Besieged By 3 Caesars – In Search of Meaning by Chalya Princess Miri-Gazhi

Born woman in a crazy country, discriminated by traditions of men

Born second in a family of 10, with all the challenges of kith and kin

Born Christian not knowing Christ until Christ introduced himself to me

Born and steeped in the relics of religiosity, held back by inhibitions of conventions

But my spirit held.”

 

I am an African woman, a Tarok African woman.

My blood is red, my skin is fair, and my roots are all African.

I am a Christian African woman.

My faith is anchored on traditional Christian beliefs steeped in many religious practices of time.

I am an educated African woman schooled in a mix of both modern and old-fashioned Western upbringing.

Hence, influenced by these three Caesars: Tarok culture, Christian culture and Western culture – they inspire my perspectives and often define the prisms through which I spy the vagaries of life.

Born in the 70’s on African soil, Nigerian to be precise, I was raised an African woman by African parents. This means before the advent of fork and knife, I had used my hands to eat my native Nkpang Ikongdong, the solid Tarok corn meal eaten with Kiri Ilwap or Ibwam, a Tarok draw soup that my mother usually cooked. This means before I was ever taken to the hospital, my parents would first make me drink from the bitter Tarok Idangdang brew, the dogonyaro leaves mixture or Agbo-ugwu mixture and other local herbal medicines and only when it didn’t work, only when mother had dipped a towel in cold water and pressed upon my hot body and it didn’t work, only after prayers had been offered and it didn’t work was I finally taken to the nearby hospital in the neighbourhood.

Being brought up African in the 70’s by a strict military father and a religious mother meant that when either of them called, I answered Sir or Ma and knelt before them respectfully. Being brought up African meant, all things being equal, I somehow grew up understanding and speaking my native language Tarok and then English side by side. Being brought up African meant parents and elders are always right; younger ones are never confrontational when speaking to elders and you never used your left hand to give or receive anything from anyone, for it is considered a hugely disrespectful sign, even if you were born a lefty.

Raised an African meant you knew about the African traditional religious practices of your culture even while you practised the new Christian religion or got the white man’s education. For me, that meant I knew about our Tarok spirit called Orim, whose name when mentioned was enough to create ripples of fear and perspiration on women folks. It also meant that I also knew about that horrible Tarok monster called Zhiritak who would come for any girl or woman who was not well behaved according to Tarok traditions. As I grew under my African upbringing, I began to understand the place of uncles and aunties and their responsibilities to their kith and kin. I understood how we honour the dead and how we grieve with those who mourned. I got to understand the rites of manhood and marriage and many other interesting aspects of Tarok culture alongside their repercussions. In learning about my culture, I acquired the knowledge of cultural norms, values and age-long traditions without which one could not function fittingly in Tarok society. Do I know everything about Tarok culture? No. Do I understand everything about Tarok culture? No. Has it affected my thinking or shaped my personality both positively and negatively? Yes.

On one hand, I have my Tarok beliefs which I wrestled with continually till date; on the other hand, I have cultivated, even absorbed, one big bowl of gruel: a cross between many modern beliefs and Christian teachings, actually a thick concoction of English education and Christian biblical tenets. In effect, I am these three combinations:

First, a Tarok woman.

Second, a Tarok Christian woman.

Third, a Tarok, Christian, Modern (schooled or educated) woman.

I have come to understand that these three things make up my identity and have influenced my thinking process by a long shot.

There have been times in my 41 years of life that I have acted only from a Tarok-influenced point of view. Those early days, you’ll hear me repeating after my mother’s teachings: “A woman does not talk like that; a woman does not eat like that; a woman does not dress like that; a woman is not found in the company of men unescorted; a woman does not sleep around… blah blah blah” Then the times under Christian influence: “Cover your hair; a woman does not wear trousers; a woman is submissive; a woman does not go clubbing; a Christian does not hang out with unchristian friends; a Christian does not drink alcohol nor fornicate… blah blah blah.” And then comes the so-called modern educated influence: “Cross your legs; use your head; apply social etiquettes for different occasions; apply learned skills to solve problems, and even create problems where necessary; drink moderately; overlook certain misdemeanour; fornication is allowed before marriage; speak out against cultural discriminatory practices against children, women and widows… blah blah blah”

So you see. I am enriched by these three views but like a two-edged sword, they sometimes have a way of twisting around to bite me from behind. Out of a buffet of three different outlooks, I have a bellyful of more than enough staples to wield into becoming, hopefully, a better woman. Sadly, these three are often at loggerheads with each other. I am never a better woman to these three Caesars at the same time – they often work against me in different situations expecting me to take sides. In pleasing my Tarok side, I sometimes offend my Christian and schooled side. To please my schooled side, I have offended my Christian side and to please my Christian side, I have often displeased both my Tarok and schooled sides. The way forward, I have since come to realize, is to be rightly bespectacled by wearing these different glasses whenever I find myself in these different quirky situations.

However, I also know that it is not always in every situation that the ‘give-to-Caesar-what-belongs-to-Caesar’ approach works. There are situations when I have severely rebelled against the proverbial Caesar especially over Tarok, Christian or Western norms that I have found despicable, repressing, discriminatory or too liberal for my comfort. Besieged by these three, I have developed some form of fair though subjective yardsticks of my own against which I filter out what is wrong and improper whilst filtering in what is right and proper. These yardsticks have helped me to weigh and clarify that which is most expedient and necessary in arriving at my decisions, dismissing lies that are often considered to be politically or socially acceptable, sometimes wavering, albeit, willing to stand alone even in the midst of the stifling dominance that comes with the majority going against my own opinion, and often saving me from many unnecessary headaches created by the demands which pull me from these three Caesars.

To be this, to be that, to look this way, or dress that way. How should I speak? What should I say? Was I too loud? Too confrontational? Calm down, Chalya. Let it go. Say nothing. Say everything. Resist. Do yield. Abide. And so much more… in all of these uncertainties and struggles to get it right, the lines of what is right or wrong have often been blurred. So I made my own mistakes; good for me. I made social blunders too; good for me. I crossed paths and changed sides and a few times sat on fences. That was all good. I learned. And in the knowing, I understood that finally, this and that works fine for me. And so I evolved and gradually became and yet, still becoming…

Above all, I will embrace those who treat me with kindness, candour and respect.

I will allow the thread of humanity and wisdom that has come from both experience and counsel to run concomitantly in major decision-making processes, never forgetting the strength of sincerity, integrity and justice. For I am indeed ‘produced and bottled’ in Nigeria by Tarok parents, a metaphoric beverage of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – a vintage mix sought after by those with an extraordinary and peculiar taste for a certain type of brew and sometimes distasteful to those whose palates are not attuned to the spice that such a pungent mixture can produce. This realization defines me. I hope those who often struggle with their many identities and mixed personalities can finally learn to filter through the many embedded fabrics of their rich and unique identities; to live with them and not apart from them, not relegating one personality to the background in the spirit of trying to please the other when they can all function well together to create the richness of diversity of backgrounds, understanding that your appeal is found in the blend of your many identities. And so I leave you with this parting prose-poem of mine that best describes a woman besieged by three Caesars:

 

But My Spirit Holds

Born woman in a crazy country, discriminated by traditions of men

Born second in a family of 10, with all the challenges of kith and kin

Born Christian not knowing Christ until Christ introduced himself to me

Born and steeped in the relics of religiosity, held back by inhibitions of conventions

But my spirit held

 

Born in an impossible country, where the act of faith is a feat of its own kind

Bombed with sweet colours and flavours of multi-ethnic conflation

Buttered with the biliousness of religious and military severity

Bested, blamed biased and held by a bootlace of hope and affection

Brazenly, my spirit held

 

Balderdash swirling like clouds above me, denied a place of residence within me

Bucolic lovers have become bucolic slayers of men, women and children

Bodies of unacknowledged past corpses dug out of nationhood, navigated in bloody murky waters of past wars

Brave victims and warriors of all manners of historical injustice still crying out for compensations that may never come

Brazenly, my spirit held

 

Baffled by the offensive basic instincts of a deformed mind of blind supremacy

Banshee wailings of the spirit of an orphaned nation gives warning of a demise that can be prevented

But the belligerence of barbaric domination will not heed the sense and sounds of times and reason

Bottlenecks of ethnic, religious, regional and vested attachments obstructing the flow of life to a wheezing nation

But tenaciously, my spirit held

 

Beaten, battered, wounded, trampled and crushed

Bold valiant audacious Nigerian

Bestowed with the beauty of nature of mind and of resilient people

Bitter braving odds, unrelenting breed of this child who will not bow or yield

But my spirit holds.

As for me, these three Caesars exist: the Tarok values, the Christian values and the Western values; the clash of culture, religion and education but the greatest of these is… the perfect blend.

 

 

 

 

 

Chalya Princess Miri-Gazhi is a Nigerian whose fiction short stories titled, “Anfara” & “Kokosikoko”, has appeared in Grain Magazine & the Kalahari Review respectively. An MBA graduate from the University of Hull, UK, she runs her own small business in corporate event facilitation while pursuing her passion for writing. She grapples often with the question of diversity, often exploring the strength of diverse influences in her multi-ethnic Nigerian nation.

 

 

Photo Credit: 13Moya via Flickr

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