Why there are old people in the world

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When and how learned this story and the retelling of this story is to me as interesting as the story itself. The story is about why there is value in old people and traditions.



I was spending a few days away from my Ikot Ekpene home and was "roughing it" in INI County Council to fulfil a promise to the clan of Itu Mbauzo. One night, I was invited by the Clan Head to eat with him. Obong Isong, (Chief) Udunga and a few others ate around a table set up in the rear of his compound. There was thunder and lightening in nearby clouds. After our meal, we were drinking Fernado Po brandy. I asked the Obong Isong to tell me a story. He refused and asked me what I thought caused the lightening. I recalled the short story of Thor, beating his spear on an anvil. He asked me what I really thought. I said we were taught that the lightening burned the air like small stick in a big fire. The stick turned to charcoal which is as the Obong Isong knew, was not very strong. The air is like a pair of strong hands, which was held apart by the stick. After the lightening had burned the stick, the air came together like one big hand clap. Now this is what I had been told, just like I had been told about Thor with his hammer and spear. Both stories interested me. Ah, I have told you 2 stories and you have not told me one.

He smiled. The Obong Isong had told me he remembered when he saw the first european who came. He was an old man, but still sharp.

The story starts

Once there was a village that was very rich. All the other villages and clans envied it. One man had a father that he loved more than anything.

The village custom was to banish or kill anyone who reached a certain age. This village knew that without the old or unhealthy, they could all work and not worry taking care of anyone who could not contribute to the income of the family or village. They did not have to feed them or give medicine to those who would only sit around and wait for their next meal. The village was so strong about their rule, they would kill anyone they found who was over that age.

The son build a special room in his house. Sometime before his father reached that age, his father disappeared from the village. The son explained to everyone that his father had left to wander and to find a place where he could live for the rest of his life. But the father was in the special room and the son would talk to him every night about what was happening in the village.

After some time, a terrible famine struck the village. First there was too much rain, then there was no rain. The crops failed the first year. Since they were a rich village their yam barns were large. All sorts of food died. The village had to spend their money going to other people's market. They had made may sacrifices to their ancestors, also at great expense. Two years had gone by and the village knew it had to plant crops and they must live or the village would perish. There was a important village meeting to discuss the problem and ideas about stopping the famine.

The son asked his father what should they do? The father said there was nothing he could say. But perhaps they needed to look outside the village.

It was a very loud and angry meeting. Everyone was crying about how poor they had become and the future looked bad. They discussed everything they had tried before, point by point. The entire village agreed point by point that nothing had worked. Does anyone have some small idea we have not considered?

The son spoke up. I know we are proud, but I wonder if we need to look outside our village for a solution? This idea was ridiculed my many who said all the other clans were stupid and not well informed. Then a trader pointed out that just because they were stupid, did not mean they lacked things of value. Another man, who divined a certain spirit, said he had heard of a great native doctor who was said to be fair and smart and not too stupid. The village agreed to call this native doctor.

When the native doctor (or priest) arrived in the village, he went right to the village square. He stood on the stump that the young men had to jump off to provide they were fit enough to take a wife. The entire village gathered to hear what he had to say.

"This famine is unusual but it is not hard to cure. In addition to the fee you have already given me, I have a few things you need to collect for my ceremony.

The ceremony things

This village was once very rich and now is poor. The things I need are simple and will not cost you greatly. However, I need everything. This is part of the test and fabric of the ceremony. Bring me: bitter mellon leaf, a large quanity of spices, 5 goats, 25 chickens, 50 bottles of oil, 15 of those special frogs, 100 yams, 200 jars of palm wine, and 50 fathoms of the very best cloth. When all that is in front of me, I will then require a one legged animal. Do this within 3 days or I will leave and your village will surely pershish from the famine. Bring everything, and there is no doubt, your village will be saved from this famine.

To a person, the village smiled. In deed the trader was right, this man wanted so little and knew not the value of what he was going to do. What a stupid trade. The village told him it would be before him in the morning. Not only everything, but the very best of everything. The native doctor looked around the village and repeated his warning.

That night the son told his father everything that had happened in the day. The father remained silent.

What is it?

Bring me: bitter mellon leaf, a large quanity of spices, 5 goats, 25 chickens, 50 bottles of oil, 15 of those special frogs, 100 yams, 200 jars of palm wine, and 50 fathoms of the very best cloth. When all that is in front of me, I will then require a one legged animal.

The next morning the village laid out the 50 fathoms of the very best cloth. They teathered the goats and chickens next to it. They put the oil, yams and palm wine jars around the edges. In the middle they put the yams, the bitter melon leaf, spices and exactly 15 of a very special frog they had to search for the entire night. The native doctor went to each thing an examined it with great care.

He smiled and congratulated the village in doing so well but they were still missing one thing. Where was the one legged animal. A cry went up from the village and they scattered about looking for the one legged animal.

A child ran behind the stump. It returned with a viper, a special animal to that village. All the village quickly gathered round again, expecting the ceremony to begin. The native doctor rejected it. Someone else brought a chicken with a leg cut off. The native doctor rejected it. This went on for two days. Everything the village brought was not the one legged animal, although all were indeed some kind of one legged animal. The navite doctor said he would be going in the morning because obviously the village did not know the one thing that was going to save it.

Father is revealed

The son whispered to the father all the words of the native doctor and what had been brought to the village square. The father remained quiet. The son started to beg him to tell him what he knew. The father reminded his son that it was really his idea to bring in the native doctor from outside. When the son brought the real one legged animal to the stump, the village might wonder. The son talked with the father most of the night. Both realized that for the village and the fathers grandchildren to live, the father would have to help the son once again. The father whispered to the son who immediately ran through the village to a piece of land he was clearning.

By the time the son returned, the entire village was in the square. The native doctor told the village that they still had not produced the one legged animal and he was going. Before he could get off the stump, the son pushed his way forward and held out his hands with the one legged animal in it.

The native doctor looked at the son's hands and then at his face. Then he looked around the village and raised his hand. I see that on the first day, no one could bring me a one legged animal. On the second day no one, not even this man could bring me a one legged animal. And now just before I leave ths man brings me the one legged animal and there is no doubt in his face. He knows this is what I have been waiting for.

Who told you?

The Why

This was all the village needed to hear. They remembered that the son, who never spoke much, always seemed to have a good idea. The son had given them the idea about the native doctor. The son was always a little bit unusual, not really a typical villager. Of course somebody had told him, just like they had for many years. The village rushed to the son's house and quickly found the special room and the father. They dragged the father back to the square and they beat their large wooden slit drum. The secrete society in the village which pushished those who violted the age law were about to sacrafice the Father, when the native doctor spoke again.

How stupid are you? The one person in your village who could save you, you are going to kill. This man can not climb a palm tree, he can not many yam mounds in a day. Yet what he knew has helped you and could even save the entire village.

Only an old person would know that in times of famine, the one legged animal can be cooked like meat. Only one old person knew that I was looking for a mushroom. The rest of you knew nothing. Kill this man? If you don't honor this old man, I will leave an leave you to the famine.

The never ending story

And that is why there are old people today, said the Obong Isong to me. He must have been 60 or perhaps more and I was only 21.

A few months later, the Division Officer told the young Assistant Divisional Officer (ADO) and myself attend a meeting. It was something to do about cutting down part of the sacred forest of the village to raise money for a new school. We sat at the front of village meeting hall. The meeting went on for a couple of hours.

It was obvious that everyone had an opinion and everyone knew all the old arguments. Someone translated for me but the ADO would sometimes whisper a different translation. The meeting was getting heated and after the same thing had been said for the 5th time, the ADO asked me if I had anything to say. The Obong Isong of Itu Mbauzio's story came to mind because the room was split between the older traditionalists and the younger more modern men of the village.

The ADO agreed to tell the story. Before I started, I told him what a one legged animal was so he would not spoil the punch line. As a former experience Boy Scout campfire leader, I knew the value of audience participation to help make a point. Several time in the story, I would point to a man and ask him to tell me what he would bring the native doctor as a one legged animal. I took care not to ask any older men. They loved the punch line.

I concluded by saying there were other ways that a smart village could raise money to start a school. I brought up a community farm. The ADO pointed out examples of things other villages had recently done. The young men got the message that the government was not going to support them in cutting down the last bit of climax forest in the village. --Rcollman 21:28, 14 January 2008 (CST)

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