Influenza, Empire, and Widows

Ibuza began to hear explanations of what had caused the disease. Before that time most people living in the interior of Nigeria did not know that the whole country now belonged to the people called the British who were ruling them indirectly through the local chiefs and elders. Now, in the year of 1916, the rumours said that th new colonial masters were at war with their neighbours "the Germanis"; and the latter fought the British by blowing poisonous gas into the air. When you breathed it in, you died. Many inside Ibuza were asking themselves what they had to do with the Germanis, and the Germanis with them. There was no one to answer their questions; even the diokpas did not know the answers. They consoled themselves by making innumerable offerings of goats and chickens in the hope that their god Olis~ would be well placated and would protect them.

Umeadi mourned for her husband, and whenever Okolie could take time off from his dance practice he would come and fetch water for his widowed mother, for while in mourning she was forbidden to visit the stream, to bathe, to enter any hut where the man of the family had a title. In fact a woman in mourning was not really expected to survive long after the death of her husband, though miraculously many widows did, perhap because most wives were very much younger than their husbands and had that built-in resistance which only youth and a determination to live can provide. And Umeadi like many another woman might have survived had not her resistance been lowered by the very gas that killed her husband.[21]

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