A few years ago, I sat with an elder named Okoro Ibe in the little village of Ndenko in Nkporo Nigeria. Ndenko is a small dreamy flat land surrounded by small Iyi (streams) and Ngele (springs). The towering palm trees hid the sun from direct view when swaying in the wind. This allows the sun to filter through the momentary gaps between palm leaves. Okoro Ibe was small in stature and with barely any teeth. It was presumed that he had achieved the honorable age of 91. Okoro was still full of wit and with black eyes flashing, demonstrated a very playful girth. He was pleased with my visit.
My dissertation is on Cultural Psychology…The Epoch of Racial Denial and the Religious Instrument of Fear for Psychological Mendacity. Since my father has joined the ancestors, I have to interview other elders for some pertinent research. Though quite unassuming, the reason to visit Okoro became obvious after you met him…he was full of wisdom. Okoro could narrate how the village was started and the names of majority of the people who founded it. With a face wrinkled with age, one could make out the worry frowns on his aged brows. “What bothers me is not that time marches on” he says, pausing to get a whiff of tobacco snuff under his tongue. “What bothers me is that the community is starved of the contributions of the young people.” They leave and go off to the big cities. They come back looking for the cultural festivals they remember in their youth. They bring back their children to show them the festivals. But who will organize the festivals? The church has banned everything. No one plans them any more.” He gets up slowly wraps his cloth tighter around him and moves outside to spit out the tobacco.
When he re-entered and sat down on the raised mud setter, he continued contemplatively. “I see the fire in your eyes. It is a good thing. I know you want to do something and it is good that you are devoted to this desire to rediscover the traditions of our people. Unfortunately, the call of our young these days is not to uphold and to maintain. It is to learn new things and supplant the old. The elders are not valued anymore. What we share is considered old and dated. Yet it is important that they make sure they leave some foundation to use to build up. When they start from scratch, they begin to build up other people not themselves. That is why their children cannot reflect on their traditions when they visit home.” He pauses and gazed at me wistfully. “You know, the community is starved of US. We are dying. I hope the history of this community does not die with me and with all the elders who are passing on.”
I thought of what Okoro said. He is gone now, and yet the reminiscence of his words persists to disturb my reverie. Though we seek not to live in the past because the future is forward leaning, the past offers a window into our soul and our mettle. It also offers the blueprint for our being. I choose to continue to write about our history in all the subtle and with all the flamboyance I can muster. I owe it to my children and grandchildren and beyond…and Okoro deserves to rest in peace knowing that there are many who still believe in the value of his ancestral relevance in the history of the world as they customarily established it.
Dr. Uwa Onyioha-Osimiri.