a child my heart was full of foolishness, and I indulged it to the
dismay and confusion of my parents. I climbed, fell from tall trees,
and fractured my bones in good measure. I fooled with rivers and came
within a hair’s breadth of drowning. My rascality shot my
mother’s blood pressure high enough to cause a cardiac arrest.
She often told me I would send her to an early grave.
was no diagnosis for my hyperactivity because health care was either
nonexistent or so outdated that it did not help much. With the
departure of the British authorities, the negligible social, health
and political infrastructure we inherited quickly degenerated. The
only way the sick and the dying could get any medical attention in
the rundown hospitals was if they or their loved ones paid bribes.
Either due to poverty or due to an unwillingness to encourage such
corruption, my parents kept me away from doctors and hoped I would
outgrow the “madness.”
did not help that I had an uncle who encouraged practical jokes. An
alcoholic, he was much disliked by my mother for his rowdiness. She
was particularly upset any time she saw me running errands for him
because she feared he would influence my behavior. She did everything
to break his hold on me, but unfortunately I liked the uncle for the
fish, peanuts and cookies he often bought for me.
he made me a catapult, I turned it into a weapon of mass mischief and
precipitated crises with it. I took aim at goats, domestic fowls —
anything that caught my fancy. Eventually I used that catapult to
cause a great calamity in our family.
aunt was a potter who used clay to make earthen pots for sale. Making
pottery was an arduous task that involved digging the clay and
carting the heavy stuff from the treacherous mine home on her head
over long distances.
pounding the raw clay in a big, wooden mortar to make it malleable,
she would sit for hours molding and remolding it until she got the
desired shape. She would then leave the pots in the sun to bake
before stacking firewood around them in the form of a pyramid. At
dawn she set fire to this and the pots were ready for the market.
morning as she went to the river to bathe before going to the market,
I took aim at and demolished all the pots. Shock and grief at the
economic loss descended on my homestead, and everyone was now
convinced I was ajen
(These were children who were believed to have reincarnated in quick
succession with the objective of visiting havoc and sorrow on each
family they were born into. It was believed that they would keep up
the cycle until the jinx was broken.)
children were said to be precocious. The fact that I could read,
write and memorize extended passages (especially the Psalms) in
English and Efik at my age did nothing to mitigate my relatives’
conviction that I was ajen
Even those who asked Mother to console herself with the idea that
because of my mental abilities I might eventually make something out
of myself in future, also sympathized with her for the very reason
that it might not be long before I took my endowments with me to the
grave if I didn’t drag her along with me.
to a branch of Christianity that lacked appropriate priesthood
authorization, my parents were of two minds about the accusations
that I was a demon child. Even though their religion didn’t
allow for these folk beliefs, they could not completely distance
themselves from the hold of indigenous traditions and culture. They
would not approve of my uncles’ mumbo jumbo, but fasted until
they developed ulcers!
the support of my parents, my yet unconverted uncles and aunts
secretly consulted seers and diviners and offered animal and food
sacrifices, all in a bid to rid me of the influence of the evil
spirit child they were so sure had possessed me. They would lure me
to eat sacrificial food and meat, they would fumigate the air around
me, and they gave me herbal lustrations when my parents went to farm
or work. After all their work, I of course broke more glasses, plates
and furniture, showing them to their consternation that their efforts
had been in vain.
was not all. I refused to wear my shirts and pants in the blistering
African weather. When mosquitoes feasted on me and I came down with
malaria, I rejected the bitter quinine or nauseating herbal
concoctions my parents or aunts offered me. It would take brute force
to force the medication down my throat and once let alone, I would
immediately throw up the awful medicine.
preferred covering up with blankets and sweating out the chills and
fever to taking medicine to kill the parasites in my blood. In a land
where the pesky insects kill about a million people annually, my
stubbornness certainly taxed the patience of my parents. However,
since it took quite some days for me to recover by sweating the fever
out of me, Mother usually let me alone to stay in bed so she could
get a reprieve from my mischief.
would take fifty years for me to know what havoc superstition played
on my people. The problem was not me, but the systemic failure in my
country. My mother never learned that in her lifetime. All she knew
was that she had a son who was a sore trial to her patience.
the state were to deliver services to its citizens rather than turn
their lives into a tale of victimhood, my challenges (if I indeed had
any in the first place) would probably have been detected by social
and health services at school and medically taken care of. Such
intervention would have spared my folks unnecessary paranoia. It
would have stopped my mother from having to resort to the whip to
exorcize my “evil spirit” before I sent her to an “early
grave” (as she used to say every time my hyperactivity
terrorized the wits out of her).
denial of basic amenities and services to children highlights the
degradations in my society. In the grim squalor of my world, issues
that would have been addressed elsewhere by doctors were instead
either neglected and left to fester or turned over to the hands of
witch doctors. It is inconceivable that a country with vast resources
accruing from tremendous oil reserves cannot wipe away vector
diseases that kill mindboggling numbers of its citizens every year.
a state where leaders gaudily decorate themselves and spend money
like drunken sailors rather than invest in human development, where a
pregnant woman dies every thirty minutes, and where many children die
before reaching the age of five, I can appreciate why my community
was seized by many irrational beliefs. But the real terror is that
millions of children out there still live as I did. Many die from
avoidable causes, and many more are tragically abused and abandoned
over curable behavioral disorders. Some of these are labeled witches
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