The story of the ancient Ushii tree as told by the elders. By Chilee Agunanna
No one knows the real age of the Ushii tree as our fathers, their fathers and their fathers before them all met the tree already full grown.
My enquiries led into the history of Ihiagwa and I was told that the Umuduruba kindred of Umuchima whose real name is Umuchukwuduruba were the earliest settlers in Ihiagwa. They were thus the owners of the Ushii tree.
The Ushii was a revered tree and the area around it was sacred and kept clean. There was a kind of priest for it as the priest of Ala Ihiagwa and Otamiri also took care of the Ushii. This priest was from Umuduruba. The last major one was Igboanunma or Aladdin as he was popularly known. He had some other monikers too which some of us here might remember.
It is from the Ushii of Ihiagwa and the Aboshi of Nekede that the two towns are known as Ushii na Aboshi. The Aboshi of Nekede has ceased to exist for some time now. It was located at Umuejechi, Nekede and the spot where it grew has been fenced round. Legend has it that during the Nigerian Civil War, various bombing attempts were made on the Ushii by Nigerian forces but no bomb struck it and the people of Ihiagwa at that time held the popular Ekeama Market under the tree because of the protection it gave them. Also barren women visited the Ushii and prayed for children.
In recent times the Ushii became a recreational centre for Umuchima people and the people of Okpurushii but bees put paid to that. People also built kiosks and small shops around it and a couple of these were destroyed as the Ushii fell.
The Fall of the Ancient Ushii tree of Ihiagwa
The Ushii reportedly caught fire in the evening of Monday, December 30, 2013. No one seems to have an accurate account of what caused or who set it on fire. But some of the people who volunteered information said that people burning the refuse dump beside it inadvertently set it on fire and the tree smoked from the morning of Dec. 30 till in the evening when it finally started blazing. The trunk of the tree had become hollow as a result of age and it was only a matter of time before the tree would have fallen.
It was really a sight to behold. It burned into Tuesday, Dec. 31 and a lot of the branches fell off. By midday, the upper part of the tree which the fire had virtually separated from the lower part, fell. This caused joyous scenes and dancing as people praised God for directing the tree to fall into the only area without a building. It didn’t destroy anything or hurt anyone.
Some people immediately set upon the honeycombs. The next day, January 1, 2014, some other people set upon the wood and cut it up in order to free up the road that the tree had blocked and also for firewood. By Jan. 2, the lower part of the trunk was almost fully burnt into ashes. In the interviews I had with Eze Muruako and a few other elders, they were thankful that the Ushii didn’t harm anyone. Some of them were however apprehensive about the repercussions of the fall of the Ushii tree as in the past, whenever a branch fell, it signified the death of a prominent person.
Taken in Ihiagwa, Imo, Nigeria
Story pictures of the Fall of the Ancient Ushii tree of Ihiagwa: