Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Uncle the Medicine Man

Pix Courtesy: John McCall, Anthropology Dept, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
My village called Nri is known as the ancestral home of the Igbos. It is also famed for being the keepers of tradition and upholding the sanctity of life. If there’s anything like good voodoo/juju that’s what our medicine men practice….except for maybe some success denied or a laming or blinding(??) as punishment for some evil deed done but rarely anything diabolical or death causing - compared to stories heard from other places.
Dear Linda’s lol post here inspired this post about a great Uncle of mine who was a medicine man.
His house was next to ours in the large acre of land that belonged to my great grandfather – Elee the clan head.
Uncle Ani is generally an amiable charming man. Full of sharp quips and proverbs. He was not huge but he had a presence that made people pay attention. I bemoaned he wasn’t on the Jesus side. He would have made a great Christian.
He was a respected arbiter in disputes. He chaired the clan meetings. He was also involved in administering chieftaincy titles.
Some of his other priestly duties included errr clearing widows of guilt in the event of a husband’s death (It is rumoured that the means by which he certifies innocence includes a lakeside oath taking and some gymnastics  with the ladies). Anywho he was a most popular man in the village. I think I saw him in full medicine man regalia about once or twice…you know the loincloth wrapper, bare chest, feathered cap and white powder around the eyes.
Coming home for the yuletide festivities, you notice the main paths strewn /festooned with eggs and beads, and goat’s blood and feathers. I don’t know who the juju was for but it wasn’t gonna get me. The rest of the extended families well the younger generation avoided him and his family like the plague – They won’t even drink water from his home come to talk of food. I, on the other hand got on well with him. He used to call me 'Nwa udu be Elee’ – the smallest of the Elee clan.
The last time I saw  him was the past Xmas holiday. He is 93 now. And mostly home-ridden. He still had the big welcoming smile when I knelt to greet him but his eyes were blank (that kneeling gesture plain tickles him - it is not an Igbo tradition but I adopted it from my Yoruba friends).
It took me 10 secs to realize he didn’t know who I was. Despite his wife’s hints. Then she winked at me and shook her head. I understood. Age amnesia.
But then there was great news:
Aunty flashed her right hand under my nose – a wedding band. Woah what happened? Well, it seems a couple of months back, Uncle got up, dressed and went to the village church, made confessions and requested a baptism ( This was the same man who waged a war on my mom for years for daring to knock down one of his shrines).

His new name is John. He had also agreed to wed his wife of 55 years in church!

While people like Fr Peter and me are over the moon about this development. I’m sure the villagers who were on the queue to receive some love potion from him were not too happy. Ah well, can’t please everybody…


  1. Ginger! What a fabulous wonderful story! Now I have to look up where you live! What a fascinating man your uncle is. I don't try to convert Alex though. I think in some ways, he's converted me. LOL! I adore this story! Now I know for sure I want to adopt you!

  2. aww...that was such a cute story! Your uncle has lived long. I hope my parents can live that long as well so they can know their grand-kids someday. I love the idea of village life, though I've never been to mine.

  3. lol Mom. its a done deal already. Dare try and un-adopt me.
    Conversion? love love love.
    @Anyaposh - village life can be very peaceful. no locked doors, everybody is related or knows your family tree. And best of all no curfews!
    My uncle is a lovely man. I wish I had been more curious as a child and asked him questions. I'm sure I would have had ear curling stories to tell.

  4. You are mine all right! Now I have a friend who is "High Chief". What does that mean, Ginger. He tried to explain it to me, but I still don't get it.

  5. High Chief? I don't know :-(. Someone who hobnobs with the spirits yeah? Most be a powerful man.



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