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Amasiri Origin, People and Culture

Amasiri is a town in Afikpo North Local Government Area under Amasiri Development Centre. The original settlers migrated from the riverside known as Ikun Ugbagala (from water) to settle at the current location.

Amasiri is made up of five distinct villages. The most senior among them is Ohechara, seconded by Itemba Ezeke Owom, Ihie, Poperi and finally Ndukwe. The five villages collectively make up the town of Amasiri. If any village is missing in any gathering concerning Amasiri, it means that Amasiri is not yet complete.

Amasiri is homogenous in the sense that we, as Amasiri people regard ourselves as people with one language despite the fact that we did not migrate from the same place of origin. Because of where we migrated from (i.e. Ikun Ugbagala), we still bear and retain the name Amasiri Ekuma Ugbagala.

The original settlers in Amasiri never planned to retain the present settlement as their permanent home. There were more or less mercenaries of war and were always ready to respond to invitations from people to fight a war in any village or community.

Amasiri people have the same ancestral culture and traditions. These include initiation into manhood (Isiji) and other customary activities like “Ije nje-nje.”

Amasiri Calendar Year

Amasiri people have a twelve calendar month system. In respect of this system, Amasiri people break firewood into pieces and tie them in bundles; each bundle has a name and signifies a particular period of the year for the twelve calendar months. Amasiri counts the twelve calendar months as follows:

Every May each year, May 12th or 14th Ezeke will shoot up wrestling competition to control it and every other community joins in the feast (wrestling).

Between May 14 and 22 or 24 is the round up of Omoha feast.

About July 16 the Isakaogu will then shoot again a wrestling competition called Ikpo and Amasiri will bow down and honour it. This lasts for more than a month, and is held around the same time that inter-village wrestling competition will be going on. Ihie competes with Ezeke and Ohechara, whereas Ezeke competes with Ndukwe and among themselves while Ohechara competes with Poperi to keep the time going.

Towards the end of the month of August, Ndukwe, like Eleri in Ehugbo, will perform what is called Ime Elom. The period Elom is a highly anticipated period, especially for under-aged children because of what is known as “Egbe-Akpoto.” To make Egbe Akpoto, you cut a bamboo and open both ends, then look for a stick that can penetrate the centre. Plantain or banana starch is squeezed into the opening with the aid of a stick and it produces a sound like a gun.

If Elom is declared on Nkwo day, the following Nkwo day (four days later) will be the declaration of “Okike Aho.” It means that the yams are ready for consumption and that everybody should go and harvest. When Okike Aho is announced, all the traditional elders from the five villages will go to a place called Amuro to celebrate it. Amuro will prepare food for everybody to eat and be satisfied and the elders will give them a token donation.

From the Nkwo day when the Okike Aho is declared, eight more days will be allowed to pass before people will go to harvest their yams. The yams are not eaten that day. The night of the Nkwo day when the new yams are harvested, Amasiri people perform what is called “Ochuchu Aho” or “Ichu Aho” – saying goodbye to the old year and ushering in the New Year.

The Ichu Aho starts at about 8:30pm and goes round Amasiri. When the Ichu Aho train (consisting of men and women carrying lighted torches and singing) is passing by, people will be banging on their doors, shouting and asking the old year to go with its bad sides and ushering in the New Year with its good sides. Young men not yet initiated will follow up. They will prepare what is called “Arodo.” Female adults that are about to marry will prepare arodo in the form of a lizard or similar animal. They will prepare it and carry it to a central burial ground the following morning before 5:30am and dump it there. The young men will tie palm shafts to a stick and set it on fire. They then move round the villages till they get to the burial ground and finally pin it there.

In the morning of the New Yam festival proper, Eke day, everybody in Amasiri will be very happy and busy to prepare Nkamalu, which is offering sacrifice to their ancestors. That very morning there will be cleaning of the whole compound and kitchen utensils. The females will gather at their toilet area to play a game called “Akpo.” It is a game where two people hold both ends of a rope and swing the rope while one person jumps in between both ends as they are singing. The male counterpart has their own type of game called Obelele. The whole day is characterized by a lot of eating and drinking. The day after, Ikukwe will commence.

The people of Amasiri have a special way of whiling away time during the night hours. In the night you will see what is known as ‘’Otutu-ilu’’ or “Itu ilu” – telling of fairy tales. During night hours each household will gather outside and sit together and the elderly ones will start telling the younger ones fairy tales that has one or two moral lessons to be learned. Itu ilu is a night affair; it is not done during the day. If someone tells fairy tales during the day, it is not called Itu ilu; rather it is called ‘‘Akpamakpa,” that is story telling. The purpose of Akpamakpa is just to cause laughter and keep people busy.

Afterwards comes a period of counting the days to determine the actual date for Mbe feast begins. Ujambe is always declared by Ohechara. It means notifying people that ‘Okpaa’ (masquerade) is ready to come out. This feast marks the beginning of dry season in Amasiri. Mbe feast is another happy period that no one in Amasiri will like to be left out in watching the masquerade called Okpaa.

Okpaa is a friend to all but particularly women and children. The night before the Mbe feast, the uninitiated males will go to receive Okpaa in the “Obu” (common resting hall built near the “Ogo” – village square). They will keep themselves busy singing for the Okpaa-abali. Okpaa abali will be coming to pay them homage and collecting gift items like groundnut, orange, cigarettes and yams. There will be singing throughout the night.

In the morning, any Okpaa that feels that he is a good dancer will prepare himself for a bout of dancing within the villages. The women will be shouting and singing for the Okpaa as he runs around dancing and collecting gifts. A hand full of women will be singing behind him as he dances ahead. They will keep themselves busy and happy playing with the Okpaa till late in the day and it will continue that way until “izu esaa” then there will be some changes.

The next thing that will follow is Obubo Ogo (clearing of play ground). On the subsequent Eke, the boys that were initiated will be done with their initiation. It happens at Ohechara first, then Ezeke and then Poperi, Ihie and Okue. It is called Ikpa-Ama.

Any village may indicate interest in having a masquerade day. On that day, the masquerade will be going from one village to the other. After Ohechara, it will be the turn of Ezeke. Taking turns to have masquerade days is done partly out of necessity. If all the villages fielded their masquerades the same day, materials used for the masquerade will not be sufficient to go round; therefore each village gives others a chance to have their masquersade day, then they borrow materials for their own masquerades from the villages that already performed.

A village can pick interest in performing a special type of masquerade show called Okumkpo. Okumkpo is performance art and social satire at its best. To prepare, the performers start by investigating people who have done things considered to be condemnable in the society. Then they compose lyrics satirizing these people. The lyrics are then combined with the beating of drums to create music for the show. They will continue practicing until around February, then they will announce a date for the show. All of the villagers turn out to watch the Okumpo display. The performers are at liberty to mention the names of people believed to have misbehaved in the community.

Sometimes a village may decide to field a special type of masquerade called Ochenkwa or Akpoha-Ngodo or Okenkwa. It takes a long time to perfect the performance of this masquerade. The performers will continue practicing until they get it right before coming on stage to perform.. When the Ochenkwa is displaying, if you are a careful listener, you will notice that the drumbeats are “speaking” the original language of Amasiri. The drummers are using their instrument to mimic the original language of Amasiri as they beat their drums. It is known and called Enya-Ochenkwa. The last Ochenkwa was held two years ago (2007) by Amaechara village in Amasiri.

Immediately after Christmas, somebody from Amuro will announce that the year is over and that the people should get ready for the next farming season. It is called “Opupa- eje oha.” Then it will be until May of the subsequent year before festivities start again from Ezeke.

Title Taking in Amasiri

Generally within the period of October, people who want to accord their late father a special burial rite will announce their intention to take the “Ikwa ozu” title. The declaration for this title is usually done between 10th and 16th October and is done by shooting out your flag by gunshot. People will start asking who is shooting and then you the celebrant will declare his interest in taking the title (ikwa ozu).

Then preparations kick off for the title. The celebrant will host his relatives to a special get together where serious discussions about the title will take place. Ten or fifteen days later, the celebrant will host his age grade member all over Amasiri and the entire village to what is known as “Obubu-enwu.” By then the celebrant would have bought two or three large hides (animal skin). Members of his age grade from his village will slice the hides to match the number of all of the celebrant’s age grade members in Amasiri. Prior to this, the celebrant would submit the names of the age grade members that will share the hide – each of them must get a piece of the hide no matter their number.

The following morning, a large group of people will gather to assist with preparations. The celebrant’s family members will be busy preparing fufu or pounded yam. They will prepare different pots of soup sufficient to feed the celebrant’s age grade members in all of Amasiri. The celebrant’s compound will be filled with people who have come to partake in the festivities. There is exchange of gifts; guests receive their share of hide and skin and then respond immediately by giving the celebrant any amount of money they have. No amount is too big or too small. After this, the celebrant continues to entertain his guests with food and drink until they are satisfied.

Following this, the count-down to the day of the outing begins. In the interim, virtually all cultural norms and customs native to Amasiri will be on display. On Nkwo day, you will see what is known as Ujahi ndi no na agba nkwu. They will be coming to collect yams from the title taker. Some would collect one hundred tubers of yam, some two hundred, some three hundred, etc. They will continue collecting yams on that Nkwo day until the day is gone.

The following day, Eke, is the day of what is known as “Ulughu”. All the Ulughu in Amasiri will be coming to collect yam in the celebrant’s house. Some sections of Ulughu will collect up to four hundred tubers of yam, while some collects two hundred according to their own ranking. They will continue coming till late in the evening. More visitors will keep coming to the celebrant’s house through the eve of the outing.

On the day of the outing, the celebrant may initially start with the female group that is escorting him and then abandon them for the male group when he meets the latter. The male group is usually accompanied by a masquerade.

The celebrant’s wife and well wishers accompany him as he moves through the villages announcing that the festivities for the title is over. They do this because some years ago, some over ambitious men who performed it did not end it in a year because they didn’t announce when it was over but would rather mark where they stopped their outing for the year. Then the following year, they would start from where they stopped and continue for two or three years in a row before they announce that it’s over.

If a celebrant seriously intends to go all the way to complete title, he must prepare for the second phase that is known as Nze-Omezue or Omume. Omume commence in May every year and ends May the subsequent year because it consumes twelve calendar months and each of these months has its own performance. It continues until the last day, and affects the lives of the celebrant and even his children in a most intrusive way.

To bring the 12 month cycle to a close, the celebrant is expected to field the Ajah dancing group. The female group members that will perform in the Aja dance will lodge at the celebrant’s house for a significant number of days, practicing for the dance. If the celebrant has two children, that means two different songs for each child, etc. The celebrant is responsible for feeding and catering to the welfare of members of the dance group.

Furthermore, as soon as a celebrant declares his intention for the Omume title in his compound, he will be held responsible for any misfortune that befalls anyone in that compound. This is done because Amasiri people believe that the area occupied by the celebrant contains a fetish art (a powerful art) and a lot of temptations. The celebrant’s responsibility for any misfortune in his compound is publicly announced before the title-taking rites commence.

Libation in Amasiri

Libation is the art of tracing history, remembrance and asking for blessings from the ancestors during traditional gatherings. After this art is performed, the person who did it will have to pick a chip of kola nut and chew. Currently, when one finishes pouring libation, the young men around him will present him with gifts, mostly money.

Libation is just like prayer, requesting for your needs to be fulfilled by God. Our forefathers really believed there is God but did not know the name; rather they were addressing him as “Obasi bu n’elu” – the God that lives in the sky, the creator that is up.

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Author: Omezue Chief Dr. John Akwuba of Ihie

First published: October 23, 2009

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