Don’t ask me the meaning of what I’m about to write next. Truth is, I don’t know. They must be some carefully stringed Onomatoepic words passed from one generation to the next but then, it must have stopped with my Grandma, because I never heard my Mum use them.
Or maybe, my Grandma composed them entirely, in the ingenuity of women going for Omugwo; the compulsory duty of African mothers or mothers-in-law as the case may be when their daughter gives birth to a new born.
The images are still very clear, GrandMa sitting in a corner in my Mum’s room, the door was left open so we would watch from the dining room. She would sit with her legs spread aside and the baby’s bath tub inbetween them and when she was done bathing the baby, she would throw him or her up singing;
“Ti ngwe ngwe, ti ti gwe ngwe
Ti ngwe ngwe, ti ti gwe ngwe
Änd we would just sing along and giggle. We never asked for the meaning or origin of the songs. For the most part of the omugwo period Grandma would have this powder plastered across her forehead, the baby’s powder. Then she would meticulously hand out Cabin biscuits or Anyara na Ose Oji – Garden egg and local peanut butter, the staple snacks for every Omugwo visitor. This was usually accompanied by a bottle of Fanta or any other soft drink. It must have been an unspoken taboo to serve alcohol around a new born. LOL
We generally enjoyed Grandma’s visit and we were always sad to see her leave at the end of every Omugwo. My Mum took over the bathing of the baby and she would sing her own songs. Again, some parts of it were just onomatoepic while some others celebrated the baby and some actual milestones. When she was done bathing the baby, she would hold him or her up and sing:
Kworokwo kwo kwoto
Kworokwo kwo kwoto
A na-agba agu mgba?
A na-agba agu mgba?
The last two lines were rhetorical questions asking if someone can wrestle with a Lion. The babies loved the songs and would usually laugh as she sang.
When a baby was about to reach the standing milestone, that would be accompanied by a song;
O kwulu, O kwulu, O kwulu
Ka m na-enene
The song was more of a chant acknowledging that the baby is now standing “for the person to watch/admire” and sometimes all of us would gather to see the baby hitting that milestone.
My Mum’s youngest sister, Aunty Rita took the music for babies to another level. She virtually composed a hit single for my cousin Kosisochukwu when he was born and he created his own dance steps to it, it was pure joy to watch. Again, the music was mostly chants with some onomatoepic words and a few lines acknowledging God as the giver of children.
Koko gbam gbam Koko (2ce)
Ina bem bem ina (2ce)
Ami mi koko
So nwa so Chukuw na-enye
Nwa Chukwu nyere m Kosi
Ina bem bem ina
Ina bem bem so nwa
Then came my marriage and pregnancy and first baby. I simply adopted a song from the bible for Ikem, LOL. No time to start composing like the people before me. My Mum didn’t do much theatrics either, she just kept thanking God for the baby. Chukwu aluka! Then she would pronounce his name in a sing-song voice: Ike mu si na chi o for about four times, forming it into a kind of chant.
Then the numerous phone calls to her friends, telling them why she was away;
“A no m Lagos, nwa m muu nwa” (I’m at Lagos, my child had a baby)
Then, in response to the person’s questions on which of her kids, she would explain further;
“Mba, nwa m nke ise, nke na-eje Eziowelle” (no, my fifth child, the one being married at Eziowelle).
O lite nwa nwoke, Chukwu aluka (She had a baby boy, God has done us well) (She would say the same if it was a baby girl)
The person might then remind her of one meeting or the other from one of her numerous Church associations and she would scream and ask the person to kindly take permission for her “biko naalu m order” and let them know that she went for Omugwo.
She would manage to stay for like one month but by the end of 3 weeks, she would start announcing her departure with goodnews;
“Obiamaka, aru di gi, aru di nwa gi. Ife m nwee ime eme ka nku” Obiamaka, you’re healthy and your child is healthy too, I have a lot of things to do [at home].
She would repeat this for many more days and also to people calling her on the phone just to prepare your mind for her departure before she would finally announce her departure date.
I remember our many quarrels, one of which was my insistence on exclusively breastfeeding my first son. She felt it was too tedious being that I had him via Ceasarean section. She believed I should do both breast and bottle feeding (she rasied eight kids that way!) and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just hand her the baby, hand her the bottles and baby milk plus the full sterilizing unit and enjoy my omugwo while she did that work. By the time she came for the second omugwo, she didn’t bother. Amaka a da ekwe-ekwe; Amaka would not agree, she would say while explaining to another person.
We always fed fat during omugwo, it usually took extra work to loose the weight. Mum made sure of that; the specially cooked soup with carefully dried Chicken or smoked fish bought from the best vendors in Onitsha. She always arrived in grand style with enough food supply to last beyond her departure. I remember her complaining about “Ji ndi Lagos”, the quality of the Lagos yam to her elder sister who in turn asked her if Lagosians cultivate yam, implying that most yams in Lagos were brought in from outside Lagos. LOL. Mum was that particular about foodstuffs.
“So therefore, what I’m trying to say is that”; another of my Mum’s lines as she passionately explained a point to my husband, probably on Anambra politics. And I’ll round up this story by saying that it’s nearly two years on and we still miss her like it was yesterday.