October 21, 2018

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Ken Wiwa, the morning after: a visit to his village – Bura Bari Nwilo

Ken Wiwa, the morning after: a visit to his village – Bura Bari Nwilo

I’m in a crowded bus en-route Bori, where I will join another vehicle that will take me to Bane, the village of writer and rights-activist, Kenule Saro-Wiwa.

It has been a gloomy morning among my peers, the young Ogoni men and women who had some businesses with Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. The Facebook updates have been depressing. Famous Nigerian writers have expressed their shock and disbelief following news of his shocking passing. Radio stations broke the news in Rivers State. And Ken Wiwa’s Wikipedia page has been updated – Ken Jr is late.

No one in the vehicle to Bori speaks of him. There is calm except for occasional chit-chat by the older men who sit behind me. The road seems longer than usual. I look forward to being in Bane, Mr Wiwa’s hometown, to see how the people have received the news, how they are mourning one of their brightest and youngest stars.

At Bori, I cannot find a taxi to hire. A biker approaches me and when I mention Bane, he excitedly asks me to hop on. His price is fair and we are on our way.

In Bori, it is business as usual. The 7am news had announced Ken Jr’s death to those in Rivers State. Some who went to work early and had no business with the internet had not got the news. Motorcycles and traders hustle to meet the day’s demand. At the Bori police station, a lifeless body of a young man with a bullet ridden face lies face up, hands spread to the heavens. The biker tells me he was shot in one of the villages in Ken-Khana. He is not sure what it was that ensued but there have been recorded cases of violence in the area. The sight is biting. I wish he had been shot in the leg and tried in a court and sent to prison where he may have the opportunity to turn a new leaf. But that’s me. That’s my thought, in my head. It is not useful.

At Wiiyaakara, clouds gather over our head. It is certain that it will be rain but the bike rider says otherwise. I am worried for my camera and laptop. He reassures me that it will not rain. We ride a bit into Ken-Khana and it drizzles and I smile at the rider. He looks defeated. But as we ride further, there is no rain. It is sunny. He makes the turn to Bane while I keep searching the faces on the road to see if they are mourning or just going on with the business of living as usual.

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The Family House in Bane

Somewhere in a village called  Eweh, the motorcycle dies. It is empty of fuel. A lot of the commercial motorcyclists buy just a litre of fuel and run on it until they can get money for another litre. I offer to buy an additional litre to the one he orders from a roadside seller. He doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want it to reflect in the money I have agreed to pay him. I try to tell him that it is a gift but it is late.

We arrive at the Wiwa’s compound. It is calm and dry. We cannot find a soul, but for a group of three women in a nearby compound who are picking periwinkle. They chat among themselves. They must be used to journalists visiting the Wiwa’s compound. I ignore them and walk into the compound to look for someone I can speak to. The doors are shut. I call out in K’ana language. Someone peeps from the inner house. She is a woman in her late 50s. I beg to see her. She comes out but is reluctant to speak to me. I reassure her in K’ana that I am from a nearby village, a somewhat regular visitor to the Wiwa’s. She takes a seat and offers me one. The pictures on her wall are that of Pa Jim Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa Snr’s father, three younger children and herself. In the sepia image on the wall, she is younger, finely dressed and more beautiful. She tells me she is Pa Jim’s last wife. He married four. She was with him in Bori when he traded in palm nut.

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A tomb in front of the house

Outside her house, there are blocks of rooms, for the wives. Next to Ken’s mother’s house is her grave. Madam Nwidu died few years ago. She married a wife to keep her name alive – a tradition common among the Ogoni people. A woman can pay a woman’s bride price and she could choose any random man she loves to make her have children but the children woulid belong to the woman who married her.

The woman, the step grandmother of Ken Jr is solemn with words. She says she locked her door because she keeps aside Wednesdays for rest and for church and prayers. She says everyone has gone to the farm.

When asked if she has heard of the death of Ken Jr, she sighed and spoke about her disappointment in God. “After all the prayers I offer on behalf of these children?” She said a certain older man came earlier in the morning to share the news with her and she found it unbelievable. And she asked why the stroke had to kill Ken Jr, why he could not be like others, who suffered and regained their health. She told me she would not like to say more.

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The expansive Wiwa compound

In the compound, neighbours peep from windows as I take pictures of the calm at Ken’s father’s house. The group of women outside demand to know the reason for my presence and when I ask them whether they have heard the sad news, an elderly member said tradition demands that when such news is heard, it is taken with a pinch of salt, and kept personal until a meeting of the family members is called and an official announcement of the death is made. And that was when they can mourn.

The family meeting to determine the funeral of Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, 47, whose death was said to have been caused by a stroke while in the UK where he lives may be held in the UK or Abuja, his second home, or Port Harcourt, where his mum lives. And maybe these villagers may not get an opportunity to mourn one of their brightest sons – a sun whose light fell quiet early.

Bura-Bari Nwilo lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is the author of a book of short stories entitled A Tiny Place Called Happiness.

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