When I travel, it's never just about the reason why I do it, than it is about the journey and other things I encounter to and from it. Most times I find that what I glean from the latter trumps the former, even when I spend most of the time attending to the former. So, this last time I was in the homeland with my small family, to attend the burial and funeral of my late father's friend as well as a far removed uncle, something else that I'm about to write about, got my attention. Lemme also mention here, that though the Anambra State Legislature had passed an act to limit the days for which a burial and funeral must be conducted in the state, nothing much has changed in my village, and by extension in Ifitedunu my town, as this particular one lasted four days, at least while I was there, before we took our journey elsewhere to explore the heartland before we returned to base after a week out of it. I belong to an AGE GRADE or ỌGBỌ, and have been since our coming of age (that is, when we were presented to the town officially) less than a decade ago, but the import of belonging to an Ọgbọ hadn't dawned on me until this time, though I have always participated in activities of my Ọgbọ even from outside of the homeland, hosting them severally from the time of my father's burial and funeral to that of a late uncle's, to that of another member of my Ọgbọ who had lost his mother etc, in my compound. Just like the nuclear family is the foundation and bedrock of any society, the Ọgbọ system amongst the Igbo is the foundation for the upholding of the Igbo culture across generations. In fact, Ọgbọ literally means "Generations" and the time of a people could be counted along those lines. For instance, my father's Ọgbọ or generation, including the man whose burial and funeral I'd just returned from, were involved, and some of them, like my late father, fought in the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War of 1967-1970. That Ọgbọ was rightly named "Ọchi Agha", which loosely translates to "those who led/prosecuted the war", "Admiral" or even "Field Marshal" depending on the ego of the member of the Ọchi Agha you encounter. The day after the burial, my uncle, a member of the Ọchi Agha age grade, hosted his peers in his compound, while those of us outliers sat by, spiking our bloodstream with some alcohol. While waiting for the others to join them, these men in their early seventies engaged one another, as well as those of us outside the canopy in "Njakiri", "idle talk" that sometimes may border on mild insults, cajoling, and even body shaming, which considering their age, they got most of (if you consider the situation of the aged, sitting in the midst of young men revelling in tales of their mastery of cracking bones with their teeth). At some point, my uncle's younger brother who had also returned home, as is norm in most of Igbo land to have most of theirs return home during occasions like burials and funerals, like I'd done, jocularly noted how it is that that particular generation was fast dwindling in number, so much so that they couldn't count up to twenty of its members, not just in the village, but in the town. I was also shocked by the observation, seeing as my father, a member of Ọchi Agha, had died three years ago. No matter how hard they tried to count they couldn't get to twenty and when they eventually did, it was with the kind of calculations that we find with most Nigerians, after the female football team at the world cup had performed so below par in the group stages, but with just enough points to stand the chance of qualifying to the next round, as best of the losers, if only other teams could play to certain results that will place us in good standing. Ọchi Agha, it will appear has seen it all. Yet they aren't the oldest in my town. In their hey days, they were (and still are) quite influential, and sired very influential offspring, who presently "run things" in the homeland and away from home, contributing heavily to the growth and development of the town. Because most of them were actively involved in the war, they were the ones that came home with scars and war stories, got and married some of the best girls of their day, had opportunities many before and after them didn't have. Their generation however, awakened our people to the debilitating illnesses of civilization associated with old age. The sad thing is that their fathers started dying just more than a decade back, the way old people used to die, and when they buried them, most of them were already on antihypertensives, diabetic medication and the likes. I know because I shared information with my peers, alongside whom we bought and held their medications for them, when we attended our grandfathers burials and funerals. Hence, most Ọchi Agha compounds in my village have two graves, theirs and their fathers, as with my compound, for my father and his father. Interestingly, when it was time for the members of Ọchi Agha, who had gathered at my uncles' to proceed to their late member's compound to pay condolence to his family and widow, a few of them had to be left behind because they couldn't do "the walk", which is customary because even if they'd come with cars, they'd have to walk there in a procession with music and dance. The condolence procession was unlike what you'd see had it been my Ọgbọ. Theirs was more solemn (and that's me not wanting to use the word slow), and the drumming, a more thoughtful version of the two-beat rhythm, to rhyme with what these elders can keep up with, even though they simply walked at their individual pace regardless, unlike the three-beat fast paced rhythm you'd find with younger Ọgbọ. These men of just between three and four age differences, started out together as kids, Played in the sand, streams and mud with each other (when the outdoors was the game pad and screens), had Duties allocated to them by the village and town, from environmental sanitation, to security; Schooled together, learnt trades for those who didn't have the opportunity to go to, or continue with School, went to War (peculiar with Ọchi Agha, and a few other age grades before and after them); got Married, built Families and Businesses, or rose in the academia to become Professors, in the Civil/Public service ladder, in the Military (including a Colonel in the Nigerian Army, a feat considering that at the time, rising in the army was unofficially prohibited for the group of Igbos who were thought to have also fought on the Biafran side during the war in which about two million Igbos perished), involved in Politics, at village, town, local government, state, and national level, and continue to remain relevant, even to this day. Methinks that there may never be an age grade like that in years to come, at least not in my generation, in the real sense of the word, and I say this not just because my father was a member of that Ọgbọ, but because of people like my uncle whose nickname is "Akwa Akwụlụ" loosely translated to mean "unmoveable". Other superfluous nicknames abound, that will show you how crazy that generation was when they held the reins. My father was called "Micky (Jagbar/Jaguar, depending on the level of speech impairment the one calling has) Jagger" in his hey day, which I've kind of inherited, only from and by his age grade, because by virtue of being a son of one of theirs, I'd become an honorary member of their age grade, and can have the honour of three back hands before the handshake (not the customary two hands to their one, with a bow for those younger than they are during a handshake), when I encounter any of them in public or private and have to greet. The lives of these icons, the pride of my village, and town, for a long while to come exemplifies the importance of the Ọgbọ in the Igbo scheme of things. It is how people are carried along, and is how no one gets left behind. Much has been said about how the Igbo are very successful, typified in the fact that although other parts of Nigeria have and can name the richest amongst them, the same cannot be said of the Igbo, as in the end, wealth is communal and a man cannot be said to be truly rich or wealthy, if his relatives, and a large member of his Ọgbọ are poor and live in penury. It is why there are very few to no Igbo beggars either in the homeland or out of it, compared to other tribes, including that of the richest man in Africa, a Nigerian who isn't Igbo. I remember how when we were about to be launched into the town union, and those of us who couldn't pay the levy because of some genuine incapacitation were allowed free, while those of us outside the homeland, paid a premium. Besides that, certain amounts are also raised as required for members finding things difficult, even if not to set them back on their feet, but at least to show them that their Ọgbọ cares, and that's away from other acts of kindness or help extended to such people on individual basis, either by the members of his age grade, or family. I hope this will reach Igbo males at home and in the diaspora, who still think this idle talk and amounting to nothing, to do a rethink, find their Ọgbọ, join them in contributing their quota into keeping the Igbo nation in its pride of place, for all ages. 'kovich PICTURE CREDIT: - www.igbere.com ỌGBỌ https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2019/06/23/ogbo/

Published by m'khail madukovich