OJI FESTIVAL CEREMONY IN EZINIHITTE MBAISE-A CULTURAL EXPOSITION
In a heterogeneous society like Nigeria, every group or tribe aspires higher to protect and preserve its own culture, tradition, norms and values. This work gives an insight into one of those cultures in Ezinihitte that is been preserved and which made for peace and unity.
The aim of this work is to help in maintaining the culture of Ezinihitte people as the government is calling for a right-about-turn into the past to revive those values which made for peace and harmony. Also it serves as a step towards upholding those beliefs and practices which is transmitted from generation to generation. It is meant to encourage and preserve the tradition of Ezinihitte instead of being looked at as primitive.
A study of this nature arose out of curiosity to examine what it was that had held the life of Ezinihitte people together as Azuogu A. Ezeh puts it. “There is and there has been great unifying factors between all Ezinihitte and Mbaise people which can be attributed to our culture and tradition, our native laws and customs”.
AN ENDURING LEGACY
The scope of this hub is centered on Ezinihitte as regards their Oji festival. It is a fact that Oji (kola nut) is not only obtainable in Ezinihitte as Robin Hallet opined “kola nut which in general uses in the interior of West Africa, is highly esteemed and comparable to the calumel”. So, we can see that it is not only restricted to Ezinihitte but our scope is only confined to Ezinihitte in this study. We will look into Oji (kola nut) as it affects the culture of Ezinihitte Mbaise people.
Ezinihitte which this study wishes to cover has a very glaring cultural identity. This hub will look into the backgrounds of the study area and how it alienate to their culture. Also the scope of this hub extends to the functions kola nut plays which will be discussed.
Nevertheless, the events of Oji festival which the scope covers which comprises the preparation, celebration, presentation of Oji and the essence of the Oji festival are all included in the scope of this hub.
We now look into the definition of the key concepts of this topic. The topic of this work is “Oji festival in Ezinihitte Mbaise” looking at this topic, one can see that the only key concepts there is “Oji” and festival, while “Ezinihitte Mbaise” is the study area and its backgrounds will be discussed latter. We first look into “Oji” (kola nut) and festival.
Oji (kola nut) has great importance attached to it in Ezinihitte and the whole Igboland in general. To the Igbos, the kola nut is not just the small seed in actual fact as Ogaraku confirmed “The seed is very often bitter to taste, it is merely the non-juicy unattractive, red, or yellowish small content of the pod of a tree called Osisi Oji. Kola nut excels more in Igboland for socio-cultural significance compared to its value in any other ethnic group in West Africa”. The kola nut is among the things which the Igbos deem very important. When this kola nut is presented, the ceremony accorded to it is performed by the oldest member or person present and he carries out what is called “igo ofo”. This may consist in blessing the kola nut, as well as the persons present and the person who provided it in giving thanks to their ancestors and in wishing those present good fortune. After this, the youngest knowledgeable person splits the kola nut ceremony involves: presentation, blessing, splitting and sharing.
Oji (kola nut) plays an important part in the culture of the Igbos. J. carnochan and Belonwu Iwuchuku said ‘’Oji is a present from one person to another, particularly as an acknowledgement of favour received’’ on occasion like marriage, sacrifices, covenants (Igba ndu) meetings, naming ceremonies etc. kola nut plays an important role even old men believe that it helps bear the pangs of hunger.
Kola nut is a symbol of hospitality, it shows love and appreciation of which Victor Uchendu writes
‘’kola nut features in all aspects of
Igbo life. It is a symbol of Igbo
Hospitality. To be presented with
Kola nut is to be made welcome: and
One is most welcome when the nut turns
The African, therefore, from youth undergoes a socialization process which make him well- disposed towards his fellow kinsmen. The values associated with the hospitality function of kola nut can be put across as Onuora Nzekwu postulated.
‘’Among us, kola nut is highly valued
and indispensable product. It commands
our respect in a way no other produce
has done. Kola nut is a symbol of
friendship, its presentation to a guest
surpasses any other sign of hospitality
which any host among us can show, even
thought in some places it costs only a
In view of the hospitality function of kola nut it also has a commercial function as well as ritual functions as Mac Ewan notes that ‘’The kola nut is of much commercial as well as of social important importance in west Africa, and is regarded as a symbol of hospitality as well as customary among the people to swear on it’’
On this discussion we don’t have to forget that kola nut has different species. We have cola Acuminate (Oji Igbo) and cola nitida (Oji gworo) cola Acuminata (Oji Igbo) is the only kola nut that is used for sacrifice. As a result of culture contact the Ezinihitte people can receive a guest by offering him cola nitida (Oji gworo) cola Acuminata (Oji Igbo) plays a significant role in rituals especially when it has four cotyledons. But it (Oji Igbo) does not play a very important commercial role among the Igbos. Cola nitida (Oji Igbo). In all kola nut play important commercial, social and ritual roles in West Africa
Secondly, we consider festival which is also another key concept. As the name implies, this is a celebration of a feast on a day. The oxfords English dictionary define it as ‘’A time of festive celebration, a festal day. Also occasionally, a festive celebration, merrymaking’’. This definition now unfold an aspect of oji festival in Ezinihitte, a festival celebration marked by its merry making among children, adults and the aged.
This celebration is held on the 1st of January each year, before the celebration takes off, there are always preparations made in-wait for the great feast.
The first formal preparation was done by ’Ndi Eze Ezinihitte’ (Ezinihitte traditional ruler), chiefs and Ndi Nze. As the celebration of the get- together usually rotates among the component towns on the principle of seniority of descendance. The oba oji Ezinihitte (kola nut saucer of Ezinihitte) also rotates from the community where it was held to the next community to hold it. This was done by Ndi Eze, December of each year, these titled men the Ezes) receives the oba oji Ezinihitte from the Eze who held it last at the boundary of Eze’s community. This receives of oba oji is followed by sixteen (16) gun salute (canon short). This is followed by the handing over of the oba oji Ezinihitte to the hosting community by the Ndi Eze, chiefs and Ndi Nze at the host’s place and acknowledged by another sixteen (16) gun salute, (canon shoot). According to the 1976 program of event the above is the first step in the preparation activity. Following this is ‘’the inspection tour of the hosting community by Ndi Eze (traditional rulers)’’. This is to satisfy themselves that the hosting community had no existing trouble that could hinder the celebration in their town.
The preparation ceremony also involves the cleaning and arrangement of canopies and sits by the central age- grade in that community and this done in their market square. All these preparation are done for the oji celebration day.
Celebration of the festival
On the early morning of the 1st of January the celebration is kicked off by twenty one (21) gun salute (canon shoots). As this festival is one of the traditional practice in Ezinihitte that has been given Christian outlook, religious services were held in all churches in the clan to command the day into the of God. Traditionally, there is also visit to the shrine at Orieukwu Oboama na Umunama to rub the “u” far ndu’’ (calcinter) or ‘’Nzu Uwaoma’’ according to Eze N.N.Anyanwu “symbolizing peace, wealth, birth,love and unity and takes us back to our common parentage in Ezinihitte”.
“Ekpe” dance presides over before the “Ikoro” (community drum) plays to summon the arrival of guest and dignitaries. The “Ekpe” dance has been accepted by Ezinihitte development association as the official traditional dance for the presentation and reception of Oji during the ceremony. At the arrival of the traditional rulers who gather at the palace of the hosting Eze before proceeding to the market square where the ceremony is taking place, they are welcomed with twenty one gun salutes as the traditional fathers of the day. After the traditional rulers must have taking their site, the hosting Eze (traditional ruler) arrives with the Oba Oji Ezinihitte with his Chiefs and Nzes and carried it to the dias. After the arrival of Oba Oji the opening prayer is said and the ceremony moves on in full swing.
As the tempo of the festival increases, songs, ekpe and address will be presented sequentially. The celebration is marked by a carnival of traditional rulers, Chiefs, Nzes, Ozos and other titled men adorned with colourful masquerades and dancing groups.
Presentation of Oji (kola nut)
The main feature of the feature remains according to G.N Onukogu “The presentation of kola nuts and Nzu, which symbolizes peace, love and unity. Oji is a symbol of our common destiny and the togetherness of all Ezinihitte. It is brotherly love and harmony. It is coexistence and cooperation”. He went further to say “Nzu represents peace, goodwill and security for member towns”.
Oji (kola nut) and Nzu or Ufara (calcinter) are now presented in order ofrelationship its presentation is by order of primogeniture (starting from the eldest community to the youngest). The order of presentation is as follows:
1. Oboama na Umunama 9. Okpofe
2. Ife 10. Eziagbogu
3. Chokoneze 11. Udo
4. Ihitte 12. Obizi
5. Akpodim 13. Onicha
6. Amumara 14. Umuhu
7. Eziudo 15. Ibeku
8. Itu 16. Lagwa
The procedure for receiving kola nut (Oji) is that the number of persons to receive kola nut (Oji) on behalf of each town will be the number of the component villages which makeup the town. Eg.14 persons will receive Oji on behalf of Oboama na Umunama which is made up of 14 villages while 10 persons receives on behalf of Onicha community which is made up of 10 villages etc. On the same line of action, the persons to receive Oji will be expected to be in traditional attire, ready to dance to the Ekpe (the official dance of the festival) while proceeding to receive Oji on behalf of their towns. Any town or community that came to receive the “Oji” their traditional ruler will come out from where the Ezes are sitting and receive the kola nut and calcinter first and then hand it over to his people who came to receive the Oji then they will dance back to their canopy while the Eze goes to sit down. This “Oji” and “Nzu”or “Ufara” are presented by the traditional ruler of the hosting community.
After the presentation, short speech follows to thank everybody who took part then tradition dances will played one after the other and inspected by the “Ndi Eze”. Entertainment takes the other of the day and this ends the festival.
Umuhu, Ibeku and Lagwa who forms Okwuato have been carved out of Ezinihitte by the creation of Ezinihitte local government, they still take part but they don’t host the festival.
The Essence of this Festival
Having looked into the Oji (kola nut) celebration and the procedure of presentation it will be incomplete if the role or part this festival plays is not discussed. Many towns around Nigeria and outside do celebrate one feast or the other and they have motive for their actions, likewise the celebration of “Oji Ezinihitte” have reasons why it is celebrated.
If we can recall back now this festival originated, it was a replacement of the former “Emume Chineke Orieukwu”. So, if the aim of the “Emume Chineke Orieukwu” poses a problem to identify then the essence of Oji Ezinihitte festival will be very hard to discuss.
The conception of the people Ezinihitte and their belief in God’s creation is illustrated in a myth narrated by Chief J.N. Amaefuleh. “Two animals, Ogwumagala (chameleon) and Okpoko (Kingfisher) were disputing on who was the elder.Ogwumagala claimed that he was born when the land was a morass and the order was to tip-toe to avoid sinking. From here, the chameleon got its characteristic slow movement. Then “Chukwu” (God) made the land (earth) got dried and hardened and when other creatures have been created by “Chukwu”, he (Chukwu) saw that this slow movement of the chameleon would render it prey to the other animals and therefore gave it changing colours that help it to adapt to any environment by taking exactly the colour of that environment; in order that its enemies finds it difficult, if not impossible to identify it.
Okpoko (kingfisher) on the other hand, claimed that he was born when everywhere was water. This resulted in his finding no earth to bury his mother’s corpse when she died and he had to carry the corpse of his mother on his head to this day. When his father died also, the same situation led to his carrying the corpse in front of his neck, holding it with the jaw and chest and that accounts for his big head and chest”. By thus analysis, “Okpoko” proved to be older than Ogwumagala.
This story gives a picture of time when the whole earth was full of water, while the story of Ogwumagala adds the presence of muddy land, and that of “Chukwu” as the creator of creatures and earth. Considering the role of myths to a people, one can see that really Ezinihitte people have a clear view of the origin of the world. Considering also that a myth is a vehicle of a people’s authentic concepts of nature, we can then agree that the following are true about the conception of the origin of the world in Ezinihitte.
The belief of the people of Ezinihitte can be intertwined with the above myth. Their belief that “Ihu Chineke Orieukwu” was the place where God (Chukwu) created man and earth and where all other people spread account for the “Emume Chineke Orieukwu” ceremony held every year. According to Chief J.N Amaefuleh “The sacred shrine of “Chineke Oriezukwu” is literally believed to be the “Garden of Edem of Ezinihitte”. Consequently the annual pilgrimages paid to the “Chineke Orieukwu shrine” and the gathering and pouring of libation is to is to thank God (Chukwu) who created them in that part of the earth and to ask for protection and long life Ezinihitte clan.
Secondly, after the reformation of “Emume Chineke Orieukwu to Oji Ezinihitte which made it to be transformed into a more this, because many sons and daughters of Ezinihitte have embraced Christian and for the participation of all,this approval was made. So, we can see that the essence of this celebration is to come together as people who are from common parentage. In the words of Azuogu Ezeh he said “The creed of Ezinihitte is “Onyeaghala-Nwanneya” which is another way of expressing unity or collective effort”.
The Oji festival also creates a forum where Ezinihitte sons and daughter, home and abroad gather to look into problems facing this clan and how to alleviate these problems. That is why in 1974 the association of brother towns formerly Onyeaghala nwanne ya was charged to Ezinihitte development associate to reflect government’s policy, namely the concept of community development in all areas: education, economic, social development etc.
Also, the essence of this festival is that it helps in preserving their cultural heritage which had been handed down to them from their fore-father, it is meant to preserve it then hand it over to their progeny in turn. It is because of this routine it is being that Ezinihitte is culturally inseparable. Ezinihitte has other famous cultures which include “The Abigbo dance, Ekpe dance, iri ji, Ahiajoku” etc. So, this festival plays a very important role in upholding the culture, customs and traditions of Ezinihitte.
Furthermore, the festival helps in the eradication of all social ill in this clan. On this grand occasion the youths are being advised and enjoined to be vanguards in the complete eradication of evil in all ramifications in Ezinihitte.
Finally, the celebration of this festival is for consolidation of unity, love and faith in God. This is why kola nut “Oji” and calcites “Nzu” which symbolizes love, long life, birth, harmony and peace, goodwill and security respectively are used in the celebration of the festival.