ďLife can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.Ē †Kierkegaard
Aba, Nigeria temple
paternal grandfather was quite a guy. Though he passed decades before
I was born, if principles are indeed truths that guide decisions and
actions, then I am pretty much in his debt.
I struggle daily to live with a family of five kids and a wife, I
keep wondering about this ancestor. How did he live 72 years and
retain his sanity without high blood pressure with all the crazy
tensions of running a harem of 36 wives, an unknown number of
concubines and, not to forget, a colony of children?
me quickly add that though it may have been good enough for his
times, it is not his plural marriages that fill me with awe for him.
Rather, he earns my respect from the way he raised his children and
the values he inculcated in them.
instance, it was not until my adult years that I knew that my army of
uncles and aunts were mostly half brothers and sisters. In a village
where brothers and sisters from the same mother and father thought
nothing of doing one another in, it was an instructive lesson seeing
my own folks live free from ill will for one another.
they started passing away in quick succession, the family often ate and
drank together. At such moments, an animated hubbub and ringing
laughter would boom out as they ribbed each other with jokes, shared
memories, puns, sarcasm, and sizzling anecdotes.
seized every opportunity to come together: weekends, holidays such as
child births, death in the family, marriages, graduations, Easter,
Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other anniversaries. Then the village
air hung heavy with the mouthwatering aroma of barbecued goat, the poundings
of mortar, and the smells of wine they consumed by the gourds amidst
merciless teasing, shouts, ululations, and funny nicknames that only
they could call themselves.
they had any disagreements they used such occasions to settle the
conflict without the intervention of outsiders. Each time I recall
the amity among them I often wonder how Grandfather managed to forge
in them such strong bonds.
aunts whose marriages were on the skids returned home with their
children in tow, they were assigned lands and helped to build homes
to raise those kids. Such welcome was uncommon in a culture where
women had no inheritance from their parents.
domestic harmony certainly carried over from their fatherís
callings. A chief priest of divination who watched over the religious
destiny of his people through the religious observances of an
assortment of gods, he needed a quiet life to be in tune with the
numerous deities he served. His household and clan knew and respected
this need for peace and serenity.
from his various cult activities, he also presided over a native
court set up by the British colonial authorities. To give colonial
subjects a sense of participation of sorts in their affairs, the
British governed through a system of indirect rule. Locals who
already had remarkable stature among their people were used by the
British as intermediaries between the people and the colonial
men retained their leadership roles, thus freeing the British from
day-to-day interventions in local affairs so they could concentrate
on broader issues of administration.
with a panel of other judges, Grandfatherís job was to
arbitrate in land and domestic crises. Just as his work of divination
required concentrated devotion, dispensing justice too called for
carefully and quietly thinking over court cases.
ponderings may have agitated his conscience. In his animist religion
there was a deity behind every phenomenon. Some of these gods were
cruel and capricious. They demanded human sacrifice every now and
then. Victims were frequently intertribal war captives, strangers, or
other fringe elements in society. Occasionally, though, it came
who had twins and their twin babies were considered harbingers of
evil and therefore sacrificed to the gods, irrespective of whose
wives they were. Other folks met death by smoldering. If a prominent
chief died, wives and servants were buried alive with his body so
they could ease his journey to the afterlife.
British spiritedly fought these practices but discreetly turned a
blind eye if the chiefs involved were like Grandpa, powerful enough
to cause insurrections.
grisly killings may have eventually taken quite a toll on Grandpaís
mind, but he bided his time. If he had publicly shown his revulsion
he would have been dethroned by rival powerful chiefs who would have
kicked viciously because, as the main custodian of tradition, he was
not expected to betray what he had sworn to uphold.
began by sending his sons to the new schools introduced by the
British. If anyone got hot under the collar over that, he could
easily defend it using the British as the fall guy. He knew that at
school his boys would be mandatorily proselyted and converted to the
new religion, which seriously frowned on any form of blood sacrifice.
became even more unflappable on his deathbed. He summoned his family
and proclaimed something dramatic. His gods and cults, he announced,
very well suited his time and his ancestors. However, the emerging
times were a song that demanded new dance steps.
urged them that upon his death, they should embrace and stay faithful
to the new religion of Christianity. The eldest son who was himself
advanced in age could continue with tradition, but he warned the rest
from dabbling with his religion.
Africa, deathbed wishes are not lightly treated, so my aunts and
uncles heeded their fatherís wish. Some wavered between the old
and new religions having a foot here and another there, but none
forgot the old manís advice. But before they died even those
who had rebelled against Christianity made a turn around, founded and
got the gist of Grandpaís wish from my mother, who seemed to
know more about the family than Father himself. When I graduated from
college and crossed the Red Sea of poverty and had no more need for
God, my alarmed mother repeatedly reminded me of the dead manís
wish. In between I flirted between church and trending local cults.
I felt the churches themselves had turned their backs on sharing and
kindness, I broke loose completely ó to my motherís
remained that way until contacted by missionaries of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a year before my motherís
passing. Although she belonged to a sect lividly against the Church,
she promptly endorsed my choice.
the course of missionary discussions, I learned I would meet with my
visionary grandfather in person one day. More, I was touched that it
was my turn to bring him to the true gospel he groped for but had no
opportunity to receive in mortality.
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North