"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 23, 2013
Letter to a Second Cousin
by Imo Eshiet

Dear Tiemah,

Iím making good my promise on your last birthday to write to you. I felt chastened not being at your wedding.

As a humor merchant, I would have ribbed your guests with such clowning they went home breathless! I heard you made history bringing our state governor to our village. I also hear to honor our august visitor, our dirt road was graded for the first time in history.

How I love you for that, cuz! Until that happened, I was afraid we were frozen in time. The road and the water project we earlier attracted to the village sometime back resonate.

Resonate with what, you ask? Your great-grandfather had a vision. He saw that the future of our people lay in Western education. Pretty uncanny for one doggedly faithful to his religion and culture, isnít it?

This is more so considering he was, like his ancestors, the chief priest of a diviner cult. While he was steadfast to our traditional gods, he had the foresight to embrace the new civilization for posterity.

Since your father lived mostly in cities, I do not know if he knows a whole lot about the lore of our extended family as those of us who were closer to roots.

With that assumption, let me hand down some oral traditions. I trust that being one of our first daughters, youíll be a good custodian.

Grandfather had a harem of 36 wives and several concubines. In his time it was a status symbol to care for such a large family. Before you have a heart attack, let me assure you that the wives and the colony of children they raised were also his workforce. The old man had extensive farmlands and needed that muscle to cut down virgin forests.

The male children were also warriors defending the land from hostile tribes. In those days there were no medical doctors like you, so the more children a man had, the greater the chance that some would survive the killer diseases that were pandemic then.

That was not all. His early marriages produced mostly daughters. He needed sons to help him tame the jungles, fight wars, inherit his wealth and continue with his legacy when he passed. But the more he yearned for sons, the more daughters he got.

Sons only started arriving in the twilight of his life. Coincidentally, they were born just about when Europeans arrived. Promptly he enrolled all of them in schools except the firstborn male who he kept as future custodian of his cult.

As you know, he was our villageís first warrant chief. Since he was already prominent, the colonial authorities invested in the indirect rule government they introduced. His picture with his bicycle, a rarity in those days, hangs on the walls of your late grandfatherís living room.

Being close to colonial power, he had an insider view of things to come and early positioned his sons in the unfolding scheme. Your grandfather quickly tapped into his fatherís vision. He surmounted tremendous challenges to obtain terminal degrees in the U.S. He then pioneered the way for his brothers and passed on the education genes to the rest of us. Imagine how proud our ancestors would have been of you today if they were still alive!

You and other female relatives would simply have stunned them. Although great-grandfather had more daughters than sons, yet not one had a chance of going to school. He taught them herbal lore while their mothers taught them how to run homes and farms. That was the practice at the time. So you find that while your granduncles were literate, none of their sisters could read and write!

Eshiet doted on his girls. He so spoiled them that they soon divorced their husbands and returned home after marriage! Any time Iím home I will show you their graves. Hopefully, you wonít follow this example.

While we were young these aunts were the joy and nightmare of our lives. They motivated us but also roared quite some too. They protected us from village bullies even though they too never spared us the rod whenever we got too big for our skins. Someday Iíll share with you folktales I learned from them.

I remember the first two Eshiet daughters ó Mary and Sarah. These two were the real terrors, for even our parents cowered before them. They talked quietly but carried a big stick! I would dart into the bush at their approach because, being so rascally, I always got into trouble.

Aunt Mary betrayed palpable tenderness when my brother, Mfon, fell from a sixty-foot coconut tree. We had gone hunting for birds and rodents but took to tree climbing when we found neither birds nor animals to target. Overconfident, Mfon started stunting and crashed.

Though a canopy under the tree cushioned his fall before he hit the ground with a sickening thud, yet seeing him tumble down, I was as dazed as a rat mesmerized by a cobra. I cringed and feared he was dead. After a while, he got up and we committed to say nothing of the accident at home.

Later, he was so hurt he went into a delirium or whatever you doctors call the effect of such trauma. It was then that mom got to know. She ran into the pitch dark night to get Aunt Mary. In the dark, the old woman used her sense of smell and feeling to search out herbs in the surrounding bush.

She coaxed Mfon to drink some and with the rest she massaged his chest. Somehow the concoction worked. Iím amazed now that without CT-scan machines and pharmacies folks could work such miracles.

Decades later, a U.S. doctor would tell Mfon he was lucky to survive an unusual heart condition. The doctor asked if Mfon had a trauma to the chest as a kid, but Mfon could not even remember until I recalled the incident.

Tiemah, I hope it warms your heart to know youíre from a long line of healers and diviners. I hope this tradition inspires you as you serve others. I pray what light our ancestors had and the intelligence of Heavenly Father are upon you as you do this.

You are the product of a long line of preparation. Memories of it are so gratifying. Seeing you and other family members helps me appreciate what the dreams and vision of one old man can do for his posterity. Just goes to prove what Mormons believe that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass!

Finally, I hope you work hard on your marriage. Iíve heard how some folks live happily after getting married. Luckily I donít have such boredom, for life without opposition is no life. We bicker, fight, and get back to love again. We are still going strong 27 years after and together may age into a legend!

So, so much depend on perspective and attitude, and I hope you sustain a positive one. Keep this advice by Shakespeare close to heart: "When you find a true friend, grapple him to your soul with hoops of steel." With hoops of love, I should add!

Best,

Imo


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About Imo Eshiet

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 Carolina Stake.

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