Articles People I've met

Mafian Darty

It’s been 30 something years now when last I was 5+, try as hard as I may, I’m not sure I remember much details about what happened then. Maybe if someone had made a journal out of my life, I would have stories to tell.

However, I recall a time we went to the village and went to visit Aunty Eno (whom we called ‘Mafian Darty’). No, don’t ask me, I don’t know why she was called ‘Mafian Darty’ but Darty is her surname and Aunty Eno was one woman who doesn’t swallow any nonsense. Maybe her no-nonsense attitude earned her that name. With a small frame, and not blessed in the height department, she commanded presence and was an authority to be reckoned with. Her famous saying “As you make your bed, so you lie on it” came in handy all the time especially when we were deviant.

As I was saying before digressing to introduce Mafian Darty to you, we went to the stream to fetch water and being the smallest in the team, I was given the onerous task of carrying the kettle. Now this kettle is not the Electric one with malleable material around it, but those metal ones with an inverted wide ‘’ as its handle and a pretty mouth like that of a tea-cup.                                                                                                                                           Kettle             Not like the kettle was heavy though, but picture a child coming from the city, going up and down the jagged, hard and muddy (in some places) road with a kettle on her head and sometimes in her hand – changing it from the left to the right hand; not an easy task I tell you.

Who sent you? You ask. No one!

I didn’t want to be left out of grown-up fun with my siblings by being detained at home to sit and listen to the elders tell stories of long ago before I was born or tales about people I hardly knew. Whilst trying to ‘force’ me to recollect when that person came to visit us in Port-Harcourt in the year 1978 or earlier (who does that?!)

On our way back from the stream with my kettle in my hand (left or right, choose one) or on my head, we stumbled across some Afang leaves (vegetable used with other combination in making a very delicious native soup) and being one who loves Afang soup a lot; though the smallest, I managed to convince the team to pluck the leaves. We had the problem of how to convey them home. This was promptly resolved when I offered my kettle to be used. The water I had fetched was poured away and our loot deposited in my kettle and we went home excited at the possibility of a steaming delicious pot of soup and praise from Mafian to go with.

It’s been over 30 years now but I never forgot her reaction.

“Where’s the water you fetched, why did you throw it away? She queried

“Aunty”, I answered excitedly “I brought Afang leaves home for soup” beaming with a smile.

“What quantity of soup can this make? She asked visibly exasperated looking down at the Afang leaves, which were only a handful.

“We have the roots in the backyard and could have easily plucked some to make soup. The water was more important” She replied upset.

At the point, my face dropped and the smile turned downward in sober reflection. I resolved from that day to always stick to the goal at hand. Yes, it might look important to me but if it doesn’t matter that much to the collective efforts, then no way!

Now, what has being 5+ again gotten to do with a young woman in her late 30s?

Is it the desire to be young once more, capture lost times or enter into the mind of a 5 year old plus and explore?

If like me you have a very active 5 years old, you will be 5 daily as a matter of fact per second. One second, I’m helping her decide her dress, the next minute she’s changed her mind and wants to wear mine. Sadly these daily decisions have affected the total outcome as when she finally decides to wear that dress, she’s out grown them.

Imani Naomi is my very vocal, I-know-what-to-do, read-everything-she-sees, beautiful daughter. Daily I am upgraded to her level to learn something new (I know I should say ‘brought DOWN’ as I am taller than her, but I’m not discussing height here) as times are changing and their era is different from ours. She teaches me how to pronounce words using the right diction – with her lips pursed forward like an English woman about to sip hot tea. LOL. Every Wednesday evening I am a ballerina as I have to rehearse the steps she learnt in school that day; by Thursday I become a sport woman. Friday evening, we are planning what hairstyles to conjure for the stylist come Saturday!

She isn’t a handful but more than a handful! And a joy to be with any day any time and for such joys, I don’t mind being 5+ all over again.


Guilty or Not?

It’s funny how when you are in the strangest of places some truths hit you. And guess where I was… in the ladies’ fixing my very Afro kinky hair, trying to subdue nations with hair-pins and corsages. And it hit me!

What if I’m the guilty one? Guilty about what you are asked. What if all the while I put the blame wrongly on someone else and let others encourage me to do same, that is – shift the blame squarely on another just so I get the ‘it-wasn’t-about-you-feeling’, I was the guilty one?

Most times, we are told by many inspirational speakers and pastors that “he walked out of the relationship because it wasn’t meant to be”, “You were too good for him”, “and the problem was with him and not you!”

Do a re-think.

What if YOU were the problem?

What if YOU were not good enough for him?

What if HE tried and it didn’t work and there was no way out except out?

And all the other ‘what-ifs’?

I know this is hard to swallow, but my line of thought today is, before you send that hate mail to and throw invectives on your EX and throw a pity-party for yourself about how you wasted your time, money, love and honey on some ‘worthless’ being.

Think it through.

Was there anything you could have done better?

A better response than the usual one you always gave him?

A more tender approach than your forceful must-be-my-way method?

Your need for love or lack of it may have made you too clingy or too hardened. And all that was required was either a woman who knew her own or one who knew when to be a woman…all soft and feminine allowing her Romeo be the King that he is (when necessary) and taking charge when it called for that. The beauty about being unique this woman, is knowing when to create that balance…that is to be feminine or firm. I’m not advocating for push-overs…no way.

She needs your strength…to be able to point at you with pride and say that’s my man…that’s someone who will defend me in the face of any trouble. And yet you are tender towards her, not using her to vent your frustrations from the office or lack of work.

He needs you to be a strong woman, at the same time very supple and feminine, even when you are a Voice to be reckoned with at the Marketplace.

When all has been said and done, you have weighed yourself and found him/her wanting, honey, just keep moving they weren’t meant for you in the first place. And if anyone wants to be wise on both ends (the leaving and the left-behind), please learn the lessons, get better and move on.

…And so I ask, are you guilty or not guilty?

© 2014 Frances Kelvin Otung. All rights reserved.


Keeping a Promise

Karuna read my article on enjoying Christmas – The Eket Way and became intrigued by masquerades and like she put it, “Their costumes are exquisite…. but they sound really scary.” I tried to disabuse her thoughts from the scary aspect and made up my mind to check out her ‘fears’ and let her into our exciting world of masquerades this side of the globe. This is for you Karuna 🙂

To “masquerade” by dictionary definition is ‘to disguise oneself and assume the character of’ amongst other meanings. Therefore it is simply an act of pretence or cover-up.

In Nigeria, masquerades apart from the disguise aspects have several functions they play in the community they operate. Like Unyime-Ivy King noted in her book “Burning Hurt”, ¹ in Akwa Ibom State, masquerades serve the purpose of being the societal watchdogs and news reporters. They keep themselves informed about happenings in the community (either good or bad) and report same during their displays to the community so that the errant fellow is brought to judgement. These masquerade societies had their criteria for intending members and were different for the male and female gender.

Burning Hurt

For the men, it was the Ekpo Society. “Ekpo Society is founded on the belief in life after death; and it is regarded as the soul or ghost of ancestors that return to the land of the living in masquerade form to participate with their kinsmen in communal festivals such as farming and rites of passage. From the pre-civilization era, the Akwa Ibom people used traditional cultural institutions such as Ekpo and Ekpe to maintain order in the society. These institutions stood out as government of the time. As a secret society, membership is strictly by initiation; hence, every aspect of Ekpo is designed to strike awe, fear and caution among women and non-initiates. In the pre- colonial era, Ekpo served as the government of the entire Akwa Ibom people performing such functions as judicial, administrative and religious duties.” ² And their means of communication was through Folk songs. Ebre Society was mainly for the womenfolk. Read “Burning Hurt” (pages 155-164) for more information.

According to Daniel A. Offiong ³ in his article, “the esoteric basis of their activities sets them apart from others…and the associations are secret or ‘exclusive in the same way as any club is exclusive to non-members or the uneligible’ (Akpan, 1974). In order to maintain their awesomeness and also entice others to join them ‘their tools, emblems, signs, tokens, and methods are secret to unauthorized persons.’”

In my village – Eket and the State at large, we have different masquerades with different names. Hope I get the spellings, not as if you can pronounce them correctly though 🙂 like ‘Tinkoriko’,                                                                     ‘Ekpo Nyoho’, Ekpo


Obio Okpo ‘Obio Okpo’ (this one has really long legs.Well, the person hosting this masquerade would stand on a very high bamboo sticks secured to both legs and walk tall above every other person) and ‘Ekpri Akata’ (This is a cultural society that serves as a powerful medium of disseminating of information in the communities. It has the power to reveal and transmit to the populace secret deeds of men, women and youth in the society, thereby curbing crime and promoting integrity. They act as community news vendors, exposing fornicators, murderers and other undesirable behaviours in the society). Some of the masquerades dressed in plenty colours and others like the Tinkoriko looked like a pretty lady with makeup, that is – their masks was made up to look like a beautiful lady (of course it was a man underneath the disguise).                                                                                                       Tinkoriko

By and large, they show up during festivals and also at Christmas seasons like I mentioned earlier and it is always fun trying to run and hide from a masquerade, especially the less fierce ones. And as long as you were not the object of their mockery in folk songs, it’s all good!

1 Burning Hurt by Unyime-Ivy King
3 “The Functions of The Ekpo Society of The Ibibio of Nigeria” by Professor Daniel A. Offiong

© 2014 Frances Kelvin Otung. All rights reserved.

Articles Stories

Serial Killer 2

Writing 101, Day Thirteen: Serial Killer 2
Earlier in the course, you wrote about losing something. Today, write about finding something. For your twist, view day four’s post and today’s post as instalments in a series.

I found out today that there was more to your innocence and calmness than you portrayed. Yes I suspected that you might be in some funny association, but hey it was just a thought. Wait a minute, what am I on about? You told me about it, so why am I feeling as if I found out myself.
It must have been one of those ‘dare or truth’ moments and looking-somewhat-sheepishly-or-embarrassed-to-speak, you began.

“I don’t want you to be upset about what I’m going to say, I mean well” stumbling over a few of your words for someone who speaks flawlessly.

“Yea, what’s up?” I replied trying to pretend I was calm whilst imagining the worst news ever.

“You see that ring with a dark stone I always wear and don’t let you touch” (trying to describe this funny ring I noticed on your finger sometime back and had queried you on) “It’s not an ordinary ring” you concluded.

“How do you mean?” I asked stepping away from you as a feeling of sudden dread came upon me.

“Nothing to be afraid” you replied, reaching out but I pulled away. “I wear it when I’m out of the house just so I know who is planning evil against me” you continued.

Interested, I asked “So how does this work?”

“If an evil-doer is around me, I feel a heat sensation on that finger”

“Do you know the repercussion of wearing this ring? What if something bad happens to you?” my questions poured at you. “Please dispose of it; I don’t want it around you anymore.”

The D-day came shortly. Painting your picture to my mum had made her ache to see who had captured my heart. This new Eva was one she liked and she needed to know who made it so. It’s been years now, and I can’t remember that meeting day but knowing mummy, I’m sure she offered you some refreshments and the questions began, while I pretended to be busy inside the kitchen and the next minute my room. Of course that entire journey had to take me across the sitting room where I would eavesdrop while walking past both of you. And seeing you calmly seated and answering her questions made me join you two there.

“Darling, did you know that Wande’s mum (Peggy) and I taught in the same school?” Mum said to me.

I had outdone myself, I soliloquized. Was this a good sign?

“Go to the box of pictures and bring them over, I have something to show you,” she continued.

That box of pictures was an easy find as every time we wanted to poke fun at mum over her olden days dressing, Afro hair and simple makeup, we always pulled it out. Going through the collection of pictures, she brought out one. Fair, bright eyes, full African sensual lips and Afro hair, a beauty untainted by harsh weather or life’s condition, she sat beside three rows of children. The first row had the pupils seated, the next row some stood; while the last row stood on a bench so that the final outcome was like a pyramid. Mum looked really beautiful. Auntie Peggy on the other hand was chocolate complexion equally beautiful and her hair made in some lovely African style. Looking closely, I noticed a cute boy standing between her legs and to my shock – it was you!

By our love, mum had re-discovered her long lost friend and what a joy that her friend’s son was in hot pursuit of her daughter if only she knew that by this discovery and encouraging us she would ‘lose’ me. I’m positive she’d send you parking that very moment.


Size Matters

Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters
Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Twelve years of age? That was a very long time ago and I think I was in-between houses. Not being too sure of which of the houses, I will just talk about one of the three homes and these are – my dormitory, our house in Amadi Flat and Uncle Sam’s place.

The Hostel:
(Government Secondary School, Afaha Eket, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria)

Having just entered secondary school a year earlier, I was fresh from home and not so keen about going away to the boarding house. I have always been a family person so ‘dragging’ me away from home to some hostel was not my idea of fun.

My school had a boarding house which was built on history; you could literally feel the stories from each brick. It wasn’t your modern building (not in material or design), it had this churchy cathedral feeling about it…like a Catholic school but it wasn’t! We had plenty vacant areas of green lawns, flower shrubs and large trees that gave shelter on a sunny day. Except you saw a student hurrying from the chapel to his/her hostel you would label it a ghost town; and this was due to the way it was built which enabled us to go from one building to the next without being seen by visitors. We lived a regimented lifestyle so you would hardly see a student just loafing around except it was visiting day. Then the fun began…colours and more colours (both from student and visitors) not just our normally blue and white outfit.

My hostel was not your usual cosy room with fluffy pillows and colourful wall papers everywhere. They were wall papers no doubt but the few we had was always someone’s attempt at interior décor and the outcome – sombre colours. Our beds (double bunks) made of steel felt like those in a hospital or military cantonment. The joys you felt were the ones you could conjure up for yourself/corner. Each student had a locker filled with goodies or stolen goods…yes, we had cases of students who broke into other students lockers and transferred your property to their area of jurisdiction. Those were the illegal thieves (not that thieves are legal though) but we had legal ones – these were the senior students who would request for breakfast, lunch or dinner and whatever they requested you had to provide from your locker 😦

Enough about the environment, the students were a mix of fun and craze. I had a few friends I could relate with, and coming from the city had its own perks and disadvantages. For one, I was viewed as some kind of stranger, as I maintained a certain way of speaking and dressing which made me stood out like a sore finger. One incident I always remember was whenever my school-mother (sort of a caretaker you had to choose or who chose you be their ward, these were senior students. God help you if you had a mean school-mother) spoke vernacular to me I would reply in English Language and this was frustrating for her. On another occasion, she noticed I loved standing every time I came to her corner so she sent me on an errand to get “Eto-Idaha” (meaning standing stick). Back then I didn’t understand what that meant; I thought it was some important item for her. By the time I got to the person she sent me to, that senior sent me elsewhere and after roaming back and forth for about 15/20mins, my school-mother asked me to sit and explained that they had just had fun at my expense!

Coming from a home were we had rich family values I couldn’t be caught faulting any law – besides my Uncle (a pastor) was a teacher in the school and a disciplinarian at that. After enduring a few years of harsh treatment at the hostel in form of compound –work, mass punishment and Eleven-Eleven (some designated day for unnecessary show of seniority power and harshness). I ‘ran away’ to Uncle Sam’s house. I got permission to visit him and while there, made a deal with him to let me stay with him and not return to the Hostel…as I couldn’t take the pain anymore. He obliged me. If you must know, the Hostel ‘called’ me back after a while and I returned of my own accord. *wink*