Many people were envious of Chief Theo Chukwunwendu Nwosu, my father’s brother, not because he married four wives or that he had 24 children.
People envied Nnanyi Theo (as he was fondly called) who was born in 1910 for having the double fortune of being the first of the first sons ( i.e. the Obi) and the oldest man (i.e. Onyeihi) of the children of Nwosu Ezeonwaneti and as such reaping the attendant bountiful benefits.
In his possession were the Ofor Diokpala and Ofor Onyeihi i.e. the symbol of a political head and that of the oldest in the extended family of Nwosu Ezeonwaneti.
What is common in most families is that the Obi and Onyeihi would be held by two individuals. While the Obi could be a newly born male, the holder of Ofor Onyeihi is the oldest man in the clan or family.
Igbo people everywhere, especially Nnewi citizens, revere the oldest man in a clan. He is seen as the mediatrix of divine blessings or the medium through which the blessings of the ancestors and the living are dispensed to his relations.
As such, at any occasion like marriages, the oldest man is asked to bless the couple. As he begins to speak, all must remain quiet and be in a blessing receiving mode.
By virtue of his age, it is believed in Nnewi that the oldest or an Onyeihi is near the corridors of the dead ancestors and could eavesdrop into their discussions; after all, he soon join them. Hence, the Onyeihi is in a better position to negotiate on behalf of the living, with the dead and divine beings for good tidings od and waiver of bad omen for his younger relations.
Nwanyi Theo’s Christianity levels didn’t erode his Nnewi traditional orientation. Even all in Ezeoguine Royal family knew him as a man full of wisdom and an elder who “knew” his ancestors. He was a reference sage for clarifying hazy traditional practices.
Very early in the morning, he would draw the mandatory horizontal, perpendicular and vertical lines, with nzu or chalk, on the ground, invoking good fortunes for all members of his clan. This is called “itu nzu” in Nnewi.
After the “itu nzu”, Nnanyi Theo would subsequently do his morning prayer holding a kola nut in his right hand. He would remember all the family members and forbid a reception of news of untimely death of any of his relations.
Being that nobody prays and breaks kola nut alone, Nnanyi Theo would normally send for a relation, neighbour or invite a known passer-by or any or all of his wives to witness the kola nut breaking. Someone must say “isee” or amen to his prayers and partake in the communion of eating the kola nut.
Only a mad man, it is said, would be a lead singer and chorus singer or would be the singer and the dancer at the same time. Nnanyi Theo and other elders would never beat drum and still dance to the tune i.e “okuo akuo ogbaa agbaa”. They would never break kola nut alone.
Nnanyi Theo never eat any meal alone too. Which of the wives whose turn it was to cook and serve food for the week knee this and must make that provision.
Before he ate, he would give all the children of the compound, who were not summoned but normally would hang around his meal time, “okpoko utala” i.e a ball of fufu rolled inside a plate of soup. Each child would receive his and retire to a corner to eat papa’s food.
Only God knew what was left for Nnanyi Theo to eat after he had given all his own little children and those of his brothers and cousins present their own garnished balls of fufu or “okpoko utala”.
Nnanyi Theo would say that whenever the children had eaten that he too had eaten. And he continued this practice till he died.
Once in a year, all male children of Nwosu Ezeonwaneti must present a gift offering or tribute to Nnayi Theo. This offering is called “Ibu Ibú” in Nnewi.
In the agregarian Nnewi community, the “ihu” consisted of a minimum of four big yam tubers and a fowl.
You can imagine the heap of yam tubers when all the men in the extended family performed the mandatory tribute to the Nnanyi Theo.
That was why his peers were envious of him.
While grown-ups and economically responsible males performed the ibu ihu, the married daughters from the clan mandatorily returned or visited their paternal family members for a ritual known as “alulo muo” or worshiping of the God of their fathers.
Till 1994 when Nnanyi Theo died, he received both the “ihu” or tribute gifted to him alone and the lion share of the “utala ede and ofe oha” or cocoyam fufu and oha soup brought along by the daughters of Nwosu Ezeonwaneti family.
Today’s pentecostal pastors would be livid with envy if they ever watched Nnanyi Theo pray or as he released blessings on as many as his relations that remembered to perform the “ibu ihu” ritual and “alulo muo” rites.
Nnanyi Theo would bind all negative spirits, untimely deaths, near success syndrome, miscarriages and still births in a forceful voice with varying crescendo and rhythms.
He would call all the evil spirits by their names and instruct their restraining counter forces to prevent them from harming the children of Nwosu Ezeonwaneti.
Some of our relations who ignored this ritual kept moving in circles with the speed of a boat tied with a rope to an anchor by the shore.
Nnanyi Theo’s prayers had the effect of severing the chords hindering the progress of his younger ones.