By: Israel Umoh
On the Christmas Eve, some of our villagers plucked asaka flowers, wove around palm frond and pegged it in the front of their alleys in what was called Ugwuk ndak. It was their normal Christmas tree.
Asaka looks like a shrub with creeping tendrils and enticing flowers that beautifully budded during the dry season. It attracted sun birds and other birds. The orthodox Christians believed that pegging a palm frond on your alley sported with the asaka flower signaled the festivity and opener for blessings of the season.
Every morning, we gathered firewood, dry leaves and parched fronds, set fire it. As the fire bladed its tongue like rainbow colours, we warmed ourselves and kept on hauling more woods into it.
After sometime, we retired to our different houses. After sometime, my mother plucked pumpkin leaves and scrubbed it on ready-made mounds.
On a corner of her kitchen called ufok ubom, she stored a big earthen water pot where water was locally refrigerated for household use. Of course, visitors to our compound drank the cold, natural resource. In the night, she lit what was called bush lamp that the wind blew off with ease.
During this period, the dimly-lit village was bubbling with festive activities. Our youths organized their day and showcased all their skills and traditional plays. Some churches organised Christmas carols and invited members of other churches.
A day to New Year Day, we packed and washed all our cooking utensils including clothes. It was believed that cleansing helped to drive away bad omen of the outgoing year.
We swept the earthen floor and charcoal-polished mounds. My mother prepared melon-garnished delicacy used by many in different climes to entertain themselves. Some used locally brewed gin or fresh palm wine to wash down the delicacy.
She plaited her hair using thread. My father was not left out. He got punk hairdo. Of course, bottled drinks common in the urban city were unpopular and were not affordable by many in the village setting.
In the New Year night, our parents careened us like sheep to the church for the cross-over night. Those who took part in mounting asaka adorned with palm frond called ugwuk ndak ritual quietly removed it.
They hilariously made some incantations and others offered prayers to avert vicissitudes of the outgoing year should not accompany them into the incoming year. Shortly, they took and incinerated it. Off, they went away.
In our church, we sang, danced, and prayed. Like a night watchman, we never relapse into doldrums for fear of the old year fizzling out. Once it was 12 a.m. January 1, a new year is born.
Excitements and jubilation swallowed the dusty but chilly air. “Happy New Year” rented the air. From one member to another, the swan song continued. Hand pumping followed as we left the church. I could not walk alone as harmattan fanged intense anger on us.
I cuddled my mother and she herded us home. Before passing through junction called Asiak afa-Ikot Uko to our house, some young men had gathered, drummed and danced uncontrollably.
They released carbide canon into thin air. Some shot Dane guns, jerking their waists. Others yelled at the new-born baby. At home, we gathered at the fire oven and heated ourselves.
In the morning, we headed to Christ, The Redeemer Church, our church. It was all praises to God for ushering us into New Year. When we returned, my father embarked on a hot chase for a home-grown cock.
He had reared it over the months with the hope of eating it during the New Year Day. He put a long stick on a basket, put Garri on the ground and hid behind the basket. Yet, the cock became wiser and fled the scene. My father employed another tactics.
We pursued it into the thick bush. Knowing that its life was on the line, the cock flew above the 50 degrees sea level. Eventually, we trapped and killed it. He brought some yams from his barn and handed over to my mother to prepare for all.
Our mother prepared rice, the staple food then. She prepared palm oil stew garnished with sliced pieces of onion. The aroma was engulfing. She dished to us and we ate it. Later, she prepared pounded yam.
We slaughtered the cock which she used in preparing the pounded yam soup. The pounded was hard, such that in the process of swallowing, my throat was almost gorged.
However, I swallowed the hard-wrapped balls with military alacrity, knowing that this once-in-a-year event would soon come to an end.
When some of my age mates entered football field to display their soccer prowess, I sat at home and wished that the day never ended. Like any day that has a beginning, the day burnt out and dawned a new one.
One week after the New Year Day, people in different villages made ceaseless resounding sounds and accompanying heavy drumming rent the air, echoing “isua ka a a aoo” meaning (Old year go ooo.”
From one village to another, the message buzzed across the nooks and crannies. People took different items and threw away portending to perpetually sending away ill-luck-old year from their households. These were memories of how we celebrated the Yuletide in an Akwa Ibom village milieu.