Culture, is one of those things that hold people together, one of those things that differentiate people of diverse tribes and races. That is what many races have in common that none is trying to change by force. Bad ones die natural deaths.
It was the new yam festival in Umugbo autonomous community. Festival that rivals Christmas in mass returns each year in the community. The festival was meant to be the thanks-given to the God and deities of the community especially that of the harvest.
The King on that day is like the Bishop on Christmas or Easter day with their overflowing attire. Those that attend bishops’ masses on those special occasions will understand what I am getting at. The excess overflowing attire with caps and staffs in procession. The mass servants, Seminarians and priests in the case of bishops while the king’s cabinets and securities in the case of the king and queen. Bishops flowing gowns while the king is in senior skirts as required by tradition with red caps on. His cabinets are equally on senior skirts and red caps but with tiny elephant tasks.
Each village that made up the town will come to the town hall with the fattest yam from their village to showcase how big their blessing that year had been on the harvest.
After the king’s blessings and other activities that include each village head dipping hands into the same pot as the king and his cabinets to take a piece of yam and eat as a sign of oneness and unity. Each village will then present those fat yams to the king and his cabinets as a gift while a blessing from the king is showered.
The village heads will then return to their various village squares to repeat in low-key all that happened in the town hall for the interest of the kindred and families. After which it would be the turn of the youths and their masquerades for three days or more.
Umugbo autonomous community had never experienced any out-of- order incidents during the festivals since the history of the town. Then, six years ago, it happened. That very year, the festival had progressed smoothly without any incident as usual from the town hall to the village squares up to the evening of that day.
John Ikpe had adorned his fearful masquerade as he had done for the previous twelve years. He had gone out as usual with the young companion that carries a little bag and extra canes as is the case with masquerades their mission is to raise money.
Most festivals are male dominated in Africa. Females are not allowed near anything that has masquerade in it. They and the kids are to believe and behave as if the masquerades are spirits from the spirit worlds that came out of the ant holes even if your mother or sisters are the ones that tied all that needs tying for you in the masquerade. That is the culture.
The culture is that once a female encounters a masquerade, he is to run inside the house or cover her face behind her husband’s back until the male settles the masquerade. The problem is that most of the males use those occasions as an avenue to settle scores with enemies Especially female enemies.
Such was the problem John found himself in that very new yam festival six years ago. He had left his house in his masquerade with his companion toured many villages and made many monies and was heading home around 4:30 pm when it happened. That was the most money he had gathered in his masquerading life since being initiated. He had also entertained many and was heading home when the evil spirit countered him.
He had seen this newly married couple holding hands and was not interested in them. He had accumulated enough and was minding his business when the guy trying to prove his macho to his wife that was cowering without any reason behind the husband, said one annoying thing that made John whirl around in anger. The city-based guys are always claiming of being one thing or the other. Hulk Organ and Mr. perfect their relations.
“ Why are you trying to wound yourself, because of this hungry masquerade?- take it easy, I am here”
That comment had touched John somewhere and he approached the couple and demands money. The city guy flared up again “ Money?- ha, I don’t recall doing any business with you. Sorry, I don’t have any” John applied the cane twice to the guy’s leg and he reacted by seizing the cane. They started dragging each other and when John pushed out of anger, the guy fell and hit his head on the pointed rock sticking out of the ground there and die within seconds. John and his companion ran, and most people around there ran too.
It was of no use. His masquerade is known well throughout the town. That night around 12, officers sneaked into positions around his house before signaling their car. When John heard the noise, he jumped the fence to escape but the officer thought right, he ended up in the hands of the ambushing officers who put handcuffs on him within seconds. They led him back to the house where they searched the nook and cranny systematically and packed almost 60 percent of what caught their interest including the masquerade and the money he made that day.
They requested the address of the young man following him. They went to the guy’s house and arrested him despite being only 15 years that year. Attempt to explain and the wailing from the young man did not change their mind. They marched them to their outpost and from there to their zonal head office.
They threw them into cells without anyone asking them any questions or taking any statements from them. For three healthy good years, the boy stayed behind bars and reached his maturity age inside there before they left him to go while holding onto John.
Two years later, the parents of the dead came for John and after hearing his apologies and sermons decided to let him go. They signed with the officers and they let him out after more than three days of starving him intentionally.
After his release, he booked a thanksgiving mass in his church and invited his family and relatives to come and thank God with him for his small, small mercies. The well-wishers came with various gifts. Some clothes, some money, some drinks, some words of encouragement.
Towards the evening around exactly the time, John pushed the guy to his death, his mother entered the compound despite not being invited. He presented john with a wrapped gift and took the drink offered her. When all have quieted down and John open the woman’s gift and saw the ‘good news Bible' inside it. After staring at it for a long and noticing that tears were dropping from his eye on the Bible, he wiped his eye and brought his forehead down to the Bible, and murmured a little prayer.
What five years of hardship can do in a life of many can not be quantified in words. Many that attended the thanks given a call from John failed to notice that the man with them wasn’t the man that left for prison five years ago. He never knew he will ever be a free man again. He had turned to prayers in the prison and saw the light that hold him together inside when all hope we’re disappearing. The Bible is what he needed most now.