MYTHS AND THE NKALAHA WORLD - Onyeji Nnaji
Various symbolic narratives - usually of unknown origin and at times partly traditional - that ostensibly relate actual events and that which is especially associated with religious belief are prominent in Nkalaha history. These symbolic narratives are however distinguished from some symbolic behaviour or practices typified by cult activities, ritual processes and symbolic places or objects, such as temples or icons. These might be represented by specific accounts of gods or the acts of some superhuman beings involved in extraordinary events or circumstances in a time that is unspecified but which is understood as existing apart from ordinary human experience. Prominent among these is seen in the life of Onojah who was challenged by a human-bird and he conquered it (Nnaji 2003).
The concept mythology therefore, denotes both the study of myth and the body of myths belonging to a particular religious tradition. As was the case with all religious belief, there are several ways and obvious instances to justify Nkalaha mythic narratives and through these means it can be rendered plausible. Various instances of Nkalaha myths present themselves as authoritative, factual account, it doesn't matter how much these narrated events are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience. Extending myths from this primary religious meaning, various instances of religious concepts become unmentionably accommodated. Nkalaha has many of these instances which are played out in her belief system.
Nkalaha believes that human beings are, each, mutually connected to his spiritual person(s). This is related to the avatar concept: an incarnation in human form or an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person. This spiritual person(s) is therefore represented with mere symbolic object or animals - in the case of Nkalaha myths - by which his acts through life extension are made manifest. These persons therefore exists hand-in-hand in different ecological spheres. On this account, it can be deduced here that what happens to the spirit symbolic object of a person directly affects the person whom the object represents. These may be skeptical, but various instances and events had occurred with various evidences to indicate that this might concur to the natural law. Mentionable among these symbolic objects include Inaji (big mud fish), Ele (antelope), Eyi (big rat) etc. Traditional history revealed that many hunters had been tempted to kill pregnant antelope or one in labour which had been the direct replica of their real wives, pregnant or in actual labour. Onojah, of course, had to die after confronting and killing a lion which was the mere symbol of his guidance spirit and extension of his life in the manner of the avatars world. On the same belief, inhabitants of Nkalaha community were advised against the killing of Inaji during fish harvest as that may be the symbolic object of their spirit person or their relatives'.
Popular among these in the literary texts set in Nkalaha is seen in Irony of the Gods. Here, the event that led to the demise of Martin, one of the characters in the novel, was blamed upon the belief tied around Nkalaha myths. Martin killed an Inaji, during a fish harvest. He did not know that it was his symbolic spirit. He finally took the fish to Nigercem and sold it to a hotel keeper who sliced the fish for proper storage in the evening of the same day. Behold, while the hotel keeper sliced the fish, Martin was at home rambling and lamenting that he felt a knife being applied on his body. Of course, the fish could not be retrieved, so Martin died that evening. Although this was fictionalised; but it was the true event that led to the demise of the author's sole womb-uncle (from the maternal side) in the year 1956.
Nkalaha also identifies with some cosmic elements such as stars. For instance, whenever there is a wondering star (in the night) with heavy light which suddenly dies off, the inhabitants believe that someone has passed on. This is called Nshiegwor in the community's language. Nkalaha myth is tied to their religion from where their life dictates and responses to natural laws are informed.
Nkalaha can be considered as a polytheistic community with many gods having differently defined roles they play to the assistance of the inhabitants. Among these gods are Alu edziragu, Ebe and Ogba. These three are generally owned by the entire community and their functions are to the entire community. Other important gods include Chukwu-oke, Uzu, Enyanwu, Abalehwi, Akpam, Enyinwegu, Alu mbaredzi and others. The latter group are mainly considered among household gods; except Akpam, Abalehwi and Enyinwegu with Nnega Ugbor to include. These ones are own to distinct villages and within that circle lays their exercise of power and control.
Chukwu-oke: This is a personal/household god. It is introduced into each family few days after a woman is newly married. She goes to a nearby stream during dry season and collects the stone with which the god is to be built for her control. This is done before she conceives. The role of Chukwu-oke is for procreation. It also controls procreation. Again, at any time one feels satisfied with his wife over child bearing, they will go to the shrine and inform it that they have had the number of children they needed. No much deal is required in doing this. What they are required to do is to take a cup of water to their Chukwu-oke, first thing in the morning. There, they will say prayers and conclude that they are done with procreation. They will pour the water on the god and leave. After that moment and on, the woman will not conceive again all through her lifetime. If peradventures, any unforeseen circumstance occurs, such as the demise of the children, the man rather goes for another wife since the first wife have been rendered fruitless for life.
Uzu: This is also a household god. Its duty is to act as a guard and to neutralize every poisonous charm coming into the compound and to prevent communicable diseases from overtaking the compound. Uzu is always situated at the entrance to the bearer's compound.
Nnega Ugbor1: Nnega was the name of a woman. She was a poor widow without a child. After the death of her husband, she suffered poverty and lack. Nobody gave her any attention until the day she died. People were ignorant of her death until she decayed and weathered into the bearer soil. When people realised that she lived no more, they did nothing about her body. Years later, the earth upon where she decomposed began to bulge. With time it formed an anthill. Then the spirit of the widow began to unleash torments on the people. Solutions were sought and it was discovered that she needed to be honoured as a deity. This was done and since that day, Sacrifices have been rendered to her at the place she died and was decomposed.
Note: It is not very certain and I cannot declare here that the woman held from Umulesha or Amaezegba: the two communities that have this deity each. Therefore, it is very dicey to assert that any of these communities was first to build this deity.
Ebe: Ebe is one of the most recognized general gods to the community. It is a goddess operating in the marine world. It has an assigned priest called Edeoga. To still flow in the spirit of the goddess, the priest forbids many things that have their dwelling in the water. He does not eat things like fish, crayfish, etc. He is also not allowed to mix up with the crowd. The goddess is a vocal god. The same Edeoga, the priest of Ebe is still the priest of Alu edziragu. Alu refers to the mother earth; the same is vocal and most powerful. It exercises control over the rest of the gods in the community.
This goddess is built inside the particular position housed by Onojah's tent the first day he founded the land. Initially, it served as his household Alu called "Alu mbaredzi." The secret of Alu's power lies on the fact that she was the first goddess to receive sacrifice and recognition. Onojah, after he pitched his tent said some prayers and performed a ritual to the landed spirit with his snuff. Till this day, the position of the tent by Onojah is still occupied by Alu goddess.
Ogba is another powerful goddess of ogba stream. The goddess dwells in a cave with ever-flowing spring from it. It has an assigned priest also. But like Edeoga, the priest of Ebe and Alu, he does not forbid any sea creature, however, he holds himself from the crowd. And he is not given special attention as unto Edeoga in the community gathering. Again, Edeoga's demise is celebrated as the passing on of a hero, but his is not likewise. These three gods together with Nnega Ugbor survived the incursion brought about by civilization and Christianity. All others have faded away. Fewer that still exists, but in mirage, had lost their genuineness and power to the later.
MASQUERADES AND MASQUERADING
The origin of masquerading in Nkalaha is traced to the mediaeval era. Nkalaha has respect for several gods. Apart from this, the community is dully fascinated by the practice of masquerading since her mediaeval period. Prominent among this was seen during the mediaeval era. But they were not called any name; still they did not survive the mediaeval era. They died as immediately as the instinct that institutionalized them ended. Therefore, the first masquerade ever produced in Nkalaha is called Nwangidi. The masquerade is vested with venoms and strength to run as far as any length. Popular among other Nkalaha masquerades include, Omebe, Ekpe etc. these are the major masquerade practiced in the community. Other ones not mentioned operate in consonance with either of these two. But, out of these two, the community attaches more seriousness to the former than to the latter.
Etymologically, the name Ekpe is derived from Ephesus. It stands for a female shrine moulded up to the stature of a human height. The image was that of a female goddess designed with many breasts. According to the notion held by the Ephesians, the plenteous nature of her breasts shows how far the idol suckles the entire Ephesians in the manner a mother suckles her young child. Liturgically, it stands for a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances conserved as a memorial over the popular mother-and-son god built in commemoration of Nimrod, the greatest hunter and his mother. This was later adopted by Nkanu communities and of course, Nkalaha. Nimrod was the son of Cush and the grandson of Ham who also was one of the sons of Noah. Nimrod was a powerful hunter according to Gen.10: 8, from him comes the saying, "as brave as Nimrod the great hunter." Nimrod guarded his community from wild beasts and human enemies. He was too great that only him could wage wars and win them. So, in his days, his community had peace; they fought no war because people outside were afraid of Nimrod.
When he died, his community lamented his death and were made up to still retain his presence around them. They cremated his body and collected the ashes into a vessel. This they used to build the image of a mother and her child symbolizing Nimrod and his mother. The image looks similar to those found in some catholic monuments. It was designed with a mother seating down and bearing her little child on her laps. Their reason for this was that if Nimrod should be as great as he was known, great also should the womb that bore him be. So, the mother was honoured while Nimrod was worshiped as the god of the sun. The remains of Nimrod's mother were lastly constructed in Ephesus. This time she was designed with many breasts, revealing the greatness of the breast which suckled the hero, Nimrod. In Ephesus she is taken as the mother of all, and the Ephesians called it "Ekpe."
Varieties of Ekpe masquerade in Nkalaha include Ekpe nwanyi (popularly called Ada Ekpe), Ekpe Ufu, Ekpe Iji, Ekpe Oji, Ekpe Ihunabor, Agu Ekpe etc. The first Ekpe Ufu ever built in Nkalaha was called Ugbor. It is owned by Umuobeye. Of all these, the more prominent is Ekpe Nwanyi. Its popularity lies on its simplicity. Again, it does not require much process to be invited during burials like the rest. Agu Ekpe is only seen by the initiates. It does not come out too plane for people to see. Most of the time, it performs in the night. The duty of all the Ekpe, except Agu Ekpe, is to entertain the audience with dance during performances. Unlike Omebe, Ekpe does not attach deadly charm to itself.
Omebe is given much seriousness by the inhabitants than Ekpe. In an article published in Nkalaha Mirror (2012), it was stated that Omebe masquerade was founded by Ede Ajim who was claimed founded Nkalaha. The reliability of the source of this article may be sceptical when several instances are considered. The language Omebe speaks is one of these instances. His slogan and other features do not have anything in common with the masquerades found in Ida as claimed by the article. Omebe masquerade is rather found among Nsukka communities. Omebe masquerade is also played by Nkanu people of Enugu State. Omebe speaks the language of Nsukka people and sometimes that of Ngbo people. For instance, Omebe often refers to himself as Ugwoke and sometimes Odanwu. These two names derived their origin from Nsukka and Ngbo communities respectively. This language feature, in particular, stands apparently to reveal that Omebe may have originated from one of the surrounding communities to Nkalaha.
The true history of Omebe traces its origin to Nsukka. The name "Omebe" was given to it because of its power. In Nsukka, no masquerade enters the blacksmith shop (Ulo Uzu) just like it also holds, in Nkalaha, that no masquerade enters Edeoga's compound (the priest of Ebe) in the early days. It happened that one day; the masquerade walked into a blacksmith and came out. Seeing this, a man around the vicinity exclaimed thus: gba, Omaba ha! (Gbam this is Omaba!) That was how the name Omaba came into existence. In Nkalaha language it is called Omebe. The term "Ugwoke" which Omebe calls himself and is also called, is derived from Nsukka. Nkalaha began to play Omebe masquerading as old as the era when the consciousness of the origin of the founding fathers still bloom in the mind of the inhabitants. It is this consciousness that made them to attach Ata to it. This is seen when women and children exclaim "Ata nwealu" (Ata owns the land) in the night. Ata, as I have clarified in the preface, is the ancestral father of Igala people. He was a migrant of the old Benin Empire in now Edo state. It is in commemoration of his personality and achievement that the overall king of Igala land since inception is called Ata Igala, and resides in Ida. The reminiscence of this Ata is hereby replayed in Omebe masquerading in the manner of dominion. Ata nwealu said during Omebe year constructively refers to minds that this area of land (Nkalaha) and the people that inhabit it are all Ata's. In other words, the inhabitants are Ata people, therefore he, Ata owns the land.
The masquerade was borrowed to Nkalaha to serve as a means of checking the female folk. It is designed to regulate and check women who move about in the night. With the help of Ata nwe Alu exclaimed as they move on the street and while crossing the village square, the men believe that, their directions can be checked. This is not the only function of Omebe in Nkalaha. The masquerade also regulates children movement in the daytime. Should any child be found alone without a guard, Omebe will carry him to his house called Opepe. To rescue the child, an elderly person gives some money to the Omebe. Omebe plays with grownups. They engage themselves in a pursue-and-catch game. If he meets them he flogs them. Based on this, children had been caused to maintain cool as they are threatened that Omebe would flog them.
During Omebe year, which lasts for six months, tranquillity is maintained in the community generally. People do not fight one another. If any person fights Omebe will come, calling their names until they come out each to give some amount of money to the masquerade. Following this condition, people do not fight during Omebe year. The more significant role of Omebe masquerade is his adjudication. When a particular misunderstanding between a husband and a wife has lasted longer and defiled the settlement of people around, the matter is often kept until Omebe returns. At this time the matter is often revoked so that Omebe would attend to it. When the court is set, usually at the village playground of the woman's biological home, the husband and his wife are made to sit alongside witnesses. All will be seated before Omebe. In this case it is usually the Omebe belonging to the husband's village that goes for settlement. They are given the chance to explain their differences while Omebe judges. When the court dismisses, the woman will be led by the masquerade back to her marital home. For reasons anyone could not explain, Omebe is assigned great importance among the masquerades in the community.
Nkalaha celebrate multiple festivals. Each of these festivals is very significant to either their existence or their oral tradition. The festivals are used to denote the month calendar the community used to justify their thirteen lunar months which mark one year. Among these festivals are Ikpu-Uzo, Ogbu Nfu, Ama-na-Nkwa, Ji-Oha, Akpulokpa, Agaji, Aju-Ede, Aba Ebe and lastly, Onwa-Esato.
Ikpu-uzo is celebrated as new yam festival. The festival is so called because of the dominant activities involved during the celebration. During the new yam festive period, the community organize themselves; each village organizes her inhabitants to clear the major road leading to the farm. This is done with the notion that yam, which is the chief crop, is not supposed to return home with the farm road filled with grasses. To see that this does not prevail, the road is usually cleared. In the native syntax, as Nnaji (2007) reveals, "Ikpu-uzo is the short form of Ikpucha uzo, which means cleaning the road." This single activity is meant when new yam festival is celebrated.
Ogbu Nfu is the festival of tapsters. It is the second festival celebrated, which also marks the second month in Nkalaha calendar months. Ogbu Nfu began with a man from Umuokpanshi who was a palm wine tapster. One year he made up his mind to make a sacrifice to his climbing rope for thus far it had fed him and his family that year. He made this act a continuous practice in the subsequent years until the day he joined his ancestors. After his days, other tapsters began to do it in commemoration of his days as a tapster. As days went by, the entire community became engulfed by the same practice. While the community became involved fully, they built a shrine where the sacrifice is made in each of the communities. In Nkalaha calendar year, Ogbu Nfu marks the second month.
Ama-na-Nkwa is the festival of drum and dance. Ama-na-nkwa festival celebrated yearly was founded upon poetic rendition. It is the festival that brings together all the poems (dance) composed in the community every year in a same spirit of competition. Before the advent of the colonial masters, various villages organized themselves together. Each village organised a dance waiting for the day of the festival to participate in the festival. Before the day of the festival, each village gets herself ready. As soon as the day is up they are fully prepared to render it at the community's central playground called Ufuegbu. It was these inter village competition that gave rise to the popular dance that survives today. These include: Odabaru, Une, Okpokoro, Igba, Edensha, Ode, Nwa ngbego and others.
Ama-na-nkwa festival lasted for a long time before its credence began to fade away, particularly with the incursion of the foreign culture and its civilization. At this point the community does not gather again as before in the spirit of competition. Each community asserted independence and carried out their celebration on separate days. The last time the information about Ama-na-nkwa came to people's mind after the inception of cultural repudiation among the inhabitants of the community was in early 20th century. One year, during Ama-na-nkwa festival day, an oral artist sat at Ufuegbu playground with his flute on his mouth. As he performed, he called the ancestral heroes of Ama-na-nkwa competition, telling them that things have fallen apart with the festival. He so performed in a committed voice that, though his contemporaries did not know what he was talking about, the passion found in his voice and the seeming lamentation which his countenance depicted made them to understand that he was talking about the abandonment of the inhabitants to Ama-na-nkwa festival display. Passerby gave him money. A year later, the man died and his voice ended. Today, Ama-na-nkwa seemingly holds no significance.
Ji-Oha was lately founded, unlike the rest of the festivals. Ji-Oha is out rightly a celebration dedicated to Nkalaha yam as the king of crops. According to Nnaji (2003), Ji-Oha was founded following the dream had by a woman from Amaezegba. As oral sources also defended, the woman had a dream where she was brought to the place where Ebe and Ora Rivers met, in Nhveregu. There she saw Nkalaha yams fully dressed like artistes performing in Aba-Ebe festival. Each fell into the river and vanished from the woman's sight. While this was going on, she was moved to ask one of the yams a question about where they were going to and why? In reply, she was told that they had decided to leave Nkalaha for another place where their contribution to life survival would be celebrated since Nkalaha did not want to recognize them.
The succeeding day, the woman summoned courage and came to the elders and related to them all that was said to her in the dream. Following this revelation, the community came up with a shrine where yam is given his own sacrifice just like other gods in the community. This also gave rise to the inclusion of Ji-Oha in the festivals that characterized the calendar months of Nkalaha people.
Akpulokpa is one of the festivals which have lost its meaning and purpose among many elders. Akpulokpa was founded in the mediaeval era. The shrine and, of course, the festival was built and given recognition after the war between Nkalaha and Amazu. When the war ended, Amazu requested that Nkalaha should come for reconciliation. Elders met and finally accepted the request. On the day agreed, both communities met at Amazu, and peace was achieved. To cement this peace, Amazu gave Nkalaha a child in place of the boy they kidnapped from Nkalaha. When the people returned the elders agreed to set a shrine in commemoration of the first time human being was brought alive for sake of war.
Agaji holds no much significance to the development of the community. It was however celebrated in respect of the aged people in the community. This was buried in the belief that old age is the most reliable link between the present and the past. There contributions towards the survival of the community's myth and legend are in this festival commemorated. This is just the essence of the festival.
Aju-Ede: Of all the festivals in Nkalaha, Aju-Ede is most significant. It is celebrated because of its exceptional roles in the educational, cultural and historical impact to the inhabitants. Aju-Ede celebration carries the memorable events traceable to the historical origin of the setting of the inhabitants in the land. These memorable events enable them to be launched into the historical evidence of the inhabitants in the land, which tie the myth surrounding the activities of the founding fathers with the origin of Aju-Ede festival. Aju-Ede is a festival of homage in honour of the spirit of the founding fathers. The festival is celebrated in the month of November.
Aju-Ede is as old as the death of Onojah. All about the festival traces its pedagogical root to the activities surrounding the founding fathers. It is celebrated for four days. On the first day, usually Oye market day, every household gather at the position where they had made their dead father's shrine. There, every man makes sacrifice each and feed his late father. The following day, "Afor market day" the celebration takes the lead until the Eke market day. The festival engages everyone; young and old, male and female all takes active part in the celebration. Men conducted the sacrifice, women prepare food for the sacrifice while younger ones use the period to practice hunting and masquerading. In the hunting practice, the males assert the role of hunters while the females assume the remaining part; the animals to be hunt. The young ones take up the role of practicing hunters, displaying the brevity and cunning ways through which hunters make prey of their hunted animals to show the duty of the founding fathers.
During the period of Aju-Ede festival, few days to the Oye market day for the celebration, the inhabitants feel the presence of the spirit fathers around, hovering. In the night, people usually experience a cluster/clouded darkness going about the community (Nnaji 2008:69). When this happens, the people became aware that their fathers have sojourned back to visit them. During this period, everyone makes peace with the person he had a quarrel with. They did this so that those spirits might smite him or her. But presently (in the modern setting), the spirits do not hover about again.
The presupposed sojourning visit of the fathers during Aju-Ede festivals is today replaced with or played out through the performances of Achifu masquerade which arrives from the spirit world on the Eke market day, next to the Oye market day when Aju-Ede begins. At arrival, Achifu is played in the manner of a hunter walking "pia! Pia!! pia!!!" on a raffia-filled farmland. This sort of movement along the path represents the unorganised movement of the founding fathers (hunters) in the expedition during which the community was found (Nnaji 2007). Achifu dwells within the inhabitants till the last day of the festival. Achifu is a night masquerade hidden from non-initiates and women. This however represents the idea that it was not every eye that saw the spirit fathers in the days they used to appear. The idea also revolves around the myth surrounding the demise of some sick elders after Aju-Ede festivals. This belief still plays out among the inhabitants, although very many did not accept the idea. The observation made so far shows that many elders who were sick in the past were victims of this belief. Those who could not recuperate till the arrival of Aju-Ede festival died after the festival. They hardly lived to see the succeeding festivals. While Aju-Ede festival is over, "they joined the spirit of the fathers to sojourn back to the world unseen." It happens that way, except for evil elders.
Aju-Ede carries the summary of the community's history. These are fully concentrated in the activities involved in the festival. The performances have much significance. Greatest among these significance is the community's origin which is being emphasized in the festival through the traditional ritual performances. It also educates the inhabitants on their culture and history. Detailed analysis of Aju-|Ede festival is discussed in the thesis paper which Nnaji entitled Performances and the Dramatic Significance of Aju-Ede Festival.
Aba Ebe festival is, above all the festivals, a heroic festival founded upon war, and celebrated in honour of the community's heroes. Aba Ebe is for the praise of the heroes' performance in the communal wars.
Onwa-Esato: This festival sums the rest of the festivals every year. It marks the end of Nkalaha calendar year. The festival displays all the girls on the marital process who will be joined to their husbands that year. They are paraded and made to appear in the cultural dance of their different husband's village. Lastly, they are paraded around Oye Market Square accompanied by the husband's cultural group and dance. As soon as the festival ends, the girls are sent to their respective husbands. Onwa-esato summarizes nearly every activity in Nkalaha. It is the end of the year in the community's calendar.
Originally, Nkalaha inhabitants are hunters and trappers. Nkalaha community is known for her rich farming activities. The inhabitants farm majorly on root crops like yam, cassava, water yam, and cocoyam. Nkalaha grows all kinds of yam. One's greatness and riches are weighed by the large extent of his yam farm. Yam and cassava are the more pronounced crops grown by the community. This might be because of the economic importance of the two and much more, yam, which served the purpose of every traditional practice in the area.
Before, the inhabitants of the community were generally subsistent farmers. But in the present days, everyone tries to join the trend of events around him. Majority of the inhabitants, today, farm for commercial purpose. Only few crops such as Okro and all kinds of vegetable: fluted pumpkin, bread leaf pumpkin, green vegetable etc. are mainly subsistence based. Few of the entire population keep animals, which are mainly kept extensively. The main stay of the community's economy has been root crops.
Nkalaha is richly blessed by the nature. The more prominent mineral resources found in the community is lime stone. This was the source of attraction for citing the prestigious cement factory; Nigercem in the area. In the article posted to firstname.lastname@example.org Nnaji referred Nkalaha to the alluvial soil of the Niger cement. Niger cement rated number one in superiority among all the cements produced in the country. The area of land occupied by lime stone ranges from the site where the factory is situated and spread towards Nhveregu. Greater quantity of this lime stone is stretched from Adzi-Ebe down to Ndala, all through Okporokpo road. Outside this, the community is also gifted to granites and other mineral substances.