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UZUMMA

They all gathered in a circle round a fire with Mama Nnukwu. She had nineteen grandchildren and they all loved her very much because she was always quick to give a hug or a cuddle.
The roasted melon cake she usually gave them always drew them to her hut at different times of the day. Mama Nnukwu always enjoyed the company of her sons’ children and now, she was telling them a story, as was usual every night.
The fire supplied light for them and as the firewood burnt, the smell of smoke filled the air. Crickets let out chirps now and then.
Mama Nnukwu’s grandchildren were silent and attentive as she told them a story. Today’s was about the stubborn princess who had refused the hand of many suitors and had, instead, married a ghost. Her beautiful voice started a song which had been sung by the warrior sent in search of her.
Uzumma had heard this story before, so she tuned out Mama Nnukwu’s voice. She looked around her. Though it was dark, she could see her father sitting in front of his hut with one of his brothers. They were drinking palm wine and chatting. Dinner had long been over but since Papa loved roasted mgbada, there was a plate of game and another of a palm oil and pepper mix in front of them as well. On the table was also a crude lamp, supplying them with light.
The sound of loud laughter came to her ears. They must be having a good time
As she looked on, Mama came over to where the two men sat and knelt before them in greeting. Mazi Ibekwe, Uzumma’s uncle patted her mother on the back. Uzumma could see his lips move, but could not hear what he said to her mother, but her pleasure was evident as she smiled widely.
Her husband embraced her and patted on the space beside the wooden bench he was sitting on for her to join him.
Uzumma smiled. She had always admired her parents’ relationship. She only hoped that her husband would love her in the manner Papa loved Mama.
My husband…. She allowed her mind wander now.

Uzumma walked home after the egwu umu agbogho with her friend, Ugboaku. They were excited because both of them had danced very well at the annual dance of the maidens.
Ugboaku was eighteen years and for a long time, had become very interested in getting a husband. She had danced exceptionally and had received a lot of compliments. Her mother had pulled her aside after the dance to whisper to her that she had noticed several eligible young men eyeing her daughter.
“Mama said my chances of getting married before the next dance are really high,” Ugboaku said, smiling widely. Still smiling, she looked at Uzumma. “She said you did very great too but that’s not a surprise. Nne, you were twisting away as usual, completely lost in the music to even notice the amount of attention you were receiving.”
Uzumma was a great dancer. She twisted her waist and shook her hips with ease, as she danced to the rhythm of any music. For this particular dance, she had folded a wrapper into a narrow strip and had tied it over her breasts. She had worn a short, matching wrapper over her hips and lots of stringed jigida beads on her waist, between the two wrappers. On each ankle, she had worn a strap made with woven dried palm fronds. They had made a gentle noise as she danced because of the stones in the hollow of the fronds.

She was a very beautiful seventeen-year old, who had inherited an hour-glass figure and a smooth fair skin from her mother. She was taller than a lot of the girls in Umuchi because she had inherited her father’s height. Though she wasn’t yet enamored with thoughts of getting married, she hadn’t missed the fact that one man’s eyes had followed her all through the dance.
She knew who he was and knew his reputation. Agunwa was renowned to be one of Umuchi’s biggest farmers. He had a lot of workers for his farms and had a good reputation of treating them very fairly. His barns were said to be fully stocked with tubers of yams and he had a large expanse of land, devoted to just cassava. He also reared goats and that was also a thriving venture.
By all standards, he was a very rich man.

Uzumma had noticed his good looks too. At the dance, he had tied a wrapper over his hips, which fell past his knees and stopped mid-calf. But for a matching wrapper which had been around his neck and had fallen over his chest, his chest had been bare.
She had not been too engrossed in her dance not to notice that it was very broad. Even though she was tall, she knew that she would barely graze the top of his shoulders.
He wasn’t beautiful in the manner of women. but as a man, he was very impressive and the way he had looked at her so intently had made her shy and happy at the same time. She didn’t understand her feelings, but she was glad she had caught his attention.

“I noticed Agunwa staring at me,” she told her best friend now, smiling shyly.
“Agunwa?” Ugboaku asked, wide-eyed. “The farmer?”
She nodded twice, still smiling. “Yes, the same one.”
Ugboaku nudged her and exclaimed, “You are so lucky, my sister!" Whispering conspiratorially, she added, "He’s not yet married and my mother says he’s in search of a wife.”
Uzumma burst into laughter. “Your mother seems to know everything that goes on in Umuchi. How does she know that he’s searching for a wife?”
She spread her arms. “My sister, I don’t know o but if mama says he is, then, he must be. You know my mother is very good at fishing out information.”
Uzumma laughed harder and soon, Ugboaku joined her. When they stopped, she said, “Seriously, though, you are lucky if he decides to marry you o!”
When Uzumma turned to look at her, she continued, “He’s one of the most sought-after men in Umuchi, according to my mother.”
She counted off his attributes on her fingers. “He’s very good looking, he’s wealthy and I hear that he’s kind. Just the other day, I overheard Mazi Ugochukwu telling my father that Agunwa forgave him a debt of ten bags of cowries and also gave him ten tubers of yam when he fell from a palm tree and hurt his leg."
Uzumma opened her eyes wider and shook her head twice. "Really?"
"My sister, papa said that Agunwa must have inherited his father’s generosity. You know that Mazi Emenike is reputed to be a kind man too. My father then went on to say that their family is a good one." He smiled and nudged her friend gently. "Congratulations, my sister. I’m thrilled for you.”
Uzumma clapped her hands together and burst into laughter. “Congratulations? Whatever for? I told you I saw him looking at me and you’re already dreaming of me as his wife.”
Sobering up, she said, “Moreover, I have to like him before I marry him. You make it sound like once he decides I’m to be his wife, I just have to fall in line with that decision.”
Ugboaku pouted, before sighing deeply. "Nne, don’t be like me o, biko. I rejected Izunna’s proposal after the last dance and since then, no other man has asked for my hand."
She spread her hands. "Now, I’m eighteen and hoping I get married before I’m considered too old. Mama shares the same worries too.”
Frowning, Uzumma halted and pulled her to a stop too. “Ugboaku, don’t even talk about Izunna. He had wanted you to be his second wife, remember?"
She shook her head. "He fights with his first wife all the time and had only wanted to marry you to spite her. He has a second wife now, you know and I hear he fights with her too. I bet you've heard rumours that he's even planning to take a third wife."
When Ugboaku nodded and continued, "My mother said that Izunna went to Mazi Ukanwa’s house a few days ago, to ask for his daughter, Ifunanya’s, hand in marriage."
Ugboaku linked her fingers together in front of her body. "Eziokwu?"
She nodded once and responded. "Yes, nne. It is the truth. Mama said that without consulting his daughter, Mazi Ukanwa asked him to leave his home with his people. He told them that he was not interested in giving out his daughter in marriage to a man like Izunna." She shook her head, then shrugged. "He’s not a loss to you in any way o.” She started walking again.
Ugboaku sighed, continued walking too. They were silent for a while, till she broke the silence, “I know my dear, I know. I just pray that whoever my husband would be should be quick to make his intentions known. I’m tired of not having my own home, biko.”
Uzumma stopped again and frowned. "Nne, what’s this desperation to get married all about? You’re still very young.”
She put her right hand on her waist and raised the left to the sky. “Tell that to my mother." They started walking again. "She constantly reminds me that she got married at the age of seventeen. She also talks about how a woman’s youth ends very quickly. She’s of the opinion that I should be raising babies now."
She lowered her voice and cast a sidelong glance at Uzumma. "I’m not sure I want to have babies just yet, though.”
She quickly looked at Ugboaku and placed her fingers over her own mouth. “Shush." When her friend rolled her eyes, she asked, "Which woman doesn’t want to have babies immediately after getting married?" Her brow knitted in a frown. "What else do you want to get married for, biko?

Ugboaku shook her head. “Of course I want to have babies. Who doesn’t?” She shrugged. “But, nne, it’s so much work taking care of little children, particularly when there are a lot of them.” She frowned and shook her head again. “I’m not sure I’m ready for all that, just yet. My mother always says that only when you marry a man, would you really know him. How will I handle adjusting to living with a stranger and an immediate pregnancy?”
Uzumma was about responding when a woman passed them on her way from the village square. “Ndewo, Mama Okorie,” they both chorused.
She stopped and smiled at them.“Ndewo, my children. Both of you danced so beautifully. I expect the men to start calling soon. When the girls merely smiled shyly, she added, “Ugboaku, please tell Mgborie that I had to leave the square in a hurry. I will come to your house tomorrow on my way from the farm to finish the discussion we started before the dance started.”
She nodded. “I will do just as you have asked. Mama will get your message.”
Daalu, ezigbo nwa. I will be on my way then.”
As she briskly continued on her way, Uzumma and Ugboaku looked at each other with glee and continued their chatter about men and babies.

Two days later, Uzumma was summoned by her father, Ikediugwu, to his obi. Mazi Ibekwe and Mazi Uchendu, his brothers were also there as well as some other guests. She went to her father and knelt down before him, “Nna m, Mama said that you asked me to come.”
Her father touched her back and asked her to stand. She looked around the obi to greet the other people in the room. That was when she noticed that one of the guests was Agunwa and her heart started pounding. She thought everyone else could notice that through the narrow strip of fabric that was tied over her breasts. She quickly looked down at herself and thanked her chi that she had decided to wear one of the newer wrappers Mama had given her recently.
As was the custom for young and unmarried females, the wrapper was tied from her waist to a point, a little bit above her knees. She had never been conceited, but she knew that she was a beautiful young woman.  She looked up to see Agunwa looking at her.
As his eyes widened appreciatively, he gave her a gentle smile and she shyly lowered her eyes to the floor. She noticed a big keg at his feet then.
Ikediugwu, who had seen this exchange between his daughter and Agunwa, spoke up, “Uzumma, do you know this man?” She looked up to find her father pointing at Agunwa.
She quickly looked away from his intense gaze, back to her father. “I do, Papa. I know his name and I’ve seen him around the village.”
He nodded briskly. “Do you know anything else about him besides his name and the fact that he’s from Umuchi?”
She shook her head and answered slowly. “I know that he’s Mazi Emenike’s first son and that he’s a farmer, Papa." She looked down, shy again. "That’s all I know about him.”
Her father smiled and said, ‘Alright, you may leave.”

Uzumma left the room and went to her mother who had been excitedly waiting for her daughter to come out from the obi. “What did your father want with you?” Adaugo, Uzumma’s mother gently asked her daughter, placing an arm around her shoulder.
“He only wanted to know if I knew who Agunwa was,” Uzumma replied, smiling shyly.
“Hmmm, that’s great news,” Adaugo replied, beaming. “I bet you know what that means, my daughter. Let’s hear what your father has to say, though." She removed her arm and turned in the direction of the kitchen. "I’ve finished cooking the nsala soup. You did a great job with the okporoko. It’s tender and cooked to perfection, just the way your father likes it. The catfish pieces stayed whole too, after you had cooked them." She smiled and nodded slowly. "Well done, my daughter. The man that will be your husband is lucky, because you’ll take care of him the way a man should be.”
Uzumma smiled with pleasure. “Thank you, mama.”
She nodded. “Ndewo, nwa m. You can start with the pounded yam now. Don’t forget that your father doesn’t like to see any lumps in his.” She walked away briskly, to her hut.

Later, washing up the utensils that had been used to prepare lunch, Uzumma jolted when her father called out her name. Looking around the kitchen, she realized that she had tidied it up. She had been so lost in thought that she didn’t remember doing all that.
After drying her wet hands on a piece of cloth Mama used for lifting pots from the fire, she walked to the obi, heart pounding. She was mildly disappointed when she realized that Agunwa had left with the group he had come with. Uzumma’s uncles had also gone. Only her parents were in the obi, sitting adjacent to each other, on a wooden bench.
On a stool beside her father was the keg she had noticed earlier. There were several wooden gourds beside it too. Uzumma realized that her father and his guests must have had a drink together.
She knelt before her father again. “Papa, you called.”
Telling her to rise, her father pointed to one of the chairs in the obi and asked Uzumma to sit.
“My daughter, you remember the people that came earlier, right?”
She gazed at him. “I do, Papa.”
He nodded once. “What’s your opinion about Agunwa?”
Uzumma glanced at her mother then. Adaugo gave her daughter an encouraging nod, so Uzumma looked at her father and responded shyly, “I don’t know him personally, Papa. But, I’ve heard good things about him.”
He frowned. “Who have you been discussing him with and what exactly did you hear about him?”
She darted a look at her mother again, before looking at her father once more. “Nobody, Papa. I… em…”
Nna m ukwu, my lord, you know how young women love to talk,” Uzumma’s mother interrupted with a smile. “I’m sure there was nothing to any discussion Uzumma may have had with anyone, about him." Still smiling gently, she placed a hand on his thigh. "You know our daughter is a very good girl and has a good head on her shoulders.”
Ikediugwu stared silently at Uzumma before saying, “Agunwa came here with his people and with a keg of palm wine, to express his desire to marry you. He’s younger than I am, of course. But, I’ve heard good things about him even from men older than I am. He is a good man and from a responsible family, so I think he will be a good husband to you. He will provide beautifully for you because he's a hardworking man."
He nodded twice and continued, "Agunwa is a very wealthy man and a lot of men his age can only dream of the wealth he controls.”
He adjusted his wrapper and crossed his legs in front of him. “I won’t lie to you by saying that his interest in you doesn’t make me happy. It is the dream of every father to entrust a loved daughter into the hands of a good man. However, regardless of my opinions about him, you are the one going to be married to him, after all. So, ultimately, it has to be your decision."
He turned to his wife and tapped the hand she still kept on his thigh. "I want you to have a talk with your mother, though. I’m sure she will guide you in making the right decision."
He turned back to Uzumma. "As soon as you come to a decision, please let me know so that I take whatever step there is to take.”

Eighteen market days later, Agunwa came with his people for the first stage of the marriage rites. That was about four months ago. In that time, Uzumma had spent four market days with his family to get to know them. She had shared a hut with his mother and sister during that period. Her prospective mother-in-law had done all she could to make her feel welcome and Uzumma couldn’t help but love her.
She was thrilled at the thought of being Agunwa’s wife. They had never discussed anything of a personal nature, but she loved the way he looked at her. There was a warm intensity in his gazes that made her shy and warm on the inside and she liked that. Anytime he saw her, his eyes lit up and he always looked like he was restraining himself from reaching for her. That filled her with a heady excitement.
She couldn’t stop talking about him to Ugboaku, who was as excited as her friend was, about the impending marriage.
“I told you he would marry you, didn’t I?” she was always quick to remind Uzumma, who always laughed whenever she heard that.

Uzumma broke out of her reverie to find that Mama Nnukwu had just finished her story. Her siblings and cousins were scrambling to their feet. It was really late and they all had to turn in. The next day would be really busy so, they all had to rest. Agunwa was coming with his people tomorrow for the concluding rites that would make Uzumma his wife.
Mama Nnukwu called Uzumma immediately she stood up, “Come to me, Mma” She had always called her that.
“I noticed you were lost in thought at some point during our story-telling session,” she said gently, when Uzumma came and sat next to her on the mat. “I bet you were thinking about your new life and what it would be like."
She slowly put an arm around Uzumma's waist and drew her closer. "Don’t be worried, my dear. You are a good child and I'm sure that you will do us proud. The man you have accepted to marry is a decent man and I bet he will treat you right."
She shook her head slowly. "No marriage is perfect, my child, so you are bound to experience some trying times occasionally."
She slowly removed her arm from Uzumma's waist and framed her face with her hands. "However, no matter what challenges you face in your new home, always know that Agunwa is not your enemy. Together, you can conquer anything you set your hearts to."
When Uzumma nodded she continued, "Go and have some rest, my beautiful child. Tomorrow would be a long and busy day.”
“Thank you so much Mama. I won’t forget all you’ve taught me,” Uzumma responded, her eyes filling up. She was Mama Nnukwu’s first grandchild and they had always shared a special relationship. She knew that she would miss her grandmother sorely but she was glad that her new home was quite close to her family’s compound.
"Are those tears, Mma?" Gently, Mama Nnukwu wiped her eyes. "Marriage is a good thing, my child, so there's no reason for you to cry. Go and sleep, i nugo, nwa m."
Before she retired, Uzumma went to the fire and drew apart the burning logs of wood. She got a little water and doused the flames and went to bed, in the hut she shared with her mother and her three siblings.

Agunwa had wanted the best for his bride and had done a good job of providing it. He had sent lots of yam for the ceremony and for his in-laws and had provided a lot of livestock to be slaughtered, as meat for the occasion. The women in Uzumma’s family woke very early, the next day, to start with the cooking.  It was their duty to make sure that there was a lot to eat for everyone.
The marriage ceremony kicked off about mid-day. Almost immediately Agunwa and his people arrived at Ikediugwu’s compound, the men from both families spent a long time behind closed doors, deliberating on the bride price and other traditional aspects of the ceremony.
Agunwa didn’t want to spare any expenses, so, contrary to the intention of the members of his family to haggle about the bride price, he was quick to offer a very generous settlement to Uzumma’s family. In addition to that, he presented a wooden box full of new wrappers and beads for her. Adaugo and Mama Nnukwu and Uzumma’s aunties also benefited from his generosity, as they also received gifts of new wrappers from him.

Uzumma was a beautiful bride. Beautiful designs had been drawn on her body with uli, a dye made from a plant. All the huts in the compound had been polished and the same uli had been used to draw elaborate designs on them.
Her head was adorned with a beautiful hairstyle and lovely beads had been threaded through it. and around her neck, her wrists and ankles. During the course of the elaborate ceremony, she changed into very colourful wrappers at different times.
At a point, she was called into her father’s obi. By then, her mother and other women in the family had joined the men. Ikediugwu blessed his daughter, who knelt before him and taking a sip from a gourd of palm wine, he handed it over to her. She stood up gingerly, then walked carefully so as not to spill the drink.
Getting to Agunwa, she knelt before him and avoiding his eyes, shyly handed over the gourd to him. He took a long sip from it, before handing it back to her and as soon as she drank from the gourd, a loud cheer broke out in the room.
Everyone proceeded to the open space in the compound where the guests were already seated, enjoying music provided by the different dance groups in Umuchi. Immediately, the women and young girls in Uzumma’s family went round serving everyone food, while the young men made sure everyone had enough to drink.
There was also a dance group from Umuezedum, one of Umuchi’s neighbouring villages. All of them entertained the many guests by trying to out-shine each other with their flamboyant music and exaggerated dance steps.

By evening, the ceremony was concluded and soon, it was time for Agunwa to take his new wife to his home. Her family had provided lots of presents for her to take to her husband's house. These were mainly items for her new kitchen and these were all brought out and handed over to members of Agunwa’s family. The box that was part of her bride price was also brought out and handed over to them to carry to her new home.
As soon as Uzumma realized that it was finally time to leave her family, she clung to her mother and they both cried profusely. Agunwa’s home was not far from theirs but they both felt a sense of loss, despite their happiness at the marriage.
After she had cried awhile, Agunwa gently led his wife away from his new mother-in-law.
Ikediugwu called them both for a blessing, “Both of you shall live in peace."
"Ise!" the crowd chorused.
He raised a hand to the sky. "You will have many children and will be great parents."
"Ise!"
He brought his hand down and shook his head. "You will lack nothing."
"Ise!"
He looked at Uzumma. "My daughter, you will learn to love and respect your husband the way a wife should."
"Ise!"
He turned his eyes on Agunwa. "Ogo m nwoke, my in-law, you will cherish and protect your wife."
"Ise!"
He shook his head emphatically. "No one will come between you."
"Ise!"
He smiled. "My prayer is that our chi blesses the both of you immensely.”
"Ise!"
Smiling, Agunwa grasped his father-in-law's hand and thanked him, before taking Uzumma to her new home, where the festivities continued.


TO BE CONTINUED


To read the sequels of this story, please go to 

Part 2: UZUMMA: AFTER THE CEREMONY
Part 3: UZUMMA: WAITING
Part 4: UZUMMA: THE HARVEST

Comments

  1. Colettoo1:01 am

    Chai nwababy this story u need to finish it o! Ah ah! Chai love sweet well well for villa ooo! Hahahaaha! I love it! Reminds me of Mills and Boons! Lol

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  2. I love it.....to be continued? Nne don't be like this now......

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  3. Anonymous12:10 pm

    Dis one sweet well well!! Kai! D beauty of Africa! So natural, so sweet! I cld feel d village breeze as I was readin! Very Well constructed! OLacious u r goin places!

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  4. I love the story. Sweet. Made me feel all dreamy & I got some things-fall-apart vibe. I hope nothing bad is gona happen tho. Oya come & finish it biko

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  5. Achykes4:13 pm

    Trust you dear....cant wait for the part 2 of this "juicy" story...nne m ji si ike .

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  6. Aijay4:23 pm

    The beauty of culture! Continue already. Lol

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  7. Thanks, Coco... Lol at M&B

    Ng; Thanks, dear... Continued already :)

    Anon 12:10; Thanks :) To God be the glory.

    Toinlicious; Thanks :)I hope nothing bad happens too o ;);)

    Achykes; Daalu, nne. The story has become 'juicier',lol.

    Aijay; Patience, patience :)

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  8. nwunye arinze8:15 pm

    Ola the romantic.....nice one.....on to part 2....ngwangwa

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  9. Nwunye Arinze; I'm so lol @ Ola the romantic... you know me, girl, you know me :)

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  10. Beautiful. The slow pace was appropriate, helping us savour the details of the sights, sounds, customs and love of village life.

    I enjoyed this.

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  11. Samuel; Thanks a lot... I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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