Home, they say, is where the heart lies. There are not many places I consider home, however, I found that I have always felt at home at the brook in my village. The other day, I visited home to check on Grandmother. She was alone, and an uncle of mine that I had hoped to see wasn’t home. Anyway, to while away time, I made good of the disappointing situation, and walked down to the brook.
Ogba Mkpume, which means ‘Out of the rock’ because the source of the water is a rock, is canopied by two bamboo trees and several other trees, mostly palm trees. The waters of Ogba Mkpume is my definition of the perfect bathing water. At first touch, it’s cold but soothing once you’re in.
According to local lore, this small body of water that slits across a remote African village has a rather stingy spirit living inside. And his (must be a male, females are givers) stinginess is cruelty when crossed.
There is a path leading up to a major road some meters away beside the brook and the path also runs across the waters to join another path that leads to the village’s source of drinking water, another natural body of fresh water. Whenever I’m in this place, the only thing that keeps me from drowning in the escape it offers is certainly that road, a form of counter-spell for this enchanted place, the line keeping me tied to the land of the living. Nature resides here. However, the most beautiful places often hide the darkest secrets, and Ogba Mkpume has a ‘dark secret’ known only to the natives of this beautiful African village. I am a native, and since it’s no crime to share the tale surrounding the place, I decided to write about it.
According to local lore, this small body of water that slits across a remote African village has a rather stingy spirit living inside. And his (must be a male, females are givers) stinginess is cruelty when crossed. I often wonder how such an entity would live in such a peaceful, beautiful place.
To crown her beautification of the place, Mother Nature sprinkled aquatic life into the waters of Ogba Mkpume. I have seen some crabs and I once saw a rather colorful fish in the water, but the catfish make up most of the aquatic population and they’re more seen than the others. Yes, I’m referring to that kind of fish known as “Point and Kill” to Nigerians. However, nobody can point and kill any inhabitant of Ogba Mkpume, and Grandma once told me that the spirit of the brook made sure of this by manifesting as a big snake during the day, always seen coiling under the trees.
Naturally, I’m a little skeptical about this part of the tale. You know snakes like staying in cool places, and where could be cooler than under palm trees beside a body of water that never dries up. This was probably a snake that visits the place daily to shield itself from the sun. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what I believe or don’t believe, the natives, especially those based in the village, believe in the existence of the spirit, thus each generation has failed to utilize this natural source of vitamins and minerals. The belief is that whoever kills even a crab from the brook would die, even now that the snake is no longer seen, probably due to a spike in the local population which increased the human traffic on the aforementioned path, compelling the poor animal to go search for another spot to escape the sun. Anyway, people won’t mind killing the fishes if there were just mere tales of spirits and snakes. There has to be a story of someone who got punished for disobeying. And there is such a story.
Nweke was a widow, and mother of two, who was physically strong, an Amazon who refused to be controlled by the men. One fateful day a small group of missionaries arrived in the village. The first person they met was Nweke, as her hut is the closest to the main entrance of the village. As is traditional with the Igbos, she welcomed into her home the foreigners, along with their interpreters. Due to her reputation amongst the village men, it was very easy to convert her, and by the time the foreigners finished their story of an almighty, all-loving god, she drifted away from her roots. Africa had lost another child to mental slavery.
One day, Nweke and her guests, who had made her home the base of their ‘ministry’, trekked down to the old brook. On seeing the fishes, the foreigners thanked their god for providing lunch. When Nweke realized their intentions, she instinctively spoke against the idea. The foreigners rebuked her saying she mustn’t be afraid of these superstitions when she had accepted their god into her life. Nweke, ready to please this new god that she believed can protect, succumbed. Fishes were killed. The next week, while Nweke was inside her late husband’s Obi, and her children outside playing in the sand, lightening struck the Obi, setting it ablaze instantly, and roasting alive all those inside. The fishes in the brook reduced in number, the snake stopped visiting. The villagers, till date, return to Ogba Mkpume even a tiny fish mistakenly scooped up while fetching water from the brook.
Whenever I’m in Ogba Mkpume, I could sense the dread people must have felt about the place. Nobody can truly tell if Nweke’s tale happened, or assuming it didn’t happen, why it was invented. Personally, I think the original purveyors of the tales surrounding the brook either created the tales to conserve the aquatic life, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibilities because the ancient Igbos were known for being steadfast in their pursuit of knowledge, or the tales were invented by men who didn’t want anybody desecrating their sacred place, and needed to make sure their women stayed obedient, hence the Nweke story.
In conclusion, permit me to state that my thoughts isn’t what this story is about. This story is about a place in Igboland untouched by the Igbo people’s pathetic campaign to erase their history and traditions, in the name of a belief system that was used to enslave them for centuries. It’s about a spot in Igboland where, after traveling wide, an Igbo person who respects their forebears can be at and feel connected to those roots. Lastly, this story is about a place where nature still lives. And if a folklore, even one enmeshed in superstition, will keep preserving the place, I say let it