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Calculation of Days and Months in Ishiagu Traditional Calendar Year and Activities within Each Calendar Month

By Chief Sir Eugene Udeogu Anyata

December 13, 2009

In Ishiagu traditional society, the reckoning of months and year is agriculturally oriented.

The Ishiagu people reckon their calendar month on a four-day basis. This four-day period, which usually starts from Eke day and ends on Nkwo day, constitutes one native week called “Izu.” The four days that make up one traditional izu are Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo.

The reckoning of the native weeks that make up the one lunar month tended to be based on the calculation of Eke days within the given period. For instance, if the new moon was sighted on the first or second day of its appearance, that could be regarded as “izu ato” – three native weeks instead of two. The number of days within this period was not seriously taken into account.

The Eke day was not only a market day but also a day of rest. This was a day where all transactions of market exchanges were exacted. People from far and wide came to the market to buy whatever they needed either through exchange of goods or through the medium of okpogho, cowries or other means of exchange. Okpogho was either a brass or copper rod bent in a “U” form, the equivalence of which was about the former six-pence. People who had no goods to exchange or barter could still go to the market to meet their friends or for some other social and friendly purposes. In summary, Eke day was a day for exchange of goods, a day for relaxation and recreation and a cherished day of rest.

The Orie day was a very important day in the native week similar to Monday. It was the first day after the general rest day that had just passed. It was a great day in the Ishiagu community because it was a day dedicated to the yam-god, and the cultivation of the king-crop of the people – yam. This was the day conferment of titles, based on accumulation of wealth through yam cultivation, was held. Burial ceremonies of important persons of the community were often conducted on this day. Also yam title holders were usually buried on Orie day.

This was also the day for general farm work. Both husband and wife could work together in the farm with the man planting or staking yams while the wife or wives would sow side crops like “ona” (three-leafed yam), azaja (yam bean), edu (bulbi-bean yam), corn, okro, etc.; sometimes the women would weed the farm.

When general farm activities could not be undertaken, any other activities would receive attention. In the evening, those who came back early enough from the farm or other activities could go to the evening market in the usual market square. Only a small amount of buying and selling could take place on Orie day, although the market could attract people from the neighboring towns. The commodities bought and sold in the evening market were mostly food stuffs.

Burial ceremonies of dead female relatives were often carried out on Afor day. Dead men who had not taken any titles of significance could be buried on this day along with the females; but this was not always a general tendency.

Nkwo day follows Afor day and was regarded as the end of the native week. Nkwo day had always been regarded as a very important day of the native week. It was the day that general farm work was concluded as miscellaneous activities were undertaken culminating in the gathering of farm crops and other food stuffs to be sold or exchanged in the market the following day – Eke day. Women would leave the farm work sometimes after the mid-day work to look for vegetables, firewood or other things that were needed for the family in order to ensure the general welfare of household members. Men would go to look for yams or go out for evening hunting to supply yams and meat for the family. These activities might be the reason for setting aside Nkwo day as a special day free of most important social ceremonies. The failure to go to farm on Nkwo day might result in having nothing to sell on Eke day, no firewood for cooking and no food for the Eke day of rest.

It has been noted that there are seven native weeks in one lunar month as the cycle of the moon giving day and night regulated the calculation of days in Ishiagu. It may be convenient to start calculation from Itu Nso by the Umunjoku kindred from Okue. This Itu Nso ritual marked the end of cultivation of yams and tabooed any further clearing at home by the use of hoes. This generally took place on the lunar month before celebration of the New Yam Festival in the community. It cannot be said that the lunar months follow exactly as the calendar months since twenty eight days make one lunar month as opposed to thirty or thirty-one days in one calendar month.

In other words, the Ikeji festival tended to fall between the last week of July and the third week of August or even later. Eke Ikeji usually falls on the seventh Eke day in the seventh Ishiagu lunar month called Onwa Essa or Onwa Ikeji. Therefore the counting of the lunar month might well begin by starting with the ritual ceremony of “Itu Nso,” which takes place about seven native weeks (28) before Eke Ikeji. This ritual ceremony marked the end of the planting season and started the period of famine (“Unwu”) in the community.

On the day preceding the fifth Eke of Onwa Ikeji, there would be a customary clearing of the Ekengwu shrine premises by some part of Amonye people. In the evening of that Nkwo day, the male members of Umu Eke Ngwu, particularly the youths, would roam round the town to grab some articles from the people as a customary right. The articles to be grabbed might include coconuts, bananas, plantains and so forth. Yams and coco-yams may not be seized.

The following day was the Eke Aho Ikwo, when the grandchildren of Aho-Umunwanwa Aho would perform the traditional seizing of property (excepting yams) in the market. After the seventh round, the seizure process would stop.

Meanwhile, the grandchildren would visit their grandmothers or maternal aunts for the Ichu Aho ceremony. Also the mothers of newly engaged maidens would invite their sons-in-law for a feast. The Ichu Aho festival for the maidens and their fiancés might end on the evening of Orie day while that for the children would continue till Afor day or even till the next Eke day – called Eke Mkpabu Unwu, which is the end of the famine season.

Eight days from Ichu Aho day is the Eke Ikeji. The ceremony had to start with the first harvesting of new yams on the previous Nkwo day called Nkwo-Osuso. This ceremony usually ended officially on the Afor Uzo day, and this marked the end of Onwa Esaa. The taboo on the use of hoes for clearing around homes would be lifted on Afor Uzo day, ushering in general clearing.

Not many ceremonies were performed during this period, except that the second Eke market day after Eke Ikeji was the Eke Ngwe Umu Njoku. This was the day when the young male children of Umu Njoku kindred from Okue would perform their own traditional property seizing. The only exception to the seizure of property was corn, cassava and salt. This was also the period when harvesting of other types of yam might be going on. This would include yellow yams (ji oku or Orume, Otutu) and so on. After the Eke Ngwe Umu Njoku, the prohibition on making of heaps in the farm would be lifted.

Onwa Tolu: This was the month of clearing of farm roads. On the seventh Eke of Onwa Tolu would be the feast of Uzo Ubi for the celebration of the farm road clearing. Small degrees of harvesting continued, but weeding of farms became intensified. It was the period when staking of yams stems was very much in progress. The Onwa Tolu tended to coincide with the month of October using the calendar calculation. This month was an important month in the cultivation of ekidi –“vigna unguiculata” – which could be planted in a separate farm.

Onwa Iri: Onwa iri coincided roughly with the calendar month of November. On the seventh Eke day would be Eke Nzu and the next day was the Orie Nzu. Nzu was the celebration of ritual ceremony to feed the dead. It was therefore a month dedicated to honour the dead ancestors. Every married man had to procure a cock or a goat to be sacrificed to his dead father’s spirit that had joined his ancestors. The ceremony was performed on the Orie Nzu.

During the month of Nzu festival, kindreds are prevented from having meetings from time to time in their resting places. It was believed that any person who ventured to attend meetings would be killed by the ancestors who then would regard such group as intruding and underrating their ability as ancestors.

The ancestors were believed to be invisible but could see the day to day happenings on earth. They would be therefore be happy whenever they saw their offspring preparing for them something for the Nzu festival by giving them food when due. The ancestors would always like their children to be busy in the house attending to them.

The day preceding the Eke Nzu, prospective husbands whose wives would join them within the year, would provide Nzu wine – “Mmee Nzu” – for the young men folk of the girls’ kindred groups.

Onwa Amaleni: Onwa amaleni coincided with the month of December and was a relatively calm month. This was the month when the Gbudugbu festival would take place to honor the brave heroes. Harvesting of crops would have just started but more activities would be centered on making of fences with live sticks and palm fronds.

Onwa Amaebo: This was also the month when fencing of compounds and the yam barns had to continue. Harvesting of crops continued in good earnest. Apart from the fencing and harvesting activities, the month was also relatively calm.

Onwa Amaeto: Onwa Amaeto tended to coincide with the calendar month of February. This was also Onwa Ekembe, when mothers-in-law had to fete their sons-in-law and the grandmothers or maternal aunts had to fete their grand children or their young nephews and nieces in the absence of the grandmothers.

Fathers-in-law would also test their sons-in-law and their friends who had performed labor services for them during the last planting season. Harvesting of crops and tying up of yams on the racks continued. If there was some assurance of rain, the commencement of the next planting season would be announced. If the period was hot and dry, the commencement would be postponed. This was done through the process of Ikpo-Onwa.

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