For my Ika language speaking friends, eletu and ogwo were popular animals that made life in the village somewhat interesting. In Oligie-Igbanke, in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State, precisely, eletu and ogwo spiced up our teenage years and contributed to making life worthwhile.
Eletu happens to be what we call rabbit, while ogwo is a smaller specie of the rodents and they share same features and most likely some bit of anthropological ancestry. Ogwo here could be identified as rat, depending on your sentiments, if you get the drift.
Hunting for eletu among the youth could be a communal thing and may occupy a whole day which if productive could yield about two or three and one could be sold for N150.00 – for good measure. Get the picture clearer: On a good day, about ten youths could decide to go rabbit hunting.
So with a kindling fire, machetes, hoes and shovels, into the bush they go searching for rabbit holes. When a hole is spotted and the expert in the group assesses it as a possible residence for a rabbit, the area is cleared and cordoned while members of the group lay strategic ambush. Fire is lit by the hole and smoke is bellowed into the hole.
From the point of spotting the hole to your departure from the rendezvous, anything can happen so eternal vigilance is the watchword because heaven help you if the rabbit escapes from your “watchtower”. Note that at best, a rabbit is 18 inches long and could weigh not more than one kilogramme. More on rabbits!
Enter ogwo, and this could be either domestic and or wild.
Yes, it truly lives in the homes and was edible too, then. About four species easily come to mind – ogwo itself, and some distant cousins like ogwo odu which was fatter and more fleshy, but more hairy; oputu which has brownish hairs and is reported to always cut off its tail if smeared in human faeces, as well as the 404 which got that accolade for its swift speed as likened only to Peugeot 404 which was the fastest automobile known to us then.
The escapade with ogwo and pounded yam supervised by Lord Igwaran on a farm one day cannot escape my memory easily. I have related this story to my family more than once. After our first portion of work that morning, Lord Igwaran suggested that we cook pounded yam.
We easily uprooted some cocoyam, picked some ripe palm nuts (banga) and while they were boiling, we went in search of ogwo. The first hole that Lord Igwaran spotted yielded 23! The crave for independence hadn’t taken root in the animal world at the time but we had a feast, and end of work for that day!
Now, let’s go to Lassa in Benue State and the picture of the Lassa rats that has given Alexandra Gabreyesus and his team at the World Health Organization (WHO) some sleepless nights intimately resembles the 23 rats we caught at the remote forests of Ake – Igbanke in 1975 that I find it very difficult to determine if they are first, or second cousins, or the extent of their paternity for that matter. The reality today is that the mention of a rat, and the sight of it either in Badagry – Lagos State or in Oligie in Edo State or Lassa Town in Benue State evinces only one fear – LASSA FEVER!!
Now back to the rabbits and this time, the profile and specie have transformed considerably. They now have long ears, are about one foot long, still weigh about one and half kilogramme, and are reared in cages, and my friend – Afro – had about nine of them way back in Auchi, Edo State and when I asked if he ate them, I must have spoken an abominable language.
I wasn’t to eat rabbit meat, and never did again until I was a wedding emissary to Konduga, near Maiduguri in Bornu State. Now don’t wince! Konduga was a decent place to visit in 1991! Boko Haram could at the time be an idea that was only in the incubator, at most.
We left Benin City that Friday morning and got to Konduga the following Saturday morning before then national environmental sanitation programme. Wedding was on Sunday, and at 7.00a.m on Monday, we were set to return to Benin City, or so I told my host, the man who became a husband just the previous day. I still have to ask him again anytime I see him if he heard what I said that morning.
He went into his room and I didn’t see him again, until 11.00 a.m (four hours later!). Then, there were two rabbits lying by his side, throats already slit and still bleeding. It was during the meal of rice and rabbits stew that he said “vehicles don’t leave Maiduguri for Onitsha until 2.00p.m”!
Our next stop is at Adoration Ground where the ebullient Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka who hitherto saw nothing but despair suddenly started seeing hope, hope, hope prior to the Supreme Court judgment on the Imo State gubernatorial election that had brought Emeka Ihedioha as the governor. By dint of an epicurean nay supernal mathematical calculation, Hope Uzodinma who came fourth in the election now became the supreme (he doesn’t like the court aspect) governor of Imo State.
Nothing to worry about the pronouncements of the Adoration Grounds supremo; he was only giving teeth to the biblical doctrine that the first shall be the last. The hope for Imo State was for Senator Hope Uzodinma to become governor and Adoration Ministries was the metaphor.
Hope for the economic emancipation of Imo State is blooming in the firmament as reports had it that the state governor, in a well-orchestrated and celebrated programme, empowered Imo State youths with … what…. RABBITS!!! This happened just after the nationwide #EndSARS protests. I have been trying to figure out the place of rabbits in the socio-economic and cultural setting of Imo, nay Igbo people. Rabbit meat does not feature in anyway when Igbo delicacies and condiments are being paraded.
Chief Zeburudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, alias 4.30 popularized ugba and okporoko along with nchi (grass cutter meat), and that was long before nkwobi and isi-ewu came into national prominence. Cows and goats pay supreme prices during weddings and funerals as well as during new yam festivals and other traditional festivities. Where is the place of rabbits?
Does Governor Hope Uzodinma intend to start a rabbit revolution in Imo State? To what end in view? Some aspects of our national developmental fault lines came into prominence during the last yuletide. A young woman, a teacher in a private school who was caught in the web of the COVID 19 pandemic started raising a poultry.
It was aimed at Christmas where she hoped to make reasonable sales. But there she was during the season hawking her live chicken for which people were demanding she sells for below N2,000.00 for which she anticipated at least N3,500.00 each. Looking at the face of that young pregnant woman, you could see somebody who was frustrated and might not have the enthusiasm and motivation to go into poultry farming next time. And we are encouraging people to go into farming!
Assuming Governor Uzodinma is raising the hope of Imo State youths by empowering them with rabbits, this could lead to a rabbit revolution, no doubt. In the event of the revolution becoming successful, and there is a rabbit boom, would there be a process to soak up the anticipated yields? That was what happened to chicken this last yuletide as virtually every home – in Lagos State – had a form of poultry farm or the other. The greatest casualties of the yuletide this season vis-à-vis in the past was not chicken, but the poultry farmers!
In simple economic terms, until goods are consumed, the chain of production has not, and cannot be said to have ran its full course. What then is the point in governments asking people to go into production (in this case farming) when the products of such efforts cannot be sold? I hope governments listen, hear and learn.
*My name is Vincent Chuks Igbinedion, and I am just “thinking allowed”.