Gon-gon-gon-kri-gon–gon, the Ekere (talking drum) sounded mournfully from the distance. Like a dumb messenger, the wind silently bore in the sound of the drum from beyond the horizon, over the top of the trees into our village.
I was sitting on a log that was washed ashore and is now being used as an erosion protective tool at the bank of the river with Ebimote and Tubonah my cousins, looking apprehensively downstream where the sound of the drum was floating into our village from Iseleogono, our neighboring village. It was announcing the death of a citizen.
I looked at the sky; from between the tall trees that were almost like giant warriors barricading our village, that was nestled in their midst. There was nothing to be seen of the sun; it has swiftly escaped into the evening clouds behind the trees.
The sky was however marked by a blood colored cloud, where I guessed the sun had taken refuge. Probably, it has also heard the gon-gon-gon-kri-gon-gon sound of the drum, and like myself, that does not like that drum, had decided to allow the earthly mortals to sort things out on their own.
All of sudden, from across the river, deep in the forest, an owl called out sorrowfully. The sound ricocheting over the top of the trees and was picked up by another, and so it rippled on and on and then faded into the distance, blending with the sound of the Ekere drum.
“Ebi, why do they always beat the Ekere drum when someone dies,” Tubonah asked, his voice barely audible, looking up at Ebimote.
“I don’t know the real reason why they’re beating the drum,” he answered, sinking back more comfortably in his seat on the log, looking around the quiet village.
Tubonah was just about my age, he would be twelve 12 by October, which was just about a month away. He has dark sandy hairs with an oval face.
“My father once told us that the Ekere talking drum was made to send out urgent messages to neighboring villages in the old days, about an impending danger, like when an enemy had come to declare a war with one of the villages,” I said, looking at Ebimote for confirmation.
He was the oldest among us then, about 16 years, tall with sharp penetrating eyes.
“My grandfather told us almost the same thing about the Ekere drum. Every male knows about the language of the drum. Everyone is able to understand what particular message was being conveyed by the drum whenever it was beaten.
“However, when warring among the various tribes ceased, the Ekere was still relevant in passing out urgent and important information among the neighboring communities, like the reporting about the death of a citizen,” he paused and strained his ears to pick the sound of the Ekere drum from the distance.
“Ah, and just now you were saying you do not know why they are beating the Ekere drum, and here you are, acting like a dictionary,” Tubonah accused him.
“That’s why I didn’t want to say I know about it; you will always want to know more and more. Anyway, that’s what the drum is being used for these days.”
“But the sound of the drum still sound eerie,” I said, looking downstream as more people from the village were getting into their canoes, dressed in multiple colored traditional wrappers; they were all going to Iseleogono for tonight wake-keep.
“It always sounds scary and solemn when it is talking about the dead,” Ebimote said looking at me. “You know the drum doesn’t only announce about the dead, it can also be used in festive period to call out the titles of men taking part in the celebration.”
“That could be true,” Tubonah said standing up on the log. I remembered the other day they were having the wrestling competition, the drummer was using it to call out all the wrestlers, and they were all answering with their clenched fist raised above their heads and wiggling their bodies, dancing.”
I looked at the two of them and shook my head,” I don’t like the sound of the drum. I will always associate it with the dead. That will also, finally foreclose any attempt of anyone forcing me to take a title in the village.”
“Inifie,” Ebimote exclaimed, “Very soon you will attribute it to a fetish and devilish culture. You’re always regarding our tradition as a set of obsolete cultures, like the one our teacher told us about; Mary Slessor that came to stop the killing of twins in Calabar.” Then he looked at me inquiringly.
“What? Why are you looking at me that way?”
“What about your parents? Are they also going to Iseleogono?”
“Well, I think so. I heard my mother talking to my sister, Muna, to take care of her younger ones. Though I wasn’t paying close attention then, but thinking back, I guess she was referring to the wake-keep.”
I saw Ebimote pointing out something to me. I stopped talking to turned around. Sure, there was my mother going to her canoe with a bag. I am very sure my father was also getting ready by now.