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         ENDANGERED CULTURAL

                     PRACTICES



 

Ikoro Ogbunka, Anambra State.
                          
ENDANGERED CULTURAL PRACTICES AMONG THE IGBO SPEAKING PEOPLE OF NIGERIA

1. The ‘IKORO’ (Slit Drum).

This is a traditional medium of communication in Igboland. The beating of the Ikoro signifies many things to the Igbo people every sound is peculiar to the beat. It may signify a call for war, an emergency, a call to duty or to announce the death of a prominent member of the community among others.

At the sound of the Ikoro, all members of the community are expected to respond immediately by coming out to the village square where the specific reason for the beating is relayed to the people. It is considered a cultural abnormal for the Ikoro to be sounded without due cause. This means its expression is bound by mores that gives it a cultural uniqueness which makes the Ikoro not only a means of communication but also an instrument of expressing cultural unity and a sense of purpose among the Igbo people of Nigeria. 


The Ikoro at Isuofia, Anambra State.
 

The significance of the Ikoro is seen in terms of its being a means of communication and dissemination of information. The Ikoro is socially significant as it symbolizes unity of purpose. From the religious perspective, it embodies some aspects of rituals associated with the sound and personae that oversees it, as it is not everybody that can beat the Ikoro. Those that beat the Ikoro are trained and spiritually empowered to beat the drums whenever the occasion arises, consequently not every drummer is empowered to beat the symbolic Ikoro. The centrality of Ikoro in the culture of the Igbo people is seen in the strategic location of the drum; it is usually found in the village square, from where its sound is expected to reach the various parts of the village. 

However, the advent of Christianity and eventual conversions of the people have led to the neglect and eventual discontinuation of this medium of communication and eventual erosion of its significance in communal living of the Igbo people. In some communities where the Ikoro still stands most people see it as a symbol of heathen worship. This resulted in lack of interest and loss of vital information in the art of making and beating of the Ikoro in Igbo communities. 

There is no doubt that modernity has revolutionalised the dissemination of information as a result of the coming of information technology, however, the reinvention of this communal institution of communication medium, will aid cultural re-awakening  and  interest in re-discovery of the art behind the production of the Ikoro, forms and types of sound produced by the Ikoro and the significance of each sound in relation to the information contained therein and consequently evolve ways of transmitting this art of communication to young members of the society for its preservation. 

2. AKPERERE (Traditional Funeral Music and Dances)

The Akperere ,as the general name of one of the funeral music and dances among Igbo communities living in the eastern part. The belief in life after death is at the centre of Igbo cosmology. It is this traditional religious belief that is generally referred to as ancestral worship. To Igbo communities, the death of an elderly person is not the end of life as life continues hereafter. However, before one ascends to the higher spiritual realm of the ancestors, one must have lived and died in good old age, and must have lived a worthy live of emulation. Consequently, upon the death of the person, he is assumed to have joined the ancestors from where he continues where he stopped while on earth, this time he became the spiritual custodian of his kindred or family, offers spiritual protection for members, and intercedes for them in the spiritual realm. It is in recognition of the spiritual roles played by these ancestors that attract veneration and invocation of their spirit whenever sacrifices are offered.
Consequently, the death of such personages is usually celebrated with elaborate ceremonies, music and dance, Akperere is one of such dances. It is used to explain their belief in life after death which is central to the people’s traditional religious belief. The significance of this dance and music can be classified into two based on the belief system of the people, namely moral and ritual significance. The moral significance of this dance and music is seen in the fact that it signifies and reinforces the cultural perception that life does not end in death of a person and since life continues, the position one occupies in the ancestral world is dependent on the kind of life he lived while on earth. Thus the nature of the celebration is an indication that one either lives an exemplary life or otherwise. Thus it teaches those still living the need to live a life worthy of emulation so that when one dies he is accorded the rite befitting his status. 

The ritual significance of the dance and music is seen in the rituals associated with it. The dances and music are categorized in terms of one’s social standing and status. There was the music exclusively reserved for the titled members of the community, there are dances for those whose parents are no longer alive and those that could be danced by all members of the community irrespective of age or sex. All these music and dances were used to communicate ideals and values held by the Igbo society, which is sacrosanct to its belief system in life after death.

The music is usually played by traditional professional mourners, usually hired by the deceased family, which serves as a prelude to venerating one to the position of ancestor. The dance and music is exclusively for men of certain age and must not been played on the death of a young member of the community which is seen as abnormal.  

Like other traditional practices this funeral dance is going extinct due to changes in religious beliefs of the people. The wholesome condemnation of the traditional practices by churches has led to the abandon of this traditional ritual dance which formerly reinforces the people’s belief in the existence of life after death. 

To document and analyze the uses of these funeral rites in communal life as not only a religious obligation but as an instrument of explaining the peoples world view. Particularly in view of the discontinuation that has become the lot of some of the cultural practices in Igbo land due to modernism. 

3. ‘ORIKO’, (Traditional practices of re-integration)

This was a traditional practice of reintegrating a member of the community who was ostracized for committing offence considered by the community as an abomination or sacrilege after serving a specified period of ostracism. Such offence that attracts such sanctions include, murder, incest, adultery, etc. 

Communal living in Igbo communities is guided by certain norms and values that are held with reverence. Thus, it is regarded as a great sin for one to circumvent these cultural norms. There are sexual norms that guide relationship between kin, siblings, parents and their children. These normative behaviours cannot be compromised and any behaviour that contravenes these moral injunctions was seen as aberration and is sanctioned accordingly to serve as deterrent to others. This has helped maintain moral sanctity among the old and the young. 

The Oriko as a religious cleansing ritual is a form of social control measure aimed at deterring members of the community from engaging in acts that breach the moral and spiritual injunctions of the society. Its practice is to ensure that a person involved in such anti-social behaviour receives sanctions that will serve as deterrent to future actions, not only to the victim but also to other members of the society. Another spiritual aspect of this spiritual cleansing is that if the offence involves incest after the cleansing ritual, such children born from this unholy act affair usually do not survive.  

In recent times this cleansing ritual practice is no longer taken seriously, the erosion and gradual disappearance of traditional religious practices has led to its neglect, this has resulted in wide spread cases of incest and other indecent acts among kin and relatives and has seriously affected the moral sanctity of sexual relations in the society. 

The gradual erosion of such an important social and moral control mechanism in sexual relations has made it imperative to document and transmit it to young members of the society. It is expected that in the next one decade the cultural practice particularly, the rituals, the incantations associated with this ritual cleansing if not documented will become extinct, the effect will be a loss of one of the most vital moral instrument of sexual and moral control among the Igbo people of Nigeria.

4. ‘IRU-MGBEDE’ (Initiation of Young Maidens into womanhood)

This was a traditional ceremony of presenting young maidens of the community to the people to signify that they are ripe for marriage. In Igbo society it is a virtue that is highly revered. It was a thing of pride for the family to give their young daughter’s hand in marriage. This means that a maiden must have reached certain age before betrothal. This occasion is celebrated in the community with pomp and pageantry, festivities, music and dances. It is during such outings that the community formally presents their young maidens to the young men to choose the-would-be-bride.

The moral significance is that the sanctity of womanhood must not be compromised, as the society frowns at pre-marital sexual relationships. A maiden is expected to remain chaste till she is formally married. The essence of this traditional practice is to re-enforce the age-long maxim in Igbo land that the pride of every woman is her ability to preserve her maiden purity for her future husband. 

This cultural practice is going extinct due to influences of modernity. Today one hardly finds communities where this practice of allowing young girls to reach certain specified age before they are given into marriage. What exists today is underage marriages among young maidens, thus the usual traditional training required for good married life is lost. The impact of this is cases of family break-up and absence of good family life.

To document the nature and forms of activities and ceremonies involved in this unique culture and tradition of the Igbo people; and also, to bring to the fore, its socio-cultural significance with the aim of preserving it for future references and regeneration.

5. IGBA-AFA (Divination)
This is a traditional cultural practice of investigation which was used in the past to find out the cause of an incident or misfortune that has befallen an individual or family or members of a given community which cannot be explained; particularly, mysterious deaths, ill health, plant yield, etc., by the people. Like the ‘Ifa’ among the Yoruba people, Igba-afa is carried out by spiritualists renowned for discerning from the communal or spiritual forces the cause or causes of such incidents for the purpose of finding solutions to them to prevent re-occurrence.

Igba-afa is a traditional religious enquiry into causes and effects of an action in Igbo communities for the purpose of evolving solutions to the problem. Its significance can be seen from the perspective of social control, as it implies that there is no misfortune or act that border on lives of the people that cannot be explained and that there is no misfortune that occurs in isolation, there must be reasons. And what an individual or members of a community experiences is punishment for such actions that contravenes the moral values of the society. It also teaches members of the society that there is nothing hidden that cannot be revealed with passage of time.

As an aspect of traditional religion, Igba-afa in Igbo land is the traditional scientific means of investigating the causes and effects of a particular action for the purpose of discovering remedies to it, especially when precedents cannot be established. There are traditional religious specialists responsible for these practices. Some are trained by traditional religious experts while some are knowledge transferred from father to the children. The rituals are often elaborate depending on the nature of problem being investigated, any pronouncement made by the specialists in the course of investigation is deemed the word of the gods and those involved are expected to abide by them. 

These cultural practices over the years have been in disuse due to modernity. The coming of Christianity has led to the gradual decline of these cultural practices. Though its remnants are still found in some communities but the most vital aspect of the practice is being lost on daily basis either through the conversion of the practitioners or death.