By Emmanuel Iduma
I expected nothing when I arrived Afikpo; yes, an aimless wanderer. But I made a determined effort to witness a town I had known from earliest memory, as a stranger, and as though learning was inevitable, cogent, compulsive. My father was born there, and I have always visited in the company of family or relatives. But I decided I was going to visit alone, because I was challenging myself to draw closer, see farther, evaluate my ethnicity.
It happens that once in a person’s life, home becomes a nagging question, a heavenly call and a desperate need. Some might answer the call to investigate Home (or hometown, ethnic group, ethnicity, tribe, etc. etc. – in whatever word the calling is guised), and some might choose to close their ears. But I figured I had too much of the world to see, in all its relentless fullness, to journey without an understanding of who I was, where I began.
Afikpo is a town in South-eastern Nigeria, in Ebonyi State. The original name of the town, before being anglicized, was ‘Eha Igbo.’ Literarily, this means ‘name of Igbo.’ Igbo and Egu are said to have been war lords who had several running battles, but Igbo gained the upper hand. Egu and other leaders accepted Igbo as the strongest under whose name they agreed to live hence ‘Eha Igbo,’ unwittingly called ‘Ehugbo’. Ehugbo has come to be a name for the people, her language, and their locale (from henceforth, I take the liberty to include myself, hence ‘our’).
I spent eleven days in there, and in the period produced an e-journal of daily reflections on Afikpo, her people, my fractured process of questioning identity, and such other strands that became luxurious in a retrospective consideration. For the sake of logic and synthesis, I will present the reader with bits of some of my daily posts – excerpts I consider perfect postscripts – with the hope that such will provoke a useful lure to read the full.
This is the way I begin (Day 1, 19 August):
It happens that I am travelling to Afikpo, my hometown (my Dad’s birthplace) on a motorcycle. I am not good with measuring distances, but my guess is that it is about 10 to 15 km. I am, at first, angry that there is no easier means of transportation. There is, actually. The Church (my Dad’s official) driver tells me that to travel by car to Afikpo from Ohafia I will have to wait for an indeterminable period. I am not good with waiting, so I opt for a bike ride. My anger calcifies into exhilaration, because the ride turns out to be adventurous – considering it in retrospect, that is.
And on Day 2:
There is a smell that I have only perceived in Afikpo – in Amuro (where Uncle Otu’s house is) and in Mgbom (where my Dad’s house is). It emanates from smoke, I believe, and elsewhere it might have been disgusting. I am not alone in this assertion; my elder brother has corroborated it several times. If this holds out to be true, and I mean as an anthropological detail, it would seem that Afikpo is unique and without doubt a city that must come to the light. And which must be written about.
We are cautious with electricity in Nigeria because we are uncertain of how long it might last when restored. This is a worse response to the occasional ‘gift’ of power supply than a grateful response. How do we carry on our businesses – writing with a laptop, inclusive – with unrestrained productivity when we are in the danger of being usurped? I am disturbed as to what impact power supply will have on my prolificness if I live all my days in Nigeria.
I began to consider that here in Afikpo, as elsewhere, people are intent at stamping their individuality on others. The Devil…is even more with us than we like to admit (and by this I do not consider that we are as much ‘devils’ as human). Thus, the woman-preacher was right to request that her audience speak to one another! We are always asking face no dey fear face, every time, seeking to assert, to our friends and foes alike, that we have an identity that should not be undermined. For instance, I write because, in addition to many other reasons, I am angry at any attempt to subvert my talent, vision and art.
It is true that 9/11 was the date in which a global consciousness was awakened to the monstrosity of terrorism. Often it appears to the superficial onlooker that on 9/11 terrorism began. This, of course, is not true. What is acceptable is that on that date we began to think seriously about ‘terrorism’ as implied by the attacks. And this is why I have begun to think in another direction: In a post- 9/11 world, what is the incidence, possibility, and nature of African terrorism? We are not all Americans.
I will speak again tomorrow.
On Day 10, I joked:
(In the middle of writing this, electricity was usurped again. I call on the reader to implore the Power Authority to consider the plight of an emerging African artist, whose livelihood is determined by how many hours he puts into his computer. Consider, also, initiating a Save Iduma From Electricity Failure Fund. All proceeds shall go to the personal upkeep of this writer, who has not used a pressing iron in almost two weeks. Thank you).
And on the last day:
Although I agree with Eco that remembrance is labour and not luxury, I state that I have found an exception: when a young writer finds solace in Afikpo, the memory that comes afterward will be luxurious.
All my posts can be accessed here