link Omenuko in Igbo language
OMENUKO THE FIRST IGBO NOVEL by Pita Nwana
translated from the Igbo by Frances W. Pritchett
Around our town in Africa, this belief is accepted as law: if anyone goes to another town and lives there as a guest, even if things are good, or he is a merciful person, or a gracious one, or a fair judge, he will always be reminded that he is a guest in that land and he will be preparing himself for his inevitable return to the town of his birth. At any time he may be told, proverbially or directly, that he is a guest and must not fail to return home.This belief is strong. That is why anyone who has bad luck that causes him to be shamed in any way will pack up his things and go home. When he reaches the town of his birth, the joy he encounters will repay him more than everything he experienced in the other town where he lived as a guest. His people will welcome his return with rejoicing and happiness. In good time, he will teach his people about the interesting things he learned on his expedition, and he will have a chance to apply what he learned to work in his own town. All these things will contribute to his joy and he says, "Good town, good town," as the story in this book will demonstrate.
Omenuko had a mother and a father. His mother bore four boys and two girls. Their parents were poor people. They didn't have much money but they had yams, although not many. Because they didn't have money, they apprenticed their sons to people who bought and sold in the market, so that their children could learn the trading business. But the boy called Omenuko stayed with the one who was teaching him to buy and sell until he was fully grown. The name of his master was Omemgboji. His master then gave him some things he could use to start trading on his own. Omenuko thanked his master very much. Omemgboji said to him, "May things go well with you; may your people serve you as you have served me. Farewell."
Omenuko then began to buy things on his own, but he still associated himself with his master Omemgboji in making his purchases. When he had saved enough money, he parted from his master.
At that time he had a small boy accompanying him, helping him to buy and sell in the market. As the year progressed in that trading, he took on other people who were called "load-bearers." He himself was prospering and becoming wealthier. When people saw how he had learned to buy and sell in the market, some of them took their children to him so that he could teach them how to become traders.
During the time that he had many market apprentices, there was one particular journey when Omenuko had bought many things, which were carried by his load-bearers and by his apprentices. They all got up early in the morning in our town and traveled as far as they could. They stayed overnight in a certain town called Umuduru Nso Ofo. At dawn they resumed their journey and reached another town called Umu Lolo, and slept there as well. At dawn they started up again and reached another town called Ezi Nnachi. But between Umu Lolo and Ezi Nnachi they were drenched by rain, causing them to spend the night there [at Ezi Nnachi]. When day dawned they started out, but when they all reached a certain river called Igwu, that river was enormous. It was swollen on account of the heavy rain that had fallen on the previous day. The river had a tree trunk that was used as a bridge for crossing it. Omenuko and his people then climbed onto the tree trunk so they could cross the river.
When all of them were on top of the tree trunk, all the ropes that had been used to fasten it broke completely off. Omenuko and his load-bearers and the others who were his apprentices fell into the river. Not one of them remembered where he was. Every one struggled to save himself, until God in Heaven had mercy and they all got out. Not a single one was drowned. But the reason that the river did not swallow up anyone was that everyone in our town knew how to swim. We can know this by looking at Omenuko's wife. She was only a young woman but she knew how to swim like the others.
The river was swollen to overflowing, so everything they were carrying to market was lost in the river. Clay or gravel and things like stones filled the river and caused it to rush with great speed. If anything fell into the river, it would carry it away immediately. A person would be unable to retrieve it. Because of this, everything Omenuko had, everything that made him a wealthy man, was gone in the twinkling of an eye.
Then Omenuko opened his mouth and cried out, "God in Heaven, why have You caused me to become a person for whom death is better than life?" All the people who were going to market joined him in mourning the loss of all his belongings.
He then told all his people that they would return to Ezi Nnachi. They returned as he said. When they arrived there, the men and women who lived there joined Omenuko in lamenting the disaster. But what you will realize is that the news of what happened to him in that river did not reach our town because our townspeople had traveled three days since leaving it. And nobody knew what Omenuko had in mind on that day.
Afterwards, Omenuko called together his load-bearers and his apprentices and said to them, "If we turn back to our town without completing the market journey that we started, it will be what is called an abomination both in the eyes of our ancestors and in the eyes of God in Heaven."
Omenuko also said to them, "Please, have patience until we reach this market, because I have learned this direct from my master, Omemgboji." He told them a story concerning a certain man whose name was Akpo, an Itu man, one of whose boats sank in the Anyim, which was a great river. All his belongings in the boat were lost, but the man Akpo did not turn back--instead, he pressed forward and reached the market."
They all then agreed, and began their journey. But other traders were one day ahead of Omenuko and his people. So, when the other traders would start out from one town on a certain day, Omenuko and his people would just be arriving at that town on the same day. They traveled like that until they reached the market at Bende. Omenuko and his people also entered Bende on the same day in the evening. But the account of what happened to him that reached Bende first was that Omenuko did not want to buy many things on that trip. Neither did he want to rest. On the evening they arrived at Bende he went to his market friends, those who were slave dealers, and said to them, "You must come now during the night;--I have brought some things to market." He then told them the story of what happened to him in the river, how all of his possessions were lost, and all that was left to him were these few people. His market friends then shouted, saying, "Hey, hey, if you had not bought several people on this trip, how could this story have been told?" [They thought he had bought those people.]
He replied, My market goods would have been completely lost." So they came. Omenuko then sold out the young people who were learning to buy and sell in the market, also sold some of his load-bearers--who were young men--and also sold one of his step-brothers.
Not one of these people knew what Omenuko was planning to do to them. Omenuko then called together all those he had sold, including the step-brother, and said to them, "This man, whose name is Mr. Oji, has taken pity on me because of what happened to me on this journey. He told me that it's a shame the way all of my market goods were lost and the way I will have to leave here and return to our town empty-handed, I and all of my load-bearers. Because of this, he says that I and some of my load-bearers should go home together today, while my brother and some of the load-bearers should stay [here in Bende] for three days so that he can provide you all with things that you will carry back for me, so that with his help I will have something to sustain me."
He then took all the money he had gained from the sale of all the people he had sold, bought all the things necessary for the return journey, tied up his loads, and said to the load-bearers, "Start carrying."He left all the people he had sold and returned home. Then he told his load-bearers that since he had not tied a heavy load on anyone, they would do two days' travel in one day, because he was really very angry. They all agreed to do as he said. While they were on the road, Omenuko kept thinking about what he would do about those people whom he had sold out. At that time his conscience was bothering him for the bad thing he had done in selling out those other young people, because what had happened to him was not man's doing but God's doing. Then they reached our land after dark.