It was now twenty years in the reign of Great Jinabo 1. His mother Nandong that led the kom people along the Python Trail had taken time to tutor the young leader (Jinabo1) on the principles of Leadership as led down by the Great Kom Patriach, Tangnankoli.
The kingdom enjoyed significant growth and expansion, beyond its hill side capital of Laikom. Its army was feared and respected by both great and small neighbours and boundaries kept redefining as more wars were won, more land captured and some gotten through negotiation.
The last ituh iboli of every month, everyone would assemble at iweh njang of Laikom to hear the Fon personally teach and advice people. Every kom child then, was made to understand the true meaning of wealth and its uses. Wealth then had nothing to do with money. It was all about how much influence one had on people and how many people one had in his household. So kom people were at the centre of the wealth of the kom nation. The reason for the wealth was them and the wealth was them. Any other thing was secondary. Wealthy people, because of the number of people they had in their households and the great influence they had on countless more, had a duty to be at the service of the their community. At their command a sick woman would be rushed to a doctor. A hungry passerby would find food to eat and a place to sleep in the house of a wealthy man. His barn was always full because these same people will turn out en masse to prepare his farm for planting and during harvest. It was the kind heart of the wealthy man, his fairness and compassion in dealing with people that attracted people to him, thus elevating his status. In kom kingdom then, it was society that determined who became wealthy. It was hardly a personal decision.
Birth and Harvest were of great importance in the Kingdom. Those were almost like institutions in their own rights. Since the greatest source of wealth for the kingdom was its people, every child born was greeted with shouts of joy and great celebration. Kingdom creativity in the area of song and dance was often showcased when a child was born and during harvest. Death was considered a misfortune and was not celebrated.
Masquerades were mainly for divinity, community policing and enforcement of the judgments resulting from litigation at the royal court. The worse of such judgments was for someone to be ostracized. This solitary confinement to one’s household, meant subjecting him to the greatest poverty…that is, taking him away from the common wealth of the kingdom, the people. Many in this condition preferred to die.
Songsi Fibanghisii a great warrior whose fearlessness had been instrumental for the Kingdom emerging victorious in the Germano-Kom war, particularly at the battle of Ilemighong, had disappeared shortly afterwards. No one knew his whereabouts. People spoke about him in hush tones. Kwifon, acting as the mouthpiece of the Oracle had declared that Fibanghisii is in foreign land and that one day he will come back with something that will turn the kingdom around. Countless Gweis had been sent to neighbouring Kingdoms on a search mission to no avail. This happened during the reign of the third fon after the great Jinabo. Not very much had changed in the Kingdom. The whiteman (Germans) had come and attempted taking over the kingdom and were humiliated at the battle of Ilemighong. Kom continued living harmoniously and prospering in their way of life as handed down by the great sage and Leader, Tangnankoli The Great.
Neighbours and curious passers-by noticed one morning that the ayissi at the entrance of Songsi Fibanghisii’s compound had been swept and the chairs well kept- a clear indication that Bobe was around. It did not take long for the entire Kingdom to know that the great warrior was back. What was more important was that he came back with an Iron horse…the type that was last seen only with the white man. Rumour had it that Fibanghisii had been taken by the white man to work with him in a country beyond the world, called Calabar. He had worked so hard that he got himself an Iron Horse. Now at the same level with the white man he had decided to leave.
It did not take long for Fibanghisii’s Iron Horse to start manifestly its powers. Many now understood why the white man brought and used it in the first place. It was meant to carry Fibanghisii (its owner) as a real horse will do. But there were other uses the Kingdom was yet to understand. Fibanghisii seldom climbed on it. He pushed it most of the time. Neighbours flocked his ayissi to hear him talk about the wonders of his great travels and how he got the Iron horse. It did not take long for him to get so much popularity…as such began to weld so much influence…As the days went by it was becoming more and more difficult to separate the facts from fiction.
Fibanghisii was a good warrior, but had a bad temper and very poor sense of judgment. His bad temper made him to act on impulse. For that reason he had a scanty household and commanded little respect away from the war front. By kingdom standards he was never going to be a wealthy man, no matter how hard he tried.
It is difficult to say how it happened. It is not certain whether it is the mirage of white superiority that the Iron Horse represented or the stories that Fibanghisii told of its great exploits…whatever it was, it worked a great miracle on the psyche on Komrades. On ituh iboli ( as was the custom) seated at a vantage corner of iweh njang was the Foin which was normal, just that this time Fibanghisii was seated very close to him. Many thought quietly if not vaguely to themselves that this has never happened, but for some queer reason kept their thoughts to themselves. On some occasions Fibanghisii would even interupt the Foin during a speech, the Foin will respectfully stop for him to continue. Again onlookers would wonder quietly whether this is what they have known all their lives…but taking a good look at the Iron horse, they will wonder whom they are respecting- The Foin, Fibainghisii or the Iron Horse parked at a conspicuous corner.
Contiously or uncontiously Songsi Fibainghisii won his way into the hearts of Komrades. It was common place to hear people of all ages talking about the great exploits of Fibanghisii, his Iron Horse. Even those that had never seen the Iron Horse or its owner. There were stories of how the Iron horse on its own could be sent on errands as far as Mbesaku, Nso or Bamoun and how it will accomplish its mission and get back in less than two days.
With his new celebrity status it did not take long for Fibanghisii to sell his new master plan to the entire Kingdom. The plan was simple… Families were to contribute large amounts of food items and livestock to Songsi Fibanghisii. According to his story, he will select a good number of young men who will accompany him to a country beyond the world call Miimbelawa. There he will exchange it for something called money that will enable him acquire for each kom household an Iron Horse and two for the Foin.
Komrades jumped at the idea. In less than three market days food items and over two thousand livestock were ready for transportation to Miimbelawa. An army of one thousand strong men was ready to be used as porters. Everyone was happy. On ituh ituo, the Kingdom bid Fibanghisii farewell as he led the young men to the country beyond promising to be back in two months.
In two months no one saw any sign of Fibanghisii or the young men. Two months then turned to two years, no word. Everyone was confused. Tongues started wagging. However they managed to continue waiting.
On the third year Fibanghisii managed to return with less than half of the young men he had left with. Not a single Iron Horse. When confronted at the palace by angry families about what happened, he said when he went some businessmen came and collected his goods on credit. When asked what credit was he told them simply that its a promise to pay on a later date. So that is how the goods were collected from him and he waited for more than two years in Miimbelawa to get paid and the businessmen never came back. When asked about the other members of his team, he announced sorrowfully that they had died of starvation during the waiting period. When asked about the Iron horses, he said simply that following the turnout of things he could not buy the Iron horses.
It was then that it downed on Komrades. Accusations and counter accusations now started raging in the once peaceful crowd. Husbands accusing wives, wives accusing husbands, neighbors accusing each other all in relation the failed expedition led by Fibanghisii.
As komrades left the palace still very mad at each and grumbling about how they had been deceived, one thing was clear: For the desire of what they do not know, they had lost their greatest assert. Trust and believe in one another.
That is the story of the Kom kingdom. A wealthy kingdom that refused to recognize her wealth. Took this wealth to the market place to exchange for money. Got duped, came back home frustrated with neither money nor their wealth (inherent way of life).
Frustrated as such, anger distrust, famine and death now visited the kingdom. Komrades started celebrating death. With a divided voice our oracles became deaf and dumb. Divinity became foreign. Masquerades had to be put to use in another way…celebrating death, accompanied by songs of lamentations of lost glory.
© 2012 A. Chia
This is a work of fiction…though intended to celebrate our past, it is not a Historical Fact!!
Inspired by a song composed by a great Komrade, CHIFANG.