By Chukwuma Osondu

    What stories do you remember about DNA? What relationship does it have with how one walks and those in a sentry house – Uno Nche/Uno Ugele? What abuse did Uno Nche suffer?

    Before the growth of cities, many lived in communities. Either by choice or forced, they lived knowing each family and everyone. Interesting dimensions of knowing include where each family hails, genealogies, professions and peculiar characteristics of individuals. It was a world that cared to know – such deep knowledge from close interactions. “We know how she walks” “She walks like them.”

    “They are tall in their family. They walk briskly.”
    “Their legs have advantage of long step length – Ndi Ukwu oso na ndi Ije di n’ukwu!”
    “They like to bend to a side when they walk like a “guy”.
    “It is nature’s bestowal – obumbute uwa.”
    “They do not move slowly and heavily like old frigate!”

    “Do you know the daughter of Umejie? She married one of the sons of Ndikanwu in Valley Quarters – Ogbe Ndida, at U’Okute.
    “But you have not gotten it right. She is a granddaughter of Omesiligbanwue. She walks like them. Their grand mother complexion says it all. They inherited these traits from their foremothers and forefathers. These days all are explained in a word – DNA.”

    Still, on walking and markers, “Old soldier” who fought during World War 11, used to talk about Detonated Nitrogen Armies (DNA) that spread in their warfront, catching each one and leaving peculiar mark on each one. At the end of the war, all who survived in their unit were known by peculiar mark left behind. The mark remains till today. It became a mark of identification even mark of honour.


    Similitude is useful in analysis because things are alike. But it does not make them exactly the same thing. Look out, there is always a tinge of difference. Being conscious of this could make a difference in both our reasoning and actions.

    The DNA in question is not exactly. Old soldier’s DNA is same only as acronym. The real DNA goes far more than a similitude. Deoxyribonucleic acid is the carrier of genetic information. All cannot be said on DNA as some would want. Our teacher used to say “I cannot say everything on a matter. A reader should as well be a researcher!” It is the same thing in our kind of narrative. “Ten seemingly ‘disjointed’, ‘abrupt-ending’ stories can be said in a day at Uno nche(Ugele). Does it really undermine or crash the essence of such African stories?


    Our stories are somehow different.

    All this high level discussion was going on at the Uno Nche – Sentry House which could also be called the watchtower. But there were no towers in this part of the world. It is most appropriate to call it by its name Uno nche.
    How did the Uno nche come to be.? This is the history.
    Before Pax Britannia in this part of the globe, pristine peace was sometimes disturbed as a result of trivial issues. Inter-communal marriages, accidents, familial interventions leading to ‘encounters’ often described as war. But they were not ogu ibe isi – where a head is cut off. It could be ogu uno or ogu ikpogidi. (household or group fight)

    However, these little fights could degenerate over time to wars when mediation fail. Though not regular occurrence, they happened. This also tells us there were limits in pristine peace. Europeans did not bring ‘Peace of Westphalia’ to this locale. Yet, one would not be blind to the fact that there were wars, but not at the level of waring for years. One hardly hears of execution of “Seven Year War” in folks oral literature. After all, in this part there were no standing armies for such enduring campaign, except, perhaps,in the monarchical empires of Benin and Oyo.

    Yet, in this state of tranquility, communities protected themselves. They built sentry houses manned to alert dangers. Besides, when dwellers in such community are in farms and markets, the whole community gets quiet and vulnerable. In local parlance it is said that ani da owé – beyond tranquil. This kind of quietude was a cause of concern hence necessity of Uno nche where two to three men kept a watch. Such watch houses early European visitors did not fully understand. These were not simply houses of gods as misconstrued in their writings. Ask your parents who were born in the past century how many of such houses they knew in their communities. It is un-explored area of our history!

    There are sides to Uno Nche. When three to four men kept watch from mid morning to evening what did they do? Idling away in gossips and occasional surveys of nooks and crannies of the community?

    While they kept watch with attendant duties, they also used their time to perfect skills in whistling, threading, caving, drumming and other musicals.These served unintended purpose of announcing presence of people in the community. Sound mix tends to exaggerate level of human presence. It scared would be evil doers; enhanced assurances of security and safety.

    There were other values the Uno nche provided.

    Recall too that distant trade of those days was by foot. A mix-bag of people from the north central states following the Niger, others from the East crossing Omabala(Anambra) rivers and those from the hinterland of the west usually converged at the Eko or Otu. In the course of their long journeys, they may need to stop and rest. The Uno nche in various localities was haven of peace for such unknown travelers. Ani Ilukwe, Ani Nojemoh, Ibe Adimundu in the forest of Omasayali sporadic brooks were not Uno nche in the real sense, rather, they were points serving as stops for those coming from Enuani or hinterland of the west.

    Uno nche was also a centre for young children to learn how to play games and pick up skills. Their brief stops at watch centres when parents were not at home gave a relief and opportunity to learn one or a few things from those on watch. Such young ones were privileged for errands when necessary. For all who converged for a reason, the watch-house was of immense benefit. Long views of in-coming persons gave watchers the opportunity into African DNA studies without a laboratory. “We know how she Walks – She Walks like Them.”

    Strife tends to undermine good intentions. Uno nche suffered abuses during the mid century Nigeria/Biafra war. Watches became forced watch. A kind of watch that inflicted harm because those who forced others to watch were camouflaged men. They ignored all decent rules governing behaviours of the people at uno nche. One could be publicly beaten even to death as it happened in some instances. Refusal to participate in a watch at a time was grounds for arrest of ‘Rebel friends’ and ‘Export of Dissidents’ (instigated by same town’s folks) to army garrisons at Otulu. (Babaé, Ben, Okwi and others were victims). Uno nche then acquired a new nomenclature of hunt!

    Next time, when you hear “We know how she walks – she walks like them”, take a breath. These are not othering phrases -suggesting ethnic or racial differences. It is history of Africa DNA curious studies outside the laboratory and its relationship with Uno nche(Ugele). A rewarding research in times of new terror. Peer into its contours.

    Ife emeli na oge ndi Eze! – chronicles