A paper delivered on the occassion of Ito-Ogbo Obosi, 2021
The colloquium that precedes each Ito-Ogbo Obosi festival has become an indispensable tool and avenue that will help us connect with the past so that our rich heritage will not be lost on us.
We are presently in the throes of a Digital age with digital technology, digital economy, digital way of living and even digital religion and very soon electric cars and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will debut and become the norm and our ways of life will radically change for good or for bad who knows.
It is with such in mind that we seek a connection with the past in order to maintain a continuity, the failure of which may make us get lost in impending culture shock and loose our identity in the comity of Nations.
In such an occasion like this therefore it is apt to know how far we have come and what still needs to be donè in other to advance the society further, culture and health wise. The ancient Greek Philosopher Cicero said “Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child”.
This occasion is about Ito-Ogbo Obosi its origin and we cannot afford to remain as children because we failed to ask what happened before we were born. The question is : from whom shall we obtain an answer if we pòse the question ‘what happened before we were born?’.
Naturally, the answer will be from our old Fathers or the mothers as the case may be who are our elders or from those who will be crowned as Ogbueshi Tolu Ogbo this period. But there is a caveat to this and that came from the admonition of the great inimitable novelist and intellectual, Chinua Achebe who stated in his novel ‘The Arrow of God’ “we know that a father does not speak falsely to his son (or daughter). But we know that the lore of the land is beyond the knowledge of many fathers”.
We observe in actuality that not all old people are acquainted with the lore of the land except if such person has undergone an initiation into the psychic history of his people otherwise he will be like the modern old man who told his son that the famous Long Juju of Arochukwu in Abia state was a long masquerade whereas it was an institutionalised Oracle used by the slave merchants to lure the unwary into slavery.
The British, on realising the deception which the Long Juju of Arochukwu was into, had to destroy it. This is why we have to ask from one who is enlightened if we are to be guided by history and this is what we intend to do by this discourse as it shows the value of lectures of this type and it is similar to what “Ahiajioku” lecture series in Imo state do to the Igbo enlightenment.
What Chinua Achebe called the Lore of the land is what we call Omenala. Omenala as the lore of the land denotes what we must observe or practice in our land as the a prior approval of the God of the land. This God of the land is also the guiding force and the animating spirit of our land. We have a semblance of this with the Jews. The God of the Jews and the guiding and animating spirit of the Jews is called Elohim.
He is a mountain God and gave what became the lore of the land of the Jews as the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue. This Decalogue was mediated to the Jews through a medium in the person of Moses the prophet. In Obosi land, the God of our land and the animating spirit of Obosi people is called Olisa. Olisa mediated the guiding norm of the people using the instrumentality of Ndi Dibia oje na nmuo as mediums.
The Dibia oje na nmuo is a medium who relays to the people the conventions, the precepts and the norms that are expected of the people in order for them to have à peaceful and enjoyable existence in Obosi Land.
These then constituted the omenala Obosi. Olisa is not a mountain God but dwells among the people and has a shrine made for Him. It is called “Okwu Olisa”and as lore giver, Olisa has dedicated individuals that interpret the lore and adjudicate as the occasion may demand just as in days of the Jews during their journey to the promised land.
The Age grade system in Obosi.
Obosi town was and has always been a close knit society and families that make up the town until recently, knew each other very intimately It thus became the norm that individuals identify themselves and with those that they grew up together with, developed a bond and a characteristic to be a group.
The group soon became an age group and with time, was called age grade. As the Obosi soceity grew in complexity it became customary if not mandatory that every Obosi man or woman must identify himself or herself with with an age grade. The age grade system became institutionalised at Obosi. An age grade is made up of people born about the same age.
This is within the space of two years. Since children are born in a family at an average interval of two years, it became obvious that one age grade must be distinct in seniority from another by two years or a factor of two.
The age grade evolved to become a social force as each member of an age grade strives to attain the common social objectives of the age grade. They marry about the same time, build their own houses and advance in life almost at the same pace.
They involve themselves in peer group review mechanism, motivating the weak and assisting the poor and engaging in social interaction that enhances the self worth of each member of the age grade. They reprimand each other where necessary and exhibit healthy group rivalry and group mind. Some of the age grades may chose to execute a beneficial project for the Obosi community while others may chose to be identified with an icon like an exceptional masquerade or dance group.
• Ito-Ogbo Obosi
During the reign of Igwe Anene, a remarkable incident that will give impetus to the age grade system happened. On that fateful day, the Igwe was at his Iba (fore court) waiting for his lunch to be served to him and while the wait lasted, he fell into sleep and soon entered the dream mode. When his wife came to serve him his lunch, she heard him asking Onyeka? Onyeka?, Onyeka?
He refused to eat his meal but was rather muttering Onyeka? Onyeka? Onyeka? His Ndichie was contacted and they decided to invite the Dibia oje na muo to unravel the mystery since this was the usual route to take when the complex issues of governance arises. When the Dibia came he was abĺe to tell the Igwe what happened to him.
He told the Ndichie that when Igwe Anene was momentarily asleep while waiting for his meal, he lasped Into a dream and in the dream he dreamt that he had his first child whom he named Nkiruka, and after two years, he had another child and named her Nkolika, and after yet another two years, he had his last child and named her Azuka.
It was then he was asked by his subjects onyeka? Since each child has a measure of supremacy attached to her name and none appears better than the other then it is right to ask the Igwe Onyeka? And he woke up also asking onyeka?
The dream was interpreted to him just as Joseph interpreted pharaoh’s dream to pharaoh in the bible by the Dibia oje na muo. The meaning of the dream being that when a man is born, between the ages of One to twenty five years, his ruling ethos is Nkiruka because he holds that the future portends a brighter future for him.
It was in this period that he will grow to acquire skill or education and be prepared to venture into life with big dreams and ambitions and strong imaginations. Then from age twenty five to sixty years is his Nkolika. It is in this period that he marries, grows a family, amasses his fortune and character and earn a reputation, an identity and a place in the society and then retire.
From the age of sixty to eighty five, is his last days on earth and is called Azuka because he wishes and expects his last days to be better in all respects. Who laughs last, laughs best! Nobody would wish to have bad days as his or her last years on earth. Everybody will want to have a life of later years to be stress free and not to descend from eating at a table to eating on the ground or to move from grace to grass.
We all wish for a trouble free life , free from limitations of old age and the agonies that go with it. Azuka means “Uwa mgbede” and the reality of our life is that of “uwa mgbede ka nma”. Everybody wishes for a good uwa mgbede and it must be a period to treasure. As not everyone comes to this experience, everything about Azuka or Uwa mgbede is held with trepidation as we don’t know who will be treated kindly or otherwise by life. It is because of this uncertainty that whoever lives to be eighty five years old must be celebrated because he has truly become the beneficiary of Azuka or Uwa mgbede!.
Igwe Anene then accepted that Azuka must be the best in life and must be pursued by every means possible and must be upheld as the supreme state of life.It was from here that the concept of celebrating age as an Obosi lore began. It was a product of divine communication and direction. Igwe Anene then set about putting the concept of Azuka into practice. He was a member of the first age grade that celebrated what later came to be known as Ito-Ogbo.
The Igwe now made it mandatory that whichever age grade that attained eighty five years of age should celebrate the milestone. It was this celebration of milestone that was dubbed Ito-Ogbo ceremony. The first age grade to celebrate their Ito-Ogbo was the age grade called Ogbo Ogbuwa Ogigi comprising of people born between 1855 and 1857.
They gathered on the first Eke market day of the Ito-Igbo year at Iba Adike in Mmakwum and killed a cow and shared the meat amongst themselves while also enjoying a sumptuous meal after which they fired shots to announce themselves as Ogbueshi Tolu Ogbo.
They chose as symbol of distinction, the red cap which signifies life transcendence and by that announced to the world that they have transcended life by seeing through it. They have passed through the thrills, the agonies and the successes and failures life offered them and had overcome.
The cow is the biggest domesticated quadrupulate in the animal kingdom and to own it is a mark of opulence and for one to slaughter it for any celebration, such a person has made a remarkable achievement in life.
Furthermore, since no single individual can consume a cow all alone, the slaughtering of cow for celebration also implies generosity as the meat of the cow will also be shared to others. This was the significance of slaughtering the cow at Ito-Ogbo. When it began, it was ccalled “Ime odunke”. Odunke implies “Odiro nkenke”, that is , it is not easy to attain.
The members of the age grade doing Ime odunke would, out of enthusiasm, dress the cow they would take to Eke at Mmakwum with coloured clothes and ribbons, creating a beautiful spectacle of man and animal and accompanied it with a dance troupe, at which they would then proceed to Eke where Iba Adike Ukwalla was located. This Iba Adike was the original homestead of Adike Ukwala and where he observed that “Ana na ebosisi ebosi” hence the name of our town as Obosi. It is at Iba Adike Ukwala would one’s authority and honour spring from if one is to be anything in Obosi land and this is the importance of visit to Eke at Mmakwum village.
Though Iba Adike has been reduced to a shrine, it is a shrine in the mode of a museum and not as if a particular deity is appeased at the shrine. Even though the original Idemili shrine is at the site of Eke market, the visit to Eke at Mmakwum is a visit to the point of origin.
It is a wise thing to do as Obosi people realise that “adaghi arapu isi aka agba uliam” meaning you can only disregard your origin or Senior at your own peril. As the years progressed, Ito-Ogbo was reduced to eighty years and oldies of women joined in the celebration. Incidentally, this was in accord with observation made by the Psalmist in Psalm 90 v 10 where the Psalmist infered that the days of a man is seventy years and only by grace does he get to eighty years. It is this gracious approval that we celebrate as Ito-Ogbo in Obosi. From this one can conclude that Obosi-Land is indeed God’s own land.
Ito-Ogbo ceremony soon acquired many characteristics and modus operandi. It soon ceased to be a celebration limited to Ndi Omenani but became a universal celebration irrespective of one’s belief system. The first Saturday in the month of march was chosen to represent the Eke market day of Ito-Ògbo Obosi as it was used to be. It must be remembered that Obosi people celebrate the festival of Olisa at what now corresponds to the first Saturday in March as the day of celebration of the Festival of Olisa the God Almighty.
Olisa is to Obosi people what almighty God is to the Judeo- Christians and Eke market day is the Obosi man’s sabbath day and only things considered noble or sacred are allowed on that day. When Christianity came to Obosi in 1882, Obosi people looked through the major tenets of Christianity which comprises of love for God and for neighbour and realising that these are the major traditional concepts of their society and found in Obosi epistemology,mediated to them by Olisa, concluded that Uka di na Obi (Christianity is a thing of the heart).
To the average Obosi person therefore, you cannot teach the heart what is native to it. To do to one as you will be done by found, as it obtains in Christianity is the root of the law of reciprocity underlying Obosi people’s relationship with one another.
Till date, the Obosi person is not so much enthused with christian religion as modern day proponents do. Where they notice an unusual zeal, they take it that such a person may just be coming of age and will be shown understandable consideration.
Influences are flooding the minds of Obosi people nowadays either for good or for evil due to civilisation, industrialisation and growth in the society but notwithstanding, Obosi-Land still abhors what is evil. Histroy has shown that the families of those that embodied evil in their disposition have become a wasteland. Evil does not pay in the final analysis at Obosi.
• Female Gender in Ito-Ogbo Obosi
It is always a fact of life in Obosi that the men folk marry wives much younger than themselves. When a man attained the ripe age to become Ogbueshi Tolu Ogbo, its assumed that his wife who is expected would be younger than him, will one day live to be eighty years old too. When this happens, the wife will be called Nwanyi Nokwudo Eshi.
This implies that the woman has lived to measure up with the husband who in any case must have been Ogbueshi even if he had died before becoming an Ogbueshi. Modern trends often call the woman who lived to perform Ito-Ogbo ceremony Ogbueshi Nwanyi. This is a misnomer and has to be borne in mind by those who do so.
A woman in Obosi land does not hunt and never a hunter by any stretch of imagination and cannot be expected to kill a cow by her own effort to be called Ogbueshi!. She can only be rightly called Nwanyi Nokwudo Eshi.
• Modern Trends
Ito-Ogbo Obosi has undergone a considerable metamorphosis and many innovations have been added to the ceremony to enhance its continued development now and it is an admirable symbol of longevity that every Obosi man or woman prays to experience.
It is a God given tradition and by having faith in Ito-Ogbo Obosi, one is guaranteed Longevity. We now look forward to that event and by so doing, we enhance our immunity and life expectancy. At every Ito-Ogbo year, the number of people participating in the event increases showing that the life expectancy of the Obosi people is progressively rising because of their faith in Ito-Ogbo.
This has a resonance in the fifth commandment of Moses called the Decalogue which enjoins man to honour your father and your mother that thy days may be long in the land your Heavenly Father giveth thee. Obosi people, by embodying this commandment has reaped of the reward that goes with it which is long life. This confirms the Divine connection of our Ito-Ogbo. What an enviable culture!!!
Dr. Godson Amaechi is a Medical Practitioner, owner of Godson Clinic Ltd, Lekki, Lagos