Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My ancestors versus the church

He was buried sitting down, in a cupboard built specially for that.

Grandpa was a pagan until death, and so his burial threw up so many weird pagan rituals. From the bizarre, to the downright hilarious. The three day ceremonies kept us very entertained; that is apart from father, who nearly went bankrupt.

Grandpa was a pagan; and he was lazy. Any fellow who could afford to be an artist in those days was lazy. But, by jove, the old man made some beautiful sculptures. Some of which I have kept, until the day I will go to America, where I will sell them for big money.

Grandpa was a pagan; and did not believe in God. He drank more than his fair share of the palm wine, but he believed in honesty and truth. He lived his life under one simple belief - that his ancestors were watching his every action; and would punish him if he told a lie, or took another man's property.

Grandpa was proud to remain a pagan; and rebuffed all his children's efforts to teach him about heaven and hell. He couldn't understand how we could go and sit in a church, and listen to a 'small boy' teach about right and wrong, when we could simply call our ancestors to come at midnight and clarify any confusion.

Grandpa was a pagan, but he was a good man. He was a drunkard, but he was honest. He was lazy, but he worked hard to entrench peace in his society. He didn't believe in God, or any gods for that matter, but he believed in his ancestors.

And so he joined them at 106, sitting proudly in his throne, secure in the knowledge that he did not disappoint them. He joined them at the round table, and I wonder if they are still passing the cow horn filled with palm wine around. I have begged, and begged, that they answer a few troubling questions. But try as much as I do, I never seem to hear them whisper directions at midnight. And the question I ask is: are they in heaven, or in hell?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The things some fathers do

My father loves meetings to a fault. And I can't say I blame him; he inherited it from his father.

Grandpa was the oldest man in our clan, and a red cap chief to boot, so he held sway as the convener-cum-judge of the daily meetings of the clan. I am afraid it turned him into a lazy fellow.

Can't say I blame him either; I blame the society. You see, the traditional Igbo culture encouraged, nay, demanded dialogue. So much so that grandpa, and most old titled chiefs had to build out houses (obi) within their compounds to serve as venue for these meetings. I suspect this was done to keep the wife happy.

Everything was matter for spirited discussion among the men folk; from genuine matters of communal development, to marital issues. I was once privy to eavesdrop on one such occasion, where an indignant uncle asked that he be allowed to send his wife packing because she made too much noise while performing her conjugal obligations. I remember the men shaking their heads solemnly.

Father hasn't gotten round to building his 'obi' yet. Maybe he is waiting for his tenure as the oldest man. And he has been practicing for that day; with his children. And so, while we were still living with him, we had these meetings daily. Sometimes twice a day.

Anything was fodder for a conference. If the electricity bill came unusually high, father called a meeting. If his 1981 Peugeot 504 refused to start in the morning, father called a meeting. If the food supplies ran out before the month's end, father called a meeting. Sometimes, father even called a meeting to inform us that we will meet later in the day.

And then, father woke up one day to realize that we were no longer living with him. It is killing him. Not that he misses us; it's the meetings that he misses. I pray nobody teaches him how to make conference calls. But he grabs the advantage whenever any of us visits. And so we try not to visit individually. We accompany each other to go and visit father, so as to share the agony.