Agballah’s novel highlights an ugly past; it should serve as a clarion call —
By ANIEBO NWAMU —
Through this fictional work, Mr Ugochukwu Agballah recalls the shameful past of several African tribes, including his own Igbo from about 1870 to 1930. In particular, he details some primitive traditions and practices that still cast an ugly image on every Igbo person: the killing of twins, primitive wars, bribery and corruption in high places, injustice, and oppression of the less privileged especially as manifested in the ignominious trade in human beings. But he lends credence to the activities of some ancient seers like Okengwu and the challenges that confronted some early European colonialists.
Mr Agballah’s book is set in his hometown Udi, but events in several other Igbo communities are also narrated in the novel. Of the lot, Aro (or present-day Arochukwu in Abia State, Nigeria) appears as the vilest because of their “exploits” in shameful slave trade. And the rain started beating Ndi-Igbo probably from the time the Aros served as middle men to European slave traders: They encouraged inter- and intra-community wars so as to have prisoners of war to be sold into slavery. They tricked people into consulting “Ibini Ukpabi” [the Long Juju of Arochukwu], a temple of injustice that served as a slave port also. Orphans, widows, the sick and the poor were maltreated.
Where the Rain Started Beating Us is a novel and yet it is filled with historical facts, which the author says took him 26 years to gather. Those who have not read History will on reading this book learn that the white man introduced and encouraged slavery in Africa. But the white man also abolished it, and then introduced colonialism. The evil oracle [the Long Juju] of Arochukwu, for instance, was destroyed by a white expeditionary force in 1901, with the abolishment of slave trade and freeing of victims across the ports such as in the old Bende, Bonny, Calabar, Badagry, Lagos, Opobo and Brass.
It is an interesting read, one you cannot put down until you have read the last word. From Okengwu’s forecasts to their fulfilment, from Eze’s travails as an innocent victim of slavery to his freedom and return to his ancestral land Udi as Mr Daniel Scott, and from Chief Onwu’s show of wickedness and highhandedness to his death in the hands of women activists – the plot is intricately webbed to deliver a rich, stunning and fascinating story. The reader is treated not just to the ancient ways of breaking kola nuts and conducting village meetings but also to the cunning ways of coal miners who had to go on leave at a certain time of each year to celebrate “Onwa ise” but would lie to the white manager that their kinsman “Mr Onwaise” was dead each time they sought a permission to travel for the celebration!
When will the rain stop beating us? The pain and injustice that accompanied the trade in slavery is at the root of deep-seated hatred the Igbo of the riverine areas have for the Igbo of the hinterland areas up to this day. The rain will stop beating us when the descendants of former slave traders and the descendants of their victims understand that their ancestors lived in ignorance and superstition, and therefore divorce every form of discrimination that still lingers even in this 21st century. Ndi-Igbo shall have enduring peace when the “Osu” caste system is stopped and forgotten and nobody labelled as “ohu”, for “all men were created equal”. As Martin Luther King Jnr once said, there is no dishonour in being a slave, but there is dishonour in being a slave owner. Whenever the current preachers of human rights and democracy are confronted with this truth concerning their own ancestors, they are forced to bow down in shame!
I have little doubt that Mr Agballah’s ground-breaking work will reignite long-forgotten discussions on the predicament of the Igbo nation in today’s world. What I cannot say for sure is when the debate will begin, for Nigerians now have poor reading culture. After all, “The best way to hide something from black people is to put it in a book.”
The novel is divided into three unequal parts: Part II is the least with just 28 pages out of 360.
As in many works published in countries where English is spoken and written in a second or third language, there are a few noticeable errors of grammar and spelling in Where the Rain Started Beating Us. Some paragraphs are unusually long. Though the writer translates the lyrics of some songs to English, the anglicising of certain Igbo words [e.g. the Aros, Igbos,] leaves the non-Igbo reader confused at times. But the author’s language is simple and clear. A little more editing may be necessary before the publishers, Kraft Books of Ibadan, goes to press with the novel’s second edition.
Mr Agballah’s passion for the improvement of the community around him has been a longstanding one. A lawyer, he was once a fine politician – and I first met him on the field in 2002 when my late friend and cousin, Mr Fidelis Oguejiofor Ozota, introduced me to him. At the time he was the leader of Oganiru Enugu, a platform that contributed to the birth of the political party APGA in Nigeria. Mr Agballah was the governorship candidate of the party in Enugu State in 2003; and everyone knew he won, but for the massive rigging of the polls that year. Today, he is the president-general of Igbo Improvement Union, a socio-cultural group for the Igbo at home and in the diaspora.
Where the Rain Started Beating Us is a clarion call for unity and understanding among all Igbo-speaking people, for “Those who do not know where the rain started beating them will not know when it will stop.” The story should heal old wounds and, once more, unite a people known worldwide for their hard work and creativity.