The Route To My Root
© Copyright 2021 by Samuel Edward
This nonfiction piece is a travelogue which narrates the story of how the contest of who gets elected in the revered elders' council was settled by means of the most traveled person. Here, the writer had garnered enough experiences through his extensive travels through countries in the West, East, North and South of Africa. His traveling adventures subsequently won the crown for him as he emerged the winner from the pile of contestants.
I had just finished taking my lunch when I heard a knock on the door. Ete-Ete! Ete-Ete!, from within I could hear my name being echoed as if I had just been pronounced the winner of a relay race. I hurriedly got up and opened the door and behold, it was my childhood friend Udobia. He was breathing and sweating profusely as if he had been given some good chase by a wild beast. Confused at his state I asked
“Who pursued you down here that you are breathing heavily like you just escaped death?”
Taking a deep breath he replied
“An old woman doesn’t run in the daytime except she loses her snuff box or a grandchild”. My friend responded with a proverb. Proverbs in our typical African setting were candle lights in conversations but I wasn’t just ready to ask him to explain its meaning. All I wanted was for my friend to tell me what he was up to.
“The Obong (king) wants every young man to assemble at the king’s court in the evening” he quickly added.
The delicious egusi soup and fufu I ate earlier that afternoon had probably contributed in making me forget that my papa had told me about the decision of the elders of the village to assemble all the young men in the king’s court later that day. In our Annang culture of southern Nigeria, it is abominable for an elder to repeat an instruction given to a youth. So he had expected me to act accordingly without much emphasis.
In our typical Nigerian setting, it is seen as a mark of politeness and courtesy to offer something to a visitor even if such a visitor is a close relative and as such hospitality is one unique part of the Annang culture. Being in sync with my cultural heritage, I welcomed my friend with Unam-ewa (Dog meat) and pamy (Fresh palm wine). This is a trademark recipe for young men especially when we go for an all-boys time out where we talked about our jobs, the women we loved and the future of our community. He insisted that I joined him to eat but I was reluctant in a bid to be nice otherwise he would have barely had anything left to eat.
After he had finished eating we chattered away and wondered why the king was particularly interested in meeting with the youths especially as there was no important event or feast that was coming up. We resolved to attend the meeting regardless because “obedience is the best gift of youths to elders” as my papa would always admonish me. We noticed we needed to make our way down to the king’s court for the meeting as the hour stipulated for the meeting was nigh, so we got going.
When we got to the king’s court we met a figure majestically dressed in nsine obong (a royal regalia that was made of the finest of cotton with the designs of a leopard’s skin along with ivory beads) , with a staff in hand and a golden crown on his head and surrounded by a band of guards. The king was already on seat to receive us. He had kept to the proverbial “African time” which represents promptness and punctuality. In the company of other young men of Annangland my friend and I greeted the king with a customary bow of reverence not just for his position as king but also for his advanced age. The king smiled lavishly and expressed delight at our display of diligence and obedience by harkening to his summon.
“I called all of you here because of something that has to do with the progress of our land”.
He thundered in a voice full of verve and authority. He went further to inform us that he had concluded plans to appoint two young men into the council of elders to help breed fresh and new ideas that will help in the continued development of our land. The king indicated that he had decided to involve the youths in governance because the future of Africa according to him belonged to the youths. At this point, I began feeling very prominent because I imagined myself in the council of elders making decisions for the growth of our land. I wished I could be lucky enough to be selected and just then I tapped my friend Udobia on the shoulder and whispered to him my intentions. While I had my mouth close to his ears the king’s voice echoed again.
“There is a condition to be fulfilled before one could be considered for a position in the council of elders.”
At this juncture my optimism was punctured without mercy. I wondered what the conditions could be. “Maybe it will be the most schooled guy” (I thought to myself) then I would be disadvantaged. Or the most handsome dude – I wasn’t an option if so. Or the guy with the most amazing physique – I would still be an underdog here. As questions and answers kept running through, just then the king settled my turbulent mind.
“I will select the most traveled young men to serve in the elders’ council.” He declared.
I had by now developed mixed feelings because although I loved traveling, I didn’t have enough traveling experiences. The king later added that a period of one year was to be given for every young man to travel as much as he could in order to gather enough experiences to function in the elders’ council. I was particularly excited at the prospect of going for an adventure in order to gather experiences to contribute my quota to the development of my land. I knew this was a costly venture but I considered it a test of love for my land so I just had to face it. Immediately the king had finished speaking, I saw chubby looking ladies emerging with big coolers from a section of the king’s court. Although I wasn’t sure of what the contents of the coolers were, I knew they had something for the stomach, so I quickly loosened by belt in the excitement of continuing from where I left off with my egusi soup and fufu.
It didn’t take long before one of the coolers was swung open by one of the maidens who looked more voluptuous than the one I first thought I would take for a wife. The aroma from the cooler massaged my nostrils and within a short while we had eaten sumptuously at the king’s court. My friend and I walked back home wishing we could be selected into the elders’ council, maybe the sumptuous meal we had at the king’s court added to our desires to be selected.
Immediately I got home I had started making plans to embark on my traveling adventures. I had drawn out my itinerary and mapped out my strategy. Making it to the elders’ council was such a lofty dream that I wouldn’t want it aborted by anything and within a week I had set my feet in the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. I then got to the city of Kumasi and the city appeared as if they had been waiting for my arrival. It seemed like the legendary spirit of Kofi Annan was hovering over the city as the people were generally very peace loving but equally very ambitious like their national leader Kwame Nkrumah. The people of Ashanti kingdom were very courageous people and there was no place for timidity or cowardice. Even an elder brother that I stayed with was so immersed in these cultural virtues that he constantly advised me to remain resolute in my bid to make it into the elders’ council.
One aspect of the Ashanti culture that quickly struck my attention was the fact that the people treasured the values of hard work and industry. I had seen a young man early in the morning with his chisel and cutlass getting busy with some wood carving jobs. Even the women who are traditionally limited to only child bearing were actively involved in pottery making. My stay in Ghana was very eventful although I had intended staying there for just two months but the hospitality and warmth I enjoyed from the people made me overstay. We had a neighbor who constantly brought palm nut soup and chichinga to us every evening. After spending three months in Ghana, I bade farewell to my brother and I left for Congo in continuation of my adventures.
When I got to congo, I spent quite some time with the Baluba people. I read from available literature that the kingdom was founded in 1585 by Kongolo Mwamba, a former warlord. One of the striking features of the Baluba people is the prestige they attach to their trade. On one of my visits to the magnificent capital in Kinshasa, I met an artist placing an axe on his left shoulder and briskly walking down the street. I had wanted running for the fear of being attacked but I was held back by my friend, Capoue. He told me that every man and woman in Congo had dignity in their occupations. I really loved the Congolese spirit to the extent that I had to add a Congolese name to my name (Bolaise).
While in Kinshasa I took my time to ensure that I did not just go through the city but the city went through me as well. That was even the reason I could wake up in the morning dancing to the artistic finesse of music sensation Awilo Longomba. Every party I attended in Congo was electrifying and the women in the city would make a man consider polygamy if he wasn’t practicing it. Throughout my stay in the Baluba kingdom I wasn’t tired of poulet Nyembwe (A chicken stew prepared with simmered chicken, palm butter and spices). I could remember vividly how on my way back from a party in Kinshasa, I would always spend some money on Ngulu Jako Tumba(A street meal – grilled of pork or goat meat). I was a foodie and that meant I would always seize every opportunity that came my way to try out new delicacies as long as there were African.
Since the spirit of the Baluba culture placed much premium on industry and labour, I quickly got engaged in the gold mines because Congo had a lot of gold deposits although a greater portion remained untapped. I ended up raising few francs which I stuck away in my bag so I would show to the king of my native Annangland when I returned. After I had spent more than three months I left Congo with mixed feelings. I was happy to continue with my journey to gather the needed experience and sad that I was leaving the lovely Congolese foods, women and parties to the extent that I just wanted to cry out aloud to ease myself.
I went eastwards after my departure from Congo and another chapter of my adventure began with the Kikuyu people of Kenya. The weather there was typical of a place in the tropics – hot and fierce. I met a people that loved freedom a great deal. It seemed the people were possessed by the spirit of their statesman Jomo Kenyatta. They lived in a closely – knit community known as “Mbri” and greetings amongst the people was never treated lightly. A child who refuses or forgets to greet an elderly person was handled with an iron fist like a rebel. They never stopped asking “Uhenaatia?” (How are you)? To which I usually responded “Ndimwega” (I’m fine).
Before I went to Kenya, I had learnt of the abundance of wildlife in the country. I also had a fair knowledge of life in the city of Nairobi and their love for education. The Kenyans loved farming a great deal and I can understand why the Mau – Mau rebellion took place. I understood why the Kenyans would not stand foreigners taking over their fertile lands. Immediately I arrived in Kenya, my first port of call was the Masari Mara safari park. My new Kenyan friend Wayama whom I met at the airport obliged to show me around the park. He was a mountain runner and one of the many good athletes that Kenya had been blessed with. Saliva almost dropped from my mouth that was left gape as I fed my eyes on the elephants, the long – necked giraffes and the uniformed Zebras that were on display. Even before I left Kenya I had always known that it would be my most preferred tourist destination.
I took several pictures of the lovely sights while enjoying my stay in the safari park. I would always keep my mouth busy with “Mukimo” (Mashed green pea and potatoes) though I favoured another Kenyan recipe “Mutura” (a sausage made using goat intestines and meat). One thing I really learnt throughout my travels was that African dishes were indeed very nutritious and irreplaceable. It still beats my imagination that amidst the varieties and nutritious foods in African soil, many Africans still prefer foreign foods that intoxicates their bodies. My stomach walls sang my praises for the way I treated it with sumptuous African delicacies.
The Kikuyu people loved farming to the extent that everyone got involved in it regardless of what other professions they had. It was in Kenya that I learnt how to plant yam. I would dig up the soil about 1ft deep after clearing it, then plant the 6inches tuber while digging up three similar holes then putting a propping tree which supported the vine of the yam to grow. After a hectic day’s job I would be treated to a sumptuous supper of “Ucuru” (A fermented porridge made from corn), then I would whisper “Koma Wega” (Goodnight) to my hosts. I left Kenya after exchanging farewell with Wayama who promised to visit me in Nigeria when I joined the elders’ council.
It was then about seven months since I left Nigeria on a journey to know my beloved continent and papa had put in some frantic efforts to reach out to me with repeated calls. He didn’t expect me to be so caught up in my adventures after all, I wasn’t really such a known extrovert. Maybe he was oblivious of the fact that earning an appointment into our elder’s council depended on the vastness of the travels I made. I constantly told him not to worry about me as I would return when my mission was accomplished. Three days later, my Congolese friend Capoue called and I informed him that I was with the Zulu people in the Draskensberg province of South Africa. When I arrived in South Africa I took a visit to the Limpopo River which is one of the most historic rivers in Africa. I beheld the large expanse of water that was gracefully running its course.
Back in Zululand I still had enough to feed my eyes on as the famous “Ingoma” dance festival was in two days time. The zulu people really loved to make-merry and they had so many traditional festivals to mark different celebrations. The “Ingoma” dance festival was staged to celebrate the attainment of a certain age. It was an eye popping ceremony that featured energetic kicking motions and rhythmic drumming by colourfully – kitted drummers in an open space.
Apart from the party - loving nature of the people, the possession of “Kraal” (cattle) is accorded such a high regard. I had asked an elderly zulu man why this was the case and he responded “Ummumzane ubonakala ngesibayasakhe” meaning “A man’s social status is seen by the size of his cattle”. I then understood why milk was such a common household item among the zulu people. I remembered visiting a local eatery in my neighbourhood and I was served the milk which was called “Amasi” (It tasted like cottage cheese or plain yoghurt) alongside phutu( A maize porridge). I went back home fully fed and I sank into deep sleep where I had a dream. In the dream I saw three men speaking to me but their identity was a bit unclear initially. It later turned out to be Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.
I later realized that these heroes alongside others fought really hard to end racial discrimination in South Africa. I admired their courage and steadfastness but I was shell-shocked when I saw men sleep outside their houses at night with their “Umqhele” (warrior headband) tied to their heads. It was later explained to me that bravery and martial prowess were very integral of the Zulu culture. I learnt that their ancestral father, Shaka de Zulu was one of the most powerful warriors to have emerged from African soil. He had fought many wars and conquered many towns and cities in the yesteryears. In fact, Zulu men were famed for their strength and selflessness. They would do everything within their powers to protect their families, maybe because they had strong family values. The women on the other hand were very industrious just like Fianosu – a middle aged woman that lived in the same compound as me. She was into the brewing of the popular “Umqombothi” – a drink which was made from sorghum. My stay in South Africa amongst the Zulu people arose in me the confidence and longing to join the army when I returned to Nigeria.
“The Zulu culture is synonymous with strength and bravery” I had informed papa the last time he called to check up on me. Feeling very motivated from my visit to the Zulu kingdom, I knew I had to go the cradle of civilization to make my adventure grand and that was how I landed in the land of the pharaohs and the melting pot of the Middle East. In truth, the greatness of Africa became really evident with what I saw in Egypt. I realized that the history of this continent had been greatly tempered with by foreigners. As I have always done in other places I visited, I quickly grabbed some Egyptian bread popularly called “Eish” which I learnt represented ”life” and it was the commonest food among the Egyptians.
I met a very religious people in Egypt and almost everything had an Islamic colouration. I paid homage to the biggest river in the continent when I visited the Nile. I then explored one of the Seven Wonders of the World when I visited the Giza pyramids. Just like the Ashanti people of Ghana, the Egyptians were really a very hospitable and generous people and they loved eating in groups, a phenomenon that was expressed in the local proverbs “Ellie yako lewah do yezwar” meaning “He that eats alone will choke on his food.” Apart from communal living, the Egyptians treasured the virtues of loyalty and trust. They believed that once a person was trustworthy, it could be safe to go into business with such a person. After my stay in Egypt I made my way back to Nigeria.
It was already December by the time I had rounded off my trips and a feast called “Usoro Umek Owo” meaning “ Feast for the chosen” was hosted in the king’s court where the young men to be appointed into the elders’ council had all gathered. Every young man that had traveled was present and was expected to give details of what they learnt from their trips. Everyone told their own stories of where they traveled to including my friend Udobia who I had not seen in several months. Even those who hadn’t gone anywhere tried cooking up some stories too. It then came to my turn and I narrated how I learnt hospitality and fraternal solidarity from the Ashanti people of Ghana as well as virtues of dignity of labour from the Baluba people of Congo. The king who was listening very raptly was thrilled when I told him how I learnt the art of farming from the Kikuyu people of Kenya and bravery from the Zulu people in South Africa. He finally gave me his royal blessings as I told him how I learnt of the greatness of the continent from the cradle of civilization.
At the end of the ceremony, I was appointed into the elders’ council for having been able to make real effort at knowing my continent the much I could. The king praised me for the experiences I gathered and the lessons I learnt which he said were priceless as I joined the elders’ council. My appointment into the elders’ council was greeted with applause and acceptance even from other young men of our land who saw me to be the most deserving of a place in the council of elders. At the end of the feast, I was then taken into the king’s inner chamber for the initiation rites which included me taking an oath of loyalty to the service of the people and obedience to the king.
Samuel Edward is an emerging creative writer. He has many unpublished works in his closet but one of his writings was featured in the anthology of the Society of Young Nigerian Writers in 2020. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.