|Print | Back||September 15, 2015|
African VoiceFlies and the Tail-less Cow
by Imo Eshiet
My folk live close to the land and animals. Images of plant and animal life run in my native language like marrow through a bone.
Every point is driven home wittily with something observed from nature. “The dog that eats palm fruits (the palm bunch is spiky) will have no problems stealing eggs,” they would say of a petty criminal who claims he is incapable of serious crime.
If an eccentric did or said something that no one else knew about, folk would say, "Adung mkpere akai akop usem ebok," meaning, “He who lives close to the jungle understands the gibberish of monkeys.”
Among folks, the empty calabash is used as a floater. No matter how rough the sea, an empty calabash cannot go under for long. Folks quickly see in this a parallel truth, for truth they say, cannot be submerged by the savage gales of lies.
Similarly, a child who grows rich and conceited is often warned by the parents that a yam is never bigger than the knife that peels it. Our yams can be the size of a human thigh or even bigger, mind you. Another caution for a vain kid is that no matter how big a lizard gets, it can never become a gator.
It took me some careful attention to notice what the folk mean when they say, “It is deity that swishes flies away from a tailless cow.”
When the sun is up and that is often for a good half of the year we have no shortage of the sun, these pesky insects have a field day making themselves felt as an unforgiving, humming pestilence. They sting, nettle, and claw away with venom at both humans and animals. They dip their hairy limbs into food, sores, and anything with odors.
Cows of course, seem to have a peculiar sort of stink that appeals inexorably to swarms of flies. A rushing cloud of these repugnant bugs would swoop on cattle and cover the animals like a blanket. The heckling, rumbling, buzzing, and sneering of the flies at the earthy smells of their more powerful victims can be heard from a distance.
The insects target the ears, nose, rump, and trunk or any other sensitive parts of the animals, thus making life for them a living misery.
For a cow in the tropics, it is indeed a pitiable handicap to be tailless. The observation, therefore that only deity spares the tailless cow from torture and torment is the folks’ way of saying deity is mindful of all, especially those with disabilities.
Another related wit is that flies do not fear the nose of a cow. I first heard that saying when an uncle returned from overseas. He had made good and apparently returned with a PhD with agriculture, so the entire village was in a festive mood.
In those days, the United States in folk imagination, was not part of our rock but of another planet orbiting another star. Anyone who went there and returned was an instant hero and with good reason! For one, folks believed American women were more powerful than the Sirens. They used more powerful juju than any concoction our local medicine men conjured in making love potions.
That was why, they said, many men who traveled there never returned. Even if they managed to come back home, the men did so with American women who clung to them even in the sweltering heat, like burrs to sweater leggings.
Kinswomen were jealous saying “the foreign women lacked inhibition.” Centuries of control by men made the local womenfolk especially so. While the kinswomen had never jumped even a puddle, it did not matter to them that these “foreign women” left their home and crossed the mighty ocean with their sons to live in a world where they had no relatives to call their own.
They were hurt the foreigners renamed their sons and called them, “Darling,” “Sweetheart,” and even “Honey,” which everybody knew was made by bees. Honey was good for coughs and other herbal preparations. One smeared with it though, was sure to attract bugs, so why would anyone go by such a name, they wondered?
As for darling and sweetheart, folks were just as stumped, for though the culture had names of affection, these new ones simply stomped folks in the face. Names among my folks insinuated cultural values that rooted people to the land or some family history.
If these new names left the people confused, kisses absolutely shocked them! These women, they grudged, would be the death of their sons!
They could understand if mothers sucked the blocked nostrils of babies to clear their airways for the kids to breathe much more easily when they came down with colds. But it was a scandal to suck the mouth of adults — and that publicly, too.
A man who went overseas and failed to return home or one who returned with a foreign wife in his arms was considered lost to both his parents and community. Uncle Nelson did none of these and was an instant folk hero. To show their respect, folk called him, “Doctor,” meaning healer, seer, or the medicine man of the clan.
Nothing he did to get them to call him by name swayed anyone. The only exception was my skinny, small-statured Aunty Ekairem. She not only refused to call him Doctor but also Nelson, the new name he got at school from a European missionary teacher. She insisted on calling him by the name they grew up with.
Men vociferously reproached her and throatily dismissed her as a fly who was not scared fooling with the huge nostrils of a cow!
The first day at school, my uncle (then a kid) had stepped out and introduced himself to his teacher as AFONGISOEKPE. Neither the teacher nor his interpreter could spell that. Confounded, the Briton simply labelled him Nelson.
So at school and later at work, he was Nelson, but in the village among his age mates he went by his native name. The name meant the lion’s mane. The mane of the lion is the pride of the king of the jungle. The name was a shorthand for much family history in the course of its migrations. It was evocative of encounters with lions and courage at taming jungles and humbling the big cats.
This legacy and heritage lay the foundation for my uncle’s recent achievements and the community took collective pride in it. Uncle Nelson having blazed a trail in education, had become for us the force that swaths flies from the tailless cow and in our circumstance, a beacon of light and hope.
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