By Charles Adingupu
The people of Ezukwu Community, Ibusa in present-day Delta State have lived in peace with the rabbit for as long as they can recall. For them, the animal has spiritual affinity with their belief. Hence, whenever the rabbit finds its way into the home of an Ezukwu man, all he has to do is sing praises of Mother Rabbit until it goes out unharmed. The mystique surrounding this ancient myth is still upheld till date.
Ibusa bans eating of rabbit
On a certain day, according to one of the town’s folktales, one of the strangers living in Ibusa discovered that his trap had caught a big eyei (rabbit) the day before. He initially ignored it and resumed work on his farm. After considerable hours of work, he decided to prepare the rabbit for launch. He went to the farm hut otherwise known as unno-ugo (usually built with raffia palm leaves and serves as a resting place after some hours of work), owned by an Ezukwu native, to borrow his cooking pot to prepare the rabbit as the neighbour did not come to farm on that day. At the end of the feasting, the stranger washed and returned the pot. The next farming day, the Ezukwu man resumed work and was told what transpired in his farm on the day he didn’t come, but he ignored the disclosure made by his neighbours and went to use the same cooking pot to prepare food for himself after hours of work, as it was the custom. But the next morning, his nose pulled off. Diokpa Esogbue Ezeudigwu in Okponta Village, Ibusa who claimed that the victim was a maternal relative of his, described the victim’s situation as a terrible one as those who witnessed it saw his back head through his damaged nose. According to the folktale, after that unpleasant experience at Ezukwu, the people of Ibusa unanimously embargoed the eating of rabbit in their land.
“Although the incident happened in Ezukwu, just one of the communities in Ibusa land, the people of Ibusa live like the eye and nose, for whatever affects the nose makes the eye to shed tears”, said Diokpa Ezeudigwu. “Conversely, whatever affects the eye affects the nose as well. In other words, they live as brothers and sisters. Beyond this, they inter marry.”
Civil war myth
Another folklore to the rabbit myth in Ibusa land states that during the Nigerian civil war, sometime in 1969, when the Federal troops invaded Ibusa, the natives took to their heels and hid in the forest in order to avert the onslaught of the Federal troops.
According to the story, immediately the Ibusa natives scampered for safety and abandoned their homes for the forest, rabbits in their numbers came out of their hiding holes and started building mot in every nook and cranny and at the same time erasing the footprints of natives from the earth, which did not help the Nigerian soldiers in easily tracing the whereabouts of the natives. The folklore also maintains that the feat by the rabbits helped to create the impression to the soldiers that the people may have abandoned their homes for a long time, therefore, it was needless running after them.
Diokpa Ezeudigwu dismissed this version as hearsay that only exists in the figment of the imagination of a few Ibusa indigenes. His words: “This is only a recent development. A supposed event of the civil war of 1967 or thereabout cannot be tied to the ancient myth of Ibusa people whose existence pre-dates the Nigerian/Biafran civil war.”
Rabbit, rabbit everywhere
One noticeable irony in Ibusa land is that eyei, the rabbit, has become a common sight. The reason for their presence is better appreciated on the ban placed on killing it and eventually eating it.
According to Elder Frank Okade, the rabbit may have seen Ibusa as a safe haven as neighbouring towns and villages feast on rabbit.
However, Diokpa Ezeudigwu disclosed that some Ibusa natives, though not from Ezukwu Quarter, still kill and eat rabbit secretly. He added: “But the Ezukwu man dares not try to eat rabbit for any reason irrespective of his religion.” Okade said the average Ibusa man is duty bound to call strangers to help him remove rabbit from his trap whenever it caught the animal. “Whatever the stranger does that nothing would happen to the native, as he did not set the trap for the rabbit.” An artisan in Ibusa, Emma Iwendi who hails from Ogwashi-Uku, a neighbouring town, said rabbit remains a relish to the average Ogwashi- Uku man as no community in the town forbids it. His words: “As far as I can remember, from Asaba and even to Kwale, which are the Anioma (Igbo)-speaking people of Delta State, it is only Ibusa natives who do not eat rabbit. Among us, the Ika people, indigenes of Agbor and environs, we relish the animal with great delight. It is alleged in certain quarters in Ikaland, that the men folks even use rabbit as bait to trap their women folks into romantic escapades.” Iwendi also recalled with nostalgia that in the mid 1970s, there was a sick woman who made the gate of Saint Augustine Catholic Church, Ibusa, her home and lived on the alms received from the church faithful. He revealed: “One remarkable aspect of this woman, was a live rabbit that kept her company. She communicated and fed the rabbit.”