Nwanyi Mmiri: Burn Down That Shrine – Free short story, mami wata, Drama, Horror, Religion, African Mythology, Shrine, Enjoy this story
The sun had just set. women were returning home from the market and farmers from their farms. Agadi Nwanyi, the oldest woman in the clan sat on a stone under the orange tree beside the Community shrine of Nwanyi Mmiri. The Goddess was also called Idemili by the locals and her shrine had been strategically placed in the heart of the community, beside the village square. She had been appeased that morning, the mark of drying blood fell down her altar and over a flat tray filled with corals, glass beads, and a round bowl of camwood dye. Red and white cloth curtained the shrine, the walls had been painted with camwood and random uli arts. A mbari statue of Nwanyi Mmiri with a fat python wrapped around her waist, its head resting between her breasts sat in the innermost center of the shrine, looking out over the village.
The children were done with helping their parents on the farm so they gathered in front of the orange tree. Some were lucky enough to sit on the fallen tree, and protruding roots, while others sat on the ground. The teenagers who had just finished their age-grade duties for the day stood behind the children. They all had their lower halves covered. The women wore skirts while the men wore loin clothes or shorts, and their chests were left bare. But the older girls wore beads on their ankles each according to her age, and more beads on their waists, wrists, and necks, and exuberant hairstyles.
It was time for another story. Agadi Nwanyi was one of the best storytellers in the land, she was so good that even warriors who acted like they never sucked on a woman’s breast hung around in the guise of protecting the children just to hear her stories. Today she told the story of Eke the Python, not the one that crept into their bed and slept with them, or the one they found in the morning among their pots, she told the story of Eke Nnukwu (Great Python) and how it exerts vengeance for Nwanyi Mmiri.
Reverend Ifeanyi, used to be an Osu, an outcast, but after he met the white man and accepted his God, he believed he had been freed from the social stigma of his birth. Yet he could not fight the bitter taste that crept into his mouth whenever he thought about his past life. The resentment he held towards the people who ostracized him was something that should never be spoken of, but he found comfort in knowing that he had become superior to the pagans. He was in his mid-thirties, and since his conversion, he had become a man who once convinced about whatever action he chose to take, hardly ever changed his mind. For his decisions were never his, but the Lord’s. He was the man leading a group of twelve in prayer warfare, right before they set out to the physical battle.
Earlier that day, he and his band of evangelists including Sister Beatrice, had ventured into an inner town in Idemili to spread their gospel, when they came upon the shrine of Nwanyi Mmiri. The shrine’s priestess had just beheaded a chicken on its altar and its body was still alive.
He shook his head in pitiful disgust ‘These people’s souls are in bondage.” he declared as they approached the deity’s shrine, singing, and praying.
The priestess was dressed like the statue. Thin charcoal around her eyes gave her a sharp look, her face was painted with camwood, white clay and charcoal were used in decorating her flawless naked body, several glass beads covered her womanhood and a tiny snake was wrapped around her wrist. She was hanging the head of the dead chicken from the roof of the shrine when she noticed the men in white approaching the shrine.
The warriors, male and female had been watching them with suspicion. As the strange men drew closer to the shrine, dancing and speaking in a strange way and language, they assembled with their weapons, ready to kill the intruders. The priestess picked up her sword and stepped in front of the warriors.
Reverend Ifeanyi stopped praying, ‘They are not aware that we are here to save them.” He declared then spoke in tongues. “Sister Beatrice, this is your village.”
“Yes reverend, but I am no longer one of them.”
“Oh Sister Beatrice, you are right. The Lord has accepted you into his family, and you are no longer one of them, but you speak their language, and now you will be of use in the lord’s service in interpreting the word of God to these pagans.” she nodded and stepped forward.
The priestess recognized her, shook her head then spat on the floor. “You have brought shame and pain upon your parents, Nwanyinaza,’’ she spoke in Igbo.
Nwanyinaza used to be Sister Beatrice’s name until she converted. The name was short for Nwanyi Mmiri n’aza, meaning; the woman of the sea answers. She ignored the priestess and waited for the reverend’s instructions.
“People of Idemili, fear not, we are here to free you from the bondage of this powerless and fake deity.’ He spoke and Sister Beatrice interpreted. When they were done speaking, and telling the people that they were worshiping the devil, a concept unknown of to the Igbos, for what the strangers called Ekwensu was the Igbo deity of mischief, war, wealth, and strength. An elder stepped forward. He was called, Mbe because he was as cunning as the tortoise.
“Nwanyinaza tell your friends that in our village we do not fight the gods in the daytime. That if they must fight our God, they should return at night, when it is awake.”
Sister Beatrice turned to the Reverend and interpreted the message of the elder, making him laugh.
“A god who sleeps in the day.” He approached the shrine but was stopped by the sharp point of the priestess’s blade, daring him to move closer.
“We will be back.” he laughed “By morning when you awake your shrine will be burned to the ground and you will accept the one true God.” Beatrice interpreted and the people of Idemili agreed.
As Agadi Nwanyi told the tales of the dreadful Eke to children. The priestess picked up the sacrifice of ornaments, placed it on her head, and strolled down to the river. When she got to the riverbank she held the tray over the calm river “Nwanyi Mmiri! Idemili!! She cried out!! Sorry, today I have not come only to appease you!!! Your Obu was disrespected today. They said you are not real; they wanted to burn down your Obu. Wipe them out for the disrespect they have shown you! Wipe them out so that their type may never return.” She poured the ornaments into the river and returned to her shrine with a tray on her head. As she left a large green snake slithered into the river.
As night approached, a warning was sent through the village that nobody was to leave their compound. No light was to be left on, and no door was to be left unlocked.
Beatrice felt goosebumps grow out of her arms, she thought about sitting back at the church but she wanted to prove to reverend Ifeanyi that she had let go of her roots. After they returned from Idemili that evening he accused her faith of wavering and counseled her against having second thoughts.
She had run away from home about a year ago after the reverend had come for her hand in marriage but was refused by her community who recognized him as an outcast. She assumed he would immediately take her into his chambers and bed her. Instead, he placed a cloth over her shoulder and preached to her, asking her to accept his God as her lord and savior. She remained with him ever since, trying to prove that she had become Christian enough to become his wife.
As they walked down the forest path the reverend prayed and sang in a loud voice. Beatrice assumed this was to scare the animals away. The other men with him joined in the prayers and sang as loud as their voices could go. She was uncomfortable, the village felt awfully quiet and she could sense a strange but familiar presence, a presence she last felt when she was thirteen and swimming in the Idemili River. A thin string of glass beads floated towards her, she felt the presence the moment she put it around her neck. As they got closer to the village she touched her neck to feel the object hidden under her gown.
The troop finally arrived at the shrine and without wasting time Reverend Ifeanyi set the shrine on fire. As the fire grew he roared with laughter and mocked the goddess.
“Ifeanyi,” Beatrice said.
“I have told you to only call me Reverend Ifeanyi.” He turned to face her with the eyes of a boastful man, a man who just had his revenge.
“Reverend Ifeanyi. Nwanyi Mmiri’s shrine is not burning.” She felt the presence become stronger like eyes were watching them.
Reverend Ifeanyi stared wide-eyed at the shrine. His grip on the lamp weakened, the others also stopped. The air around them froze and the laughter of a woman broke it.
She was naked, her body was painted red with camwood, her eyes lined with charcoal, and her pupils yellow and shaped like a snake, a long snake wrapped itself around her waist, over her shoulder, and rested between her breasts. She was tall and slender with the shape of an hourglass, and she seemed to slitter as she walked passed them and in front of her shrine.
“You should see the look on your face! This is interesting.” She had a playful feel about her until she spoke again “Who are you?”
Reverend Ifeanyi hesitated “I am Ifeanyi. I am Reverend Ifeanyi!!!” He tried to sound brave.
“Why have you come to burn my shrine?” She asked, with pleading eyes, but no matter how cute she looked her aura only inflicted fear.
“Because, because, you are not real, you are a demon, these people need need to be liberated from you.” He trembled.
“And on whose authority have you come to burn down my shrine? Stranger,” she asked. “Have my people done anything to hurt you, that you must wage a war against their God? Have they told you that they need to be liberated from me? Stranger! I ask you again, on whose authority have you come?” As she spoke her personality fluctuated between calm and stormy, like that of an ocean.
Beatrice knew she had to run away, she had heard stories of the goddess, and she knew that if Nwanyi Mmiri was here then Eke and his brothers were not far away. She turned around to run but stopped at the screams of Paul, the newest convert. His name used to be Maduka. A large python was coiled around his body, and just as if it was waiting to catch their attention, it stretched its mouth and swallowed the crying Paul.
The fire dropped from Reverend Ifeanyi’s hand, and the liquid trickled down his legs.
“You, I’m still speaking to you. Don’t get distracted. On whose authority have you come?”
“I – I – am h-her-e o on the authority of Jesus”
He tried to speak again but his voice was stuck in his throat.
“Are you afraid of me?”
The snake gulped the last part of Paul and settled to watch the intruders. Beatrice knew that that was not Eke Nnukwu; Eke was much bigger, it was so big that no human had ever seen it and lived to tell the story, except the priestess. But the priestess was not human either.
“You know what; I’ll show you mercy, Ifeanyi, Reverend Ifeanyi. Give me that woman with you and I will let you run away from here with the rest of your men.”
“Take her.” He did not give it a second thought. Nwanyi Mmiri and Beatrice stared at him, open mouth.
The wind pushed Beatrice towards the goddess. “Shh, don’t struggle my child, the man you submitted yourself to, has offered you to me. Your life belongs to me. Your life has always belonged to me. I gave you to your mother and yet you left. Why? You left for this man, this weak man who would sacrifice you without blinking an eye!” Beatrice began to cry “Now run before I change my mind.”
Reverend Ifeanyi took to his heel, not looking back.
He had not gone halfway into the forest when he heard the scream of one of his flocks; he was being eaten by another snake. He ran for his life, he had to get out of this cursed village; he knew the goddess would not forgive him so easily. He stopped in his tracks; something large and dark was blocking his path.
Eke Nnukwu stood in the clearing, over seven feet in width and twelve in half-height. Even in the dark the green of its skin glowed. Its red eyes peered at Reverend Ifeanyi. He was transfixed on the monster, hypnotized into paralysis.
Somewhere in the forest, snakes swung their tails from tall branches and grabbed the running evangelists, rolled them up as they struggled, and squeezed them with every breath, the sounds of their breaking bones and dying screams echoed through the forest, then as if it was choreographed, the snakes opened their mouths and swallowed their prey. Eke in turn opened his mouth, bent its head, and descended on Reverend Ifeanyi.
The people gathered around the shrine, it was morning and the shrine still stood. The only evidence that a battle had occurred that night, were the clothes of the strangers that lay on the altar. The dead skin of Eke Nnukwu was spread in front of the door of the shrine like a green carpet.
Nwanyi Mmiri walked out with a naked Beatrice, The priestess was beside her, and the villagers stared at their Goddess for the first time in their lives, she was more beautiful than the priestess, and more beautiful than any woman they had ever seen.
She turned to Beatrice and smiled, then kissed her.
Beatrice understood what the kiss meant. She walked to the altar, lay down on the shrine, and waited. The priestess picked up her sword.
“Today, my daughter, you will return to my side.” Nwanyi Mmiri smiled to assure her.
Beatrice closed her eyes and waited for the blow that sent her head rolling down the altar.
Did you enjoy this story? Try a lighter story – The Jackal and The Peacock