Core insight About the Eku’Echi Festival in Ebiraland
As earlier highlighted in the introductory and the proceeding parts of this book. Ekuechi festival has its traceable to the time of the death of Ada’ai Ita’azi burial ceremonies including the art of ‘Ekuechi to crown up the series of burial rites in honour of the departed soul of this great ancestor.
And as it is still practiced in Ebiraland today when our elders are being given traditional burial, every offspring from the sons and daughters down to the great-grand-children plays a definite role and one tries to play his or her part to the best of his or her abilities and will contribute his or her quota in any special way, deemed fit, to make the ceremonies as grand as possible.
This was the case, beginning with the death of this our ancestral father. Hence every settlement area played these roles in turn. Therefore the order of celebration does not reflect the hierarchical order of seniority of the children but can be likened to the present practice; whereby the ‘Eku’ on the commencement has to display first within the environment of his home base before leaving for the place or center of activities; the home base being Uhuodo and environs; the principal actors involved being Obaji and Ododo.
Ekucchi Anokchi is referred to as “Eku inandoro” because of its original emergency nature and accompanying tragedy! But nowadays Okehi is celebrated throughout Ebiraland to sympathize with Anokehi in memory of Ododo. In this regard, the annual homage being paid to Ododo and Obaji in this order is nothing but to commemorate their order of performances, due to circumstances leading to this reversed order of seniority: Obaji being the elder brother of Ododo.
Even the respective durations of the night’s activities depict or reflect the tragic incident that resulted from Ododo’s attempt to bring the night’s activities to an abrupt end, as compared to Obaji’s full night performance. The three—day interval between Okehi and Eika festivals is the difference between the day Ododo performed as compared to the actual slated day for Obaji’s performance.
And as Adavi was the eldest son of the deceased to whom the condolence visit was being paid by “AWIJRUTEJI” the first ‘Eku Irahu’ in Ebiraland; that is why the next Traditional District to celebrate Ekuechi festival, after the Okehi and Eika Ekuechi festivals, is Adavi. Finally, both Okengwe and Ihima celebrate on the same day because both Uga and Ono’otu were simultaneous, on the same day, paid the condolence visit by the first and only ‘Eku Irahu’, Ono’otu being the youngest; hence the merger of Okengwe and Ihima.
It could be recalled that all of them were still residing on the Okehi hills with the exception of Uga at Abochehe. Hence the coincidence of the Ekuechi festivals of Okengwe and Ihima still reflects this treatment. This order is still maintained up to date, as a symbol of mutual respect.
As indicated in the extract of Ohinoyi’s address highlighted earlier. And to justify this assertion all other festivals have their own order of celebration and in some cases limited places too; depending on the circumstances leading to the staging of the very first festival.
It could therefore be inferred that the annual Echahana and Ekuechi festivals of Ebiraland refer to the continued commemoration of the death and burial ceremonies of our ancestral father. Ada’ai Ita’azi. Were the festivals related to a particular sectional interest, the celebration would have been limited to a particular area and not the whole of Ebiraland, and even talk of it extending to Igarra inAkoko—Edo.
This assertion has further justified the ‘Anetuno’ as offshoots of Ebira and their cultural activities are mere extensions of those of Ebiraland. That the annual Ekuechi festival commenced by Okehi and Eika each year, is to commemorate the anniversary of the works and deaths of Ododo and Obaji respectively, is not only misleading but an embodiment of fallacies Ekuechi, as the name connotes, from the expression.
‘Aneku echi ngwuete’ refers to the burial of Ada’ai Ita’azi. Hence it was the final burial rites of this our great ancestor, the OHIKU EBIRA that is so-referred to as the highlights of Ekuechi festival are as follows:— On the eve of the Ekuechi itself is the ‘Unehe’, an introductory part in which both men and women participate. TheUnehe consists of the following components.
It is an all-night activity which extends far into the following day viz:— it starts with the exchange of visits by relations and friends during which they are lavishly entertained with foods and drinks of assorted types. These entertainments last about 3—4 hours, from 6.00 pm to about 10.00 pm. At about 9:45 pm, fans will start converging to the various stages of their respective traditional singers.
And by 10:15 pm, the singers mount their respective stages and start the night’s musical entertainment with traditional prayers, enchanted in a most melodious tone; during which effective lineage tracing is done with special reference to heroes, past and present Historical roots can be deduced from such rhetorical songs; philosophical ideologies are preached alongside.
When the concert is in full swing, amidst dances of varying styles and steps; the ills of the society is highly criticized while songs meant to correct all forms of social vices are chorused in unison. The songs are so arranged and sung in sequence. Even government laudable programs in society are not left out. These songs remind the government of the people’s yeanlings and appraise governmental efforts and areas that demand special attention are thereby highlighted.
Songs indicative of those involved in one form of moral decadence or the other are sung with a view to exposing these wrongdoers and thus correct them. Even to a non—native who does not understand Ebira, the language in which these gongs, popularly referred to as ‘Ikede’ songs, are sung.
The stage displays alone are quite entertaining. It could be recalled that the first ‘Unehe was performed in the form of ‘Ichekene’ with ‘Ichekene’ and ‘ayihia’, beaded calabash, as the only musical instruments. With time drums of different types and flutes were introduced as added musical instruments. All these innovations and even the styles of singing have now changed the rhythm and it is now tagged ‘Ikede”.
Following the stage performances, a house-to-house visit, as a symbol of mutual respect, takes place until finally all the various singers and fans converge to the town square when the whole scenery becomes that of keen competition in order to assess the best singer of the year.
With advancements in science and technology, all these performances are now videotaped for domestic viewing and relaxation, even after the festival. This merry-making continues into the following day, up till 1:00 pm. Before the festivals come to an end when the various performing groups depart the town square to their various wards for the closure of the Ikede ceremonies.
The following evening, at about 6:30 pm EkuAhete’, the traditional inspector of land, announces the commencement of Ekuechi. These inspectors have their boundaries, depending on the number of clans inhabiting the area. It is believed that they are closely tailed by witches as such they have special magical protection against these evil forces.
They inspect their respective boundaries of the land, as representatives of the ancestors, according to Ebira traditional beliefs. As soon as they come on the stage, all women are expected to retire indoors until the following morning around 10:00 am when the ‘Eku masquerades, must have left the scene.
Following the completion of the annual inspection of the ‘Eku Ahete, comes the arrival of the ‘Akatapa, the tale-tellers, who, with their special thrilling voices amuse the Ekuechi spectators in esoteric language. The ‘Akatapa’, like the predecessor, ‘Eku Ahete’, conducts himself as a messenger of Ododo and Obaji to announce the arrival of the new traditional year.
The Akatapa’, unlike the ‘Eku Ahete’, remains on stage up till time closure of the ceremonies, amusing spectators at regular unexpected intervals. The ‘Akatapa is next followed by the ‘Agadagidi who also perform to add glamour to the festivities.
By 8:30 pm the various performing masquerades, ‘Eku Irahu’ otherwise known as ‘Eku Enechi converge to their respective shrines, known as ‘Ori to consult with the ghosts of the departed ancestors and appease as well as appeal to them to guide and protect them throughout their periods of performance on stage and to make the arrival of the traditional year a good year full of bounties.
And to reduce accidental deaths to the barest minimum. This consultation starts with homepage paying to Ododo and Obaji, the first to be involved in traditional artistry. And like every traditional singer in Ebiraland, the memory of our fallen heroes is recalled with special reference and respect to our Ebira Opete brothers and sisters.
On the completion of this lineage tracing, the philosophical songs and praises are chanted in the most melodious and sonorous voices to the teeming spectators. A few songs are sung in the shrine following which the ‘Eku! will mount the stage for proper stage shows.
The special custom of ‘Eku Irahu’, fully decorated with bells called ‘Izenyi’ and the bigger bells ‘Ireha’, arranged in rows and tied round the waist add special attraction to the stage displays as the combined rhythmic sound produced by these bells makes the performance very colourful as the ‘Eku’ dances to the beat of his music.
The ideologies preached by the performing ‘Eku’ center on the same philosophies as those of the ‘Ikede’ singers. The difference is the fact that it’s an all-men affair with the exception of a few initiated women called ‘Onoku’ who are allowed. And for this occasion, they are dressed in all-white attire with “Oroko” (special) feathers to portray them as an initiated member of the ‘Eku’ cult.
The ‘Eku’ after their individual location stage performances, also converge to the town square for a round of keen competitions too. The festivities continue up to the following morning and the ceremonies will finally come to an end around 10:00 am whence the women can come back to the street from their all-night hiding.
During this festival, all passers-by vehicles, private or commercial, are made to stop at the outskirts of the town; the women are ordered to cover their faces and lie flat inside the vehicles before they are allowed to pass through the town.
And in some cases, particularly in the heat of full-swing actions, the vehicles are totally prevented to pass through the town until the following morning. This measure is to ensure that no woman sets her eyes on the performing ‘Eku’ the consequence of disobedience could even lead the women to permanent barrenness.
The Ekuechi annual festival brings all Ebiras from all walks of life home. It is normally held in November/December period. For years immemorial, the festival has actually been a period of reunion with friends and relatives who have been away from home. Most Ebira, including those overseas, come home during At this juncture.
It is pertinent to ask the following questions in respect of AWURUTEJI, the first Eku-lrahu. Is it wise for the eldest person in the family to be the ‘load bearer’ of ‘Eku ene chi’? Who entertains who? Is it the junior that is to be entertained or the senior?
Applying these to the olden day’s settlements we can draw the following as inference viz:- With particular reference to the small community of those days and the approximate respective ages of the five sons, at the time in question. Adavi was aged 106 years while Uga was 101 years old too, Obaji was 58 years old; Ododo was 55 years old and Ihima was 50 years old.
Judging from these ages and the physique of the people involved. The choice of who should be the ‘load bearer’ Or Custodian of that very first established ‘Eku’ should be from the three agile middle-aged men, Obaji, Ododo, and Ihima and to know who should be chosen it was referred to the oracles; hence the declaration of Obaji as the custodian.
And from the subsequent behavior, Ododo was quite keen and eager to be the custodian, and the fact that the oracle denied him of being the custodian, he went ahead and disobeyed; the penalty was his untimely death!.
The fact that the truth was hidden and this tragic event was only narrated in parables gave so many meanings leading to its different versions in Ebira history. The principal factor responsible for this confusion is the order of celebration of the Ekuechi festival and the homage being paid to Ododo and Obaji2 regarding the issue of the ‘Eku cult’ in Ebiraland.
Ask any reasonable elders in Ebiraland, they will simply tell you that ‘Aneika’ and ‘Anokehi’ are only elders in Eku affairs and NOT the elders of Ebiraland! And that Okengwe is only claiming political leadership due to the Whiteman’s ignorance about the Ohindase Stool in Okengwe.
The wrong political connotations attached to the ‘Eku’ cult and the subsequent mischief it carried along; leading to the killing of innocent poor people in the name of ‘Ote’, before the coming of the British Administration, made it lose its original flavor as a rich cultural package. Today it has even degenerated into an agent of oppression and revenge.
In this regard, the case of ‘Eku Echichi’ comes to mind. These are popularly referred to as Day Masquerades; then commonly seen during ‘Echane! festival and during the funeral ceremonies of Ebira elders as well as chieftaincy installations ONLY! But today the situation is totally different because the youths (out of ignorance) have completely bastardized our rich cultural heritage.
- Following the celebrations of Ekuechi of the five traditional administrative areas of the five sons comes the Ekuechi of the 6th administrative area, Eganyi, and lastly the Ekuechi Anetuno.
- It was the singing talents, possessed by Obaji that made the oracles pick him in preference to others, leading to his custody of our culture.
- So, the custody of the cultural material such as ‘Ochi Eku’, ‘Opo’ etc. was vested on Obaji and his brother. The material used by Awuruteji is up to date and available at Eika (Ege) and Uhuodo (Ege) from the total number of cowries Ita’azi’s death date is C.1604AD. The destructions in the name of ‘Ote’ were carried out using special ‘Eku’ such as “Adamioziji” and “Adiyaya” etc.
- The Ohireba of Adavi used the former while the
Ohireba of Okengwe used the latter. Other traditional districts like Eika, Okehi, and China have their respective equivalents of these special-purpose masquerades too. It could be recalled that they were initially meant to enforce the Eku constitution only.