By: Israel Umoh
The Sahara Desert wind blew angrily across the Niger Delta Region. It rustled gentle leaves and turned them to brown. Trees danced typical Makosa, moving left and right. The wind spewed dust everywhere. Freezing cold gripped animals and humans alike, causing them to shake uncontrollably. Bicycle riders developed cold feet, hands and shivering lips.
Fetchers of well water from our village commonly called anwa well and a stream in Nkek Idim looked epileptic as the biting air enveloped the parched land. Honeyed lips cracked with stammering voices. Well-sculptured legs wore different sighing marks. And succulent skins posed the sight of a stock fish. As the cock crow announces a dawn, so did harsh harmattan season herald Christmas and New Year celebrations in the sleepy Ikot Anta Village and its neighbouring counterparts in Ukanafun Local Government Area in the mid-70s.
The Yuletide was, as it is still today, a yearly ritual. The adults had a peculiar way and manner of marking it in the village. Among us the children, the period marked with candour was a different ball game. As the period drew near, my father would prepare adequately for it. He built a barn and erected a balcony for locally produced yams.
On a weekend, he dragged us- wife and children- to one of his farms. In the farm, he together with some hirelings did the harvesting. We were involved in picking to a safe place. Later, my mother formed an emergency make-shift kiln and mounted some hefty yams on fire. After sometime, she removed them, scrubbed the charcoal-like body and we commenced eating. We dipped the roasted in a delicious palm oil prepared from water of processed palm seeds called atta. We munched greedily because of hunger. That was our breakfast and our lunch. As we reached home, my father packed and displayed them in his barn.
As the biting wind blew across the land, birds grew in number daily cheering and jeering at us. As a child, I moulded sand from anthill like pellets. Sometime, I cut used bicycle’s chain, hauled into a small bag and set on a hunting spree. Sunbirds and others danced across the trees while others flew across the harmattan-strewn sky. My friend, Uwem Emmanson and I fired our arsenals until we exhausted them. In exasperation, we returned home with no catch. At home, my mother posed queries for my absence which the verdict would have resulted in denying me food for the night, I hastily played child’s pranks that let me off the hook.
During the period, my mother would either take me to Akpan Assiek Market in Ukanafun or Mkpok Eto Market in Ika for Christmas shopping. In Mkpok Eto, ekong traditional play beautifully adorned, moved from spot to spot, showcasing their dancing skills and receiving alms for acrobatic displays. It was a sight to behold as they rendered sonorous songs spiced with athletic dances. My mother bought clothes and dresses for me, herself and my sister and my father. She bought rice and condiments and later we trekked about five kilometers home.
By this time, we were on holidays as our Government Primary School had closed. In the morning, she sent me on errand to pack her palm fruits for cutting, cooking and processing. In the evening, she shared palm kernels between me and my sister. We busily cracked them and in the evening she merchandised the kernels to buy foodstuffs for the approaching events.
As Christmas filled the air, she gave me one kobo to clear my hair. The barber, one Marcus Uwah from Ikot Uko Annang, had a soiled barbing hood which I so detested because of its odour. He threw it on me. My stomach ached as soon as he brought a clipper, used in severing my hair. First, he used one cranky comb and bulldozed my hair ceaselessly. I closed my eyes and the man mercilessly dug my unkempt hair and later used a pair of rustic scissor and razor to clear it. It pained my head. But I endured; after all, I visited him once in two months. When he finished, my head looked like a moon-lit pot.
Close to the Christmas Day, our village began to boil. Our kinsmen and villagers resident in Port Harcourt had arrived in Peugeot 404 vehicles. Putta Aqua was a nick name for Port Harcourt and the locals understood it better. Some rode motor cycles.
Kpulom! Kpulom!! Kpulom!!! Kpulom!!! These were the sounds of a pair of psychedelic shoes called saika. The men who worked in Putta Aqua had come back. They wanted to prove to those at home that they had seen and enjoyed urbane life. So, they came back to display a tit-for-tat show for their villagers and siblings as a way of ensnaring the rest to join them in the busy city.
To announce their arrival in the village, they set the village ablaze with High life, Country, Merengue, Makossa, Sentimental/Bues, and Afro-Pop, among others. Such popular artistes as Jackson 5, Bongo Ikwue, Boney M, Eric Donaldson, The Doves, Shalamar, Bob Marley, I-Roy, Jimmy Cliff, Prince Nico Mbarga, Eddy Grant, and Uko Akpan Cultural Troupe, among others were their favourite. Not long, they turned an arena hot and adults and children engaged in a non-fee-paying gyration.
Of course, industries in Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout in Port Harcourt were brimming with life such that First School Leaving Certificate holders could easily pick jobs- menial, temporary or permanent. They wore Afro hair-do, others wore punk and flew oxygen-like shirts called papa dash. They wore a pair of trousers called bongo. They looked flamboyant. Some partied in villages while the rest mounted radio sets on their shoulders and strolled in the village to show off their hedonistic lifestyle while in the city.
In their houses, they piled records on their TurnTable simply called Record Changer or Stereo set and placed their speakers on a pot for loudness. The Record Changer and Stereo had a stylus running on a swirling vinyl polymer plate. We visited and peeped. Whether they had enough money or not was not important. The important thing was for them to visit home during the Yuletide, lavish their earnings, and be able to return to Putta Aqua. But for me, I resorted to my father’s old Transistor radio.
To be continued…