Serialization of Newton Jibuno’s Hunger for Power: Nna anyi, I thing the child is coming o
Nna anyi, I think the child is coming o,” my mother whispered to my father.
“Hmm,” my father grunted. “Not now. Let’s get home first,” he added, as if, somehow, my mother had transcen-dent control over the timing of uterine contractions.
Seated up there at the special, reserved pew, right across from venerable clergy, no less, Samuel Jibunoh had no in-tention of losing face in this church his father had all but founded.
No, certainly not for something as trifling as a woman go-ing into labour because there were far weightier matters at hand, like finishing a magnificent service!
“But my water has broken,” my poor mother complained. “Wehave to go now.”
“Look,” whispered my father, “I will get you someone to take you home and fetch the midwife. You’ll be fine with her. I’ll rush there immediately after. But I must finish at- Hunger for Power tending this service. You know it is a New Year service.”
I had chosen the New Year service at St. John’s Anglican Church, Ogbe-ani Village in Akwukwu-Igbo Kingdom to announce my entrance into this world. The New Year church service was perhaps the one that had most senti-mental traction with the church-going folks of days gone by.
My father, Samuel Jibunoh, a self-educated man who stud-ied a bit of English and Science by correspondence, and his own father before him, were pillars of St. John’s, and this situation, if not handled delicately, could prove no small inconvenience.
My ancestors had been instrumental in bringing the Angli-can mission to the community by donating a tract of land for the church building that is still contiguous to the Jibu-noh household today.
Mostly on account of their affinity to the church, the Jibu-noh patriarchs were therefore held to a higher standard of conduct (at least when they were on the church premises) than most.
Therefore, when my heavily pregnant mother began to squirm in her seat as the Eucharist was coming to its glorious crescendo and the spiritual body of Christ Himself seemed to be descending to take up the substance of the wafers of bread on the altar, my father shot her a warning look.
Teeth clenched, grimacing in agony at labour’s onset, and assisted by a few female ushers, my mother waddled out of the sanctuary without causing the honourable Jibunoh and other worthies there present in that hallowed chamber of worship, too much discomposure at this all-important firstservice in the ecumenical calendar With the nearest government hospital a hundred miles away, my mother was now at the mercy of the local mid-wife, who incidentally was my father’s cousin.
Popularly known as Ma Agnes, this wizened midwife who delivered me, never saw the walls of any school, but midwifed almost 60% of all births in my home town and environs.
She was famous and well feared in Akwukwu-Igbo and environs as a strong medicine woman. She was the ‘go -to guy’ in these parts for all matters pertaining to female reproduction: our resident OB/GYN specialist.
Now, in those days, the practice of midwifery necessarily came with some connotations and not so muted echoes of fetishism.
Not being regulated or totally exposed yet to modern best practices, midwifery in those days was steeped in local customs that were also shared by native doctors, especially because midwifery skills were usually handed down in a family, from generation to generation, just like native doctors.
It did not also help that herbs, roots, spices, tree bark, etc., were the chief tools at their disposal, which also happened to be the stock in trade of native doctors. The midwife was pretty much the native doctor (‘dibia’) for women/childbirth affairs.
When it was apparent the baby was not seated well in the birth canal, my mother had to be operated on in what passed for a caesarean section.
The methods in use then were, to put mildly, alarmingly basic. Locally-distilled gin was the anaesthetic of choice – and it was sometimes poured direct-ly on the wound! The scalpel was a vicious-looking, well-honed knife.
Sterilization techniques were crude. A piece of cloth was shoved in between the woman’s teeth for her to bite on to help her manage the pain.
Since there were no bed stirrups, two hefty women simply sat on the patient, one on each leg, preventing all move-ment. These were the circumstances in which I came into this world on New Year’s Day, 1938!
Naturally, the whole set-up was a veritable breeding ground for all sorts of complications, and infection quickly set in on the caesarean incision.
Getting worried at my mother’s slow recovery after a few days, the midwife suggested that my mother be removed to her (the midwife’s) house/clinic for more intensive care.
To my father, this was a most pre-posterous suggestion, and he told her so in no uncertain terms.
It was unheard of for Samuel Jibunoh, Justice of the Peace, pillar of St. John’s, upstanding member of Laity, to have his wife ensconced in the domicile of a dibia.
A dibia, for God’s sake! How inglorious!! How unqualifiedly unseemly!!! No, the God he served at St. John’s Anglican Church was infi-nitely greater than any dibia.
His wife would remain in his home where he would provide her with all necessary care, and he felt assured his God would heal her of all her infir-mity.
My mother staged a fine recovery, and by the time my nam-ing ceremony rolled around, my father had just the perfect Ibo name for me. I was christened Chukwukadibia, mean-ing “God is greater than native doctors”, for him, that was the definitive, resounding, eternal validation of his com-mission as one of the body of stalwarts at St. John’s!
As for my other given name Newton, this was also all about my father. His favourite English expression was, “What goes up must come down.” So faithful was he in apply-ing this gem of simple wisdom to just about every con of life – business, family, agriculture, relationships, human nature, marriage, parenthood etc. that it became a kind of alias, and people would hail him whenever he appeared, by simply repeating the expression.
Now, my father was no science scholar, and he had no way of knowing his favourite saying succinctly captured the law of gravity, or that Sir Isaac Newton was the first scientist to measure the gravitational force and to propound the uni-versal theory of gravitation and the laws of motion in clas-sical physics.
When eventually he was afforded this crucial byte of sci-entific knowledge, my father filed it away in a corner of his mind and installed Sir Isaac Newton in that same corner as one of his heroes.
By the time I was born, he knew ex-actly the English name he wanted for his son: Newton, of course! I am also sure he must have nursed a secret hope that I would go on to pursue a career in the sciences. I like to think I have in some small way satisfied that secret long-ing.
Then to the name Jibunoh.
In pre-colonial Igbo land, power and social standing was measured by the size of your barn or the strength of your arm.
It was no different with us. In the estimation of my great grandfather, yam was wealth, yam was development, and you were nobody without a big yam farm or barn. He was renowned as one of the biggest yam farmers in the whole territory.
When the use of money was introduced, he re-fused to touch it, choosing instead to exchange yam for whatever item he wanted in a weird trade by barter system.
He gave offerings with yam, paid all his taxes and dues Hunger for Power with yam. His wives went to the market on market days to exchange yam with other commodities. So, he lived all his life with yam.
Our family name was Omanga, but as was the custom at that time, if you took a title, you were at liberty to choose a name that would portray your new position in the society. So he opted for the name, ‘Ji bu unoh’ which means ‘yam is the homestead.’
That was what became the faintly anglicized Jibunoh by which my family is now known today.
No comments yet