In the past, for failing to undergo a stringent manhood ritual in some Ebonyi State communities, a man was forbidden to marry, among other harsh consequences. Now that tradition has been whittled down to the elders’ chagrin. Ogochukwu Anioke reports
It was a tough ritual but if you were a young man in Afikpo North and South councils of Ebonyi State in those day, you had better go through it. In some cases, you could live in the wild for years before you were readmitted into the community. If you shunned the tradition, you were forbidden to marry. If you chose to have an affair and manage to put the lady in the family way, you lost an ear to the sharp knife of the no-nonsense keepers of the tradition. There were other tough sanctions including fines and having your house pulled down.
That tradition is now seriously threatened by modernity and Christianity, and the elders are sad, saying that the rite, among other things, helped to check promiscuity and its consequences.
For a person to be accorded all the rights and privileges of a male child in Ehugbo, Amasiri and Edda in the two local government areas, and regarded as a full-fledged man who could marry and participate in decision making of the communities, such a person must undergo the initiation process called Ibu-ubu and Ipu-ogo.
Anything short of this usually attracted serious sanctions including pulling down the person’s residential building and that of his father and removal of one of the ears of such a person.
Chief Idume Ajah said, “This was so serious before that you didn’t dare the male ones and get married without being initiated; you didn’t try that at all unless you wanted severe sanctions which you may regret.
“You don’t also impregnate a girl without doing initiation otherwise you should be ready to lose your residential building and your property and your father should also be ready to do so too. Not only this, one of your two ears will be cut off with sharp knife or razor blade if you try it.
“You will also be fined heavily if you impregnate a lady without undergoing this male initiation. These sanctions were so serious before that nobody does rubbish but now it is no longer like that, it is no longer serious and that is why most of our girls today are being impregnated indiscriminately.
“Marriage was honourable but nowadays people get into marriage anyhow without recourse to our tradition especially the male initiation which was a ticket to marriage.
“So culture to me especially this aspect in our area is not all that bad because it is for the betterment of the people. It checkmates teenage pregnancy which is now rampant in our area today because the occult initiation of males is no longer taking very serious as before,” he said.
“For one to undergo the initiation especially the full one, such a person must be in the bush for seven years and must appear in the attire prescribed by the elders by wearing only a tiny towel or palm fronds on his waist throughout the seven years or period of the initiation.
“During this process the person cannot return home until the initiation is completed.
He explained that if one didn’t want to do the one of seven years, such a person can do that of two weeks or two days which are not usually serious like the one of seven years but that the person that undergoes that of seven years is usually different in terms of character.
A community leader in Amasiri, Afikpo North local government area of the state, Chief Idam Enyum told The Nation that the male initiations are usually done between August during the New Yam Festival and dry season period.
He noted that at the climax of the initiation women and the uninitiated men keep indoors while the invisible spirit parades the villages. The women he explained are not supposed to see the spirit otherwise they develop incurable swollen stomach.
“During the initiation period especially in some special hours, any male who has not undergone the initiation and also women are not allowed to move around especially the playground known as ogo where the initiation usually takes place otherwise strange things will happen to them. They will develop swollen stomachs that cannot be cured.”
“In Edda, Afikpo South local government area, you can even be attacked or killed if you are a woman and you move around during certain periods of the initiation.
“This is because the males who have undergone the initiation before including those undergoing the initiation process are usually stark naked patrolling the villages till certain periods of the time. So it usually annoys them if their nakedness is seen by women during that process”.
“This is usually taken so serious that if you come out, you may be attacked or killed and nothing will come out of it,” he said.
Enyum regretted that the initiation is losing grip in some parts of the area, adding that most of the buildings where the initiation process takes place are now dilapidated with some falling down without attention and blamed in on the advent of Christianity.
“You see, Ibu-ibu is seriously losing grip in Ehugbo. People are no longer taking it so serious that our fattening rooms and structures where the initiation usually takes place have fallen down with some dilapidated and no attention as to reconstruct them is given.”
“I think it is because of Christianity. Our people have all entered into church including most of the elders who were leading this initiation process before. So it is no longer as serious as it used to be except in some places in Amasiri and Edda.” (The Nation)
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