These days, writing dey tire me. But this thing I have to talk about.
I read Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price when I was in primary school, with Akunna, Ma Blackie, Nnanndo, Chike and the rest becoming good friends, and were realer to me than the people I attended class with. When the book ended with Akunna’s death, I wept. It was the first time I was crying over a fictional character, it broke my heart that she would suffer all that to be with an Osu man and not even get to enjoy the happiness that love offered. But it did not occur to me that the Osu in the book was a real thing.
Just before I resumed school to start JSS3, I was answering one of the past questions booklets of Lagos state JSCE that my father had furnished me with, when I saw a question that struck me, I did not know the answer.
In which state can the caste system be found.
I had learned about the Indian Caste system and Mahatma Gandhi in social studies class and in the books at the school library (that library was awesome), but I had never heard about caste system in Nigeria. That evening, I asked my dad about it and his answer shocked me, the answer to that question was Anambra and in fact, the entire South East.
Was he talking about Osu as I read in The Bride Price? He confirmed that he was. He went on to tell me the history of that pervading evil, the differences in points of origin- those sold into slavery and those dedicated to gods. Actions that were centuries old, marking generations with the invisible stain that cannot be washed off.
Hasn’t civilisation brought any change? I wondered. Not necessarily, was his answer. You couldn’t go about calling people Osu/slaves or you’d get fined heavily but marriage to ‘freeborns’ was still off limits and a person from an Osu family couldn’t aspire to certain positions in the land.
When I asked my mother about it, she flatly replied “It’s a stupid thing.” I did not press further; by the time I was five I already knew my mother never talked about anything she considered stupid. I thought it was stupid too, extremely stupid to judge and discriminate against a person because of what his ancestors went through centuries in the past. It sunk to the recesses of my mind, pushed down by the pressures of becoming a teenager and the general arseholery of life.
From time to time, something would happen to remind me of the idiocy of the caste system, from Nollywood movies, to my friend from Enugu state who told me that if a person from their hometown chose to marry an Osu despite warnings, that person’s family would organise an elaborate mourning ritual for him/her and would act as if she/he was a ghost if they saw them afterwards. It was perhaps one of the most terrible thing I had ever heard, what broke my heart was that my friend didn’t even see how evil it was. It was normal, just another day in paradise.
With social media came a window into the minds of people, that no generation in history has ever enjoyed, the hidden and open vanities, vapid inanities and the most puerile flights of fancy of the human mind; laid bare for anyone to wade through. Igboist group perhaps is the headquarters of everything social media is- the primus inter pares of modern-day interaction, the pulse of the thought stream of the Igbo youths in this age.
Whenever I find Osu posts on Igboist, I get terrified by the comments. The comment section there is generally terrifying, especially when gender issues and child rights are discussed. In the case of Osu, what terrifies me the most is that a people who have succeeded in throwing away most parts of their culture that are beautiful and inspiring, continue to hold on to evil with relish.
“It is our culture and there’s nothing you can do about it”
Today, someone shared the picture of a young man who was rejected by his intended in-laws because he was Osu. His picture was accompanied by his words in which his anguish shined through, stark in its intensity. I cried for this handsome man whom I did not know, for the young woman whose dreams for the future have been punctured by a cruel fate. I also wept for her helplessness, it’s easy to tell her to hold on to him regardless but how does one let her family and history go because of a man? The thought of it is an instant nightmare inducer for me.
I wasn’t disappointed by the comments on the post, I knew where I was and what to expect from Igbo youths. I just felt sorry for us. In a world with technological leaps occurring every five seconds, with the things our ancestors considered miracles, hell! Even the things we thought of as impossible ten years ago- have not only become our reality, they are rapidly turning into past triumphs as newer technologies spiral out of labs and company showrooms.
We do not even work on the old technologies our ancestors developed to adapt to an unforgiving environment or map and document the flora they used to heal themselves. Instead we grab their hate- the dregs of their vomit and lick it up. Who did this to us? Who did we offend?
Sometimes, I wish I could pump the words and music of the maestro Bob Marley’s One Love into the hearts of the stiff necked, to those pushing the agenda of hate and stupidity in the name ‘awa tradition and customs’. But it is Redemption Song that we need the most.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
Our forefathers built chains and bars and prisons in their ignorance, why the hell are we still clinging to them? Why do we forget ‘Onye aghala nwanne ya’ in the quest for money and yet remember to twist our lips in disgust and shout “Osu bu ajoo mmadu?” Christian and hip when it suits you and Traditional and rigid when it’s time to hate, umu Igbo ibem, I hail una.
Because I am Igbo, because my children will be Igbo- even if I marry a man from China. I will not be silent as we continue to recycle and repackage hate and idiocy to the ones coming after us. My children will not wonder if I tacitly support this or think it is even half sane to think this way. I will show them these words, a little over eleven hundred words, their answer will be there.