These are the last words of an old maiden translated from the old red walls of an excavated dwelling place in the belly of Idah mountains, deep in the Ojaina forest-the spiritual center of the royal clan and resting place of all dead Attahs.
“My name is Aja-nigo. An old maiden. A slave. Childless. In the bowls of this old mountain I have dug my resting place but I shall breathe and use my frail hurting hands to confess my betrayal before I lay my head.
I die an outcast. ‘Ochu’ they call me with scorn. The mention of the old forest witch terrifies the young villagers into obedience. Yes, I know what they call me for I was one of them.
I have never felt the warmth of a man’s arms or his loins nor heard the proclamation of his love. I fear it. It is a curse…….oh yes, a curse it is.
Love is Vanity.
Love is Bitterness.
Love is Death.
But this is not my story………
Oh my fair princess Inikpi! What beauty, What Grace. Her heart pure. But her heart was for one named Onu-Eje. The sweet love songs spilling from her lips all day long….for they met on her way to Azaina; where Attahs interred; where she met with the gods. Her heart was turned away from the gods that day. Onu-Eje, the fairest of all the men in the land. His name brought shivers to all the maidens, his smile gave every maiden sweet dreams but his eyes was for one only-my Princess Inikpi. He had found the reason for his existence. He lived for her. Only her.
Oh the look he gave, the sweet words he spoke, the tenderness he showed…….from afar we watched but so close we felt it. There was no love such as theirs in all the land.
But there was one whose heart was broken….Ojamiliya…….Onu-Eje’s betrothed. She lived and was groomed for him. Her mournful looks, the quietness in her walks, the look of dejection. Onu-Eje she had lost to my Princess.
Alas! The gods watched but not for long…
Our brave warriors killed, our kingdom was in disarray. Ayegba Oma-Idoko our great King was in need for the gods’ intervention and Ameh-Oboni the fearless priest he called. The gods demanded a human sacrifice. Princess Inikpi was to grace the god’s sanctuary to save her people from total annihilation for the gods guaranteed that.
The days we mourned. The days we wept. The days of gloom that followed. Princess Inikpi gave herself willing. Nine slaves and ten volunteers were to escort her. Onu-Eje gave his life to be with her. I was to be buried alive with her.
But ran to the River Niger I did that night; to pray to the gods to spare my life for I was yet to pass my morning. Then I hear her singing…….
“Whose shall I be? What do I live for? I will go with the one I was made for. The gods wants this. I come to you now. Show me how my Fathers”………..Ojamaliya’s song had reached the gods before my prayers. I realize this now. I sang with her in the dark and I wept for my life.
The morning came, the dark shy clouds opened to witness the great sacrifice. From afar I watched my princess sit staring ahead with her escorts while the red earth covered them. The tears of all mixing with the water of heaven.
Onu-Eje stood with her hands in his and where I was to be was Ojamaliya.
Oh yes! I had traded my life for hers. She prayed for a sign and I was the sign. We exchanged identities and off into the thick forest I ran. Ojaina became my home. And an outcast I had become……