king of the land that gave them water.
Finally, after much debate and negotiations, the elders of the two villages resolved to settle their differences by a wrestling contest. In this way, they would ascertain the will of the gods. Their victory or defeat would decide if they should be allowed to drink freely from the water.
Ojadili was the one chosen to represent his people.
On the day of reckoning, Ojadili fought like a lion. Four hefty men were after him, pressing very hard and trying to subdue him with their enormous strength and power, but Ojadili deployed the entire wrestling prowess he knew and countered their energy with dexterity and determination.
It took him about ten to fifteen minutes before he was able to throw the last man to the ground, and although it was not an easy victory, the heat of the battle was nothing compared to the sweetness of the victory. Even Idemili, the river goddess, was so impressed by his performance that she withdrew all her wrath against the people, and for the first time after several months of drought, the people of the eastern coast were able to fetch and drink the water from their own river, and in their own land.
And so the children chanted Ojadili’s name. The maidens composed a delightful song with his name and sang it in the moonlight dance. Even the wildest of all the animals, adorned Ojadili’s skills, and were tamed by the very sand that bore his footprint.
But then, in all these victories and successes, Ojadili was not a happy man. There was a growing void inside of him, an emptiness he longed to overcome.
Yes, he has slain more than a thousand men in battles and in wars. He has wrestled in all the thirteen villages and beyond, and has come out victorious in all. But then, there was something missing. He wanted more than just a fight with his fellow mortals. He desires to cross the seven rivers, and beyond the evil forest, to the land of the spirit, where he would wrestle the gods themselves.
The first person Ojadili told of his plans was his mother. She cried endlessly, day after day, and night after night, begging his son to please come back to his senses and stop reasoning like a fool. No one has ever gone beyond the evil forest and came back alive, no one.
When Ojadili told his Kinsmen of his plans, they reacted even worse than his mother and rebuked him for thinking up such evil thoughts. He was like the proverbial little bird, nwa nza, who got overfed with too much food and wine and then forgets how little it was, only to challenge his personal god to a wrestling contest.
But then, after listening to all that the men had to say, Ojadili insisted that his mind was made up. With or without their approval, he would cross the seven rivers, caves and valleys, and to the land of the spirit where he would wrestle the gods.
To this, the elders said their hands were tied. Ojadili is a grown man and has the right to indulge in any battle or adventure that he so wishes to. But then, before they would allow him embark on any journey; he must follow them to the great soothsayer of their time so they could ascertain the will of the gods over his life.
The soothsayer, Igidigi, son of the rainmaker, did not live among his people. He spent most of his years in the wilderness and in the mountain tops, where he fed only on bees and locusts. Some say he doesn’t drink water; others say he swallows thunder if he’s thirsty. He listens to the sound of the whispering trees, and would commune with the birds in silent meditation in hope for a message from his ancestors.
And so it wasn’t a surprise to Ojadili and his kinsmen when they were met at the foot of the mountain by Igidigi’s messenger. It was a good sign after all. No one ever gets to see the fetish priest unless he’s willing to be seen.
After listening to Ojadili and his Kinsmen, Igidigi consulted his gods, and when he got the answers he was seeking, he told his guests in clear words that Ojadili may go to the land of the spirits, but will never return the same man as he is when he left.
This message was both warming and worrisome to Ojadli’s kinsmen. They were relieved to hear that their son would come back from his journey, but they didn’t quite understand what the native doctor meant when he said he would never return the same man.
Ojadili’s most pressing need however, became to find a suitable companion. Most of his friends turned down his request. And even the soothsayer, Igidigi, shouted down at him, and said he didn’t want to join his ancestors yet, but would be with him in the spirit where he would pray to the gods for his safe return.
Finally, it was Eloka, the least of his friends that offered to accompany Ojadili in his journey.
Eloka was a bloody coward, just like his father before him. He would rather spend his valuable times drinking palm wine with the lots of his ilk, and in the evening, he would sit under a certain tree near the village Ilo with a handful of his friends, singing and dancing to the ogene they played. He was only an expert when it comes to playing his flute which he was very fond of.
Ojadili hated the idea that a person like Eloka would accompany him in a daunting course such as this, but because he had no other option, he had to let Eloka come with him. Someone had to carry his water bag, his oil lantern, and his goatskin bag which contains his armory and his personal god. Eloka, though a drunkard and a coward, would be of service in this little purpose.
*** *** ***
The dark cloud that hung overhead thickened as the two young men approached the evil forest. They had left on the break of the third market day, but now, they have lost count of the days and were merely following the shimmering light of a distant star in the night sky.
The first sign of life they saw was of a baby bathing from a basin of fire. It must have been a sign from the gods. A sign that they were no longer in a world they’ve always known. The trees were in exuberant colours of reds, and even the sand beneath their feet had become damp and sooty.
There was a distant rumbling of a drum echoing from afar. It must have been an expert handling it; the metallic sound emanating from the drum was almost perfect.
Ojadili and Eloka were carried to the presence of the chief of the demons. Though he had felt a dizzy sensation earlier, he couldn’t remember when or where they fell.
When finally they awoke in the gathering of the evil spirits, most of whom were creatures with more than one head, Ojadili was made to declare what their mission was. They’ve come to wrestle the gods in their own land.
At first there was a lasting hum of laughter from all over. The leader asked the same question once again, and after satisfying himself he had heard them aright, he told the two young men that they have just walked right into the lion’s den.
The first person Ojadili was to wrestle was a creature with two heads. He snarled savagely and charged at Ojadili with an aggressive force. Ojadili was nearly paralyzed by his own fear. But then maybe with a bit of luck, he was able to throw the beast to the ground after a hard challenge.
The second beast had three heads. Again, Ojadili fought with all his being, and was able to throw the creature to the ground after another heated battle.
By then, he had begun to gather momentum. He realized that it wasn’t about the size of his enemies, nor was it about the number of heads that stood upon their shoulders. It was about skills and the content of the creature in question.
And so, just as he was able to overcome the first spirit warrior, Ojadili fell all other subsequent warriors after him, until he got to the seventh oracle.
It was at this point that the rules of the challenge changed. Only one person would come out of it alive. And the winner would be honoured with the crown of immortality.
The seven-headed oracle was not just like all the others. It has a lot of experience and has fought so many hard battles. But one thing was his major weakness: pride. There was this incurable contempt he had for anything human. And so he had assured Ojadili that he would not only tear him into pieces, he will surely feed his remains to flies and insects.
On hearing this, Ojadili shuddered momentarily with a grip of fear. When the match began, it was hard and terrible. He felt as though he was being hit from all sides with a heavy trunk from an Iroko tree. At a point, Ojadili lost consciousness and fell to the ground, many times than he could remember.
But then, there was something magical about the flute. Eloka may not have known, but what he inherited from his forefathers was not just an ordinary flute. It was a gift from the gods. He only had to play it each time Ojadili fell, and then the emanating sounds awakens the fighter in Ojadili, helping him to regain his lost strength so he could fight and carry on.
Alone in a strange fighting arena with a grotesque figure whose purpose was to tear him to pieces, and surrounded by a crowd of demons cheering to this course, Ojadili’s only source of strength was the powerful message that came when Eloka played the flute.
The chorous of the song Eloka played was quite powerful. It made him see beyond the present challenges, and the thought of his imagined victory intoxicated his morale. He knew that his victory in this match wouldn’t just be glorious; it would be legendary. His mother, his kinsmen, and the entire people of the eastern coast would forever be proud of their own.
And so Ojadili defiled death each time he was knocked down by the oracle, and rose to his feet with one clear purpose – to fight to the finish.
Once again Eloka played the flute, and with a renewed vigor, Ojadili approached his opponent with a more subtle tactics, dodging all his moves, and waiting patiently for his time to come. But then that too did not last, for he was knocked down once again by the grotesque figure, and when he dared to rise, the oracle seized him by the neck and suspended Ojadili in the air, leaving him staggering breathlessly as he struggled for life.
Yet, the oracle did not finish him outright. He was nodding to the cheers of the crowd while he awaited the hour to tear down his victim in pieces and make the ultimate sacrifice.
It was at this moment that Eloka rummaged through Ojadili’s goat-skin bag he carried, and when he finally found what he was looking for, he quickly gave the piece of dagger to his friend.
While the oracle was still nodding absent-mindedly to the chanting noise of the crowd, Ojadili took the dagger from Eloka and pierced the heart of the beast right through the chest. The oracle fell to the ground, and after staggering and yelling for what looked like forever, it laid stiff in death.
And that was it. Ojadili had slain an immortal.
For a moment he nearly couldn’t believe what happened. Eloka hugged and shook him with joy and excitement, as though to awaken him to the reality of their success. They have defeated the gods.
But while the two young men rejoiced over their victory and success, the spirit kingdom fell silent in grieve as they mourned the lost of their fallen hero.
Ojadili and Eloka later met an angry and depressed chief of demons, who wouldn’t fulfill his promise to honour him with the crown of immortality.
The rest of the evil spirits reacted in the same manner as their leader. It wasn’t enough they have robbed the two young men of their ultimate prize, they wanted to seize them and make them their prisoners.
And so Ojadili and Eloka ran for their lives. It remained a mystery how they escaped, but they did and kept running with all the little life left in them.
Eloka was the first to cross the boundary that separated the humans and the evil spirits. When Ojadili wanted to cross over, a seemingly desperate demon appeared from no-where and tried to draw him back, but while Ojadili shook him off and passed, the spirit’s hand slipped and ran through his back and left a mark.
That explains the deep etched line in the back of all humans. Ojadili and Eloka were later honoured by the villagers and their return was greeted with feast and merriment.
Copyright © Obinna Victor, Chukwu 2015 • All Rights Reserved