Why Does the Igbo Man Build His Castle in the Village?
I stood there in a brown silk kaftan, grateful to the grey clouds that shielded us from the sun.
Ada anyi, bia nodi nga, the pastor ushered me toward my father’s side. I watched my small feet pick up dirt as I walked over proudly. I took being the first daughter very seriously.
“As you have named our Ada, Uloma, so will be the destiny of this place. Na aha Jesus!”
Like every Igbo man, (yes even till this day), my father has been sufficiently pressured into building his house across the River Niger. Today was the Omenaala — What happens in the village. Omenaala is a traditional rite that is performed as you lay the foundations for your house.
“Uchenna, you have accumulated wealth in many lands far away, but today, we will call your house Akuruulo — your wealth has come home.
The most brilliant Igbo men I know have succumbed. These men are, accomplished, wealthy, cultured, well-schooled, and of higher than average reasoning capacity.
That house will become a breeding ground for lizards
That house will become a burden to your wife who will most likely outlive you
You never go home
You will never retire there
That house has no economic value, and can never be sold.
There is no argument you can present that will sufficiently convince the Igbo man not to build that castle. The Igbo man’s castle is post-reason.
For the past few months, I’ve been observing, and inquiring, because no weapon fashioned against this madness can prevail. So why then does the Igbo man build his castle in the village?
To say that the Igbo man’s castle is a display of ego is too simplistic. It’s like saying the cause of Nigeria’s unfulfilled potential is corruption; both, a lazy veil for a litany of afflictions.
During the Omenaala, the owners of the house, family members, and village elders gather to perform the traditional rites. A goat is offered and a small reception is organised.
The Igbo man builds his castle to return dignity to his people. In my village, conditions for most households are worse than you’d expect. As the few brilliant or lucky ones rush off to Lagos, the remainers lead unremarkable lives. They’ve lost hope, they drink their nights away, and dance all of Sunday, because there is simply nothing else to do. Many live day-to-day from the money made either by driving Kekes, or from the little yield from the farm. Some have little provision stores that look like “entrepreneurship!” but really they are entrepreneurs because there is no other choice. The Igbo man’s castle is a beacon of hope. Everyday people walk past it; they imagine what is possible for someone that came from this place. They believe they are not much different than the Igbo man, therefore the same feat is possible, if not for them then perhaps for their children.
“Uchenna do you know that Wokendi from the neighboring village came here the other day and because of 200 Naira he slapped me? A whole me?! In the days of old our village conquered theirs. No one could try such a thing! It’s because they have not seen any big house here. They think they can now disrespect us.”
The Igbo man builds his castle in the village because somewhere deep inside, he fears nothing else will take him back there. There is a bit of romantic nostalgia going on. Memories of playing football in the sand, moonlight tales, fighting with your cousins and breaking their legs. But there is nothing left for the Igbo man now. Visits home are more of the same: buy heaps of provisions (bread, peak milk, cabin biscuit, etc), 2 goats and a cow, cartons of alcohol, settle villager problems (financially), go to church and make memorable donation, feed the villagers, return home with mopo). But the castle, yes the castle is a project; during the process of building, the Igbo man will deepen his roots in a land that is fast-slipping away. He does not want to be the son that broke the link. After all, no matter how many years you spend in Lagos, your name is still Uchenna.
During the Omenaala, we walk around the four corners of the house, stopping at each to lay a block, pour cement, and pray.
“May this house be a shelter for those who have none, may everyone who comes here find joy. Na aha Jesus!”
There is no doubt that these houses could be smaller, so I don’t want to dismiss the ego as a driver. But seeing the joy in the community got me thinking, what is the dignity of a community worth? If it wasn’t a house in the village, then it might have been several expensive vacations and another house in Lagos.
As we crossed the road toward the tent that sheltered the grey metal cauldrons full of Jollof rice and coolers of ice and Fanta, We heard the steady chugging of the Okada along the bumpy village road
“Kushi nga! Chief stop here, let me get down hia, o di ka ha ne wu factory, I need work”