My Mum, The Dancer

“Bia nu k’anyi kwulube okwu onu e! Enu uwa bialu n’ofu mbia”. “Come let’s have some discussion, we only come to this world once”.

The women sang as they flung their hands, tapped their feet, swayed their hips or shook their shoulders to the beat of the “igba, udu, ekwe, ichaka and ogene“; the traditional set of drums, wooden gong, beaded gourd and metal gong used to produce the vibrant African music they were dancing to.

We grew up watching my Mum dance, and it was beautiful, she had the body and she loved to dance, sometimes bursting some moves in front of the mirror. The fact that the Catholic Church was able to integrate the traditional dance into the Catholic Women’s Association is indeed amazing.

I remember at a point, my Mum was the President of St. Ann Chigozie, a Catholic Women Dance group from St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in my village, Uke. On this particular occasion at Christmas, they had a major dance outing which started with ‘Oso Egwu‘.

‘Oso Egwu’ was a dance outing to the house of a prominent personality to showcase their newly learnt dance routines. This meant that they learnt new dance steps, usually created by them or learnt from another dance group. They also learnt the songs and the beats, it was usually an all women group, so they did everything, though the men might assist with the beating of the drums.

The name of the dance they learnt that year was Opuruiche meaning Different, it was taught them by dancers from Isseke and after they had finished the ‘Oso Egwu’ which could be several, they scheduled the grand finale or major dance outing/release at the grand square in the town.

The grand square in our town was known as Union Circle, a large space circled with sitting areas where shades were erected with aluminium roofs supported by metal pillars. Rising staircases served as seats like you would find in a mini-stadium.

A few days before this major dance outing, the announcer went round all the villages in the town with his megaphone shouting ”O ga akpotu akpotu na Union Circle’‘ basically hyping the event and creating awareness so people can attend. Usually the patrons, sponsors and the VIPs would have been given special invitation cards.

On the d-day, the women were dressed in their dance uniform, which was usually a white blouse, beautifully braided hair and a coloured wrapper. They wore heavy waist beads or jigida and the bell-like ankle dance chain graced their legs. Their wrists and necks were also decorated with colourful beaded bangles and necklaces. They held clean white handkerchiefs in their hands which they swerved when they danced and a few among them carried the ‘Nza’, made from horsetail tied to a stick.

Mum, at a dance outing tying the popular kili kili star wrapper

Ora nnoo nu nnoo, Ora bialu ije, nnoo nu nnoo”,
“Welcome dear guests that travelled down here”.

The singers would chant, while the dancers sang as well but focused more on doing the captivating dance routine with smiles on their faces.

The patrons, matrons, sponsors, VIPs and the husbands to the women would troupe out to spray naira notes on them, the monies sprayed would be immediately picked by select young women. At the end of it all, more pledges would be made to support the women group.

This was obtainable in the city as well. Here, my Mum was the Vice President of CWO Zone B and they usually had dance-offs or dance competitions amongst the Zones. The winners went home with trophies and cash prizes.

There was this occasion when my Mum and her troupe worked so hard, it was like they were preparing for a major sports event. We were glad when they came back with a trophy. They took the first position and were so elated that they danced from street to street, singing;

“Nekwa ndi nwa, nekwa ndi nwa a na-ekwu o, otu Chibuzo a bia nu, agbala na-aka ibe ya”

A victory song that pointed to them as the winners. Their group was known as “Otu Chibuzo”

One memory that sticks so clear was the ‘Oso Egwu‘ or dance outing that was had on our street then; Ideani Street, Omagba at Onitsha. I remember, they would call the lead dancers by their name and they would dance out and perform a complicated dance routine. When it got to my Mum’s turn, they chanted;

“Fashion Nwanyi nwayo kwa”, and the response “Obodo n’egwu anaa”;

“Woman of Fashion take it easy,” the response “my people the dance is ending”.

And she stepped forward with her horsetail held high, waist in a slight squatting position, shoulders quivering, waist and hips vibrating as she took rhythmic steps towards the patron and VIPs that day. It was beautiful.

My Mum danced into her years as a Grandma, she took part in the Egedege dance, a very energetic dance usually done by young maidens!

I remember when I visited home for an event, and asked her about the dance and she mentioned that it was still on, though at this point, they had also introduced the modern dance done with band set in addition to the traditional dances.

Mum in her band uniform at the Catholic Church in Onitsha

During my Mum’s burial, there were about 3-4 dance presentations in her honour by her dance troupe, St. Ann Chigozie. The women were colourfully dressed in their regalia as they bade a final goodbye to their colleague and dancer in the language they knew best – Dance!

I would like to add that this dance was greatly therapeutic, the women in my Mum’s generation don’t have a lot of the priviledges that we do now but they had community, they had fellowship, they had the dance or the choir or the meetings where they could go without their plenty children or husband and be women, be leaders, express their creativity and achieve something.

I’m glad my Mum had her dance groups and I’m glad we joined in that final dance.

And as they would sing in one of their dances;

“Anu bi na mmili biko senyite, senyite n’enu ana k’anyi bulu gi lie,
onye no n’uwa na-elikwa ife di nma,
onye nosia n’uwa na o ga-ana ana.
Iyo iyo”

Which was generally a song calling on the sea animal to surface and be used for food because the people on the earth deserve to eat good stuff.

And the last line goes “He who is done staying on earth would return home”….

That was exactly what my Mum did on June 29th, 2019 when she took a peaceful bow and exited the earth.

Adieu Mummy.

The Storytela




My Mum- Christmas Stories-Pt. 2

“1-2-3- Go! B***** Onye Ohi!!!!” We would scream, as we approached our compound in the villa.

Finally we were home and the excitement for Christmas was gradually getting to it’s peak.

Well, we only had that priviledge to shout if we were riding in my Mum’s car. Those who rode with my Dad usually sat all nice and pretty until they arrived the villa and disembarked.

My Dad is a chronic builder. He was either always building or renovating a built house and this showed in compound in the villa. everytime we came home, something new had been added or remodelled. As kids, we didn’t mind, we had enough rooms to play in and enough places to run around in, until, well, we grew older and became part of the cleaning team.

A few days before we travelled for Christmas, Mum would usually arrange to have the house cleaned out. Sometimes, they would lay clean bedsheets on all the beds and all we did would just be arrive and unpack. As we grew older though, we became of the dusting, scrubbing, cleaning and bed dressing team and ofcourse, I started to wonder if we really needed all that space. Talk about knowing where the shoe pinches.

We would barely settle in when the visitors would start arriving to greet my Mum. One look at your face and they would go ‘o nke a bu…‘ ‘is it this one that…’ and my Mum would fill in the gap with the appropriate story while they mocked a frown if the person didn’t remember them.

I can never forget my Mum’s long explanation of who was who. I can’t claim to ever remember.

“Mummy keduzi onye bu ife a?” We would ask, wanting her to help explain who a relative was. And she would go like; “Mama onye a, na Mama m, mu nwadiana na Nkwelle” meaning “This person’s mother and my mother are cousins from Nkwelle”, or she would say “o ro nna m ochie” and I would nod without understanding. So some of these people turned up for her burial and I didn’t know who they were…

As soon as we settled in, my Mum would insert the Boney M Christmas Carol in the Radio player. She always had one for every Christmas, an orange cassette back then. The deep bass belting “May your days be merry and bright…” and many other Christmas songs helped set the tone for the celebrations. She would later on start adding Christmas lights, strung on the Christmas trees pine trees already growing in the compound.

On Christmas day, we all got dressed and drove to St. Dominics Catholic Church, Uke, a Church her father served in diligently as the treasurer and helped build before his demise. We flocked around her after service and greeted her friends before heading into the cars and heading home.

The rest of the Christmas was generally spent entertaining guests, and when we were younger, visiting our Grand Mum and Great-Grand Mother. We were allowed to indulge in soft drinks, Mum would say, “rapu fa, oo Christmas ka a na-agba”, asking whomever to let us be, we were celebrating Christmas. Lol.

Going back to Onitsha was usually a drag, Mum loved it in the village. She would postpone our journey until we absolutely had to go back and then the packing started again, but this time around with less enthusiasm and vigour.

Laid to rest in this compound where she provided so much warmth, her grave would forever be a reminder that once upon a time, Lady Bene was here.

The Storytela



My Mum- A Christmas Story- Part 1

Anyi a ya ana uno? Are we going to travel?

The questions usually started in early December and would then evolve to which day we would be travelling and kept evolving until we finally arrived home, at the Villa. Uke.

Anyi ya ana uno!” We would be travelling home! Was the exciting chant, once my Mum confirmed to us that we would be travelling home for Christmas and the preparations were always elaborate. Oh Lord!

First and early on was the food shopping, and this particular set of food stuffs were stored outside the kitchen, in a part of the hallway between the kitchen, the dining room and the staircase that led upstairs. This was a way of showing that they were destined for the village.

Then the shopping for Christmas clothes, a rite most children must have enjoyed. Our clothes were barely our size, how can? Children grew fast and you wouldn’t want them outgrowing such expensive clothes after Christmas. It wasn’t unusual for me to still be wearing some of my Christmas clothes four years later, albeit as stay-at-home clothes.

And then, all the girls had to go do their hair. Hmmnnn, this wasn’t optional. Not in my Mum’s life. You had to do your hair, she would choose the ‘reigning hairstyle’, “nke umuaka ibe unu na-akpa” or “nke na-ewulu umu agbogho ibe unu“; the one kids our age were making at that time or the one that was popular amongst the young women, depending on our age that particular year.

The most anticipated part of it all was the making of the Chin-Chin snack. This popular snack made from dough by cutting into cubes and deep frying was a delicacy served with Soda in most Nigerian homes during the Christmas period. We made it at home only once a year and that was in December, other times, we bought off the shelves at the store.

A plate of delicious Chin-Chin

The Christmas Chin-Chin was a big deal, the eight of us would gather to make it because we had to produce a lot to fill a bag of salt which weighed like 20kg.

My Mum bought the ingredients and gave the directions, some would break the eggs, some would participate in the mixing of the sugar and butter in the ‘Odo‘ the wooden mortar used for pounding stuff in the kitchen, while some would participate in kneading the flour and other mixture to form the dough.

At the end, we would form four teams. Team 1 would be rolling the dough on flour covered surfaces using washed beer bottles and the singular rolling pin we had, team 2 would be cutting up the dough into long, thick lines while team 3 would cutting the thick lines into cubed sizes and team four would be frying and tasting.

Suffice it to say that my sister Chika was usually in team 4 and in addition to frying the Chin-Chin, she would take out some dough and fry buns (bun) and maybe fish rolls and what other friable stuff she could dream up within that instant. She sometimes stored batter which she would use to bake a Cake on a makeshift firewood oven! We usually all partook in sharing the hot and fried chin-chin and Chika’s extras.

At the end of it all, we would be tired but happy and Mum would carefully pour the cooled chin-chin into the salt bag and take it up to her room. Then the hiding game would start. My brother, Ifeanyi was good at hunting down the Chin-Chin bag and that would be his mission (among other stuff) all through the holiday period. Several times, my Mum would change the location of the bag and act like the Chin-Chin had finished only for a visitor to show up and get a plateful and of course, Ifeanyi would restart his hunt and eventually emerge with Chin-Chin to share. Mum simply changed the location again and on and on till we saw the empty Salt bag.

Later on, after some of us grew and left home, Mum would start ordering Christmas Chin-Chin.

This part of the Christmas tradition was always a treasure. I can still see the pictures of the laughter, the banter, the quarrels and the activities floating out of that kitchen in our Trans-Nkisi home with my Mum at the centre of it all.

The Storytela



Stories of My Mother : Shopping Stories – Pt. 2

Mummy with Kobby, my nephew on his first birthday

“I na-ekwo ije”.

“You walk really fast”, my young cousin commented one day talking about my speed when I’m walking on the road.

I laughed.

You see, the skill of walking fast was something we had to learn.

You couldn’t afford to walk slowly when you go to the market with my Mum, else you might end up on ABS Onitsha News, the missing child advert section…

Of course, she would never have left us behind or even let us get missing but she gave us that impression. You either walked fast or you found your way home, and that option nobody wanted to consider.

This rule basically applied when we went to Main Market or Ose. You see those big markets; whenever our Mum had to go there, it was for serious business and she usually had a whole lot to buy, sooo, no time to waste time.

She would tie her white handkerchief folded into a triangle over her nose to protect her from the dust, especially in the dry season. She was allergic to dust and would start sneezing when unduly exposed to it.

Then with her handbag under her armpit and her shoulder slightly titled towards the right side, she would ‘change gear‘ as we approached one of the many entrances to the market from the Car park.

The market roads were narrow and the moving cars and thronging human traffic made them even narrower. Once Mummy moves, our singular target was to keep our eyes on her and keep up with her pace and that meant walking really fast.

When my sister Uju and I started going to boarding school and wrote our lists, we would be glad when Mummy came back from the market with our stuffs but a little sad when one or two tiny items weren’t bought.

I remember my elder sister Ifeyinwa, when she took over the shopping for our lists from my Mum would explain to us that the market was too big and the items on our lists scattered all over, so it was usually difficult to buy everything at once.

Well, accompanying my Mum to the market soon made it clear. “Mummy do we have to buy everything?” I would find myself asking.

Following Mum to the market was like a rite of passage. You observed how to shop, how to haggle, how to check for ‘original’; ‘the main the main’, how to pretend walk away so that the market seller would call you back and offer a lower price, how to frown at the item in your hands and look distracted while jumping on the inside at the very good deal you just got and how to check for expiry dates. You also got introduced to her preferred merchants, so you would just locate them when you start coming alone and continue the ‘Customer’ relationship.

Anyways, when I was old enough to start shopping for myself, by myself which was in my Senior Secondary/University, I’m not sure I bothered much. Let’s just say that shopping is not my thing.

I don’t know how my Mum did it though, for years, for a large family, eight kids, varied age groups, long shopping lists. Oh Lord!

It’s June and in some weeks time, it would be the first anniversary of her passing on to glory. Time does fly, so much has happened already but the memories seem just like yesterday.

The Storytela


Onye No Nso? (Who’s Near?)

That was how she called us.

It was funny though, sometimes when she wanted to call Obiageli; the last born, she would first of all call like 3 names before actually calling the right one. It was usually a hilarious sight. Her mind must have been filled with thoughts at such times.

Mom in the 80's
Fashion Umuagbala

Anyways, that’s what you get when you have six daughters so to make it easier, my Mum would just shout ‘Onye no nso?’ Who is close-by and usually the closest person would answer; ooo mu – it is I and then run towards her direction.

But not my sister Uju or our last born Obiageli. Uju would usually shout my name in response if we were together; I guess being 14 months older than I am gave her that right. Lol.

Mummy: Onye no nso?

Uju: ooo Obiamaka

Usually my Mum would end up calling her name instead of mine as she would have given herself away by her voice but sometimes she would just call me; Nne bia bulu efele a o – my dear, come and carry these plates…

As for Oby, she just simply assumed that the call was for any of her elder sisters, especially if she was home with Chioma, her immediate elder. Lol

Mum in the early 90's
Always together!

Sunday, March 22nd marked our first Mother’s day (in Nigeria) sans notre mère. It was also the day the 6 months mourning period officially ended, meaning that all relatives could take off their mourning clothes; the traditional white clothes…

In all, we remain grateful to God for the beautiful times we had with our Mum, for the memories and the stories.

The Storytela