Letter to Lugard from Flora Shaw

Here in this white bread, with a burning lamp and an overflowing pool of thoughts, I put ink on paper. Though it is not much compared to that at Woolwich, I like the shelter here. In the mornings, the window at the back of the house presents the young bronze sun with a thousand birds streaking beneath, appearing like moving black dots on the crystal sky.

The evenings are not any less artistic. These times from the sitting room window, I will watch the dashing aged sun melt into the distant horizon where the earth keeps a date with it, beautiful and sweet, like an orange sliced in two, and then of course the noisy birds would prance through again, appearing this time like a painting.

I mustn’t fail to tell you of Bundu- A fourteen year old lad from the eastern tribe, he has been my house help and tour guide. This boy, with skin of ebony and deep darting eyes picks up the English language in a day faster than I could do French in a year. He is like a cat, highly intelligent, humble and introverted. The other day when Whittingham and Darlington visited they called him a ‘clean imperial material’ and I didn’t particularly find that patriotic, as did Bundu.

Bundu tells me of this land as if they came into being before his very eyes, he talks of distant wars and stories that seems only valid in an epic novels with mind stretching fiction- still, I know with the little I have seen around that they are as true as water.

I must tell you how I met this unusual lad – before Bundu, my guide had been Osifor, a brash young man with feminine brilliance and unearthly features, though articulate in the languages, I found him rather too ambitious.

It was Osifor who took me round the eastern tribe to a village whose name I have long given up on pronouncing but should sound more like an ‘Ama Enedibo Cha’. There at Ama Enedibo Cha, I met the chief whose name my indomitable pen has neither the wits nor the grace to attempt. The chief, very charismatic in my eyes, organised a carnival in my honour; they thought me the Queen. Oh! Lord Lugard how hospitable are these people of the central Sudan!?

The carnival proper was a bonfire of sort. There were drummers ebulliently pounding stretched lion skin on carved wood. Strong dark lasses, vibrated their beaded waists very dramatically, yet to the rhythm of the drummers. Then, there came the wrestlers, fierce looking lads with globules of sweat dotted on their godly frame. They remind me of gladiators, only more natural, more majestic and less cynical. They fought fiercely- the wrestlers, twisting themselves this way and that with skill, precision, and super human strength more towering than the bridge at Stamford.

May I suggest that the royal army of Queen Victoria put these men into consideration?  The entire occasion, just a tad beneath its crescendo rammed into a wall most unfortunate. He was brought in, scantily clothed, tied like an animal with raffia palm fronds. The palace guards, who were no less gigantic than the wrestlers hurled him this way and that, crashed his good natured face on the brown earth, then they placed him on something, something strange though it easily could be an alter

“Separate his cursed head from the body”, the chief ordered with the impression that my adrenaline was as surging as that of the cheering crowd.

“What’s his offence?”


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“He is an Osu.”  The chief told me, grinning broadly.

“What’s an Osu?”

Then the chief still grinning cynically, in a bid to convince me that the lad needed execution, began his narration

“You see madam, the origin of the Osu’s are very much conflicting. In the version we believe here, they were slaves who committed a sacrilege by stealing from the gods and then eloping with their loots into many villages. They attract curses the way palm oil attracts ants, it was their unsuspecting hosts who suffered more. Any land they go yield no crops, streams dry up, epidemics seizes all the young ones and so on and so forth. The gods curse any land they set their feet on’

“How do you identify one?” I asked him.             

“As soon as we begin to get the first signs we consult the oracle, who shows them to us. Besides that, they are easy to spot. They steal, kill, deflower all the young women or in the case of a female Osu they lay with half the men in the land. They are worse than witches”.

“I don’t care, I want that boy spared” I demanded.

“Madam you don’t know these people, they are bad. If you see a snake and an Osu in the bush, kill the Osu before you kill the snake”. The chief told me.

“Untie him” I commanded.

“Okay madam but we cannot let him stay here; we shall banish him in the stead”.

“I will take him”.

“But madam these people are…”

“Humans! Untie him”.

They untied the boy and brought him towards me. The boy stared at me with eyes like a burning glass and a countenance that belonged to an angered demon. At first I was afraid of this lad, but that fear soon dissolved when he said ‘Thank you, Queen of London’

“Call me lady Lugard, what’s your name?”

He said his name is  Bundu, This Bundu, I write to you about. The Bundu Wittingham and Darlington called a clean imperial product.

That fateful day the gentlemen visited, I seemed to have been possessed by demons. I did a thing most unlady-like by walking them out of my cottage for no reason I can debate upon. That night, I attempted finishing the last paragraph of my novel in vain. Perhaps I had hit a writer’s bloc as words happily eluded me; I tried and tried but only earned a migraine. I would have made with a cup of tea only that Bundu was fast asleep in the sitting room couch and I thought it rude to wake him up. So, I went out into the cold night to find some peace. And peace I did find.

That night, the flowers waltzed with the gently whirling winds. The air was blue, easy to soak in, cooling to my nerves. Then there came- first as faint distant drones- drumbeats from another village. Feelings of nostalgia instantly sipped through me. I have heard these same drums in over a hundred villages I have been to in this land. For a people so strong, so diverse, so nourished by culture and nature, I think together they will make a formidable brand. I discarded the novel that night and rather did an article for THE TIMES.

In that article I bring to surface the beauty of this land which is packaged in poetry and history and magic. I highlighted a good deal of the gains of amalgamation for both the tribes and the crown. I honestly think the name ‘Royal Niger Company Territories’ is a tad too long, also the popularised name of ‘Central Sudan’ by merchants and diplomats is highly unrepresentative of people of these parts. The river Niger causes countless fantasies from not just romantics but people all around the world. I sincerely believe the Niger area, which should be spelt as Nigeria is as convenient as it is romantic.

I anticipate a reply.

Thank you

Flora Shaw

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