THE SPICES THAT GARNISH MY LITERARY WORKS
Yes, I write books, anchored on the rich, ancient cultures of my people—their lifestyles, practices, symbols and values, things that differentiate them from other peoples—through which I bring to live the themes of my works, thus authenticating and enriching them, giving each work a uniqueness that is all its own.
Remember, I warned you in … ABOUT THE AUTHOR … that ‘I am a product of that culture.’ I dare you to condemn me for being myself! I promise you though, you will relish each and every single dish I put before you.
THE CALL OF THE IKORO DRUM:
Now, take a look at one of my other productions: THE CALL OF THE IKORO DRUM, presented during the opening ceremony of the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, tagged: ABUJA CHOGM 2003. The theme was on leadership and good governance.
Do you know the place of the Ikoro drum in Igbo land? Just listen to the call of the drum and the answer of the brave to it and tell me you do not itch to break out and answer to it too.
Listen to it. It’s echoing from the village-square of Uwa city-state, Okaomie’s village (Omezue, the Complete Achiever, Volume One of the Victims Series). Can you hear it?
“Digo,” Ikoro calls, its call echoing throughout the arena.
“Owei,” the brave answers jubilantly, breaking into ikoro dance-steps, interlacing them with the intricate dance steps of heroes.
“Digo, didigo, digo, digo,” Ikoro roars again.
“Eee-e-e, eee-e-e,” the drummer cries, accompanying it.
“Owei, owei!” the brave answers. “My ancestors,
Greatness is hereditary-o-o. My age grade is greater than me-o!
Owei, owei!” he cries happily as he dances around the arena,
Bragging about his exploits, gesticulating and pointing to several
directions of his adventures.”
That is the Ikoro drum, the drum of the great, the drum of heroes. There is no place for the coward when Ikoro calls. Beaten only for those who have won the coveted crown, answered and danced to only by them.
There were two kinds of heroes in Igbo land of old—the social and the war heroes. The social hero like Omezue Nkume in Omezue, the Complete Achiever, Volume One of the Victims Series, is distinguished by his many wives, many children, many slaves, is a renowned wrestler and above all, he must have taken many titles. But none of the above achievements can earn him the call of the Ikoro drum. It is exclusive to another type of social hero. In Afikpo, it is the holder of the Omume title. Omume title is the equivalent of the Ozo title in other Igbo areas; it is the highest and last title any man or woman can take in Igbo land and Afikpo, respectively.
The war hero, on the other hand, is one who has successfully been to war and returned victorious, or one who has killed a lion (agu), or accomplished a superhuman feat; the magnitude of which echoes in the call of the Ikoro drum. To him Ikoro calls. At his/her death Ikoro announces his/her passage. It is the highest recognition accorded the greatest warriors.
Igbo honors integrity, an unquestionable character and an impeccable lineage, but without a military glory one is still nothing in ancient Igbo society. Thus, to answer to the call of the Ikoro drum is the ambition of every Igbo man or woman. But being a war hero as criterion of achievement is obsolete now we have professional soldiers to protect and defend the people. Today, we only have social heroes, the holders of the Omume title, the highest and last title in the land, which earns them the title—Omezue, the Complete Achiever.
The Heads of Government that graced ABUJA CHOGM 2003 were heroes in all fronts, commanders-in chief to their respective governments, and so Ikoro boomed on their arrival, heralding their entrance into the Auditorium of the International Conference Centre, the venue of the Opening Ceremony of ABUJA CHOGM 2003, as in the traditional Igbo society of old. On that august day of December 3, 2003, Ikoro called the fifty-four heroes and heroines of the Commonwealth, led by Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Commonwealth. The production held them spellbound. Her Majesty in her speech, pronounced it ‘A truly African occasion.’ It was beamed live on CNN.
The following masquerades featured in the production, and their colorful costumes and graceful displays were the enticing aromas that held the spectators clued to the stage.
Eyo masquerades of Lagos
At the entrance of the auditorium, the Heads of Government were received outside by the Eyo.
Eyo masquerades, elegantly clad in immaculate white as they tread majestically around the grounds of the International Conference Center, is quintessence Lagos; exclusive to only the descendants of the Lagos chieftainships. Their costume is a mixture of tradition and modern materials; the hat is Brazilian, a reminder of the early Portuguese traders. Their voices are not as guttural as that of other masquerades, and their fluid dance steps are modern, aided by the beautifully embroidered staff they carry. Like all African masquerades, they represent the spirits of departed ancestors.
Okpa-Ekpe masquerade of Afikpo:
As the Ikoro drum continued to echo throughout the auditorium, the Heads of Government were ushered into the hall in slow, dignified steps by the Okpa Ekpe masquerade that flowed in fluid, rhythmic dance steps before them towards the stage. Okpa Ekpe masquerade appears only during the initiation of new members, coronation of kings, burials of prominent persons, or the reception of great achievers like the heroes of the Commonwealth to ABUJA CHOGM 2003.
Okpa Ekpe masquerade, to the people of Afikpo in Ebonyi State, is a link to their ancestors. The Ekpe cult is a vehicle for the enforcement of law and order in Afikpo traditional society. It is highly feared and respected by the people. In Afikpo, the membership of Ekpe cult is exclusive to the Eto age grade, which is the executive arm of Afikpo traditional government.
Protest of Lobsters masquerades from Rivers State:
For the production, the repertoire of the Ibaniwari Owu-Ogbo Lobsters masquerades from Bonny in Rivers State, was adapted to present the lobsters protest against man’s interference with their environment through oil spills, gas flaring, toxic waste dumping etc. As the Heads of Commonwealth met in Abuja, the lobsters took their case to them, presenting to them firsthand the different facets of the realities of Nigeria.
The lobster Masquerades in their very colorful and attractive costumes, accompanied by rhythmic drumming and graceful dance-steps depict the aquatic behavior of the lobsters. Behind them came the young maidens wriggling their hips from side-to-side, miming the act of fishing. But there is no catch, their environment is polluted and destroyed.
Ekpe masquerade of Calabar
Ekpe literally means ‘lion’ in Efik language, as it is believed to draw its inspiration from the lion, the king of the jungle, which has a good sense of judgment. Ekpe, the ancestral symbol of traditional and cultural institution of authority and governance that existed before the advent of Europeans to Nigeria, handed over the symbol of peace and authority to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as a symbol of peace and good governance the people of Commonwealth expected from the assembled Elders who were the representatives of the people at ABUJA CHOGM 2003.
The Ekpe cult is a society of men with proven integrity, honesty, strength and courage ready to serve their communities. The Ekpe masquerade dance showcased at ABUJA CHOGM 2003 was a special display that features only during very important events or occasions such as the coronation rites of monarchs. Thus Ekpe was on hand to welcome the Heads of Government and stamp their gathering with legitimacy.
AGBAKA MASQURADE FROM KOGI STATE
After Ekpe masquersde display, Agbaka masquerades from Kogi State took the stage with their whirlwind tumbling acrobatic dance. They were like magic, mere eyes could not keep pace with their agility.
The masquerade displays were interlaced with cultural dances.
Nkpikiti dancers from Anambra State
Nkpikiti dancers from Anambra State took the stage with a dance that was characterized by youthful exuberance, and artistic excellence that was a joy to watch. Nkpokiti dance is performed during important social events. The drummers were wonderful, but the flute is the main instrument in an Nkpokiti dance, it dictates the pace of the dance. Their costume reflect the need for agility and speed.
The Maliki dance of Borno State
The Maliki dance is a social dance of the Kanuri speaking people of Borno State, in the North-eastern part of Nigeria. The dance is slow moving, fluid and majestic, which seeks to capture the Kanuri core values of peace, elegance and pride in a history that dates back to more than a thousand years. The music for the dance is created by a band of five musicians led by a flutist, who sings praises of the Kanuri traditional title-holders to the accompanying rhythm of pulsating music created from three large drums and small rhythmic ones. The dancers are a group of five men and five maidens gorgeously attired in traditional Kanuri costumes called ‘dawungasho.’
The Maliki dance is performed at social occasions and important state events such as marriage ceremonies, installation of traditional rulers, Sallah festivals, and welcoming visiting dignitaries to state occasions such as ABUJA CHOGM 2003.
NKWAUMUAGBOGHO (MAIDEN) DANCERS FROM AFIKPO, EBONYI STATE
They were followed by the crowd-pulling Nkwaumuagbogho (maiden) dancers from Afikpo in Ebonyi State. They danced in with their waists heaving with layers and layers of waist beads, eyes beckoning, teeth flashing enticingly, while their legs executed intricate network of dance-steps. The drums charged the air, the flutes called, urging them to be even more alluring. Their ululations rent the air, expressing their joy. They were a sight for sour eyes.
In the olden days this maidens’ dance was reserved exclusively for wrestling champions, but now they are also featured during the coronation of kings and the reception of important dignitaries such as heads of government.
Dudun dance from Oyo State
Dudun dance, a traditional dance of the Yoruba is synonymous with royalty, though it is generally danced by all today. The dance is led by a master drummer, who uses the dudun talking-drum to communicate fluently in graceful, fluid dance-steps with every part of his body.
The uniqueness of dudun dance over other dance forms lies in the effective use of the talking-drum to interpret the different shades of the body movements performed by the dancers. Royalty descended on us in CHOGM and the dudun was there to entertain. The highlight at CHOGM 2003 was the performance of Ara, a female master-drummer. She was magnificent!
Koroso dance from Kano State
The spectacular award winning Koroso dance is a contemporary form of a popular folk dance that is performed by Hausa/Fulani youth mostly during harvest and in recent times during social events such as turbaning of an Emir and marriage ceremonies. In performance,
Koroso is a very athletic dance-step led by the flute called Sarewa, which produces several traditional musical notes that lead the dancers on as they execute the dance, showing their agility and strength.
The masquerades that performed in the production were just a tip off the iceberg of the galaxy of masquerades that perform in different Nigerian festivals. Masking is the most popular, the most versatile, the most entertaining public performance in most parts of Nigeria; it is the soul of Nigerian traditional theater. They represent the spirits of their dead ancestors who continue to take active interest in the affairs of their living descendants and relations. There is a constant interaction between the spirit world and the material sphere. The mask is an authority symbol because it is the embodiment of the accumulated wisdom and authority of the people. Thus, in some parts of Nigeria they serve as agents of law and order as is with the Ekpe masquerades, used as disciplinary agents against social miscreants.
SWANGE FROM BENUE STATE
The Swage dance from Benue State rounded this off beautifully. They came in swinging, their entire body rippled in response to the blaring flute and the fast paced throbbing drums’ beats. The highlight came with the entrance of the cat-man for the cat-dance. I have never seen anything like it. He could twist his body into any shape. The hall erupted into a dignified applause at the end of that performance. Remember, we are talking of heads of government.
SOME NIGERIAN MASQUERADES THAT DID NOT FEATURE IN THE PRODUCTION
Below, I’ll just showcase very few other Nigerian masquerades. Some are simply so beautiful, and some too ugly to resist my showing them to you.