A myriad of colours swim before my eyes. The whole square morphs into an endless horizon. The drum beats are inside me. Urging me. Seducing me. The hot air takes shape as figures materialize around the humans standing around.
I immediately recognize them as gods. They don’t look like the idols carved of them, yet I know everyone of them without being told. Ala is the woman towering over many of the other gods who are mostly male. She wears numerous beads and has a sad, brooding look. Bearing a chicken in her left hand and a small tuber of yam in the right, she stands near the Udara tree at the left corner of the square.
I turn to my right and I see Ikenga. Surrounded by numerous servants, his regal frame sits on a gold throne carried by these servants. Exuding an air of opulence, he is exactly as I’ve always imagined he would be.
He is after all the god of fortune.
I look away from Ikenga and a huge god bearing a skull and dripping blood from invisible injuries approaches me.
Our god of war and thunder.
“Nnaanyi dee”, I greet.
He nods and opens his mouth as if to reply. I feel the fire before I see it. It comes from his mouth; white flames in form of animals screeching. The flames consume me and I writhe in pain.
Through the agony, I notice kamalu walk towards my agonized form. He pats my shoulder and says “Be still” as he walks into my body.
The tempo of the drums change. Electrifying, each beat of the Akwatankwa sends little shocks through my feet. I feel them move by themselves; steadily….one foot first, the other foot next.
Each tap of the drum forms words in my mind:
Kpa kpan kpa kpa kpan kpa…….
The great ones stand at dusk.
Kamalu, we greet you.
May blood spills cleanse our land.
Warriors come out to fight.
Kpan kpa kpan kpa kpan kpa…..
The beat comes faster and faster. With each change in the beat, I lose more control.
My body doesn’t feel like its mine. I can still feel my body moving, dancing. My lips shouting the war cry. I stride around the square arrogantly. Forward….backwards. The other dancers follow, dancing out their steps. At this point, I know the gods have started the dance for me. My chest muscles move up and down, faster and faster, imitating the spasm of a body whose head has been cut; Ofufu is what we call it.
Suddenly, a searing pain shoots through my body, like lightening striking a tree down. I restrain myself from screaming as I fall on the floor of the square.
ALUUU!!!, Tufiaaakwa!!, the villagers would never forget this. No leader had ever fallen during the dance! Struggling to my feet, I try to get back in step. Confusion clouds my face as I stare at a replica of myself leading the dance. His shoulders stand tall like mine; his face has the same planes. He dances regally, fearlessly, the same steps I had learnt from Ogwu. The drums change their tune severally as the villagers hail each new move. Ebube, one of the dancers, performs cartwheels never seen before. The village maidens try to catch our attention with their luscious, lappa clad, beaded bodies.
It suddenly dawns on me the meaning of letting the gods dance for me. Ogwu is seated near Ala’s Udara tree. He has a mischievous smile on his face like he knows what is happening. As I make to look away, he turns to where I am standing and smiles a knowing smile. I feel faint. Suddenly, the beat starts slowing down. Slower, slower…
Kamulu materializes by my side. He gives me a nod. I understand clearly.
It is done. Go back to your people.
I feel a sudden jerk like I’m being pulled off the ground and I find myself looking through my eyes; in my own body.
I hear the people in the square cheering. I can see my father nodding at me. Ebube winks at me as we slowly dance out of the square. The gods dissolve into thin air and as they do, I hear a thunderous voice saying, “Feel no fear, you will return”.
I fight the overwhelming tiredness that began during the dance as I bow and drop the Ugboagu by Ogwu near the Udara tree. Ogwu nods at me as he beckons at his protege to carry it.
“My son, you have made us proud”, father says as he catches up with me. Smiling proudly, he slaps his palm, fingers splayed, against my chest. I do the ofufu, never breaking into a smile, never showing emotion.
Turning away, I smile grimly. The days ahead will not be easy.
You see, we dance the Iri-agha to celebrate a dead icon, festivals or to go to war.
Ihenta had started a quarrel with us over some land. First some raids, then some of our men where beaten and finally our women were kidnapped.
King Ogbuegiriga has declared war on them and tomorrow we match.
I feel no fear. We were born to fight.
I will go, I will return, that much the voice has said.
In peace or in war, a warrior I’ll remain.
Blood, sweat and earth forever.