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Evolution and Origin of Omume/Omezue


By Joseph Oko Ogudu

April 11, 2009

In Ehugbo (Afikpo), there are many titles that can be taken by an indigenous male. Omume is one of them.

Omume title taking was introduced to Afikpo through a man called Udume Uga Obeni (Udume) from Arochukwu in Abia State, Nigeria, hundreds of years ago. He was the first man in Afikpo to perform the Omume ceremonies and take the Omume or Omezue title.

Udume was a renowned herbalist and native doctor. He set out from his birthplace (Arochukwu) on a mission to introduce some herbs to Afikpo people, along with his juju called Amadi.

On his way to Afikpo, he first settled at Nguzu Edda in the present Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. There he founded what is called “nzu” (native chalk). Later, he moved to Pepere-Amasiri (in the present Amasiri area near Afikpo) and thereafter, Ibii (presently a small town near Afikpo).

At Ibii, Udume married two wives. The first was from a matrilineal lineage (Ikwu) known as Ibe-Ewa-Ali and the other was from Ugwu-Eku lineage. Also at Ibii, Udume acquired farm lands for his two wives.

As a herbalist, Udume frequently went to the bush to gather herbs for his medicine. One day while gathering herbs in a bush near Afikpo, Udume saw a girl called Anyina. Anyina was suffering from sores on her legs. Udume captured Anyina and took her to his home in Ibii. With the help of his wives, he cured Anyina.

Instead of keeping Anyina as his wife, Udume decided to return her to her parents at Pepere-Amasiri. In appreciation for returning their (now cured) daughter to them, Uga’s parents offered Anyina to Udume for marriage. Reluctantly, Udume accepted. He performed the traditional marriage rites and paid the bride price.

Shortly after the marriage, Udume left Ibii for Afikpo with his juju (Amadi) and wives. On reaching Afikpo he settled at Ohino Ngodo, one of the villages in the present Ohaisu community in Afikpo North Local Government Area. Shortly after his arrival, he met some of the original settlers in Afikpo. Among them were three heroes, namely: Ebiri from Amaechara, Aja Iberekwu from Ukpa and Isu Nkalu from Amachi – all in Ohaisu Community. The three heroes met Udume Uga at Ohino Ngodo and invited him to live with them in the present Ngodo village of Afikpo. Udume accepted the offer and settled in Ezi Udume, a village in Ngodo named after him.

After much interaction with the people of Ngodo, Udume offered to give his juju (Amadi) to Aja Iberekwu of Ukpa. Aja Iberekwu refused the offer. Instead he advised Udume to give Amadi to Egwu Uro Chi from Ndibe, a village in Nkpoghoro Community in Afikpo. Egwu Uro Chi readily accepted the offer of Udume’s juju (Amadi).

Although Udume was warmly received by his new neighbors in Ngodo, he still considered himself an alien. He wanted to become part and parcel of the Ngodo community and be treated as an indigene. To advance this goal, he decided to take all the ceremonial titles in Ngodo. As is the case in other parts of Afikpo, the ceremonial titles include:

  1. Ikwo-Eka or Ataye-Ose
  2. Okwa Nta
  3. Igbu Ewu-Anu-Ohia
  4. Ibu Ubu
  5. Ibu-Uzo-Okochi
  6. Igba-Ohia-Isiji
  7. Ikwo-Eka-Ezi or Ugwo Ezi
  8. Isu-Utara-Ukwu
  9. Igbu-Ehi/Inyinya (killing of cow/horse)
  10. Ikwa Ozu
  11. Uhie-Chi

Thanks to his successful herbal medicine practice (he was also a successful farmer), Udume performed all of the titles listed above. Then he asked the villagers for more titles that he could take. There were no more titles at the time.

When he continued to press for more titles, the villagers obliged him. They told him that since he had taken all the titles and wanted more, he can continue with omume-omume, which means continuous feasting. As a rich man, Udume continued to organize feasts for the villagers for a longer period following his last title taking ceremony. His bountiful harvest of agricultural products all year round made it possible for him to throw lavish parties. In appreciation and recognition of his efforts, the villagers crowned Udume with the title of “Omezue,” meaning one who has taken all the ceremonial titles in Afikpo and was able to feed or host the villagers for a longer time. Along with his new title, Udume was also known and addressed as the “Great Achiever.”

Meanwhile, as is customary during the omume-omume or feasting period, the last wife, Anyina, presented a small pot (Nja) which she made from clay, to Udume as a gift to her “brother.” To some, this raises the possibility that both Anyina and Uga may have come from the same matrilineal family. Although his father-in-law duly gave consent for Udume to marry Anyina upon payment of the bride price, he also told Udume during the marriage rites to treat Anyina as he would a younger sister. Based on these statements, some believe that both Udume and Anyina may have come from the same Ibe-Amala matrilineal family (Ikwu). If true, the marriage between them would be improper; tradition forbids such marriage.

While presenting the Nja (pot) to Omezue Udume Uga Obeni, Anyina (as the younger sister?) warned her “brother” Udume to keep the Nja under his custody so as to serve as Nja Omume or Nja Ibe-Amala (Ikwu-Amala). Anyina told Uga not to give out the Nja to anybody except those capable of performing omume-omume, adding that such person must first take permission from Udume before the Nja will be given to him. Since then, the giving out of the Nja to an intending Omume/Omezue title taker grants the permission for such a person to carry on with the title-taking ceremonies. The Nja contains substances the author cannot describe out of respect for Afikpo tradition.

The Omume/Omezue title (and the ceremonies that accompany it) has continued in existence in Afikpo since it was introduced by Omezue Udume Uga Obeni. The author believes that the Omume title is autochthonous to (i.e. originated in) Afikpo. Though some aspects of the ceremonies have changed as Afikpo evolved from an agrarian community to a town, the Omume/Omezue title remains a cherished and popular tradition in Afikpo. Among other things, it serves as a testimony to the agricultural and financial viability of the Omezue title takers in traditional Afikpo society.

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