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By Chika Victor Onyenezi (Nigeria)


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© Chika Onyenezi. Nigeria, 2007


I saw them; I was there but from afar, I could see them gathering in towards a big mango tree one by one while some were in pairs, these ravens. It’s a species of bird that nests near the human habitat. One thing I did notice was their curiosity. I saw them gather and sort of in their own language, appeared to be as if they were exchanging pleasantries. This particular day was a Thursday and exactly was six in the morning in a forest adjacent to my school.


One of them seemed like it could barely bear its own weight given that it only managed to fly short distances among the trees and branches. When it was finally settled on its perch, of the subsequent gesticulations that apparently gave the impression to mutually be flowing mainly between the rest and this one, I presumptuously took this kindred chirping communication to be a form of speech that was going on amongst them, of which I supposedly heard him tell the rest, “My fellow ravens, I welcome you all. I thank you for coming to hear what am about to say. There’s one thing I’ve lived with all my life and which now I think each and everyone of you should also live with.


For very long, our community has lived with ignorance and suffered from it. All through yesterday, I have been crying and shedding tears of my pain - we can’t make cloth; we can’t cut trees; we can’t build houses. But nevertheless, since it’s a fact that we can think, then so, too, can we learn like others! That is why we’re all gathered here, leaving our morning duties to reason together. Look at us - we can’t even plant seed, we only know how to find petty food. Anytime it rains, we remain hungry, even if it falls for two days. I can’t continue to live like this. I have spent quite a number of years on this earth since am the oldest of you all; I have lived with your ancestors; I have seen men hunt us; kill us; stone us…I have seen a lot. 


I have also seen men work. Many can make houses on which we eventually perch. They can also make weapons, gather food, plant, kill, eat; they can make cloths and all sorts of things. But look at us - we leave in ignorance. Nonetheless, today I come with a message. I found their secret; the secret of Man is not farfetched; it is around us only that we can’t see it. Last night while as I slept, the gods revealed this secret to me, and their secret is in schooling.”


At this point, the rest started murmuring. “Calm down my fellow birds; a school is not a strange place,” and pointing at it, he continued, “it’s just there. A school is where they go to learn skills. And today we will acquire this strange knowledge.”


After the meeting, they all agreed to pay a visit to that school that morning. Flying from where they were, they soon perched themselves on trees inside the school’s compound. Being in front, the wise raven flew to a high branch among these trees from where he looked at the others as they closed in while circling the air. The wise raven tried to see what men use the electric pole for, but he found nothing instead. Therefore, the chief decided that they should walk like men down to the admission block.


Unfortunately as he readied himself to descend, his wing got tangled with some electric wires. A flash of light ensued as his wing was electrocuted. And falling to the ground, he struggled to fly but was unable to. In a confused melee, his fellow ravens left their perches and started hovering around the air near where he had fallen.


Two flew down and walked towards the wise one who was still struggling to move and asked him, “Old one, are you alright?” He couldn’t utter a word as he tried to take to the air.


They informed others of his dieing state, and they all started lamentably tweeting “Koo! Koo! Koo!” in unison. As they couldn’t treat him nor carry him back, they decided to accord him funeral rites befitting his stature after choosing to lay him to rest on the spot where he’d fallen while, at the same time, crestfallen for not having learnt anything from this school other than that the death of the wise one had visited them.


One, clearing his voice, finally said, “Wise one, may you rest peacefully in the old world. Your idea has unfortunately brought us only misfortune considering that your seasoned old wings are now down. We learnt neither about men nor their ways as well as how to treat you. May our ancestors warmly receive you because, after all, you really were wise in your ways. Ironically, however, this wisdom has cost us all we dearly cherished. We please do pray that may your soul rest in peace.”


Sorrowfully, he joined the rest and they all flew off back to the trees in their forest. Enroute, the old one’s best friend sadly cried, “As knowledge lay behind stones he sought, hidden knowledge he found though uncovering its fringes, was death. Koooo! Koooo! Ko…koo…Koooo!” This, he repeatedly said as he grieved for two days without eating.


On the fifth day, a young raven stood up and spoke, “All ravens, please keep calm.” With these words, a cold silence ran through their bodies. The young bird flew up and sat on the wise one’s position from where delivered this speech; “Today we mourn not the fall of this Iroko. Our cries, now starting to be foolish, must stop. In consideration of how long the old one had spent nearly his life trying to find man’s secret, let us in respect do something great in his honor – I suggest that we first start by reflectively seeking for and amidst ourselves where the old one perhaps may’ve failed.


He never studied us but rather spent his life studying men. Today, we must begin by truly seeking for knowledge with the primary intent of finding ourselves, first! And as we truly become ourselves, indeed that is when ravens can be claimed to be knowledgeable. By doing this, we mourn this fallen great man who had a vision although probably despite his not having known how to go about harnessing it.”


With distressed hearts, what consequently followed were deeply individual moments of inward reflections while collectively also appreciating that of the death that had affected each of their lives in different ways, a new frontier had been paved from which was born a desire to meticulously pursue ways of wisdom which bespeak the acquisition of knowledge as a liberating tool.


To celebrate this new beginning, some started singing with the rest joining in as they whistled music that went deep down into each’s heart. And I saw them leave to a land they would find themselves; for sure, be themselves.

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