Nwanyi Enwe Eze (The Women Have No King)
by Jonathan Edelstein
"Would you prefer to be sworn on the Bible or the sword?"
For a moment, Mary Ejiofor didn't answer. Oaths taken on iron were ancient and
powerful; Mary would never have been where she was had she not taken one. But the Bible was
powerful too--Mrs. Carter the missionary's wife had taught her that--and God's protection had
also brought her to this place. And in the end, she shared the Bible, not iron, with the men who
sat before her.
The bailiff held out the book, and she put her hand on it and took oath. After, she walked
to the table that did duty as a witness stand--the Native Court building still hadn't been
reconstructed from last year's burning--and regarded the eight men at the dais.
"Good morning, Miss Ejiofor," said one of them--Mr. Blackall, the Crown Counsel. "As
you know, this commission has been empaneled to investigate the recent riots--"
"What was that, Miss Ejiofor?"
"The war," she repeated. "The ogu umunwanyi--the Women's War. That's what we call
it." And to call it anything else, she didn't say, would dishonor the dead.
"The war, the riots," said Commissioner Osborne impatiently. "What they're called
doesn't matter. We want to know about them. How they started."
"Well, when Mr. Emeruwa from the district officer's staff took inventory of women's
property, we believed there would be a tax on women in addition to the hut-tax that families
already paid. . ."
Commissioner Osborne held up his hand. "We've had plenty of witnesses to that. Mr.
Emeruwa testified here yesterday. We want to know the real beginning."
The real beginning? Mary thought. Where does anything really begin? Do I start with the
Nwaobiala five years ago, when the women danced against the warrant chiefs to protest water
rates and cassava? Do I start with God, who created the world?
"It began with a palm leaf," she said instead.
"A palm leaf?" asked Barrister Aderemi. He was one of the two Nigerians on the
commission, the radical one--the other, Sir Kitoye Ajasa, took the British side more often than
not--and in the two hours that Mary had waited to testify, he'd been the most active. "Isn't that a
"It is," Mary answered. "But it's also many other things. With the right charms cast by the
right person, it's a summons." She thought of Nneoma and Caroline and Martha, all the people
whose testimony she would be giving, and most of all, she remembered Adanna. "And last
December it summoned all of us."