“To feel at home everywhere is the privilege of kings, robbers, and good prostitutes”—Honore’ de Balzac
A Royal Madness has four lives. At sixteen, it leaves home and can possess anyone with royal blood. Those it dominates must have roots of insanity. The work of the Royal Madness is to ensure those roots thrive to their fullest potential. But it must always keep to Mashariki, the East—for this madness is sanctified by the rays of the rising sun. Of its four lives, it must spend the last one at home, in the easternmost part of the place it was birthed.
This is the story of the lives lived by the Royal Madness of Mashariki, born in 1800, in East Africa.
Sometime between sunrise and sunset, around the same time The Royal Madness was born, in a Chiefdom that lay on the eastern edge of Southern Africa, Chief Senzangakhona of the Zulu and a woman named Nandi of the eLangeni engaged in the fun of the roads. But the Ukuhlobonga went too far, resulting in Nandi’s pregnancy. When the eLangeni people announced to Senzangakhona and the Zulu tribe that Nandi was expecting a child, the Zulu replied that the girl was not pregnant, but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle.
In the month of uNtulikazi, Nandi gave birth to a boy with an enormous nose whom she named Sigidi. The proud proper people of eLangeni didn’t take kindly to illegitimate children; considered poor models for the village, mother and son were humiliated and harassed with songs and poems composed specially to ridicule them.
Sigidi also suffered great bullying from the eLangeni boys. They mocked him partly because of his heavy tongue, partly because of his enormous nose, partly because of his two prominent teeth, but mostly because of his claims. Sigidi went around announcing, “My father is a great man… eeeeeeee…. He is Chief Senzangakhona of the Zulu, and he is very brave. He leads warriors to war and kills everyone he takes captive. One day I will be a chief like him,” he would say, his words slurred from his heavy tongue.
“Is that why he rejected you and your mother?” the village boys would shout. “You are not even his actual child. You are a bastard, an utShaka, udoti.”
“With your porcupine teeth, you could even be a cashile.… enhe. What Chief would you be with that enormous nose that is good for smelling dung, utShaka?” they would scorn.
He soon after became known as Shaka—a name that would forever remind him of his illegitimacy. And as with all children everywhere, illegitimate or not, the boy Shaka grew. Albeit angry and resentful.
When Shaka reached that age where his peers' interest was mostly girls, he deserted his eLangeni clan for the Mthethwa. There, he joined the warriors. If you were an ugly bastard who couldn’t speak properly, the least you could do was fight well. He channeled all his anger into fighting. Once he wore the amaShoba, he would fight to the death of all hisassailants. Soon after, he became the chief warrior of the Mthethwa.
Sometime later, news reached him that his father, Chief Senzangakhona, had died. Shaka knew he had to take advantage of the opportunity. He approached the Mthethwa Chief.
“Years now, I have faithfully served you. My father has died. I ask your permission to go and take his seat.”
“Ah, young man. That desire for power is good. But hasn’t one of your half-brothers already assumed Senzangakhona’s throne?”
“My chief, if you were to lend me a few warriors, I can dethrone him. I’ll remain loyal to you. I will make the Zulu chiefdom an extension of yours.”
The chief was convinced. Together with the Mthethwa warriors, Shaka attacked and killed his half-brother and took over the throne. As he had told the eLangeni boys years ago, he became Chief of the Zulu. Not one to forgive or forget, he sought the men who had made his boyhood a misery by their mockery. And on their very own kraal fences pierced them to death. One by one.
Meanwhile, The Royal Madness of Mashariki, having turned sixteen, was ready to leave home. The High Priest of Madness told it to start with the South. Shaka, a young royal chief with too much blood on his hands and hints of insanity, was the first candidate. The Madness bid goodbye to its mad family, and traveled to the east side of South, to live out the first of its four lives.
Once it had unpacked and made itself at home in the life of Shaka, it inspected its new residence. It then waited for Shaka to finish murdering the last of the eLangeni boys—now men—and then completely took over Shaka’s mind and soul.
“It’s victory or death!” Shaka proclaimed during the next military campaign. And that is what it became from that day. When the Mthethwa Chief, a man Shaka had considered a father, was killed by an enemy chiefdom, Shaka tracked and killed them all, and captured their chief’s mother.
“Lock her in the hut where we keep the hyenas,” he ordered. “They will find her old skin appetizing.”
“Wooiii! Please spare your imama… have mercy on me child, ooooiiii,” the woman pleaded.
Shaka, though resentful, had been sympathetic to women and children before, sparing them in his attacks; but now possessed, his heart hardened. He could not settle for anything less than savagery.
Early the next morning, with fire in his hand, he burned down the hut. As the bluish orange flames reached the heavens, drowning the howls of the hyenas, lighting the woman’s bones, Shaka’s last threads of sanity burned down. In its place, the deep dark power of the Madness took hold. A few days later, when he came across a heavily pregnant woman, out of nothing but curiosity, he called her to his home and ordered the warriors to slice her belly open just to see how the baby sat inside her. He then ordered the gouging of another man’s eyes to see how the victim would adapt to life as a blind person.
The Madness was not only barbaric but also inventive; Shaka fashioned the ikwala, quick stabbing spears, and made shields from cowhides which his warriors used to conquer the surrounding chiefdoms. He slaughtered their chiefs and immediately replaced them with his chosen subjects. He had a military of up to 40,000 warriors—men and women whom he prohibited from wearing sandals. They ran barefoot over rough grounds for their feet to be toughened. He also didn’t allow them to marry or be married. Shaka too didn’t marry; he, however, kept a harem full of women supervised by his beloved mother, Nandi. Those found pregnant were put to death. Their stomachs sliced open in full view of the other women.
The Madness did not like short men, so Shaka grew an abhorrence of them. “This kingdom cannot move forward with these isilima short men. They are useless, can’t even see when the enemy is approaching. Kill them all.” He decreed. He also executed warriors who had wounds in their backs after, as this meant they’d been running away when attacked. Weakness was intolerable to him.
Chief Shaka and the Madness of Mashariki reigned from the Mzimkhulu river in the north to the Tugela river in the south. From the Drakensberg in the East, stretching into the coast. He was no longer Shaka, chief of Zululand, but King Shaka of the Zulu Kingdom.
Then Nandi died.
She was the only person Shaka had loved. Not only as a mother, but as a confidant, supporter, and advisor. His overwhelming grief and depression, together with the growing insanity, was the perfect mix for full-blown craziness.
Oh, how the madness prevailed. Feeding off Shaka’s pain, it broke the banks of restraint, flooded the borders of control, wreaking havoc everywhere, destroying everything in its path, taking no prisoners.
“There shall be a seven-year mourning period. During these years, no woman in my entire territory should become pregnant, or else she and the husband will be put to death. No crops should be planted. Any cow or goat or sheep that gives birth, will be put to death so that the young one knows how it feels to lose a mother. No one may use any milk. I will kill anyone who does not show enough grief during this period,” Shaka pronounced.
The warriors went around the kingdom, making sure everyone was grieving. If one was found to be insufficiently gloomy or showing anything that resembled a smile, they were killed. They murdered 7,000 for either laughing or drinking milk or giving birth, or whatever reason that did not add misery.
Nandi’s death made Shaka realize that he too was a mortal who could die anytime. That scared him. He, therefore, sought the strange white men and invited them to his kingdom.
“Give me an ointment of youth or anything you have to keep me alive. You must have something like that, seeing what clever people you are.”
The white men had nothing like that. But they knew the reputation of the mad king. Saying no was welcoming death, so they said, “But of course, great King. A syrup we have. Give us a few weeks to send for it from our homeland.”
“I will give you anything, as long as I don’t see these grey hairs on my head, or grow old and die. I don’t want to go the way of my mother.”
The Madness of Mashariki, having received a vision from the High Priest of Madness that its first life was ending, and it had to go North, readied itself to move out. When the white men came back with a cough syrup, which they prescribed to Shaka to drink every morning and evening, it started packing its clothes. When the white men demanded a piece of the Zulu kingdom for the “syrup of youth,” and when Shaka signed it away without a thought, the Madness carried out its suitcase and walked out. The white men went away laughing at the foolishness of Shaka. He had sold his kingdom for a cough syrup.
The starvation in the land caused by the “Nandi grieving decree” was unbearable. As was the bloodshed and the anger of the hungry men. Even the warriors were exhausted. One evening, Shaka’s fed-up half-brothers snuck up on him at his royal kraal after the soldiers had gone out on patrol. They struck and stabbed him countless times.
The King cried out: “Brothers, Uqala ngamanzi, impupu ungakayigayi, you will not rule. The swallows will do that. You will end through killing one another.”
As the sun set on the east side of the South, Shaka’s body was dumped into an empty grain pit and filled up with stones. The great mad man from the east side of the South, King Shaka of the Zulu, fell, and his kingdom with him.
The Royal Madness of Mashariki, left with 3 lives, made its way upstream. To the east side of North.
Somewhere between dawn and dusk, not too long after The Royal Madness was born, in a province that lay on the east side of the North, Haile Wolde of Qwara District, a Christian nobleman, got himself a wife from the upper nobility.
“The union will be good. Her name is Attitegeb, a member of the noble family.” the nobleman was told.
Attitegeb became with the child soon after and gave birth to a boy called Kassa. But their marriage broke up, and the couple divorced. Attitegeb moved back with her son to her province in Gondar. To a community that cared little for Christian women whose marriages ended up in divorce.
As is the way of the world, Kassa’s father died. His family split all his wealth up, leaving nothing for Kassa or his mother. Attitegeb, who had now fallen from glory, and into the pit of poverty, started selling worm killers (kosso) in the market. Along with ridicule, Kassa suffered great bullying and teasing from the Gondar boys. This was partly because of their poverty, partly because of his handsome appearance which caused jealousy, and partly because while playing, he won at everything, wrestling, running. But mostly because of his claims:
“My father was a rich nobleman, a governor. My mother too comes from a noble family. I am royalty. And a monk prophesied to my mother before I was born that one day, I will rule the whole of Ethiopia.”
“Haha, is that why your father chased you both away with nothing? And if you are a noble, why is your mother selling kosso? Look at this Kosso seller’s son,” the village boys would jeer.
“You can tell us nothing. You are so diha. Kosso seller’s son! Kosso seller’s son!” they’d chant. This insult against his mother, he neither forgave nor forgot.
As with all children everywhere, whether or not their mothers sold kosso, the boy Kassa grew up. Albeit angry and bitter. The High Priest of Madness saw him, noted his potential, and saved him for later. His time was soon to come.
Despite being properly poor, Attitegeb was still conveniently Christian. To give her son a chance, she sent Kassa to live with his uncle, who took him to a monastery. The monks taught him the bible from Genesis to Revelation. He learned European history and read Shakespeare. When he tired of reading about white people, he studied the techniques of his own people’s warfare. He became a well-educated man and was on his way to becoming a Christian nobleman—just as his father had been—when the Madness of Mashariki reached him in the North.
It arrived the same night bandits attacked the monastery. When he saw his classmates being killed, but as he ran, he was no longer one. He went back to his uncle, possessed. He gave up his books, his Bible, his Shakespeare and became a shifta. From then on, he waylaid and stole from the rich men in Qwara and shared out the spoils with the poor. Because of this, he gained a massive following. Kassa was yet to reveal his straits of insanity, so the Royal Madness of Mashariki took the time to unpack, unwind and rejuvenate. The last days with Shaka had been exhausting.
Empress Menen, ruler of Gondar, Kassa’s home province, wasn’t impressed with his robin hood deeds. She worried that Kassa, who now had an army and had captured other provinces, broken them into districts, and appointed personal governors, would look homeward, turn on her and gain Gondar. She gave him her granddaughter, Tewabech, as a wife, for security.
Kassa adored Tewabech to the point of worship. She was a small delicate woman with a gentle spirit and extraordinary beauty, and she too loved her shifta husband.
“My darling, you know there is nothing I would not do for you,” he would tell her.
“Then my lord, go easy on the subjects in your provinces,” she would implore since any form of injustice grieved her.
“As you wish mentewab.” This happened many times and Tewabech could subdue the Madness of the Kassa.
But it was the same Tewabech, who, righteously indignant on behalf of her husband, flicked on his fiery flames of Madness; she made Kassa rebel against her own grandmother, Empress Menen. It was just after his battle against the Egyptians, and he had been badly wounded.
“My husband, Emporer Yohannos III has sent you meat from an entire bull, as custom, for you to eat and regain your health. But grandmother, an entire empress, has only sent you the leg of a bull.”
Kassa raised his head to speak, but Tewabech was not done. “She has constantly ridiculed and undermined you, but this is worse. One servant even heard her say that you deserved less than the leg of beef because you are a mere thief.”
The Madness of Mashariki, who was almost getting bored while waiting for an opportunity to latch on, stirred at this.
“Empress Menen keeps referring to you as a ‘highway robber and a Kosso Seller’s son.’ I will not have you disrespected like this, my husband. You need to rebel against grandmother.”
Kassa could bear insults on his person, but not against his mother. To be called a Kosso seller’s son was an insult he never forgave. In defiance he refused to send the quarterly tribute to Empress Menen, who sent her warriors, led by her finest general, to go and “return with the son of the Kosso seller.”
But Kassa was prepared and instead captured the general, making him continuously drink the powerful kosso they mocked Kassa about until he died. The Madness of Mashariki, pleased with this action, immediately came to life and took over Kassa’s soul and mind.
Empress Menen was furious when she heard about the fate of her general. With her entire army, she marched into battle herself. But Kassa captured her and ordered her killed.
Tewabech, who regretted her role in starting this fight and was overcome with love for her grandmother, begged Kassa to reconsider.
“My love, I entreat you in the name of Christ our savior, please spare the life of grandmother.” She knelt before him.
Because the strength of love could still overpower his madness, Kassa reconsidered. “All right, for your sake, I shall spare her.”
Instead of being killed, Empress Menen was confined to a cave.
The Madness of Mashariki was furious at this turn of events. What was the point of victory without bloodshed? Something had to be done. To assert itself, and quench its anger, it spoke through Kassa.
“General, order the soldiers to burn down the entire town of Empress Menen. No survivors.”
That night, watching the inflamed people run around as they screamed themselves to a smoky death. Watching the heads of others being chopped off like leaves, watching bodies roast and burn before his eyes, as streams of blood flowed, the Madness of Mashariki roared. Kassa had now conquered all the districts and provinces on the east side of the North, from Semien to Maryam, Shewa, Gojjam, to Wollo. As he had told the Gondar boys years ago, all the North was now under him.
“I, Kassa Hailu, elect of God, son of David and Solomon. I am the King of Kings. Savior of God’s people,” he declared after he defeated the last enemy forces. His church crowned him Emperor Tewedros II. And he became known from then on as Tewedros.
Tewedros had a vision of unifying Ethiopia. And no one could stand in the way of that. “If there be any regional princes or lords who refuse to recognize me as emperor, kill them and give their lands to the poor,” he instructed the generals. Because of this, his people loved him and overlooked his tyranny.
But the Madness of Mashariki was not pleased with Empress Tewabech. Many times, she had limited the madness of Tewedros. Stopped it from fully raving with her suggestions of benevolence.
Then Tewabech died.
How the Madness rejoiced. How Tewedros grieved. How the Madness gained strength. How Tewedros lost control. For months, he refused to bury her body, unbelieving that she was gone. When he finally accepted that she was dead, the Madness of Mashariki came to the core, reigning fully with no restrictions.
Tewodros heavily taxed his people. He also demanded that the same people should feed his large army of fifty thousand soldiers. He decreed monogamy for all men and beat the common people who came to seek his justice. And believing himself to be God’s chosen, he opposed the church—it was his way or his way.
It was the best of times for the Madness of Mashariki. This was a high that it had not felt even with Shaka of the Zulu. This rollercoaster of madness could only go up. His advisors, thinking that a wife would reign over him again, convinced him to take another wife. But this second marriage only kindled the madness further. His new wife, Empress Tiruwork, was from the line of King Solomon himself and had intended to become a nun. Having been forced to marry Tewedros, she despised him. She felt they had forced her to marry beneath her dignity, marry a highway robber. She abhorred the man. For affection, Tewodros turned to alcohol and other women.
Not long after, his chief general was killed when they were out in battle.
“Take all the 500 prisoners we’ve captured to Dabareq market, and stone them to death,” he ordered. But even that could not calm him. He still commanded the killing of everyone in the nearby enemy districts. About 7,000 people.
“I will consider him an enemy whoever does not rejoice with me at this great revenge.” He said. His soldiers went around the empire, seeking those who did not rejoice enough. Those who were found to be insufficiently happy had their limbs chopped off, or thrown over cliffs, others burned alive. The mad emperor was now madder than ever. Because Tewodros hated tears, no bereaved person could mourn.
When he entered the city of Gondar, the women of the town came out to clap in greeting, as was customary. But Tewodros accused them of ululating too loudly. He was furious.
“Are you doing this to alert enemies of my approach? You are cooperating with them.”
And none of their pleas stopped him from slaying all of them, there and then.
In one of his rages, he brutally murdered a twelve-year-old imam. He ordered his feet and hands to be cut off. After that, he dragged him to the edge of the Magdalla Plateau and threw him over the escarpment into the plain. His people shivered in horror when they heard this. They deeply resented Tewodros II from Shewa to Wello. Even his village people of Qwara wanted nothing to do with him. The people were tired of the mad, murderous emperor.
So, Tewodros reached out to the white men in his kingdom, asking them to take a letter to their leader, Queen Victoria of England, as he sought help to conquer Jerusalem. After all, wasn’t he the elect of God? It was only fitting that he ruled from Jerusalem. But Tewodros got no response from the Queen. This was an insult he could not bear.
“Lock up all the white people in Ethiopia. I consider it an affront that their queen ignored me.”
And when he started killing them one by one, the queen wrote back, refusing to support him on his mission, asking him to release her people. But who was Tewodros to listen?
In a vision, the High Priest of Madness came to the Madness of Mashariki, warning him it was time to leave. Time to pack. But enthralled by the potent lunacy in Tewodros, it disregarded, believing it still had time.
With the help of Dejezmach Kassa of Tigray, the British troops marched to Magdalla to free their people. Watching from the heights, Tewodros saw his soldiers being outgunned. He saw his generals and advisors being shot. He could not face the humiliation of captivity.
Tewodros picked up his pistol, placed the barrel in his mouth, and shot himself dead. And as the sun set on the east side of the North, the great Emperor Tewodros, Lion of Magdalla, fell, and his kingdom, with him.
The Madness of Mashariki did not have time to flee. Since this was a suicide, it was stuck in Kassa’s body for a dozen years. How many times had they had warned it as a child, “Remember, if your host takes their own life and it finds you there, twelve years in their body, you will be trapped.” Its pride had cost it, and so it decided that it had shed enough blood and, for its next life, would have more fun and less bloodshed.
Somewhere between morning and evening, some years after The Royal Madness was born, in a village that lay on the east side of West, Ugbabe Ayibi, a poor palm wine tapper in Enugu-Ezike, married a poor farmer.
“Her name is Anekwu. Just marry her before someone else goes to see her father and takes her,” he was told.
Anekwu became with child soon after and gave birth to a daughter called Ahebi. This poverty, however, was too much. So much so that it made Anekwu move back with her daughter to her village in Unadu. The proud poor people of Unadu didn’t take kindly to women who left their husbands because of hardship. Mother and daughter were harassed and constantly ridiculed.
Along with the spite, Ahebi suffered much teasing from her friends. Partly because of their running away, partly because of her beautiful skin, and partly because of her claims.
“My father is the greatest palm-wine tapper in Enugu-Ezike. Even kings from other lands send for his wine. One day, I too will be a noblewoman. People will bow down to me.”
“Ahihihi... Ahebi you are funny. The only greatness you will ever have is that you and your mother ran away from your father’s poverty, to suffer with us here in the village.”
As all children everywhere, whether or not their mothers ran away from their fathers, Ahebi grew. Albeit angry and bitter. When the jesting became too much, mother and daughter packed themselves up and returned home.
“The goddess Ohe is punishing you for a crime you committed,” the diviner revealed when Ahebi’s father went to find out the cause of his poverty. “The only way out of this is igo mma ogo, yes, offer your daughter Ahebi as a living sacrifice, to be the wife of the Ohe. But Ahebi refused the ‘honor’ of being dedicated to the goddess and ran away to Igala.
The Madness of Mashariki, reawakened after twelve years of enforced slumber, and running from the east side of North to the east side of West, met Ahebi as she ran. The High priest, punishing it for its previous mistake, had not sent a message on who it was to possess. Since Ahebi was the first person it encountered, it jumped into her.
It knew it had made a mistake as soon as it possessed Ahebi. Though she had straits of insanity, she was a common woman with no traces of royalty. But to unpossess her would lead to its premature death. The Madness settled and waited, giving itself time to find a solution.
Ahebi knew the gods had blessed her with a beautiful body for a reason. So, she traded with her body. At just the right age, with the right face, and her native medicine which made her more appealing, she was soon the best prostitute in Igala. With many clients, business boomed.
This trade also required her to constantly travel in search of new markets. She had to learn new languages too in her journeys, for how could you satisfy clients if you couldn’t understand their needs? Hearing of her prowess, the King of the Igala and even the strange white men who had come to the Kingdom sought her services.
The Madness did not enjoy this common life. It was used to royalty, and the only scent of royalty in Ahebi was from the Igala King with whom she occasionally had sex. Resolving to work with what it had, the Madness of Mashariki started plotting.
Because she could speak their language, Ahebi led the white men through the inner routes of lands she had traveled and watched as they conquered her people. With money, influence, and the white man’s backing, she returned to Enugu-Ezike, and back to her village. The Madness of Mashariki had a fully formed plan.
“Ugwu Okegwu,” she approached her village headman with false humility. “Since I am the only one who can speak the white man’s language, I wish to help you as an interpreter.”
The headman gladly accepted the “help”. But the Madness had not come here to play. Later, when the headman was found mysteriously murdered, Ahebi became headman. Not only headman, but after a few months, she influenced her white friends and clients to appoint her warrant chief.
The elder’s rage that a woman had been made chief did not stop Ahebi. She did not care about small village politics; her eyes were now aimed towards the seat of Eze. She was going to be King. Her glorious campaigns, together with the support of the King of Igala, and the force wielded by the madness of Mashariki in her, couldn’t be stopped. She was a leopard. Fast and fierce.
Before spit could dry on the ground, they crowned her as eze of Enugu-Ezike. Riding a horse back in her Kingdom, with a group of singers and dancers following her, as she had told the Unadu girls years ago, she was now the greatest person in Enugu-Ezike. And people bowed down to her.
The Madness of Mashariki laughed in content. Though it had lost twelve years, it had redeemed itself by making a common prostitute, a woman, into a king, into a man. Ahebi Ugbabe was now the King of Enugu-Ezike. It was time to go mad.
King Ahebi, as is the nature of all kings, allowed only virgin girls to sleep in her room. “Aside from the maidens in my room. Bring me some married women from the village.” She ordered.
“My king. Married women will be difficult seeing as their husbands may refuse.”
“Chelukwa! Refuse the king? Okay, bring me women whose husbands complain they are undisciplined.” These she would beat, make them work as servants in the kitchen, or garden. The beautiful ones she took as wives. Not really, she kept them in her brothel, to serve the needs of the many important men who visited her. Good prostitutes, even when they became kings, knew the importance of business.
King Ahebi dealt with stubborn men who refused to release their wives to her in the same way she dealt with all rebellion. Public whipping. She would strip the men naked in her palace during hearings to make an example of them.
When the white men told her to start a school, she built a school in her palace and hired a teacher. But the parents didn’t send their children there. Instead, they ‘stole’ the teacher and asked him to teach at the home of one headman where they took their children.
“I will not entertain such disrespect.” The Madness of Mashariki purred in pleasure at this anger. “Round them all up. Parents, children, and that traitor teacher. Lock them in the prison at Nsukka, until I decide what to do with them.”
Three days later, at the palace courts, she whipped them from the skin to bones. The men twice as much. Ahebi also forced all the people in the 33 villages she ruled over to labor for the white men. In addition, she heavily taxed them. Her soldiers had permission from her to take other men’s wives whenever her brothel needed facelifts. She flogged the men who went against her in public, insulted the older ones, and made decisions without consulting anyone. She walked with a whip, and if she came across anyone she didn’t like, flogged them naked on the spot.
She turned her palace, where she held court cases, into a business place.
“Your majesty. The next case is between Nwanyibuife and Okeke. Okeke just yesterday sent five goats and money to the palace.”
“Okay. I will rule in his favor. But tell him to add two more goats and five chickens by evening.”
This she did in all cases. Selling justice to the highest bidder. The losers remained in the palace where they became servants.
King Ahebi married wives for herself—other men’s wives and maidens in the land. She allowed them to have sex with men she chose and when they became pregnant; she claimed paternity and named the children after her.
“I am King Ahebi Ugbabe. Husband, father. She who kills with heavy rain. Who is it that stands against me?” she would always declare. But her people were tired of the suffering and humiliation.
Ahebi knew she was a man in function, and to be complete, had also to be a spiritual man. She was going to remedy that. On the night of umu mma, a sacred function decreed by the spirits for men only- men who had been born men. A function where women could not attend. She created her masked spirit and brought it out. No one, not even the gods, was going to stop her from becoming a spiritual man.
During the ceremony, just when Ahebi’s masked spirit came out to pay tribute to the gods, the Madness of Mashariki heard a voice that made it freeze in shock. ‘Come back home child, time is up’ But how could this be? 3 lives to pass by so fast? The madness knew the call to return home could not be ignored.
“Do you not know our culture?” Azegba, the oldest elder enraged, shouted at King Ahebi. Refusing to accept her masked spirit.
“I am bigger than culture, bigger than the gods. I am your King. You will receive this masquerade right now.”
The council of elders would have tolerated anything but this abomination. No woman from oge gbo gbo had dared bring out a masked spirit. With newfound courage, they confiscated her mask and ordered it destroyed. Confident in her superior position, she reported the elders to the courts of the white men. But King Ahebi didn’t know that the Madness of Mashariki had now started packing its clothes and her influence was waning.
The white man turned against her. After all, the land was now in their hands. They didn’t need her. The elders prevailed over Ahebi. It was only a matter of time before her powers as King would be stripped off.
The Madness of Mashariki, now ready to leave, decided to go out in style. Not wanting to be forgotten easily. It performed its last lunacy.
King Ahebi gathered all her officials and announced her funeral.
“I want you to plan an elaborate burial for me. Yes, I know I am alive. But I want to attend my funeral. Plan it to be the biggest and greatest.” The announcement was made in all the land.
On the morning of the burial, the sound of gunshot fire resounded over all the villages. They held the burial at Akporisa shrine. Everyone was mandated to attend. Kings from the nearby lands, the white men, slaves, and subjects—all brought money, goats, chickens, and various presents to mourn the “death.” The blood from animals’ sacrifice flowed like a stream. Music was composed in her honour. Singers and dancers performed and everyone cried. King Ahebi was overjoyed with the burial. The Madness of Mashariki, even more.
And so, for the last time and with its suitcase packed, the Madness of Mashariki, after three lives, left the east side of West, and journeyed home, to the east side of East.
A few months later, King Ahebi Ugbabe died. And was buried like the man she had been. As the sun set on the east side of West, so the great agamega, King Ahebi Ugbabe, of Enugu-Ezike fell, and her kingdom with her.
The Royal Madness of Mashariki, home now, got ready to live its last life. To bring forth an offspring who would follow in its footsteps.
I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I said: “These times are hard.” But I was a junior member of the clan, and female on top of that. When the summer dawned I would leave the homestead to be married. My sorrow was unimportant.
With pursed lips, Olanna returns into view. She kills the music and snatches the lace curtains closed. She loves to peel back the curtains. She does the tango with the breeze.
“With your porcupine teeth, you could even be a cashile.… enhe. What Chief would you be with that enormous nose that is good for smelling dung, utShaka?” they would scorn.
She sees Ofodile taking pictures of the baby as his mother threw their baby up in the air, saying gwam as she caught the baby. Her baby laughed, showing his pink gums, blabbing.
“But caution, always,” he added. “For some days I doubt the river’s friendship.”