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THE BURIAL OF EDANG

On the day of Edang’s final funeral ceremony, a delegation from Mbem, headquarters of Busah was to pay the farmers’ arrears in the small district of Nyiku.  That the funeral and the payment fell on the same day was not by sheer chance, for the Hon. Amin had urged the members of the delegation to pay the farmers on that day in order to disrupt Edang’s burial ceremony. His aim was to reassert his supremacy over daring youths in Nyiku, and to hold them permanently in his palm. But the Nyiku Youth Solidarity Movement (NYSM) was determined to honour late Edang, their hero. They were bent on giving him the hero’s burial they thought he deserved.

Nyiku lay in the North West of Busah, constituting a district of its own. Busah, a small but rich country had extensive plains. Virgin forests overlay the entire territory and even the hilly regions were blessed with fertile soils. The valley along river Anjoh produced healthy food crops and excellent cocoa and coffee beans. The forests were enriched with luxuriant flora and fauna, among them rare species of plants, animals and birds; some of which were already considered extinct. Most grown up youths remained in the village, marrying at an early age and therefore geometrically increasing the population. They had nothing to draw them to alien lands, which is why few of them migrated in the proverbial search of greener pastures or education.

 Nyiku teemed with over twenty thousand inhabitants, mostly farmers making use of the fertile arable soils to grow tropical foods.  Cocoa and coffee majored as cash crops while food crops such as Maize, cassava, plantains, potatoes, coco yams, groundnuts and the venerated ‘oshie yams’, ‘oshie coco yams’ and others were  in abundance  for consumption. The National Farmer’s Cooperative Society (NFCS), quick to realize these economic potentials of Nyiku, created a branch of the cooperative there. They helped the farmers, teaching them modern farming methods, providing them with better seedlings for greater yields, advising them on the wise use of chemical fertilizers and manure, and educating them on the risks in bush burning. Above all, the corporation helped the farmers to market their produce, especially the cash crops. Food crops were not much of a problem since there was demand for them in the neighbouring towns of Mbem and Abakwa.  True, because of their abundance, surpluses of these food crops were bought at next to nothing by the trading women, ‘bayam sellams’ who resold in towns at much profit.

At about eight in the evening, Anih was on her knees near a small mound of brown earth which was supported by multi-angular stones, half buried into the earth. For nine days running, she had maintained this meditative habit, kneeling by her late husband’s grave as if in some mysterious telepathic conversation. She prayed by the grave every morning and evening, finding it hard to rise and go in once she had knelt by the grave.

The kitchen door stood open this while, a few women inside, sprawled on plantain leaves, mats or on bamboo beds. A sob emanated from them from time to time.  Nine days since Edang was buried, these village women found it hard to digest his demise. He was right there in front of them, all his features snapped in their mind’s eye and it would have been unjust, in their sensitivity, to believe so soon that such a gallant youth was dead.

 Tall and spritely, gallant Edang had a fair complexion of the sober tint, a chip of his father. He was chatty and smiled generously with everyone, his white teeth conspicuous from afar. By twenty-eight when he died, he was memorably a charming character, the envy of other youths. Sociable and thoroughly outgoing though he was, some construed that he was haughty and condescending. Actually, their parameters of judgment included the fact that he turned down invitations to join the bandwagon of dishonest politicians in Nyiku.

 Edang’s young widow knelt on, finding it hard to leave her husband’s graveside even though sleep nudged her. The odd sounds that came intermittently from the near-by woods she heard, unmoved to fear or cheer. Her stoic lack of squeamish sentimentality made some of the women in the kitchen wonder whether she was really feminine. Few girls of twenty-two years had the courage to stay outdoors alone that late. Under such circumstances, culture engrained a superstitious turn of mind in which spirits haunted graveyards at night.  

Anih somehow fitted the look of an incarnate spirit.  She was perhaps even dreaded by spirits for her outward form had undergone great change, becoming something of a primitive savage. Her bushy unkempt hair fell in kinky strands rather than curls. These overhung her sludgy and strapless dress that hung on her body like rag-tags of scarecrows. Barefooted since her husband died, she pounded rather than walked the grounds. Filth and accumulated sweat streaks of dried tears visible in the hollow places on her cheeks and half-exposed breasts compounded with her long slender hands that carelessly lay on her laps to cut the figure of  vigorous grief, an object of interest for a fine art artist, particularly when snatches of slumber crept to her eyelids. The rage and agony of losing her spouse in youth strangulated benumbed senses and physique to yearnings unfulfilled, she was a ware house of grief, an unsymmetrical heap of disfigurement.

 Nyiku, too, imposed much on widows, adding to Anih’s ordeal. Thus, she had to change from normal behaviour for nine days, in which, for example, she was not to bathe, sleep in a bed, change dresses, or wear shoes. Besides, she was ringed in her own premises and could not go anywhere out of the compound as she waiting to be shaved on the tenth day in a purification ritual to be performed by an old woman. After the tenth day, she was to go about in black sackcloth for twenty-four months. Those were the prescribed conditions of widowhood, young or old.

 Anih felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She turned round absent-mindedly. It was her mother and she was fuming at her daughter’s apparent exaggerated appendages to the already challenging ordeals of widowhood.

“Is it you, mother?” Anih asked, her voice cracked and barely audible.

“Yes,” her mother answered firmly. “I am your mother. Listen to me, Anih: I don’t want to lose you; you don’t want to abandon me, do you? Come on, this is not the time for you to stay outside here. How many times shall I tell you this? See how you already look!’ Her voice was rising with bitterness.

   “You haven’t tasted any food since yesterday. You have a son, Anih, he is all your treasure now. Spare your life at least for his sake, if I mean nothing to you. Come into the house. It is too cold outside here. See how you look, so withered, Anih. Tradition does not stop you from eating; it doesn’t say you should sleep by this grave either. You are carrying this too far for my patience!”

            Anih knew how bad her mother felt, so she got up and followed her like an obedient dog into the kitchen. She asked to see her son Hansel, but was told that he was sleeping and it would not be wise to wake him up. Hansel was two years old and his future was Anih’s greatest worry. The women in the kitchen remained awake for a long time that night because the men who had gone out to far-away villages to ask the seers and oracles the man behind Edang’s murder had announced their findings that afternoon. The findings surprised no one, yet they were to remain a peculiar subject of conversation in the district for a long time after.

“How had he wronged him, that he should hire tugs to kill him so savagely?” Edang’s old mother muttered as she burst into fresh tears.

“I have always said Amingwa reserved strange things for this village,” Anih’s mother picked the cue.“Come to think of the son of Ambong; come to think of Fobuh, the first son of Angeme; and now our Edang…to put us in destitution.”

“What shall we do with him?” Another woman who also sat on plantain leaves, her legs crossed and stretched, continued, “three great youths have fallen at his swoop; why? Because he’s always afraid they would ride in bigger cars than his own; that they would take his place in the parliament! Now the elders have to do something. We all know that a den gun’s loading cup is never completely empty of gun powder.  All diviners say he is the sole man behind these murders.”

“What are you saying, women?” Cut in yet another woman on a bamboo mat. “Is there anyone in this land who doubts these facts, when the man himself has always made his intentions clear?” She paused for any opposition, but hearing none, continued, “Don’t you remember how Edang challenged him last time at the rally in the government school field? Was Amingwa not ashamed? Did Edang not tell us in front of him that he was deceiving the people for his personal interest? Did he not make it crystal clear that for all his years in parliament he ate greedily, not thinking of the people in his constituency; that he was like the hunter who eats the game near his dog, refusing to throw even bones to the hungry dog that sits watching the hand moving from the bowl between his legs up to his mouth, until the bowl gets empty?” She paused again for seconds before resuming her narrative.

“What did Amingwa say? Did he not say Edang would see? Did he not say the same thing to the son of Ambong? Did he not say it to Fobuh the son of Angeme? Who doubts the implication of such a threat in this land?”

 The women made smacking sounds of disgust and clapped their hands in indignation. The conversation lingered on until late in the night when the women fell asleep one after the other.

Busah had of late been undergoing economic hardship. The farmers had not received money for their coffee and cocoa for over three successive years. So, people ate food without palm oil; children filled the compounds, driven from school for school fees. Some of the men, in their anger, began to cut down the coffee and cacao stems, replacing them with plantain and banana suckers. They poured curses on the president of the cooperative and the government, believing very strongly that these had siphoned their money. The government had explained it lucidly: the foreign market was bad and the products that were taken three years ago had not been sold.

“Why do they keep taking then?” The men asked, angry and distrusting. “Why do they say we should work even harder, these thieves, can’t they learn how to lie? They think they can fool old men like us as if we were children. Is it because we cannot read and write? Yet policemen come chasing us every day for taxes. Where do they expect us to get the money from?”

The scene of this conversation was the compound of the deceased where the men gathered every evening bringing along calabashes of ‘Onuh-fou’, holding as custom held that an empty hand did not go up to the mouth’. Some of the palm wine was sent to the women in the kitchen while the men sat round the fire in the parlour drinking and conversing.

“Taxes?” continued another man. “They never forget to ask for bribe; and they keep coming every day if you are used to giving so that, before you afford the three thousand francs’ tax, you have paid five times more as bribe.”

All Busah was enraged at her corrupt government. Many believed that corruption had contributed to the economic crises they were suffering. It was during this period of crises that Edang paid his last debt to nature and in an unusual manner. Men and women gathered at his funeral had only questions to ask. Questions whose answers they could not find: “Was the world getting to an end? Why only our youths? Why Edang, our trusted ambassador to the world of the literates? Why during these crises, when we can’t find money even for a piece of white cloth to dress a coffin? Why?”

 The women screwed their lips, clapped their hands and turned their faces to another direction or showed pointed hands up to heaven. The men, on their part, often became more talkative after gulping down some calabashes of palm wine. They became more and more elated and critical of their situation.

“It is very annoying that we the producers are suffering while the cooperative manager and the executive grow fatter and fatter from the fruits of our labour. Monkey di work, baboon di chop! They tricked us to farm crops that we cannot eat so that we would be at their mercy; so that they can cooperate and steal. Yes, that’s their ‘cooperate-tiff’– corporate thieves! If we were producing only plantains or cassava, we would eat them; we would exchange beans for palm oil as our fathers did. In any case, many people have begun to dig up their coffee stems. I think it’s time we joined them. Let them, I mean the corporate thieves’ managers try to plant some coffee themselves and see what it takes to maintain a coffee farm.”  

The men had learned much from Edang Stanley who had returned from Ibadan with a PhD in veterinary medicines. They were beginning to develop profound animosity against the ruling junta. Many were inspired by his courage and bravery in every action or move he took, especially in defense of his people or village. He believed and declared almost everywhere that if a man was not prepared to die for a cause he trusted, his life wasn’t worth a dog’s; that it was better to believe in something, fight for it, achieve it or die for it than to live a vague or passive life, imploding and self-consuming like a cripple on the spot and waiting for death or worst still, allow oneself to be led by the nose like an ass by unscrupulous politicians. This lesson he taught the youth of Nyiku in the Nyiku Youth Solidarity Movement (NYSM) which he had founded.

A veterinary surgeon, he hated being called Dr. Edang. In his simplicity, he preferred to be called Edang or Stanley; Period. He found fault with his peers who attached PhD to their names as if PhD was their fourth name, for example, ‘Edang Stanley Adi PhD’. These, of course, were usually offended at not being called ‘Doctor’. To him, Doctors were not to be known by their titles, but by the distinct quality of their services and research.

       He had also founded a veterinary clinic in Nyiku to serve the community. Most men reared animals: guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs and cows; nearly all compounds had fowls. He had applied to work with the National Research Institute for Veterinary Science (N.R.I.V.S) at Mbem. It was not until when an epidemic, the mad cow disease, broke out and would have decimated the entire breed of cattle in Nyiku that his expertise was sort for and he got recruited to work with N.R.I.V.S. at Mbem. Nyiku youth and the village farmers learnt about the black pot, the mad cow disease, bird flu and Africa swine fever from him.

His old parents counted much on him, not only as their caretaker in old age, but to help in the education of his younger siblings. His father, a polygamist with three wives, had seventeen children who had succeeded in nothing because of financial constraints.  Their dreams, hopes and aspirations hung on Edang, the eldest son and their brother. They all hoped in him to one day redeem the family from the doldrums.

When Edang received a letter of engagement from the director of NRIVS, he left immediately for Abakwa the provincial headquarters, intending to telephone the director of the institute to acknowledge receipt of the letter. But when he phoned from Abakwa, he was asked to come and assume work immediately or lose the job. That is how Edang left hurriedly, without making any proper arrangements for the running of his clinic. His beautiful young wife had just given birth to a baby boy, Hansel, whom many believed had brought luck to the father. Edang could not stay away for long without coming back home. After barely six months of work at the NRIVS, Edang asked and obtained permission to go home and put things in order. He planned to take along his wife and son to his new station too.

It was on ‘Njid’, the major market day, when Edang returned home and learnt with excitement that Hon. Amin (as Amingwa was called) was to address a political rally that same day. He was pleased with the coincidence. He knew that the Honourable disliked him because of his frank criticisms. This did not really bother him. What bothered him was the fact that five years before, when he had just returned from Ibadan, the People’s Popular Party had urged him to contest for the single parliamentary seat in the district. His popularity was incontestably high. But there was Ekwe, a non-indigene who was running for another opposition party and who was a no nonsense candidate, especially given that committed natives would then share their votes between him (Edang) and Amin. There was the risk of letting Ekwe win. Thus, he turned down the offer for his own candidature and went farther to anger his party by Campaigning for Hon. Amin. He told the people that birds don’t flock to a tree that bears no fruit and that Amin was the only fruit-bearing tree in Nyiku. He reminded the people of their own saying that a snake’s fat oils the snake’s meal. This he did for the interest of the tribe. But Amin never gave him a kind word of gratitude. Suspicion rose and led to open criticisms and then to mortal hatred on the part of the honourable.

That same day in the government school field, the honourable mounted the decorated rostrum with an air of pride. His forehead glittered in the afternoon glaze, as he waved to the huge crowd that had endured the pains of the blazing sun since its rising that morning. He adjusted his sun-shades and began in a voice that sounded like a broken bass drum:

“The district head of Nyiku, your royal Highness, the brigade commander of the paramilitary force, traditional heads, and councillors, my dear brothers and sisters;

I thank you all for coming to listen to me… It is four years since you sent me to parliament. Although it is said that a mask in a dancing arena does not see its rear, I think I have done much for you. I say, ‘much’ because four years is a relatively short time. A bridge has been built at Awum-zang, disenclaving the six villages of Nyebai– Bachaza, Berengwi, Goungfek, Tikob, Togobei and Atum; we now have three new government primary schools and a government college. A paramilitary brigade camp and an ultra-modern prison have been built here.  There are other projects in the pipeline. Nyiku will soon be upgraded into a sub-division and recently, through my efforts, our son, Dr. Edang, has been employed at the National Research Institute.  This is to say, when you see a thread moving, you know there is a needle ahead of it. A single bangle does not jangle on the arm, you all know; so we must continue to work as a team.

“But you know that Rome was not built in one day. The crunch of economic crisis has hindered us from realizing some of our projects and, we often have to grease palms and oil lips in order for this or that…’’

He was interrupted here by the snappy fingers of a raised hand in the crowd. The crowd had become noisy, so he took off his eyes from the printed speech and looked round. He saw a hand and beckoned the owner to come forward. The man tore through the crowd and when he mounted the platform, Honourable Amin was bewildered. He almost sank down on his seat, flabbergasted. It was the very boy he dreaded most. He had never dreamed that he could be in the crowd. He had believed Edang was at Mbem and had told a blatant lie that he negotiated for Edang’s employment. Amin was stung beyond expectation as the crowd cheered the young man. He tried to interrupt, but the crowd protested. The young man could not bear the rubbish Amin was vomiting to his people. A lump of anger stuck in his throat when he heard Amin say he negotiated for his job, and the only way to swallow it was to tell Amin off there and then. Generally, Edang was not used to being carried by emotions, nor of acting on impulse, but could not hold back in such situation.

Edang held the microphone with his left hand, and gave it a testing tap with his right forefinger before beginning rather colloquially.

‘’My greetings to our people!’’ he announced in a distinct voice that sailed far and wide, and died in the woods with a resounding echo.

           “Our greetings to our son!” the crowd responded with excitement, inspiring him with self-confidence and charisma to continued, feeling hurt by Amin’s shameless lies.        

‘’You are not strangers to this history. You remember that as the acclaimed candidate for the People’s Popular Party, I renounced my candidature at the nick of time because I realized that if I went in and did not win, another man would take the lone seat in this subdivision. I never wanted us to run the risk in which Nyiku might lose the seat to someone from another tribe. You know the damage I did to my party when I asked everyone here to forget his or her political affiliation and to vote Mr. Amingwa for the welfare of our tribe. We had priority projects we expected him, once in parliament, to pursue for us. We expected him to put our will, the will of the tribe ahead; to submerge personal interest and float our interest: not to see for our eyes but to see with our eyes; not to hear for our ears but to hear with our ears; not to speak for our tongues but to speak with our tongues; in short, not to go for himself but to go for us! But what happened? He saw with his own eyes and saw differently from our eyes; he heard with his own ears and understood differently from us; he spoke with his own tongue and spoke differently from us; In short, he went for himself and not for us!”

He paused, noticing the numerous pairs of eyes begging for more. He resumed:

“I do not have much to say; I only want to ask our brother in parliament how he enjoyed the pot holes and gullies as he drove from Mbem to our village here. Last time he stood here and swore that our health post would be transformed into a district hospital and equipped with drugs and staff, including at least one resident medical doctor. He swore that our road would be tarred; that Nyiku would have excellent pipe-borne water, electricity and a telephone network. He promised to help us to receive our coffee money in time; Do I lie, my people?’’

“You do not lie, our son!” They shouted back.

“None of these has been done,” he continued. “Rather, they have built a prison in which to detain us when we complain, or when we can’t pay our taxes, even when our money is owed by them. They have built a paramilitary brigade camp to intimidate us, installing  gendarmes here to harass us every day, collecting bribe from old men who can’t’ afford for a tablet of aspirins, because they can’t pay taxes.

“Today he has returned to shamelessly lie that he got a job for me! Do we not say, my people that, you may deceive a dentist, but you should not deceive a barber?

“He cited the bridge at Awum-zang as his achievement; is there any man or woman in this land who did not contribute money for the construction of the bridge? Our fon, sitting here, can testify that our contributions were more than enough for that bridge.

“He also says he has brought to us three schools; how many teachers has he sent to the schools? How many of the schools have they built? We offer land; we contribute money and erect the structures. We recruit and pay the teachers; why do we call these schools ‘Government Schools’? We should call them ‘Community Schools’ because everything is done by the community

 “As for our vote, we shall sell them henceforth. We shall not sell them for money but we shall oblige those lobbying for them to do something concrete first. For instance, we say anyone who repairs our roads, or gives us pipe-borne water, or the like shall have our votes. In this case, we insist that they do it before we vote for them. If this measure does not work, we shall partner with any candidate who needs our votes contractually. For example, that he shall not set foot on this land if at the end of his tenure he fails to respect the terms of the contract. Did you hear him say a mask in a dancing arena does not see its rear? Our people, this masquerade is dancing out of tune!”

The applause was so wild, that he had no room to conclude. Hon. Amin who had sat as if daydreaming, now rose to his feet, but the people dispersed, deliberately slighting his pride by giving a deaf ear to his summons. Even the fon tried to call them back but failed.

“This scoundrel on my way,” cried Hon. Amingwa. “He can’t get away with this. I will see how long he works at N.R.I.V.S.; he shall pay dearly for this!’

One month later after this declaration, Edang was suspended from work indefinitely for what the director of the institute called ‘Very special reasons.’ When Edang asked what he meant by ‘special reasons,’ the director said he was insubordinate and rebellious. Two weeks later Edang was stabbed fatally in Mbem by two masked tugs.

Several months before, the President of the cooperative announced that some money had come in and that he was going to pay part of the farmers’ money. The people kept waiting, long after other peoples had received their money. It was not until after Edang’s death that a day was named to that effect. But on learning that Nyiku youth were planning a heroic celebration in memory of Edang, Amin intervened and postponed the payment to coincide with the burial date, planned by Nyiku on the tenth day. The day was also the day the widow was to be cleansed and rituals performed for the mourners to resume routine activities. Amin did not want any tribute to be given to the thorn he had managed to remove from his flesh.

Finally, the day of payment came and coincided with Edang’s final burial ceremony. No one in Nyiku in the meantime, saw anything wrong with the conflicting events. They thought payment would be in the morning and the celebration in the afternoon. Nyiku people talked of nothing else that week but these two great events: the payment of the farmers’ arrears and Edang’s burial. The farmers felt relieved when the delegation arrived Nyiku two days earlier. To receive the delegation, goats and fowls were roasted and cooked by selected young girls. The team feasted in several stretches of time, drinking Champaign which they had brought along. They wouldn’t taste the kirks of ‘onu-fou’, the excellent palm wine which the villagers reserved for them daily.

When D-day came, men filled the cooperative yard early that morning. Many did not bother to enter the mud in their raffia palm bushes to tap palm wine that morning. They were in a hurry to get to the Cooperative hall for their money. They had waited for it for years. The team arrived at about 9.a.m led by Hon Amin and sat in the cooperative hall. For more than two hours, they checked and cross-checked papers. At last the cooperative manager came out of the hall to address the anxious crowd that had waited impatiently under the sun for several hours.

“My country people, we have come here to greet you and listen to your problems. We are fighting tooth and nail to get a stable market for your produce. Despite the economic crises, His Excellency, the President of the Republic has been obsessed with your situation. Our brother, Hon. Amin, your trusted ambassador to the National House of Assembly, has been working hard with the president to see that you receive some money.”

While he paused, Amin appeared through the double shutter door with some pride. He leaned his right shoulder against the doorframe, crossed his left leg over the right, his hands buried in his side pockets.  You would have thought, he was posing for a photograph.

“That is why the President has obtained a foreign loan,” resumed the speaker, “and has added his own personal money to it for you to receive a few francs. I think we are lucky to have such a president. What is more, God has blessed you with a responsible member of parliament. We must all, without exception give to these two our unflinching support so that they may continue to serve you cheerfully and try to solve your problems with steadfastness.” The farmers applauded as a formality, not in appreciation of the discourse.

They were blessed; indeed they had been blessed…; the simple-minded men thought. They were then made to stand in two files from which two people entered the hall simultaneously.

“He said they had come to listen to our problems, but he hasn’t given us room to say what our problems are!” shouted a young man who had gone to represent his bed-ridden father. All eyes turned towards the lad who remained indifferent. But the old men were cheerful. They were relieved. It wasn’t a tale this time; they were going to receive the money at least. Their faces shone with joy. They would settle some of their numerous problems. Christmas was at hand and their families would eat meat and fish once more; the women and children would wear new clothes after a long time. On most faces were smiles.

         When the first farmer reappeared at the doubled-shutter door, the message in his face was unequivocally contradictory. His mouth gaped, his face twisted with more wrinkles than his age required, his jaws were sunken. He held up both hands with a thousand francs note in each hand between thumb and the index finger.

“This 2000 francs for two bags of coffee; pia! To hell with the president and the cooperative!” He swung round and spat at the door as he jumped down the steps, still holding up the money. The files scattered as the men hurried towards him to ask him if that was all the money he had received.

“I said 2000 francs for two bags of coffee! I said two! two! twooo!” the man repeated with exasperation. His attitude cast a chill in the crowd that metamorphosed into resident anger.  

“And Amin sat there with a hog-swollen abdomen,” the man sneered as he dashed off. The men gnashed their teeth as they went in and out of the hall.

“And they say we should support the president? This money can’t pay half of my tax; and my children are all sick,” an embittered man mourned.

“Your children!” cried another as they moved towards the market square, “I have twenty-three of them and four wives who all go in rags. They will kill me this Christmas!”

In the market square, the men drank their Onu-fou in small groups while discussing their problems. They were aware that the youths’ dance would soon arrive, but were also distracted by the most recent deception.

“Belly-ache and running stomach to the lot of them,” they cursed intermittently. They were made more angry by the rumour that ‘the speakers-through-the-nostrils’, as they referred to their compatriots of the forest zone, had received all their money, all cocoa and coffee farmers.

“So the money got finished after they had paid their people, and they then came to deceive us with coins? And Amin sat among them comfortably, a stooge. They killed our Edang because he told us the truth; they killed him to keep us in eternal darkness!

Their conversation was interrupted by gun-shots, drumming and shouting not far from the village square. They hurried to empty their horns and go down to the square to watch the spectacle. That morning, while the farmers had headed towards the cooperative building, the youths had hurried towards the village shrine. There, they were to perform some rituals. From there, the heroic dance of victory was to begin– a performance in usual honour of brave men and village elders. It had no mask but the dancers carried skulls of ferocious big game. In the past, their ancestors would parade human skulls of the men they killed in inter-tribal wars.

When the dancers left the shrine that afternoon, they danced to and from the entrance to each quarter. They carried clubs, spears, cutlasses and guns. The guns they wildly fired at crossroads, shouting various slogans in praise of Edang.

      The dancing was frightful, the air shot through with gun-powder smoke. They sprang on their feet at irregular intervals towards a chosen direction, then screamed and stopped automatically some way away, as if confronted by an approaching tiger or some more dangerous beast. So, pointing their weapons threateningly in that direction, they echoed war choruses, firing their guns and clanging their machetes.  The drums trilled and they re-entered the main road, chanting victory songs supposing that they had triumphed over the enemy.

At about 03:00 p.m., the men who had gone for their coffee money were still lingering in the market square. Their hopes had been frustrated and there was no impetus to hurry home.                         

The dramatic scene some months before between Edang and Hon Amin was like dewdrops on the bushy paths in the morning, fresh in their minds.  They were living witnesses. They had not only seen but heard Amin promise hell to Edang. The revelations made by the men who had gone to consult seers only confirmed what people already had in mind. The cause of Edang’s death was clear and left the problem, as the villagers put it, how to cure the man of his madness.  All poisons have their antidotes, they believed; so Amin shall have his cure.

The roaring youths arrived, their yelling and screaming becoming deafening. Eventually, the village square swelled with spectators, the vivacious crowd fighting for positions ahead in order to observe the spectacle better.

 Fortune or misfortune, on arriving the village square the rabble spotted the honourable’s gorgeous car. As if ordered by some unalterable force, they immediately fell on it with their weapons. The man who had been drinking in a near-by bar with the other members of the delegation jumped out of the bar alarmed; hoping that his imposing mass and personality would scare the youths. He shouted:

 “Stop that, rascals! Hooligans! Get away from there, you scallywags!” He pushed his loaded stomach and his double chin forward breathing profusely and trembling with rage; but before he knew it, his car was ablaze. He was rooted to the spot.

Worse, his figure and utterances fanned the flame of vengeance borne from anger in the youths. Instantly, they fell on him in what looked like a reflex, but which became fully determined in an end-it-all with the honourable. Farmers who felt cheated by the management of the cooperative joined in to take their revenge bit. Then someone landed a blow with a heavy stick on his fore head and Amin shouted:

“O my God, O my God!” And the man replied with another blow, crying: “To cure the honourable of his madness.” Blood spurted in disorder and his honour went crashing like a heavy log.  Sticks fell indiscriminately on him.

As soon as the president of the cooperative noticed the unfolding of a drama that could be tragic, he sent to inform the brigade commander. The gendarmes came late, a thing usual with them. They arrived there when the place was almost completely deserted except for Amin’s family members and the delegation from Mbem who stood at a safe distance from the corpse, afraid of contagion, you may say.                                                

 Amin breathed his last. A new epoch had dawned for Nyiku and the Youths’ Solidarity.

“Something like this was necessary,” many people said. Something like this was necessary in atonement for the youth of exemplary courage; one who died for what he believed in, the truth; a lad who believed that if a man were not prepared to die for a cause he trusted, that man had not yet discerned the meaning of life; such a man had not yet begun to live.   

The youths’ dance continued triumphantly to Edang’s compound where it performed with great pomp. It ended with various rituals intended to cleanse the bereaved family, especially the widow and her son.

Story Continues …

It was on the day of Edang’s final burial ceremony that the delegation from Mbem, the headquarters of Busah was scheduled to pay the farmers’ arrears in the small district of Nyiku. It was no coincidence that these two important events fell on the same day. Hon. Amin had urged the members of the delegation to pay the farmers on that day with the aim of disrupting Edang’s heroic burial ceremony and so reassert his supremacy over daring youths in Nyiku, therefore having the youth permanently in the palm of his hand. But the Nyiku Youths’ Solidarity Movement (NYSM) was determined to honour late Edang, the man they considered their hero, by giving him the heroic burial that he deserved.

Nyiku laid in the North West of Busah and constituted a district of its own. Busah on its part was a small but rich country in the West of Africa with extensive plains. Virgin forests spread the entire territory and even the hilly regions were blessed with very fertile soils. The valley along river Anjoh produced the most healthy food crops and the best cocoa and coffee beans. The forests were rich in flora and fauna with rare species of plants, animals and birds that nowadays are extinct. Most young men grew up and remained in the village, got married at an early age and the population increased geometrically. They had nothing to envy in alien lands so very few of them migrated in search of greener pastures or education.

Naturally, the over twenty thousand inhabitants of Nyiku were basically farmers. They produced varieties of tropical foods. Their Major cash crops were cacao and coffee. While food crops such as Maize, cassava, plantains, potatoes, coco yams, groundnuts and the venerated ‘oshie yams’, ‘oshie coco yams’ and others were cultivated for subsistence. The National Farmer’s Cooperative Society (NFCS) was quick to realize these economic potentials of Nyiku and so created a branch of the cooperative there to aid the farmers in a bid to teach them modern farming methods, provide better seedlings that yield; give them advice on how to use chemical fertilizers and manures; and educate them on the disadvantages of bush burning. But above all, NFCS intended to help the farmers find a market for their produce especially the cash crops. Food crops were not much of a problem because there was a large demand for them in the town like Mbem and Abakwa. Surpluses of these food crops were bought at next to nothing cost by trading women called ‘bayam sellams’ and resold to towns and cities dwellers.

It was about eight in the evening. Anih Knelt beside a small mound of brown earth which was supported by small multi-angular stones, half buried into the earth. For nine days she had maintained this meditative habit; kneeling by her late husband’s grave as if in some mysterious telepathy with the deceased. Habitually, she prayed by the grave every morning and every evening before retiring indoors. But it was usually difficult for her to rise and go once she had knelt by the grave.

The kitchen door remained open this while with a few women inside. Some lay on plantain leaves, some on mats and others on bamboo beds. Some of the women sobbed from time to time. It was nine days already since Edang was buried, but these village women found it difficult to digest the demise. He was right there; in front of them, with all his features and it would have been unjust, at least by their scrupulous norms, to believe so soon, that such a gallant youth was dead.

The late man was a tall, sprite, gallant lad, and was a little fair in complexion like his father. Being very chatty, he smiled so generously with everyone that his white teeth were conspicuous from afar. At about twenty-eight when he died, he was noted for his charming character and was the envy of most youths. Although he was sociable and strident, some whimsical people thought he was haughty and condescending because he refused to be the devil’s advocate and turned down invitations to join the bandwagon of dishonest politicians in Nyiku.

Though she felt sleepy, Edang’s young widow found it hard to leave her husband’s grave. She remained there despite the claustrophobic sounds that came intermittently from the near-by woods. She listened to them with stoicism. Was she really a woman? The women in the kitchen would wonder. She was barely twenty-two and no girl of her age could be courageous enough to stay outdoors alone at late hours, especially under such circumstances when superstition held that spirits haunted grave yards at nights. But Anih somehow looked like a spirit-incarnate, and maybe she terrorized the spirits herself given that she had become something very different from what she used to be; some kind of primitive savage. Her dark, long, bushy and unkempt hair fell in strands with no curls, her filthy and strapless dress hung on her body like tag-rags on a scarecrow. Her feet were bare; had been bare since her husband died. She was almost stinking of filth and accumulated sweat. Marks of dried tears were visible in the hollow places on her cheeks and half exposed breasts while the long slender hands lay carelessly on her laps. She would have been an object of interest for fine art artists at those peculiar moments when snatches of slumber crept on to her eyelids, and was even forgotten by the women in the kitchen. Clearly, the rage and agony of losing her spouse at a very young age had almost benumbed her and turned the beauty that had been the unfulfilled dream of many young men into a ware house of grief.

Tradition imposed much on widows in Nyiku, and so Anih’s ordeals were not all of her personal will. By tradition, she had to change normal behaviour for nine days, for example she was not supposed to bathe, sleep in bed, change dresses, or wear any shoes. Furthermore, she could not go anywhere out of the compound while waiting to be shaved on the 10th day in a small purification ritual by some old women. After the tenth day, she was to go in black sack cloth for 24 months.

Anih felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She turned round absent-mindedly and faced her mother fuming with indignation at her daughter’s apparent exaggerations.

‘Is it you mother?’ Anih asked in a cracked, inaudible voice.

‘Yes’ her mother answered emphatically.’ I am your mother. ‘Listen to me Anih; I don’t want to lose you; you don’t want to abandon me eh? Come on, this is not the time for you to stay outside here. How many times shall I tell you this? See how you already look!’ Her voice was rising consistently.

‘You haven’t tasted any food since yesterday; you have a son Anih, he is all your treasure now. Spare your life at least for his sake if I mean nothing to you. Come into the house. It is too cold outside here. See how you look so withered Anih, tradition does not stop you from eating; neither does it say you should sleep by this grave. You are carrying this too far for my patience!’

Anih knew how bad her mother felt, so she got up and followed her like an obedient dog into the kitchen. She asked to see her son Hansel, but was told that he was sleeping and it would not be wise to wake him up. Hansel was only two years old, and having lost her husband, the future of this young man was Anih’s greatest worry. The women in the kitchen remained awake for a long time that night because the men who had gone out to far-away villages to ask the seers and oracles the man behind Edang’s murder had announced their findings that afternoon. The findings surprised no one, yet they were to remain a peculiar subject of conversation in the district for a long time thereafter.

‘What had he done to him, that he should hire tugs to kill him in such savagery?’ Edang’s old mother muttered as she burst into fresh tears

‘I have always said Amingwa reserved strange things for this village’, Anih’s mother picked the cue, ‘ come to think of the son of Ambong; come to think of Fobuh, the first son of Angeme; and now our Edang…to put us in destitution’.

‘What shall we do with him?’ Another woman who was sitting on plantain leaves with her legs stretched out continued, ‘three great youths have fallen at his arm; why? Because he’s always afraid they would ride in bigger cars than his own; that they would take his place in the parliament! Now the elders must try to do something. We all know that a den gun’s loading cup is never completely empty of gun powder. All diviners say he is the sole man behind these murders.

‘What are you saying women?’ Cut in yet another woman on a bamboo mat. ‘Is there anyone in this land who doubts these facts when the man himself has always made his intentions clear? She paused for any opposition, but hearing none continued; ’don’t you remember how Edang challenged him last time during the rally at the government school field? Was Amingwa not ashamed? Did Edang not tell us in front of him that he was deceiving the people for his personal interest? Did he not make it crystal clear that for all his years in the parliament he ate greedily without thinking of the people in his constituency, that he was like the hunter who eats the animals hunted by his dog but refuses to throw even bones to the hungry dog which often sits and watch the hand move from the bowl between his legs up to his mouth until the bowl is empty?’ She paused again for seconds before resuming her narrative.

‘What did Amingwa say? Did he not say Edang would see? Did he not say the same thing to the son of Ambong? Did he not say it to Fobuh the son of Angeme? Who doubts the full implication of such a threat in this land?’

The women sighed and clapped their hands in indignation. This conversation lingered on until very late in the night when the women fell asleep one after the other.

Busah had of late been undergoing economic hardship and the farmers had not received money for their coffee and cacao for over three successive years. In Nyiku, people ate food without palm oil; children filled the compounds driven from school for school fees. Some of the men, in their anger had begun to cut down the coffee and cacao stems, replacing them with plantain and banana suckers. They poured courses on the president of the cooperative and the government for they believed very strongly that they had siphoned their money. The government had explained it very lucidly; that the foreign market was bad and the products that were taken three years ago had not been sold.

‘Why do they keep taking then?’ The men asked in anger. ‘Why do they say we should work even harder, these thieves, can’t they learn how to lie? They can’t just fool old men like us as if we were children. Is it because we cannot read or write? Yet policemen come chasing us every day for taxes. Where do we get the money from?’

The scene of this conversation was the deceased’s compound where the men gathered every evening bringing along small calabashes of ‘Onuh-fou’, believing in the saying that ‘an empty hand does not go up to the mouth’  as it was their custom. Some of the palm wine was sent to the women in the kitchen while the men sat round the fire in the parlour drinking and conversing.

‘Taxes?’ continued another man;’ they never forget to ask for bribe; and they keep coming every day if you are used to giving, so that before you afford the three thousand francs tax, you must have paid five times more as bribe.’

Indeed the whole nation of Busah was in rage with her corrupt government. Many people believed that corruption had contributed very much to the economic crises which they were suffering. It was during this period of crises that Edang paid his last debt to nature in an unusual manner. Men and women gathered at his funeral had only questions to ask. Questions whose answers they could not find; for instance: ‘Was the world getting to an end? Why only our youths? Why Edang, our trusted ambassador to the world of the literates? Why during these crises, when we can’t find money even for a piece of white cloth to dress a coffin? Why?’ The women simply screwed their lips, clapped their hands once and turned their faces to another direction or, showed both hands up to heaven. The men on their part often became so talkative after gulping down some calabashes of palm wine. They seemed more critical as one of them observed:

‘’It is very annoying that we the producers are suffering while the cooperative manager and the whole lot of executive grow fatter and fatter from the fruits of our labour. Monkey di work, baboon di chop! They tricked us to farm crops that we cannot eat so that we would stay at their mercy; so that they can cooperate and steal. Yes, that’s their ‘coperatiff’. If we were producing only our plantains or our cassava, we should eat them; we would exchange our beans for palm oil as our fathers used to do. In any case, many people have begun to dig up their coffee stems. I think it’s just time we join them. Let them, I mean the ‘coperatiff’ managers try to plant some coffee themselves and see what task it is to maintain a coffee farm.’

These men had learned much from Edang Stanley who had returned from Ibadan with a PhD in veterinary medicines, and were beginning to develop profound animosity against the ruling junta. Many were inspired by his courage and bravery in every action or move he took especially when it was in the defense of his people or village. He believed and declared almost everywhere that if a man was not prepared to die for a cause he trusted, his life wasn’t worth that of a dog. He held that it was better to believe in something, fight for it, achieve it or die for it than live a vague passive life; consuming like a cripple on the spot and waiting for death or worst still, allow oneself to be led by the nose like an ass by unscrupulous politicians. This was the lesson he taught the youth of Nyiku in the Nyiku Youth Solidarity Movement (NYSM) which he had founded himself.

A veterinary surgeon that he was, he hated being called Dr. Edang. In his simplicity, he preferred to be called Edang or Stanley, Period. He always found fault with his peers who attached PhD to their names as if PhD was their fourth name, for example, ‘Edang Stanley Adi PhD’. These of course usually felt offended when not called ‘Doctor’. To him Doctors were not to be known by their titles but by the way they distinguished themselves from others through the quality of their services and research.

On his return he also founded a small veterinary clinic in Nyiku which served the community a great deal given that most men reared animals ranging from guinea pigs and rabbits to cows; and nearly all compounds had fowls. Upon his return he had applied to work with the National Research Institute for Veterinary Science (N.R.I.V.S) at Mbem. It was not until when an epidemic, the mad cow disease, broke out and would have decimated the entire breed of cattle in Nyiku but for his expertise that he was recruited to work with N.R.I.V.S. at Mbem. Nyiku youth and the village farmers  learnt about the black pot, the mad cow disease, the bird flu and Africa swine fever or afrika swan feeba as the local farmers pronounced it from him.

His old parents counted much on him not only as their caretaker at old age but to help in the education of his younger sibling. His father was a polygamist with three wives and a total of seventeen children who had succeeded in nothing because of financial constraints.  Their dreams, hopes and aspirations were tilted towards Edang, the eldest son and brother whom they all hoped would one day redeem the family from the doldrums.

One day Edang received a letter of engagement from the director of NRIVS. He left immediately for Abakwa the provincial headquarters, where he intended to telephone to the director of the institute, acknowledging receipt of the letter. But when he phoned from Abakwa, he was asked to come and assume work immediately or lose the job. So Edang left hurriedly without making any proper arrangements for the running of his clinic. His beautiful young wife had just given birth to a bouncy baby boy, Hansel, whom many believed had brought luck to the father. So Edang could not stay away for long without coming back home. After barely six months of work at the NRIVS, Edang asked for permission to go home and put things in order and also take along his wife and son to his new station

It was on ‘Njid’, the big market day when Edang returned home to learn with excitement that Hon. Amin (as Amingwa was called in short), was addressing a political rally same day. He was pleased with the coincidence. He knew that the Honourable disliked him because of his frank and open criticisms. This did not really bother him. What bothered him was the fact that almost five years ago, when he just came back from Ibadan, his political party; the People’s Popular Party had urged him to contest for the single parliamentary seat in the district. He was popular enough to win. But there was one Ekwe, a non indigene who was running for another opposition party and who was no nonsense candidate, especially given the fact that committed natives would have to share their votes between him (Edang) and Amin. There was the risk of letting Ekwe win. Thus, he turned down the offer for his own candidature and went farther to anger his party by Campaigning for Hon. Amin. He told told the people that birds don’t flock to a tree that bears no fruit and Amin was the only fruit bearing tree in Nyiku. He reminded the people of their own saying that the snake’s fat oils the snake meal. This he did for the interest of the tribe. But Amin had never given him a kind word of gratitude. This created mutual suspicion that led to open criticisms and ended up in mortal hatred on the part of the honourable.

On the government school field same day the honourable mounted the highly decorated rostrum in a diplomatic style, with an air of pride. His forehead glittered in the afternoon glaze, and he waved to the huge crowd that had endured the pains of the blazing sun since it rose that morning. He adjusted his sun-shades and began in a voice that sounded like a broken bass drum:

‘The district head of Nyiku, your royal Highness, the brigade commander of the paramilitary force, traditional heads, arados and councilors, my dear brothers and sisters;

I thank you all for coming to listen to me… it is four years since you sent me to the parliament. Although it is said a mask in a dancing arena does not see its rear, I think I have done much for you; I say much because four years is a relatively short time. A bridge has been built at Awum-zang, disenclaving the six villages of Nyebai, namely: Bachaza, Berengwi, Goungfek, Tikob, Togobei and Atum; we have three new government primary schools and a government college. A paramilitary brigade camp and an ultra-modern prison have been built here.  They are other projects in the pipe line. Nyiku will soon be upgraded into a sub-division, and recently through my efforts our son Dr. Edang has been employed at the National Research Institute.  This is to say when you see a thread moving, you know there is a needle ahead of it. A single bangle does not jangle in the arm, you all know, so we must continue to work as a team.

But you know that Rome was not built in a day. The crunching economic crises have hindered us from realizing most of our projects and very often we have to grease palms and oil lips to lobby for this or that…’’.

He was interrupted here by the snappy fingers of a raised hand in the crowd. The crowd had become noisy, so he took off his eyes from the printed speech and looked round. He saw a hand and beckoned the owner to come forward. The man tore through the crowd and when he mounted the platform,  Honourable Amin was bewildered. He almost sank down on his seat flabbergasted. It was the very boy he dreaded most. He had never dreamed that he could be in the crowd. He had believed Edang was at Mbem and had told a blatant lie that he negotiated for Edang’s employment. Amin was stung beyond expectation as the crowd cheered the young man. He tried to interrupt, but the crowd protested. The young man could not bear the rubbish Amin was vomiting to his people. A lump of anger stuck in his throat when he heard Amin say he negotiated for his job, and the only way to swallow it was to tell Amin off there and then. Generally, Edang was not often carried by emotions nor acted on impulses but could not hold back in such situations.

Edang held the microphone with his left hand, and gave it a testing tap with his right forefinger before beginning in his usual vociferous colloquial manner.

‘’My greetings to our people!’’ He announced in a distinct voice that sailed far and wide, and died in the woods with a resounding echo.

‘’Our greetings to our son!’’ The crowd responded with excitement. Inspired by his self confidence and charisma, Edang continued, feeling really hurt by Amin’s gross and shameless lies.

‘’you all are not strangers to this history; you remember how as the acclaimed candidate for the People’s Popular Party, I renounced my candidature at the nick of elections because I realized that if I went in and did not win, another tribe’s man would take the lone seat in this subdivision. I never wanted us to run the risk in which Nyiku might lose the seat to another tribe’s man. You know the damage I did to my party when I asked everyone here to forget his or her political affiliation; to vote Hon. Amingwa for the welfare of our tribe. We had priority projects we expected him, once in parliament, to pursue for us. We expected him to put our will, the will of the tribe ahead; to submerge personal interest and float our interest: not to see for our eyes but to see with our eyes; not to hear for our ears but to hear with our ears; not to speak for our tongues but to speak with our tongues; in short, not to go for himself but to go for us! But what happened? He saw with his eyes and saw differently from our sight; he heard with his ears and understood differently from us; he spoke with his tongue and spoke differently from our speech; in short, he went for himself and not for us!”

He paused, observed and noticed the numerous pairs of eyes begging for more, so he resumed:

‘’I do not have much to say, I only want to ask our brother in parliament, how he enjoyed the pot holes and deep gullies as he drove from Mbem to our village here. Last time he stood here and swore to us that our health post would be transformed into a district hospital and equipped with drugs and staff (at least one resident medical doctor). He swore that our road would be tarred; that Nyiku would have excellent pipe-born water, electricity and a telephone net work. He promised to help us receive our coffee money in time; do I lie my people?’’

‘You do not lie, our son! They shouted back.

‘None of these has been done; he resumed ‘On the contrary they have built a prison in which to detain us when we complain, or when we can’t pay our taxes. They have built a paramilitary brigade camp to intimidate us; for the gendarmes to live here and harass us every day, and take bribe from old men who can’t’ afford for nivaquine tablets because they can’t pay taxes.

‘Today he has come back and shamelessly lied that he got a job for me! Do we not say my people that you may deceive a dentist, but you should not deceive a barber? He cited the bridge at Awum-zang as his achievement; is there any man or woman in this land who did not contributed so much money, for the construction of the small bridge? Our fon, Fon Adi Lucas, sitting here can testify that our contributions were more than enough for that bridge. He also says he has brought to us three schools; how many teachers has he sent to the schools? How many of the schools have they built? We afford our land; we contribute our money and we erect our structures. We recruit and pay our teachers why do we call these schools ‘’ Government Schools’’? We should call them community schools because everything is done by us:’

‘As for our vote we shall sell them henceforth. We shall not sell them for money but we shall oblige those lobbying for them to do something concrete first. For instance, we say any one who repairs our roads, or anybody who gives us pipe-born water etc shall have all our votes. In this case we insist that they do it first before we vote for them. If this measure cannot work, then we shall enter into an engagement accord with any candidate who needs our votes; for example that he shall not set foot on this land if at the end of his tenure he fails to respect the contract to the letter. Did you hear him say a mask in a dancing arena does not see its rear? Our people, this masquerade is dancing out of tune!’

The applause was wild, leaving him no room to conclude. Hon. Amin who had sat as if daydreaming, now rose to his feet, but the people strut away, giving a deaf ear to his summons. Even the fon tried to take the helm but failed.

‘This scoundrel on my way’ cried Hon. Amingwa; he can’t get away with this. I will see how long he works at N.R.I.V.S., he shall pay dearly for this!’

One month later after this declaration, Edang was suspended from work indefinitely for what the director of the institute called ‘Very special reasons.’ When Edang asked the director what he meant by ‘special reasons,’ the director said he was insubordinate and rebellious. Two weeks later Edang was stabbed fatally in Mbem by two disguised tugs.

Several months ago, the President of the cooperative announced that some money had come and he was going to pay part of the farmer’s money. The people waited and waited and kept waiting long after other tribes had received their money. It was not until after Edang’s death that a day was named to that effect. But learning that Nyiku youth were planning a heroic celebration in memory of Edang, Amin intervened and postponed the payment to coincide with the heroic burial which Nyiku youth were planning to give Edang on the tenth day which was the day the widow was to be cleansed and some rituals performed for the mourners to resume routine daily life activities. Amin did not want any tributes to be given to the thorn he had managed to remove from his flesh.

Finally the day of payment came and coincided with Edang’s final burial ceremony. No one in Nyiku saw anything wrong with the conflicting events for they thought payment would be early in the morning while the celebration would be in the afternoon. Nyiku people talked of nothing else that week but these two great events; the payment of the farmers’ arrears and Edangs final burial. The farmers felt relieved when the delegation arrived Nyiku two days earlier. To receive the delegation, goats and cocks were roasted and the cooking done by selected young girls. The team feasted time and again, drinking the bottles of Champaign which they brought along and refusing to taste the kirks of ‘Onu-fou’, the excellent palm wine which the villagers reserved for them daily.

When finally it was the D-day, men filled the cooperative yard early that morning. Many did not bother to enter the mud in their raffia palm bushes to tap palm wine that morning. They were in a hurry to get to the Cooperative hall and receive the money they had waited for years. The team arrived at about 9.a.m led by Hon Amin. They sat in the cooperative hall for more than two hours checking and cross-checking papers. At last the cooperative manager came out of the hall to address the anxious crowd that had waited impatiently under the sun for several hours.

‘My country people, we have come here just to greet you and listen to your problems. We are fighting tooth and nail to get a stable market for your produce. Despite the economic crises, His Excellency, The President of the Republic has been too obsessed with your situation. Our brother, Hon. Amin, your trusted ambassador to the National House of Assembly has been working hard with the president to see that you receive some money’

While he paused, Amin appeared through the double shorter door with some pride. He leaned his right shoulder against the door frame, crossed his left leg on the right while his hands remained buried in his side pockets; standing like one posed for a photograph.

‘That is why the President has obtained a foreign loan,’ resumed the speaker; ‘and has added his own personal money to it so that you should receive a few francs. I think we are lucky to have such a president; what is more, God has blessed you with a responsible member of parliament. We must all, without exception give to these two our unflinching support so that they may continue to serve you cheerfully and try to solve your problems with steadfastness.’ The farmers applauded more as a formality than appreciation of discourse.

They were blessed; indeed they had been blessed…; the simple-minded men thought. They were then made to form two files from which two people entered the hall simultaneously.

‘He said they had come to listen to our problems, but he hasn’t given us room to say what our problems are!’ shouted a young man who had come to represent his bed-ridden father. All eyes turned towards the lad who remained indifferent. But the old men were cheerful. They were relieved. It wasn’t a tale this time; they were going to receive the money at least. Their faces shone with joy. They would settle some of their numerous problems. Christmas was at hand and their families would eat meat and fish once more; and the women and children would wear new clothes after a long time. Most faces were all smiles.

When the first farmer reappeared at the doubled-shutter door, the message in his face was unequivocally contradictory. His mouth was gaped, his face twisted with more wrinkles than usual and the jaws were sunken. He held up both hands with a thousand francs note in each hand pegged between the thumb and the index finger.

‘Two thousand francs for two bags of coffee, pia! To hell with the president and the cooperative!’ he swung round and spat at the door as he jumped down the steps, still holding up the money. The files scattered as the men hurried towards him to ask him if that was all the money he had received.

‘I said two thousand francs for two bags of coffee! I said two! two! twooo!’ the man repeated with exasperation. His attitude cast a chill in the crowd. The men were damned infuriated.

‘And Amin sat there with a hog-swollen abdomen!’ The man sneered as he dashed off. The men gnashed their teeth as they went in and out of the hall.

‘And they say we should support the president? This money can’t pay half of my tax; and my children all sick!’ an embittered man exclaimed.

‘Your children?’ cried another as they moved towards the market square; ‘I have twenty three of them and four wives who all go in rags! They will kill me this Christmas!’

In the market square, the men drank their Onu-fou in small groups while discussing their problems. They were quite aware that the youth’s dance would soon arrive, but they could not settle their minds on this great ceremony because of this most recent deception.

‘Belly-ache and running stomach to Amin and the lot of them!’ They cursed intermittently. They were made more angry by the rumour that ‘the speakers-through-the-nostrils’ (for that is how they called their compatriots in the forest zone), had received all their money, both the cacao and coffee farmers.

‘So the money got finished after they had paid their people (for the president was himself a speaker-through-the- nostrils); and they came to deceive us with coins? And Amin sat among them as a comfortable stooge; and they killed our Edang because he told us the truth; so they killed him to keep us in eternal darkness!stop

Their conversation was interrupted by gun-shuts, drumming and  shouting not far from the village square. They hurried to empty their horns and go down to the square so as to watch the spectacle. That morning while the farmers had headed towards the cooperative building, the youths had hurried towards the village shrine where they were to perform some rituals and from where the heroic dance of victory was to begin. This dance was often performed in honour of brave men and village elders. It had no mask but the dancers carried skulls of ferocious big game that they had killed. In the past, their ancestors used to parade human skulls; skulls of the men they killed in inter-tribal wars.

When the dancers left the shrine that afternoon, they danced to and from the entrance to each quarter. They carried clubs, spears, cutlasses and guns; guns which they fired wildly at crossroads, shouting various slogans in honour of Edang and promising hell to the perpetrator of his death.

The dancing was frightful with the air polluted with gun-powder smoke. They sprang on their feet at irregular intervals towards a chosen direction; they screamed and then stopped automatically some metres away as if confronted by an approaching tiger or some more dangerous beast. So pointing their weapons threateningly in that direction, they echoed war choruses; they fired their guns and clanged their machetes in the air. The drums thrilled and they re-entered the main road chanting victory choruses supposing that they had triumphed over the enemy.

It was about 3p.m and the men were still lingering in the market square. Their hopes had been frustrated and no man felt like hurrying home. The dramatic scene that passed some months ago between Edang and Hon Amin was fresh in their minds like the dew on the bushy paths in the morning. They were living witnesses. They had not only seen it but heard Amin promise hell to Edang. The revelations made by the men who had gone to consult seers in far away villages only confirmed what people already had in mind. The cause of Edang’s death was clear but the problem that was left was how to beat the man in his own game or as the villagers would put it, how to cure the man of his madness. ‘ All poisons have their antidotes; they believed, so Amin shall have his cure.

The roaring youths arrived. The yelling and screaming became more tremendous and deafening. Eventually, the village square swelled with spectators. The crowd was agile and vivacious as they fought for positions ahead in order to observe the spectacle better.

But as fortune or misfortune would have it, this group, on arriving the village square spotted the honourable’s big car and immediately fell on it with their weapons. The man who had been drinking in a near-by bar with the other members of the delegation jumped out of the bar alarmed; hoping that his imposing mass and personality would scare the youths. He shouted:

‘Stop that, rascals! Hooligans! Get away from there, you scaly wags!’ He pushed the heavily loaded stomach and his heavy chin forward, but before he knew it, his car was already ablaze and he stood rooted on the spot.

His figure and utterances had fanned the flame of anger in the youths. Instantly they fell on the man, almost in reflex but fully determined to end it all with the honourable. Farmers who felt cheated by the management of the cooperative joined in to take their revenge. Then someone landed a blow with a heavy stick on his fore head and Amin shouted:

‘O my God, o my God!’ And the man replied with another blow, crying: ‘to cure the honourable of his madness’. Blood spurted in disorder and his Hon went crashing like a heavy log. The sticks fell indiscriminately on him.

When the sun was descending, Amin breathed his last. A new epoch had dawned in the history of Nyiku and the youths Solidarity Movement became more reactionary.

‘Something like this was necessary; many people concluded; something like this was necessary as atonement to a lad of exemplary courage; a lad who died for what he believed; a lad who believed that if a man were not prepared to die for a course he trusted, then that man had not yet discerned the meaning of life; then that man had not yet begun to live ‘.

The youth’s dance continued triumphantly to Edang’s compound where the dancing ended with various rituals intended to cleanse the bereaved family especially the widow and the son.

As soon as the president of the cooperative noticed the unfolding of a drama that could be tragic, he dispatched people to inform the brigade commander. Unfortunately, the gendarmes came late as usual when the place was almost completely deserted but for Amin’s family members and the delegation  from Mbem who stood at a safe distance from the corpse as if it was contagious.

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