Freedom Within A Cage…

by Felix-Abrahams Obi

As a kid, I loved to watch birds do acrobatic stunts over a puddle during the rainy season. Oftentimes, my peers and I would lay siege at their nets to capture them especially in the night or at dusk, before the sun rouses them from sleep. Once we got the birds captive, we would lock them up in a wooden cage, where we manage to provide them with some food like grains and insects. But as long as the bird/s remained in that cage, one hardly heard those lovely chirps they reel out from tree tops. Rather than fly, what they can only manage is just to flutter their wings within the cage. You would also hear a cry of dereliction and desperation as against those songs that birds only could sing. The cage in a sense hushes the creation and generation of those beautiful notes that birds sing mirthfully. We cared less as kids for it was much fun catching a bird and clipping its wings than getting enthused by the wordless chirps of birds. Holding a bird in captivity was a mission we loved, but little did we know that we were jeopardizing the purpose for which God created it!

But for Leonardo Da Vinci, the ace artist and genius, caging a bird for whatever reason, though plausible was abominable, and simply unpardonable. He would walk the streets of Florence in those medieval ages to free “caged birds” after paying the ransom to their captors! He believed in the freedom of the whole person: mind, soul and body! He knew that the true potentials of birds, which were created to fly freely, would never be realized within the confines of a cage. Fundamentally, he believed that freedom is the inalienable right of every created being on earth; man and animals with none excluded. And this universal belief in the freedom of the human person cannot be over emphasized. Leonardo indeed believed in freedom and lived a life replete with such rich expressions of freedom as depicted in his classic artworks.

Unlike the restricted freedom that animals and humans face, to the Ibo man, the archetypical representation of freedom is “Ikuku”, that is the wind or breeze which blows everywhere and which keeps our nostrils working till the time of death. An Ibo adage says “Ikuku ama na onya”, implying that the wind cannot be trapped or held hostage or forced into bondage through subjugation. For every animal, a trap exists to catch it however big or ferocious it might look. Hence we have lions and other wild animals “domesticated” and held captive in cages and zoos worldwide. However, there is no known trap that can capture the wind because it is invisible as much as it is invincible.

For sure, gas cylinders, balloons and other airtight apparatus can “capture” wind in some sense. However; that does not make the wind vulnerable for it is more or else sacrosanct and immune from being ruled or subjugated. It is not visible enough to be captured nor has any form, nature or shape like other elements which the captor can take advantage of. The wind is ubiquitous yet invisible, formless yet perceptible to the senses, making it a mystery. It has an unbendable will power; hence man can only monitor its direction and movement across the land and water surfaces of the earth with wind vanes but cannot restrain its programs and projects.

So the wind represents a kind of absolute freedom that is universal. We are still grappling with the wanton destruction that tsunamis, hurricanes and storms have left in their wake during their recent visits to the gulf coasts of Asia and America. In their unrestricted freedom lie their awesome and immeasurable powers which humans have not been able to handle for ages! The absolute freedom of the wind in its various manifestations burnishes and projects sadly the lack of absolute freedom among humans and animals.

But before we get misled into misconstruing what my thinking on freedom is, can we ask each other these and many other questions that have engaged my mind recently; “What is freedom in the first place?” “Who are the custodians of freedom?” “Who truly can be called a freedom fighter, and can anyone truly die for the sake of freedom?” Is democratic freedom as currently practiced in America, yet forcefully exported to the uttermost parts of the earth a truism of freedom indeed?” “What about the universal declaration of human rights which provides for freedom of conscience, speech, religion etc?” “Can we say we are enjoying a measure of freedom in this global village arena where freedom exemplified by crass secularism holds sway?” I am still thinking, but are we truly free in the real sense of the word since the World Trade Organization has tactically tilted the trade balance to favor the rich countries of the west at the expense of the poor ones?

Generally speaking, no one is truly born free. I know many would challenge this assertion bearing in mind that many would gloat to say they are freeborn of citizens of their nations. I know I never really was born free but I wish I were though. Being a free citizen of a liberated nation or kingdom, with all the guaranteed rights does not necessarily earn you the toga of a freeborn citizen. Come to think of it, many would argue that even slaves and outcasts were born free before they eventually were subjected to bondage by the sociocultural and other forces at play in their milieu. In Ibo land of yore, the “free born” looked at the “outcast” with a derisive and spiteful smile, but can the “freeborn” truly say in every sense of the word that he/she was born free?

My limited molecular biology lets me know that my life began with the bonding of two microscopic units of life donated by my parents courtesy of a sacred union long before I was born. While they could not see what transpired at that molecular level existence, with time however, they began to see the product of their union. ME! And after months of carrying a bloated and heavy burden in her belly, mother could no longer hold me back in her womb. I had to take that inevitable trip to earth bereft of the warmth and comfort I had enjoyed in her womb. That was another instance of lack of freedom to choose. Nature solely dictated what needed to be done with no consideration given to my freedom of choice. I could have come to earth through some other means but I knew of no other option than through the agency of my parents. In essence, I was not free enough to make that choice for I am only but the result of their decision. Worse still, if mom had decided to abort me “in utero”, I couldn’t have had any other choice than to be evacuated from her womb and be dumped into a thrash can or incinerated like other medical wastes. So freedom in a sense is a foreigner of sorts. It is what another gives us.

As I exited my mother’s womb, I faced a major restraining force the umbilicus! It wouldn’t let me live freely being a custodian of the foeto-maternal bond that nourished me for the gestational months I lived inside my mother’s womb. My first experience of self-freedom was traumatic and involved “blood letting”. Someone had to severe the umbilical cord (from my mother) b

efore I could experience freedom. No one could stop that flow of blood that sipped from the severed end of the vestiges of that union; my navel. On mother’s side, the evacuation of the wasted remains of her uterine walls “the after birth” also marked an end to the ‘sweet-trauma” of child-birth. For all my lifetime, my navel would be there to remind me of that scary experience, however small it may appear in size or shape. And if my first experience of freedom required the shedding of blood, does it not portend that freedom can never be got on a platter of gold?

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