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The people of Edda, also known as the Edda Egbebu, are a sub-group of the Igbo people in south-eastern Nigeria. The land and people of Edda have been constitutionally designated the present day Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Nigeria.
Information on the Edda and their immediate neighbors has survived, barely, through a combination of folklore and an elaborate and highly ritualized priest-kingship evolved by the people; hence, the variations in accounts.
The oral interviews reflected in this study are subject to debate and criticism. They commence with respondents’ opinions on the migration of Edda people and other “Clans” they interacted with prior to settling on their present site.
Oral Interviews with Neighbours and Non-Edda Indigenes
Eze Aro of Arochukwu (now deceased), the longest reigning monarch of Igbo people stated that Edda people lived initially at Afia Isagha Orie with the Arochukwu people (Aros). The two clans were said to be of the same ancestral father, Eze Oke Mgbom who begat Imo Eze (father of the Edda) and Oti Eze (father of the Aros.
According to the monarch, the Edda left for their present settlement, through Ohafia, mainly in search of more fertile land for agricultural purposes. On leaving Afia Isagha Orie, he went on, the Edda settled successively at Okoni Ohafia, Amangwu Ohafia, Ukwukwa Okagwe Ohafia and finally Ugwu Nzu- now known as Nguzu, the traditional headquarters of Edda.
A community leader in Isieke Ibeku suggests that a group known as Elugwunta once inhabited the present location of Isieke Ibeku and following some misunderstanding ending in deaths, the survivors left through Bende for the present-day Abam, Ohafia and Edda. These three groups are one and the same people: while they had a common father – Eze Oke – Abam and Ohafia were of the same mother.
Another community leader and scholar, Chief K.O.K. Onyioha of Nkporo, in his contribution, reveals that the oral traditions of his people posit the Edda, Abam and Ohafia descended from three brothers – Egbebu, Onyerubi Abam and Uduma Eze respectively. These three groups once lived together in Isieke Ibeku, but left for Arochukwu after some disagreements with the earlier settlers, Elugwunta. The Elugwunta had accused the new-comers of killing their war dogs and a fight ensued which forced the departure of the Edda, Abam and Ohafia. After a while, the Edda separated from the other two groups which in turn subsequently broke off and headed to their present locations. Chief Onyioha adds that it was from the Ohafia that the Ututu emerged later, and that the Arochukwu Clan boasted of able-bodied young men and women of Abam, Edda, Nkporo and Ohafia origin who were settled there to act as buffer against the incessant attacks and invasion of the Ibibio of the south-east. The praise name Aro Oke Igbo refers to the Aros situated between the Igbo and non-Igbos.
Another scholar, Mazi Iro Uche of Ohafia contends that the Ohafia people met the Edda on their way from Adoni to Benin and the two groups continued together to Ibeku. In the wake of the incident of the war dogs, the Ohafia were said to have migrated further east, while the Edda moved south-east. The Ohafia and Edda were to meet again a few years later. This time around, the Ohafia asked the Edda to wait while they surveyed the area for settlement, but never returned to reveal their findings. After a long wait, the Edda sensed danger and moved off to present-day Arochukwu. They settled with the Aros, but later migrated to their present location through Ohafia under the leadership of Imo Eze.
Yet another traditional scholar, Amos Dike of Amaeke Abam deposes that the Abam, Edda and Ohafia were great grandchildren of Chima Ife. The Abam people were the children of Onyerubi Eze (who was the eldest of Eze Oke’s children) followed by Uduma Eze (father of Ohafia) and Imo Eze (father of the Edda). All of them were said to have left Benin for Ibeku and subsequently a location near Igwu River. From there, Onyerubi Eze could not move any further due to his wife’s advanced pregnancy. She had gone into a nearby bush and soon gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. He went into the bush to check on her and on seeing the situation, decided to settle in that place with some people. On enquiry about his whereabouts, his brothers were told he had gone into a safe bush to seek his wife. The group that stayed back became known as Abam (Ibayi Abayi). Others moved a bit further where the Ohafia settled at Elu Ohafia from where the rest of the Ohafia villages dispersed. On their part, the Edda forged ahead through Okagwe Ohafia to their present settlement.
These three Clans were very close and their blood ties enabled them rally together to declare and prosecute wars. There were instances of atonement for occasional spilling of blood among them. Izu Abam (now Ozu Obam) was the rallying point to discuss serious matters of mutual interest, and from any animal slaughtered to entertain the delegates, the Abam, Ohafia and Edda took the head, jaw and neck in that order.
One of the significant features of migration is that no group moves on with all its members nor does any group move without encountering and mixing with some other group or the other. Groups on the move hardly ever forget those they last met or meet next or separated from. There was a possibility though, for real kit and kin to forget some of their own over time, and could be reminded by those who separated from the others at a later date and point.
These are the accounts of Edda migratory trends given by non-Edda, but what have the people of Edda said about themselves? The two sets of oral tradition would provide a basis for analysis and perhaps some conclusions as to the origins and relationships of the Edda.
Oral interviews with Edda indigenes
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Okorie Oji Uzo (1981) of Owutu Edda contends that the combined migration comprising the Abam, Edda and Ohafia began at Ogba (Akpa Cave) somewhere beyond Arochukwu. At Afia Isagha Orie, Imo Eze – the great grandfather of Edda – separated from the Abam and Ohafia groups led by Onyerubi Eze and Uduma Eze respectively, and moved on to Ama and later Ugwu Nzu (now known as and called Nguzu Edda). It was really from Ama and Nguzu that the rest of Edda communities dispersed to their present locations. According to this respondent, his father had told him that the Abam, Edda and Ohafia groups are descended from a common father, Eze Oke Mgbom.
Eze Omaha (1987) of Oso Edda states that the Edda migrated from Ogba (a Cave in Okolasi Itu in present-day Akwa Ibom State. It was at Ogba that the Edda were said to have met the Aros and together with the Abam and Ohafia, they moved towards the present location of Arochukwu.
Under the leadership of Imo Eze, the Edda separated and moved on through Afia Isagha Orie and Ukwukwa Okagwe to their location where they found the Lokpa, Nkerefi, Leru and Amasiri people already domiciled. Through series of conflicts, including wars, between each of these groups and the Edda, they wee gradually driven off.
The account goes on that the Ezi Edda (Ozi Edda- Vigilante Group) who helped in the prosecution of the wars were popularly referred to as “Anya eji afu uzo” (Reconnaissance Group). Due to their gallantry in war, Eze Edda invited and honored them during his coronation ceremony.
Eze Omaha concludes by asserting that the Eze Edda his an aware of is located between Amaigbo Edda and Amaoso Edda.
Okorie Ekuma-Nkama (1987) of Amangwu Edda reveals that the Edda in company of the Abam, Ohafia, Nkporo and Item, commenced their movement from Ogba in Itu. These groups first settled at Oruocha and then Udara Ebo where they began to separate. Nkporo, Edda, Abam and Ohafia- the descendants of Eze Oke—moved together until they came to a fallen “off” tree. In their scramble to get a piece of the tree branch, Imo Eze (father of the Edda) was practically diving in all directions and eventually got the branch. His kite-like movements at the fallen “ofo” tree coupled with his conduct in war and wrestling, earned him the praise-name Egbebu.
It was after the incident of the “ofo” tree that Imo Eze led his group (the Edda) and headed northward to Ama Ugwu Nzu (now Ama Nguzu) from where the various villages spread to more convenient locations.
Ugoji Ama (1987) of Udiligbo (Udu Nta) dynasty in Ekoli Edda gives an account that the people originally lived in a place known as Ogba which was far beyond Namfe in the Camerouns. This is hilly country with several villages which looked like caves, hence the name Ogba. While the area provided them protection from human attacks, they fell prey to wild animals which killed them, especially the young ones, in their thousands. This was the major reason why they left Ogba.
On their way to present-day Arochukwu, the Edda spent brief periods at the following places: Mburum, Une, Ake, Ngele, Uburubu and Amanato. After a long stay at Arochukwu, they moved on to their present location – a hilly setting that reminded them of their original settlement in Ogba and the security it provided.
Imo Eze was their hero who led the people successfully to Ama Ugwu Nzu, and due to their sheer population size and the way they subdued and suppressed their neighbors, his descendants came to be known and referred to as EDDA – that is, war-like people who suppress others.
Okorie Akanu (1987) also of Ekoli Edda reports that the Edda with their brothers (most of whom are now lost to memory) initially trekked from Asia through Egypt, across the Sahara Desert to the north-eastern part of what is now known as Nigeria. As wanderers, they were compelled to leave each area they came to due to lack of food, hostility of neighboring tribes and danger from wild animals. They were said to have crossed Enyong Creek, Akanabio along the north-eastern borders of Ibibioland and finally arrived Arochukwu.
These were the leaders from Ogba to Ukwukwa Odagwe prior the separation through the two children of Ezeke Mgbom (Eze Oke Mgbom), Uduma Eze and Igbo Eze. The great migration was made by these brothers: Aro, Ututu, Ohafia, Abam and Edda under the leadership of Ife Nta.
At Ukwukwa Okagwe, they observed an abundance of fruits which gave them comfort and they decided to settle there. One day, Uduma Eze, one of the powerful leaders, went hunting and missed his way in the forest. His people began to suspect he might have been killed either by wild animals or hostile persons; so, the next day, all the skilled hunters in the area began to search for him.
Uduma Eze was sighted and his younger brother, Igbo Eze, in his excitement ran towards him but fell down. The two brothers hugged each other and Uduma Eze affectionately call Igbo Eze “Onye Eda Eda” (One who falls down). These two heroes were the roots of Ohafia (Uduma Eze) and Edda (Igbo Eze). It is due to the great hero, Igbo Eze that Nde Edda on occasion address a gathering of their people as “Umu Oke Igbo, unu ka”.
On his death, Igbo Eze was succeeded by Nnuma Akuma and Okporie Akuma. Some of the people under Okporie Akuma never called at Ama Ugwu Nzu, but moved down to Olori – a fertile strip of land with abundant wild corn and coco yams, a few kilometers from Ekoli Edda.
The actually met some settlers at Olori, people known as Okpuma (Okpu mma or blacksmiths) whom they regarded as magicians. At night, they brought out their metal works (which exist till today) for sale, with pieces of stick placed near each ware to indicate its price. The Edda traded with them, exchanging the metal products for their farm produce.
On one occasion, a man called Utom Nwa Mgbo Oko Ali was caught observing them as they displayed their wares at night, killed and transformed into an anthill. In their scare, the Edda ran back to Ama Ugwu Nzu. There, they were threatened by hunger and lack of natural water supply and terrified by a group known as Ukwa Anya Ocha. Two notable incidents occurred at Ama: the Ebiri who were living in the present location of Nguzu harassed the Edda and Anuma Akuma had a disagreement with his returnee-brother, Okporie Akuma. While Okporie desired to go back to Olori with its abundant food and water, Anuma was in favor of concerted efforts to drive the Ebiri out of Ama Nguzu.
The choice was soon to be made. On one occasion when they both went hunting, the two brothers came across two Ebiri hunters who had killed a monkey. The brothers demanded the head of the monkey on the grounds that they owned the land. The Ebiri men rejected this argument, claiming they were also owners of the land and lived only a stone’s throw from where the kill was made.
The two parties reached and agreement that any of them which was able to get home, fetch fire with which to roast the monkey and get back first, will be considered the nearest inhabitants and hence owners of the territory. While the Ebiri took off for their homes, the Edda brothers made a fire by striking two stones together onto some dry figs.
By the time the Ebiri returned, the Edda brothers had roasted the monkey, shared it out and taken the head. The Ebiri went back to report the incident to their people, but when they considered the sheer size of the Edda populace and the futility of confrontation, they decided to leave the area for the present-day Nkporo.
In spite of this development, some Edda under Udu Nta (a younger brother to Ugwuocha Ukwu) still opted to move back to the more endowed Olori, while another set led by the hero Okporie Eke, moved down to Ifuogo Nguzu for more fertile land, water and secure environment.
At Olori, the Edda had a market known as “Ogbomburumaja” where Nene Egegereghi, two of the children of the wife of Isiulo Oku Nkwu, a palm-wine tapper, often sold her husband’s wine. There was this strong but poor bully, Afobuibu who usually visited the market to forcibly take other people’s wine, and Nene was to fall victim. Isiulo was informed of this nuisance. On the following market day, he got a sharpened cutlass and hhid somewhere close to where his wife displayed her gourds of palm wine.
Not too long after, Afobuibu emerged as usual and as he approached Nene’s wine, Isiulo ran his cutlass across the bully’s abdomen and he died instantly. The incident resulted in the Edda moving back to Ama (Ama Ezi Edda). As they made their way back to Ama, two of the children of Eze Oke Mgbom (Ezeke mgbom), named Mbiriba Eze and Oko Eze with their group moved instead to Urukpan Enna in today’s Cross River State. After some time, Mbiriba Eze with his younger brother, Oko Nta moved off to present-day Abiriba (Ebiriba). Till date, the Abiriba have a close attachment to Enna where their elder (Oko Eze) lived and died.
When the main group from Olori returned to Ama, Okporie was the leader or king of the two groups. This marked the beginning of the kingship/leadership ‘lineage’ of the Edda. His successors are still based in Nguzu and it is from Ama that other Edda villages migrated to their present locations. The first two major movements were those to Ifuogo and Ekoli under Udu Nta. Apart from Amaigbo, Eddagho, Ekata, Ezi Edda and Itim who migrated directly from Ama to their present locations, the rest of Edda villages and communities moved to their present areas from Nguzu or Ekoli. Amaoso, Amaiyi and Amangwu for instance, are from Nguzu, while Ebunwana, Ogbu and Igbara migrated from Ekoli. As the latest Edda settlement, Oso boasts of people from virtually all the major communities and villages of Edda, including Nguzu, Amangwu, Libolo and Owutu.
Udu Efamefula (1987) of Nguzu gives an account to the effect that the Edda came from beyond the Enyoung Creek across the Cross River where they lived in a cave-like area. After several years of sojourn, they moved to the present location of Arochukwu. At Arochukwu, the following Edda leaders were born; Oti Eze, Onyerubi Eze, Uduma Eze, Oboni Eze, Mbiriba, Eze, Biasu Eze and Ekelechi Eze.
When other groups left for sundry locations, Oti led his group to settle behind Arochukwu. These migrants are Akpa and Ibibio people who were there before others. Onyerubi took his group to Abam, while Uduma and his followers moved to Ohafia. The Edda were led by Oboni Eze and his younger beother, Imo Eze. Mbiriba Eze, Oke Eze and Biasu Eze later separated from the original Edda group and migrated to Enna and Ikun are presently located in Cross River State. Abiriba Eze was to leave Enna later on to settle where is known known as Abiriba.
The descendants of Mbiriba Eze were renowned traders and blacksmiths who usually came from Enna with their wares for sale at Nkporo. Their business associates and customers often referred to them as “Enna Uda” (people who came from Enna to sell pepper) because pepper was one of their notable commodities. In Enna (now known as Orie), pepper is called uda.
Based on the business prospects in Nkporo, the Enna traders decided to settle there for convenience. Unfortunately, according to this account, the Oboni Eze and Imo Eze did not reach the present location of Edda. While Okporie Akuma actually reached Edda, Ututu and Ihechiowa separated from Ohafia and moved to their present locations.
Hitherto, there were other groups of home-seekers who travelled alongside the Edda and they included Nkporo, Item and Alayi. It is certainly not easy to identify every co- traveler or brother in these migration trends due to gaps in memory associated with oral tradition. It cannot be said precisely that most of these other groups had no blood relationship with the Edda, Abam, Ohafia and Arochukwu because similar names exist for towns and persons in those other Clans. For instance, nearly all of them address their people as Ndi Ife which may well draw some linkage from their common ancestor, Ife Nta.
Ikun Ubaghara and Ekuma Ubaghara are brothers of the same parents. After settling at Ikun for some time, Ekuma moved first to Libolo Edda and then successively to Amaichakara Ekoli and present location of Amasiri, Akaeze was founded at a later period by Eze Oke Oyim, the younger brother of Chima Oyim of Oso Edda. Amauro and Mgbom villages in Afikpo (Ehugbo) were migrants from Edda, while Umuchu Ezechi in Bende Local Government Area was founded by a man from Nguzu Edda. Their various names, Nguzu Ezechi and Umuchu Ezechi, reflect their close relationship.
In the light of the information obtained through oral interviews, it is crystral clear that Edda, Abam, Ohafia, Abiriba, Nkporo, Item, Igbere, Alayi and Arochukwu peoples point to one source of origin and migration routes. The information gathered also demonstrates that the following Clans – Erie (Enna), Ikun, Amasiri, Unwana, Amuro & Mgbom in Afikpo (Ehugbo), Ututu, Ovim and some other parts of Isuikwuato and Akaeze – have common historical connections of descent.
The bases of their separation differed from one location to the other and as is natural with early migration trends, their dispersion occurred at different periods and points.
A group might move away and after a long sojourn forget those they previously migrated with, while the multi-directional migrations largely inform the diverse accounts put forward. It is a possible human fact that those who initially separated might meet again without any recollection that they had a common origin. It is also a possibility as well that they might be speaking different dialects or even languages, especially after a very long period of separation. Little wonder, Erie and Ikun now in Cross River State no longer speak the Igbo language or that Mbiriba Eze who moved with his group on a trading expedition to Abiriba cannot speak Enna.
The forefathers of Edda, Abam, Ohafia and Arochukwu can still be traced. The Genealogy as pieced from the various accounts obtained would take the following pattern
Efamefula points out that the close attachment between the Aro and Edda was due to constant attacks by the Akpa and Ibibio on the Oti Eze family left behind; so the Edda were hired to ward off the incursions. However, the aggressors always staged a come-back whenever the Edda withdrew. The Aro had to plead with some of the Edda warriors to live among them. Oko Nnachi, a powerful native doctor (medicine man) from Edda dealt the final blow on the enemies with the result that some surrendered (the incursions did not end as such, but eased). In any case, the Edda, the captured aggressors and others who lived among the Aro became assimilated into the mainstream of Aro society and later came to be known as Aro due to their famous oracle, Ukpabi.
The Akpa and Ibibio among them were originally non-Igbo, but the Ada (Edda) Aro influenced them to the extent that they all speak Igbo now.
Nsugbe (1974:26) notes that the domains of Ada (Edda) and Ohafia were two related warrior-communities with a long-standing friendship with the Aro as well as with the Nike. Indeed, as the Genealogy Tree shows, Edda and Ohafia have the same grandfather with Ada Aro (the Edda who were left behind at Arochukwu).
Dike and Ekejiuba (1990:42) state that “It is possible to conclude that the Ada who later contributed to the ethnic composition of the Aro, were partly from Agwagwuna and partly from Ohafia, a fact which explains later-day trade and military relationship between the Ada Aro and these two groups”. Edda oral tradition reveals that the people first settled in the present location of Arochukwu and later moved northwards, leaving Oti Eze and his family behind. Then Oti Eze founded the following villages in Aro: Amangwu, Amuvi, Amankwu, Asaga, Atani, Oso and Utughugwu as confirmed by Dike and Ekejiuba (1990-42). The military relationship between Ada (Edda) and Edda Aro was therefore, based on blood ties. Since they were not many of them, they were exposed to incursions from non-Igbo around them, but they were not disturbed by the Abam, Ututu or Ihechiowa who are related to them.
From the interviews with non-Edda and Edda as well as documented materials, it could be observed rightly[according to whom?] that the following people have some blood relationship, must have migrated together or had long established contact: Edda (Ada), Ohafia, Abiriba, Nkporo, Arochukwu, Akaeze 9Akaeze Ukwu), Item, Ututu, Ihechiowa, Ikun, Erie, Umuhu Ezechi Ebule, Amasiri, Unwana, Afikpo (Mgbom and Amauro). Uturo and Ovim.
The Polity in Traditional Edda Society
In traditional Edda society, it was inevitable that politics would delineate the perimeters of socio-economic and general development relations. Igbo political structure was largely defined by blood ties with which some patrilineal links could be established. Social organization began with the family as the prime unit with possibilities of aggregation up to the level of the village, village groups/towns or community. Villages therefore, have blood links which make everybody related to everyone else.
The political, social and religious organizations of the Edda cannot be delineated clearly, and they originate from the compound (Ezi) through the village (Ogo) to the town/village group and clan (Edda) levels.
Entrance to one of the compounds (Ezi) in Edda
Government at the level of the compound is very popular. In the “Nzuko” or “Ogbako Ezi” (Compound Assembly), each agnatic line is represented by the head of the patrilineal group or his lieutenant; with the oldest man as head of the compound.
The oldest member of the compound (Eze Ezi) presides at every meeting concerning the “Ezi,” attends to the gods of the compound and represents it in the affairs of the village. Decisions at the “Ogbaku Ezi” are normally reached by consensus, but the influence the head of the compound commands depends largely on his sagacity and perspicacity. Matters not agreed upon amicably are referred to the village assembly (Nzuko Ogo).
Next in the political hierarchy of the Edda is the village (Ogo) assembly at which the various Eze Ezi and their lieutenants represent their “Ezi.” Also, any male adult is free to attend the Ogo assembly so long as it will not create rancour.
The village assembly is presided over by the oldest member of the most senior Ezi (that is the eldest son of the founder) and like at the compound level, decisions at the Ogo assembly have to be reached by consensus.
The assembly functions both as a legislative and judicial body, while executive roles are left to selected able-bodied young men of the village or age grade (Ukejiogo) at any given period. When a decision is reached, it is the duty of the “Oku Ogele” (Royal Messenger) to inform, with his metal gong (Ogele), the entire village – going from one compound to the other. He does this, of course, by the order of the village head.
The head of the village assembly also presides at adjudicative matters and is responsible for attending to the principal gods of the village. He may however, delegate matters concerning the smaller gods to the Chief Priest who will consult with him and his cabinet. The Ukejiogo have to be in attendance at both the village and adjudicative assemblies and contribute to their deliberations.
Where decisions are not reached on any matter, it is referred to the town assembly.
Town Village Group Edda village elders deliberating on a dispute; in attendance is the Ezeogo and his cabinet
The heads of the villages and their lieutenants constitute the Council of Elders of the town; with the head of the most senior village (that is the village where the founder of the town first settled) presiding. Known as “Ezeogo,” this elder presides as well over the Judicial Council, Town Assembly and religious matters (as the one who attends to the principal deities of the town). Every male adult is free to attend the town assembly.
Like at the compound and village levels, the Ezeogo does not take decisions arbitrarily and decisions - by consensus – are announced to the town through the Royal Messenger who beat the “Ikpirikpe” (Igba) round the villages constituting the town.
“Omu” is used when major decisions are being announced, and it is only the Ezeogo that has the prerogative to do that. He does this at the market or village square with the heads of the villages that make up the town (or their representatives) in attendance. At the end of the announcement, the Ezeogo throws out a leaf of the Omu leaf on the Nkwa which stands in the village square (Ama Ogo). This is an indication to all members of the village that an important announcement has been made and in this way the message is passed on to everybody in the town.
Decisions and Decrees that the Omu is usually announced with include: Declarations of war Harvesting of the community palm fruits Hunting expedition before bush-burning Tracking of a rampaging animal
The town assembly has no fixed periods for meeting and it can be summoned as the occasion warrants. The Royal Messenger with his gong would normally to inform the citizens of a meeting, but in an emergency the “Ikoro” (wooden log drum or tom-tom) is used.
The age grades feature prominently at the level of the town/village group administration. Their organization cuts across other ties such as family, compound, lineage and village and the age grades – especially those under 45 years of age – are often used by the Council of Elders to implement its decisions.
At this level, age grades in Edda provide vital media for mobilization and co-operation for work, war, government and entertainment. An age grade, preferably the one next to the newly retired grade, is elected or appointed “Ukejiogo” by the Council of Elders. Retirement comes at the age of about sixty/sixty-five or when the community finds the Ukejiogo incompetent.
Members of the Ukejiogo have to see to the maintenance of peace, law, order and the successful fulfillment of development projects by all those concerned. Once appointed, Ukejiogo, an age grade is exempted from manual labor or payment of levies. They rather would supervise other age grades (known as “Akpu Uke Asaa” – the militant and labor age grades) in their assigned tasks, collect fines and render account to the Council of Elders. The “Ukejiogo” are responsible for both the security of the town and the discipline of the citizens – whether as individuals or groups such as age grades.
Edda Clan Political Organization Signage in front of Atamata National Hall
A section of Atamata National Hall
Statute at Atamata National Hall
As the highest body in the hierarchy of Edda political organization, the Clan Assembly (Nzuko Edda) meets less frequently than the other assemblies and is open to representatives of each of the seventy-two villages in Edda, no matter how small.
In reality, not all the villages send representatives as some are, by tradition regarded as integral parts of others irrespective of their size. Such village groups which can exercise much influence over decisions at the assembly due to their sheet size and dynamism are Nguzu with four villages. Ekoli (twelve), Ebunwana (five), Owutu (seven), Amangwu (nine) and Oso (nine).
The “Eze Edda” from Eziukwu Ifuogo Nguzu presides, assisted by Igboeze or Uduligbo of Ezi-Ukwu, Nkagbogo Ekoli Edda.
The Clan Assembly is of two types, namely Atamata and Osisioma; the former being the higher assembly. They are situated at the village square of Ifuogo Nguzu and at Eketa, some two kilometers from Ekoli, respectively. As the highest authority, decisions on declaration of war and matters relating to life, death and slavery are taken at the assembly without any options or appeal. Every village or village group therefore, tries to ensure that its representatives are intelligent and vocal enough to guard against manipulation and disgrace.
Age grades do not normally feature at “Nzuko Edda” as they are fully utilized at the village and town levels and there is no common age grade that cuts across the clan. They are however, mobilized for such communal effort as war when every village or village group is mandated to send her able-bodied age grades in defence of the interest of the fatherland.
Unlike most other parts of Igbo land and like in areas such as Onitsha in Anambra State, the “Ezeogoship” (Kingship) is hereditary in Edda. However, heredity is not necessarily from father to son. It may pass to any of the oldest son of the patrilineage which produces the “Ezeogo” and to which the head of any slaughtered animal is given. Ezeogo Edda HRH Daniel Ibiam Effa (middle) in traditional regalia, May 2009
Waddington (1930), in an Intelligence Report on Edda Clan in the then Afikpo Division confirms the hereditary system of Edda thus:
“Ifugo (Nguzu) is the family of the founder of the Clan and is the first family of Edda. Its head is the head of the Clan and the priest of the Otisi Juju. The head is always the senior man of Eziukwu (Ifuogo), the compound nearest in line to the founder in which the Otisi Juju is. The present holder is Oko Mba, a man of middle age. His successor will be his cousin, Onu Chima”.
The hereditary system in Edda could be better appreciated from illustrations:
X is the founder of village Z, and invariably becomes the Ezeogo of Z. He dies, leaving say, five sons – A,B,C,D and E; so A assumes the mantle of leadership if he performs all the rites in his father’s funeral and rituals of the Ezeogoship and is not physically or mentally handicapped. If A cannot or does not, B automatically takes over if he can perform those rites and rituals.
When A dies, the right of the Ezeogoship may go to any of the eldest sons of A,B,C,D or E who has, of course, performs the necessary rituals.
In other words, the Ezeogoship stool will be rotating among the five sons of X and their descendants, and they will constitute what will be known as the Five Houses of the Royal Family. Due to this rotational system, the Ezeogoship has to be assumed by the elderly person (a mature adults). For instance, in Nguzu (the mother village group or town in Edda), there are four Ruling Houses – Nde Ajunwa Okporieke, Nde Agbagha Okporike, Nde Okere Okporike and Nde Ugwumba Okporieke; the fifth (Nde Obasi Okporiekke) having been ruled out of contention for the crime committed by Obasi that almost caused the death of their father, Okporieke. Ezeogo Edda flanked by his potential successors
In Ekoli, the next village to the mother town, the Ezeogo comes from Eziukwu Nkagbogo which has three Ruling Houses – Nde Ibiam Udu, Nde Ama Udu and Nde Ikwuo Udu.
Contest for the stool are not usual, but contestants must come from any of the Ruling Houses. Naturally, the elders have means of minimizing friction and conflicts in regard to the stool of Ezeogo. Take this succession pattern, for instance: The Ezeogo usually has two attendants at any function he performs – one on his right and the other on his left. If he vacates the stool, the attendant on the right takes over (all other conditions having been fulfilled), the one on the left moves over to the right and a replacement elected for the left position.
The Ezeogo is both the spiritual and temporal head of the people. He attends to the important deities of the community and is consulted on lesser deities by the priests and any other persons he delegates their attendance to.
Each village maintains some autonomy on matters of concern to the particular village only, and so has almost a replica of the hereditary Ezeogoship as Edda Clan. The table below shows the villages or towns that produce the Ezeogo for their respective communities:
Sources of the Ezeogo by Village or CompoundCommunity Producer Village Compound Nguzu (4 villages)
Ekoli (12 villages)
Ebunwana (5 villages)
Owutu (7 villages)
Amangwu (9 villages)
Oso (9 villages)
Itim ( Itim-eluu)
Ogbo Ezi Olu
Letu Nde Okoro
Libolo Ezi Ama
Ogbu Edda 9 villages
etc. 72 villages in all
It is important to note that no Ezeogo has absolute authority over his people and every decision is by consensus. The paramount Ezeogo invites all the Ezeogo of the various communities on matters that concern the town or village group, and they, along with some members of the Royal family, form the cabinet.
It is not just heredity that gives an Ezeogo prestige, but his personality, strength of character and practical weight. Therefore, an Edda adage observes that “Onye ukpa chiri Eze, ogo echie” (If a poor man is made king, the town closes/collapses). Aside from his personal qualities and attributes, he would count on the practical support of his patrikin to enable him maintain a worthy profile.
As part of the need to maintain the Royal House properly, the Ezeogo always has the lion’s share of communal farmland, palm produse and animals killed during the hunting season. He is entitled to free communal labor on his farms on a selected “Orie” day once a year, and gets special allocations from fines and levies.
The construction and maintenance of the palace are usually collective tasks.
Childbirth in Traditional Edda Society
The ultimate goal of marriage is procreation. When this is not forthcoming, the couple naturally feels worried and dejected. They may resort to consulting native doctors, herbalists and the goddess of fertility for assistance. Today Christian families would consult modern doctors, spiritualists and the like.
When a woman becomes pregnant, she has to observe a number of antenatal regulations and the “Dos and Donts” vary from village to village. The woman is expected to avoid snails (ikolo or ejula) so the child does not have “running eyes and nose” as well as monkey meats so the child does not “resemble a monkey.” There should be less pepper in her food and she must not be burdened with strenuous work, heavy load or walk around too much during the heat of the day.
In the same vein, hot water baths may induce miscarriage due to over heating of the body, tight cloths round her waist or belly will “keep the child in captivity” and she should be restrained from fighting because that expresses contempt for the life in her womb. She is encouraged to eat clay (uro) in the belief that it is an antidote against heart-burn and nausea.
Basically, there is no penalty for infractions of these rules, but they are for the safety of the woman and her child. There is always a more experienced woman around to remind her of these “Dos and donts”
Childbirth has to take place outside; that is, at the backyard (Ezoforo) of the woman’s home, and a local midwife (Onye Iho Nwa) is invited where delivery is prolonged. On delivery, dry latetite, rather than water, is used to “cleanse” the baby. Every new-born baby is expected to cry, but where hhis does not happen it is forced to by raising it upside down and gently massaging or patting its back. If this does not elicit a cry, it is regarded as a sign that the baby may not survive.
When the baby cries, the women around begin to jubilate (Okokoroko Uma); attracting others to join them, welcome the new baby, congratulate the new mother (Nne Omughu) for a safe delivery and thank the goddess of fertility and God Almighty (Obasi di n’Elu)for their help.
Some of the early gifts to the woman and her baby are yams, dried fish and “uda” with which to prepare pepper soup for the new mother. Particularly for a first baby, the woman’s mother or any other close female relative is invited to take care of her and can stay for as long as she and the couple wish.
The new mother has to stay indoors for eight days (Izu Eto) when a special native doctor is invited to mollify the house (Igbaha Ulo). Four days after the birth of the baby, its umbilical cord is cut. It is technically and neatly done by applying a rope round it until it falls off. The placenta is buried at the foot of a fruit tree (such as orange or coconut) which automatically becomes the property of the child (Osisi Alo).
The baby is routinely circumcised and both male and female children have to submit to the rites. Women usually perform the operation on female children. This done and healed, the woman is free to carry her baby around and out.
In the meantime, the child’s hair (Isi Elo) must be shaved off because there are people for whom it is taboo to see such hair (known as Isi Mbia). If the baby is born on the mother’s way to the farm, stream or market, its head is covered and the woman carrying it will announce the fact so that people who are allergic to “Isi Mbia” might stay out of the way.
When the mother and her child are free to be seen by all, she can then prepare to attend to and mollify the goddess and god of the compound in thanksgiving (Imesi Nri). Imesi Nri is extended to the relevant gods and goddesses of the village and the town. Common features of Imesi Nri, no matter the village or town, are that (a) the priests of the gods/goddesses administer the rituals and (b) the pounded cassava/foofoo and soup (Ofe Oso) are served to children. This is the first communion between the baby and other children.
When the baby is a year old, the mother further extends the thanksgiving to the town’s god of wealth (such as Ezeiyiaku for Ekoli and Ifuaja &Ndem for Libolo). In Ekoli, this is done by every woman whose child is up to six before the new yam festival (Ike Ji). Only male children go to eat the food and the containers (“Oba” and “Njo”) are left at Ezeiyiaku. The mother however, takes home some “holy water” in a calabash – for her baby’s bath, drinking and to “treat” it when it has fever or even a headache.
Imesi Nri also affords mothers the opportunity to know other children born in the same year or period with theirs.
Any person, other than its mother or siblings, who first notices the child’s first teeth has to give it some presents such as maize, yams and fruits (in the olden days) or money, beads or necklace (today). The child is not expected to wear anything round its neck until it develops its first teeth.
It is considered a good omen if the teeth first appears on the lower ridge and the converse (Aru – bad omen) if the teeth appears on the upper ridge. For the later, the Edda would say “O ruru ali pua eze elu” (It has committed an abomination in developing its [first] teeth on the upper ridge).
The period up to its first birthday when the mother undertakes her outing ceremony, is known as “Ino Omughu.” During that period, she neither goes to the farm nor is involved in any strenuous work (although she may perform some chores like fetching firewood and water). Around to help the mother are her husband, mother, mother-in-law, relatives and friends. Everyone is welcome to visit the baby. Childbirth is a joyous event and neglecting to visit a mother and her baby is viewed negatively. To visit as often as possible is a sign of good neighborliness – each visitor coming with one form of gift or the other, or offering some assistance and advice.
Nursing mothers in Edda are known by their attire. They rub white clay (Nzu) on their necks and cam wood dye on their wrists as well as tie cloth dyed with cam wood. In fact, she is not expected to co-habit with her husband for up to two years to enable the new-born baby have her undivided attention.
In the old days, the birth of twins was viewed as an abomination and such mothers were not qualified to undertake the “Omughu” ceremony. Twins were killed and their mother banished to a special compound (Ezi Nso) where they will no longer mix freely with other members of the community. As a matter of fact, one of Nigeria’s most respected elder statesmen, Ezeogo (Dr.) Akanu Ibiam, is said to be a twin originally from Ebunwana Edda before being taken to Unwana for safety.
The outing ceremony (Igbapu Omughu) marks the end of the nursing period. On a pre-market day, the woman first goes to the farm to get some vegetables and other light produce. The three major markets for “Igbapu Omughu” are Orie for Nguzu and Ebunwana, Afor for Owutu and Eke for Oso and Ekoli.
On the market day, the woman appears in her best attire – a basket on her head – to exhibit herself in the market place (Ipu Afia Omughu). She receives presents from family, friends and well-wishers as well as makes some purchases to return home.
Uchendu, V.C. (1965:61) observes that the Igbo are fond of children, especially an only child (Nwa Olu) and the youngest (Odu Nwa). Infants and toddlers are over-indulged, but such deep affection may ease with the birth of another baby.
Chile-naming (Igu Nwa Efa) in Edda does not particularly go with an elaborate ceremony. It is the prerogative of the father to give his child a name. According to Wieschoff (1941:212). “Names are not merely considered as tags by means of which individuals may be distinguished, but are intimately associated with various events in the life of the individual as well as those of the family and larger social group.”
The father’s choice of a name may be dictated by the character of its birth-marks and by the influence of his friends or in-laws. His first son could be named after his best friend or the go-between during his marriage process. Subsequent children could be named after the parents’ father or mother or even a co-wife if the family is polygamous.
Deaths and Burials in Traditional Edda Society
Death is a natural phenomenon and the dead must be buried. Along with child-birth, death and burial constitute a tripartite natural phenomenon.
Basden (1966:269) states that there are three significant phases connected with deaths and burials. First is death itself (Onwu), next is the “first burial” (Ili Ozu) and then the “second burial.” The first burial may be a comparatively simple matter of rolling the corpse in a grass mat (Ute) and carrying it forth for disposal or it could be a complex process of symbolic rites in consonance with the status of the deceased.
Essentially, the depth and extent of a funeral arrangement depends largely on the birth, status and wealth of the deceased or his family. The death of a poor slave is unsung; he is simply shrouded in a mat and carted away to be buried or, more likely, dumped in the bush. However, a wealthy slave is entitled to whatever elaborate funeral his wealth can afford, barring of course, some rituals accorded only to free-born. It is a sort of poetic justice that a pauper is not expected to be affluent in the world beyond; hence the Edda saying: “Ozu lara ali, onu efi weita?” (Would the price of cows [for burial] come down because the corpse has gone into the earth?)
In the case of an Ezeogo, announcement of the obituary is delayed until reparations for an elaborate funeral are concluded and this may take up to a month or even a year as in the case of Ezeogo Onu Chima, Eze Edda XVI. Burial takes place at night and only the royal family knows exactly which of the two graves dug the corpse is laid in.
In Edda, as in most of Igbo land, the cause of death also influences the nature of burial. If death occurred from a noxious disease – such as leprosy, smallpox or some other ailment that cannot be accounted for satisfactorily – the corpse is disposed of hurriedly. Lepers are wrapped in their sleeping mats and dumped in the “bad bush” (Ofia Ojoo).
To die and be buried in a strange land is totally repugnant to the Edda, because the spirit can never find repose in an alien land. Therefore, every effort is made to carry home the corpses of those domiciled away from Edda land. Corpses are known to have been exhumed and where it is impracticable to carry the whole body, it could be decapitated and the head taken home for interment. This is the basis of the Edda saying that “Isi ayi adighi efu n’mba” (Our heads do not get lost in a strange land).
Where it is impossible to move the head or whole corpse home, the Edda use a chicken (Nwa Okuko) in consultation with a diviner (Dibia) to recall the spirit to their original home (Ikpolata Ozu). This practice occurred mostly after the Nigerian Civil War in respect of Edda citizens who lost their lives in battle and in refugee settlements.
Depending on the status of her son, a woman could be buried in her marital home or the marital home of her eldest daughter.
Like other parts of Igbo land, the Edda believe in reincarnation and transmogrification. In Edda, there are two kinds of reincarnation: the bad (Ogbaulu) wherein the self-same child appears repeatedly in successive births through the same woman and the good (Iluo Uwa) in which the spirit of the old person comes to the old home. People could reincarnate through their daughters, daughters-in-law or close female relatives in the old home. Such a “rebirth” is a source of great joy in Edda.
For transmogrification, it is the belief of the Edda that some people can transform themselves into some other forms of life such as crocodiles and pussy-cats in order to terrify or harm human beings.
Following the death of a person, the family soon makes arrangement for a grave, dug in the middle of the house floor for a man or woman who has children – as the corpse is dressed for burial (Ighu Ahu Ozu) and rolled in a grass mat (Ute). Before the corpse is brought out, the patriclan, matriclan, friends and in-laws assemble in a spacious area within the compound with a grass mat spread out to take the last gifts (“Ife e ji kwo ozu eka” or “Ife eji lia ozu”) of the deceased’s children, kith, kin and friends. A man chosen to receive these gifts greets everybody present and announces that it is time to come forward with whatever they have. The gifts come from the Okwara (first son), Ada (first daughter), other children, in-laws, brothers, sisters and friends in that order.
The expectations from the Okwara for his father’s funeral include the following: • Mkpi (billy goat)
• Oke Okuku (cock)
• Ogele (metal gong)
• Mkpola Ocha (U-shaped brass)
• Apa (flattened metal in form of a kite’s tail)
• Ukwu jooji (fathom of George cloth)
• Okpu Agu (hero’s cap)
• Abuba Ugo (eagle’s feather)
• Nweyi Ukwu (chieftaincy shirt)
• Mai Oku (bottle of gin)
• Igbe Ozu (coffin)
The Ada may be expected to provide:
• Nnekwu Okuko (hen)
• Ute (grass mat)
• Oku (earthenware pot)
• Ukwu Akwa (fathom of cloth)
• Igbe Ozu (coffin)
Other children – individually or collectively, depending on whether they are of the same mother – could be asked to provide Ute and Oku (or cash), while the relatives of the deceased may bring Oku, Ute and Ukwu Akwa. Friends and well-wishers may bring Ukwu Akwa or cash.
Before interment, the gathering is asked to make pertinent announcements if they have any. The deceased’s creditor for instance, will bring Apa to inform the audience that the departed is owing them or is being owed by them. The information is taken note of for follow-up.
If the deceased is a titled man, members of his family will refrain from wailing until other titled men have been notified. After they have mollified the corpse and the house and performed some other rituals known only to the initiated, there would then be an outburst of wailing form the bereaved family and fiends. As a matter of fact, when a person dies, the men are expected to control their emotions better than the women and children. If any man cannot, he faces such admonitions as “Gini ka I na-ebe akwa ka nwaanyi?” (Why are you crying like a woman?)
After the corpse has been rolled in a grass mat, it is brought to the front of the house and all women and those not initiated into the Egbela Cult are asked to leave the scene. Three men conversant with the rituals of de-initiation do so with a cock and billy goat (Mkpi) provided by the deceased’s Okwara.
For interment, the corpse is laid out with the head towards the front of the compound and the legs towards the backyard. Some of the items identified earlier are interred with the corpse.
If the deceased is a woman, the corpse is laid out in the reverse direction. The items provided by the bereaved also vary. The Ada provides the major items, because it is the belief of the Edda that sons and daughters are responsible for the burials of their fathers and mothers respectively. The items omitted form the interment of a female deceased are the billy goat, oke okuko, ogele, mkpola ocha, okpu agu and abuba ugo.
After interment, the family is expected to provide liberal quantities of drinks. Today, in addition to palm wine, visitors are served beer, spirits and soft drinks.
In mourning mood and attires, the children and other relatives of the deceased dance round the village or town square with their traditional music and singers. This procession attracts more sympathizers who may offer presents to the mourners. Then more drinking and dancing. It is considered a mark of respect to invite a dance group to the funeral of a friend, relative or in-law.
On the fourth day after interment, the relatives (and even some in-laws) of the deceased will gather at the house of the head of the patrilineage to account for the First Burial as well as sort out any outstanding issues, including debts and credits. Where there is a credit balance, it is left in the custody of anyone who can readily produce it on demand for some other rituals prior to the second burial. Where possible, the date of the second burial is also fixed.
This occasion is known as “Imeria Ili” (smoothening the grave) and should fall on an Eke or Afor market-day. Thereafter, there would be meetings from time to time to discuss the sharing of such assets as farm produce and property or the deceased according to custom.
The second burial in Edda is very serious business, and rather expensive. It is traditionally known as “Ime Nkwa” or “Igbasu Mmadu.” Whereas the first burial is mainly about lamentation, the second burial has a festive character and is designed to give the departed a hearty “send-off” on his journey to the spiritual realm.
In some parts of Edda, activities commence on the eve of Nkwo and last till the dusk of Eke or from Orie to Afor. On the eve of the occasion, relatives and friends of the bereaved family visit to express their sympathy once again and join in keeping vigil (Imu Anya Abali). For an Ezeogo and titled man, guns are also fired and the Ikoro booms at intervals.
For the second burial, the bereaved family, especially the Okwara and Ada, must slaughter a cow (Efi), horse (Inyinya), a number of goats and fowls. It is a serious breach of custom to deny one’s parents such honor, as their spirits will not be received by their ancestors and they will continue to bother their offspring until the requirements are fulfilled. The bulk of the cow and horse meat is reserved for those who provided them, but some quantity is given to their “Ikwu.”
On the appointed day, the sons of the late man appear in war-like attires (the Okwara in his father’s best clothes), while the daughters emerge bare breasted, their body painted with white clay (Nzu) and wrappers tied round their waists. Everybody present is in a festive mood – singing and dancing. They all go in a procession round the town to the market-place in order to placate the spirit of the departed. In fact, relatives, in-laws and even friends of the bereaved family could invite their own dance groups to enliven the occasion the more.
For an Ezeogo, a special masquerade (Ali Akoyi) will appear. If it enters the market unguided, it takes any article it fancies.
Marriage in Edda: Types of Marriage
Marriage procedure in Edda is never carried out in a hurry so that tokens of love and protocols expressed in the giving and receiving of gifts may not be missed. Marriage in Edda is an arrangement and alliance between two extended families of the bride and bridegroom, rather than a contract between two individuals. In other words, there is an institutionalized elaboration of marital union over and beyond the couple.
Until very recently, the custom has been for the parents of the man or woman to exercise over-riding influence on the choice of a partner for their ward. It was also the custom for the parents to choose and negotiate the marriage on behalf to their children. The significance of this is that the parents of one are technically married to the parents of the other, and in this way a mutual affinity is established.
Prior to an engagement, preliminary inquiries are made on the antecedents of the man and woman by selected relatives on both sides. The aim is to ascertain whether both are not of the same maternal line (Ikwu Nne), and whether the families are of good behavior and free from genetically related diseases. When the relatives of the prospective husband are satisfied with the antecedents of the girl, her parents are then contacted. Formal consultation of the girl and her extended family will be followed by a formal betrothal.
Types of Marriage
In the past, “child marriage” was a common phenomenon. At the birth of a baby girl, a young man puts a coin into the baby’s bathing pot (Oku Nzu) or ties a twined raffia palm thread round her left wrist. This signifies that the man would be her future husband.
However, for this arrangement to come to fruition, there must be a master-servant relationship between the young man and his prospective father-in-law. The young man also helps nurture the baby until she is of age before other processes in their marriage are undertaken. This type of marriage is now outdated, largely due perhaps to the high level of instability associated with most marriages contracted that way. For instance, as the girl grows up, either party may discover that their intended spouse falls short of expectation.
Another form of marriage is that by proxy which is still in practice. This is a marriage contract entered into between the families of a man and woman who are not initially able to see each other.
In recent times, marriage by proxy could be contracted through the exchange of photographs. Under this arrangement, the young man is domiciled outside home asks his parents or relatives to "send" him a wife, and through the exchange of photographs, the man and his intended wife could make up their minds and take a decision as to whether or not their families should undertake the necessary processes. On the conclusion of the traditional customs, the girl is “transported” to the young man at his station.
This form of marriage used to be popular with Igbo migrants in such far-away locations as Fernanda Po (Panya) and, like child marriages, is prone to break up.
Woman Marriage is not a recognized form of marriage in Edda and will not be acceptable to the paternal relatives. Under this system, women “marry” on their own merit by paying the bride-wealth and could exercise the option to dispose of their rights in their brides. Some women allow their husbands to exercise these rights and accept their brides as co-wives. Where such female-husbands have no children, they share their huts with them and adopt the new wives’ children as theirs.
Widows and divorcees are free to remarry in Edda, but there has never been a case of “wife exchange” in the area. Marriage to a widow of divorcee has to attract bride-wealth to be formalized. Where bride-wealth is not paid, any child from the relationship is not regarded as the legitimate child of the new husband; hence the expression “Okwa adighi agu nwa afa” (The bush fowl does not name a child), the man being looked upon as a concubine.
It is pertinent at this stage to observe that acculturation has over the years institutionalized such other forms of marriage as Marriage by Ordinance and Church Marriage in Edda.
A common form of marriage today is that between two grown-ups who have made up their minds to spend the rest of their lives as husband and wife. Nevertheless, the consent of both set of parents is sought and in most cases approvals are given before the marriage holds. Where the parents of either the man or woman or both are reluctant to give their consent to the union, emissaries could be sent to persuade them to accept the choice of their ward(s) as life partner(s).
In the old days, physical prowess was a major factor to be reckoned with in families’ choice of husbands for their daughters. Therefore, wrestlers, warriors, successful farmers, and influential men were easily acceptable as suitors by girls and their parents. The moral status of a prospective husband was also taken into serious consideration.
On the part of the girls, renowned singers, beautiful maidens and those whose lineage was noted for high birth rate were considered most preferable as wives.
Polygamy is one of the features of the marriage system in traditional Edda. It conferred social recognition on the man and he was seen as “wealthy” (Ogaranya Amadi or Amakiri); thus, polygamy was part of the value system of the people.
The practice of having many wives also had economic considerations. For instance, a man’s wives and children were the main labor resources as well as sources of dependence in his old age. In the same vein, a man’s immediate physical security was contingent largely on the size of his family.
It has often been remarked by one elder in Edda that all the women in a community ought to be married and thus provided for materially. In the traditional setting, a bachelor or spinster is viewed as a social anomaly, because there is hardly any acceptable role for them in society. Derogatory appellations used in reference to bachelors include “Odinkeoga” and “Okpuntu.”
Marriage in Edda: The Process
The procedure for contracting a marriage in traditional Edda society is very elaborate. The acceptance of a suitor by a girl and/or her parents is assured by their receipt of any gifts presented by him. Typical items in the parcel include toiletries. This marks the beginning of the betrothal period which, in Edda, lasts between twelve months and seven years. The long period of betrothal allows the man enough time to pass through his senior Egbela initiation processes (covering some six to seven years) before he is considered mature traditionally to keep a wife.
Basically, the marriage procedure in Edda could be identified in ten broad stages: Ibii Ncha or Iwui Ahueker
Ikpo Oku Mai or Mai Ajuju/Ikpa Mbo
Iburu Mai Ulo
Imepo Ulo or Ileta Ulo
Ibui Ife Izu Mmeme Dum
Mai Ozi Nkuru
Ila Di (traditional wedding)
Ikwu Eku Nwami (payment of bride-wealth)
Ibii Ncha/Iwui Ahuekere
This refers to the first formal set of gifts the suitor gives to his intended bride, and if they are accepted, it means her consent to be his wife. To consolidate the relationship, the young man, his mother or father usually continues to offer gifts to the bride and her mother, aside from affectionate greetings and felicitations. Lapses in this regard could abort the incipient relationship.
Ikpo Oku Mai / Mai Ajuju / Mai Ikpa Mbo
This involves the father of the young man going to visit the father of the girl, in company of intimate friends and with a pot of palm wine and some meat or stockfish (it is not customary in Igbo land for guests to present kola nuts to their hosts).
The occasion is really the first opportunity for the family of the young man to formally inform the host-family that they are interested in their daughter for marriage. One of the several idiomatic expressions the elders use to put the message across is: “Nnaa, enwere m ihe m huru n’ulo gi ga na-akpota m uri (oriri) n’ebe a” (My dear, I have seen something in your house that will induce my frequent visits here).
Usually, the girl’s father will invite his closest “umunna” (paternal relatives) or friends to witness the mission of his guests. After eating and drinking, the visitors state their mission (it is the tradition in Edda to eat and drink before any discussions, because “if the wine is for good or bad, it must be taken first” and it is not customary to reject the wine brought to one’s house).
Most often the girl’s father does not give a direct, positive response to his guests, but by allusions and adductions, the guests will perceive whether or not their host is favorably disposed to them. Typical responses from the girl’s father include “Nnaa, anule m. Anya anyi di n’uwa” (My dear, I have heard you. We are on the look-out). He would probably then ask the representatives of the suitor to the “kitchen” (that is, the girl’s mother) because getting his consent is not a problem.
Iburu Mai Ulo
It is through regular visits, offering of gifts to the girl and her mother and their acceptance that the suitor ascertains the true feelings of his prospective in-laws and of course, the attitude of his bride-to-be. If the assessment is positive, the parents of the young man prepare for a second formal visit to the girl’s parents. For this visit, there is advanced notice to enable the hosts prepare and inform their “umunna” and other relatives and friends.
This time around, the entertainment is more elaborate with palm wine, spirits, bush meat, stockfish, heads of tobacco and potash (akanwa). Full discussions are held to include virtually all the paternal and maternal relatives of the girl.
Indeed, marriage in Edda is between the nucleus and extended families of the bride and groom. As many visits as the young man’s relatives pay, the male visitor will customarily offer a pot of palm wine, other types of drinks and meat or stockfish, while the female visitor will present stockfish, dried/smoked fish and some tubers of yams. Some prospective in-laws may demand suitor-services depending on the degree of the relationship and the age of the person. It is important that the negotiating team on the girl’s side is impressed so it will give a favorable feedback.
Imepo Ulo/Ileta Ulo
Some form of familiarity having been established, the bride’s family needs to be assured that the girl is really acceptable to the family of the groom. An appointment is made with the family of the girl or her parents to expect visitors from the family of the suitor, and it is on this occasion that the wealth of the man’s parents and their love for the girl could be assessed. This is a very critical stage in the marriage procedure of the Edda, and if the suitor scales through, detractors and other spoilers will have to give way. If, on the other hand, the girl rejects the suitor at this stage, his parents may demand a return of the package offered. Also, if she opts for a member of the initial suitor’s age grade, the new man will be penalized for elopement. This is designed to ease friction within the very important age grade system which plays a critical role in warfare and governance.
The requirements for the visit in Imepo Ulo/Ileta Ulo include: a box of clothes for the girl
a piece of cloth for her mother
cam wood (ufie)
toilet and laundry soaps
various kinds and sizes of smoked fish
yams and stockfish of recognizable sizes
bed and beddings
From the list, it is obvious that the suitor is expected to provide the girl with virtually all the things that should make her comfortable and happy so that her friends and relatives will know the man is capable of catering for the girl in his house. None of the items is considered too small or too big for this occasion and the package depends on the relative affluence of the groom and his family. Understandably, the items have varied in scope and quantity over the years.
The items are taken to the girl’s home by the female relatives and friends of the groom’s family – displayed on their heads as they pass through the village square for the girl’s people to see and admire. Even where there is a shorter route to the girl’s home, the entourage takes a longer, open route so that more people are able to witness what they are taking to their prospective in-laws.
The girl’s father is not left out in the scheme of things. He gets ground tobacco (snuff), some heads of tobacco, potash (akanwa) and kola nuts.
In all, the occasion attracts friends and family on both sides; food is prepared and served, and both parties really make the public aware of the marriage. Women from the bride’s side are always around to ensure that all the food requirements are met.
Ibui Ife Izu Mmeme Dum
It is obligatory for the bride and groom to exchange visits every festival in their respective villages. The bride sends some firewood and water to her prospective mother-in-law and may stay with the older woman for some days during the festival (Mmeme). Such visits and stay with her mother-in-law afford the groom’s family the opportunity to study their bride more closely. When she is leaving, the girl usually gets gifts from her mother-in-law.
Also under an arrangement known as “Ile Oma”, the girl could spend up to a week, two weeks or even a month in her prospective husband’s home, according to the wishes of both families. These long visits provide further avenues for mutual assessment – the girl to acquaint herself with the family she is being married to and the man’s relatives on her figure, looks, behavior, general character as well as capabilities in cooking and other housecraft.
Although they are technically man and wife, the girl is not permitted to co-habit with her husband during the “Ile Oma.”
It should be stated here that the Edda citizen is neither reserved nor punctilious about pronouncing verdict on such matters. If the girl is to become a member of the family, the man’s relatives are curious naturally, and want to be assured – in their judgment – that she is up to standard.
On his part, the groom does not spend the night in the bride’s home, but presents gifts to her during his visits at festivals. Such gifts include yams, smoked fish, stockfish, cosmetics, soaps and cam wood (ufie).
Among the several festivals and the villages in which they are observed are: Okwe (Libolo Edda only)
Olo (Ekoli Edda only)
Ndagha (Asagha Owutu only)
Abia Ukwu (all Edda)
Udumini/Isiji (all Edda)
Mbe (all Edda)
Ikpala (Amangwu Edda only)
Ogwugwu-Idima (Nguzu Edda only)
Okwe, Olo, Ndagha, Abia Ukwu, Udumini and Mbe are annual festivals, while Ikpala and Ogwugwu Idima are observed once every twenty and nine years respectively. During the latter two festivals, visits and gifts are not exchanged by couples, except their betrothal periods coincide with the events.
Literally translated, “Oru Ogo” refers to labor for in-laws. The obligation is for the young man to render manual labor services to the family of his prospective wife. This was usually fulfilled with the assistance of the young man’s peers (like his age grade), brothers and sisters. Activities involved include farm work and building and repair of houses. As a matter of fact, the prospective parents-in-law could call on the young man at any time to render one form of service or the other.
The young man also has to render services to the maternal and paternal relatives of the girl as may be recommended by her parents, but these services are not usually as intensive as those rendered to the nuclear family. On any of the groom’s service calls to the girl’s male relative, he must take a pot of palm wine, some meat or stockfish, some heads of tobacco and potash (akanwa), while the girl’s female relative gets yams (usually three tubers) and smoked fish or stockfish. Without, these parcels, they will reject the service. Particularly in the contemporary era, cash disbursements are accepted in lieu of actual service, because they are more convenient. In some cases, the services are waived for the prospective groom, largely due to the values the families cherish.
Mai Ozi Nkuru
This is wine taken to the girl’s father to inform him that the young man is ready to wed his daughter. Her mother and other relevant paternal and maternal relatives are later informed in that order. For each visit, the usual gifts are presented.
On the occasion of “Mai Ozi Nkuru,” the parents of the girl do a final check to ascertain whether or not the young man has fulfilled every requirement demanded by custom and tradition. If there are any outstanding requirements, the young man has to fulfill them in cash or kind, according to the preferences of the girl’s parents.
When the girl’s parents formally consent to give their daughter’s hand in marriage, both families agree on a date for the wedding.
It is pertinent to note that first daughters (Ada) wed only on Orie Market days, and all weddings in Edda take place at night. Weddings do not take place during “Unwu.” Unwu refers to the months from early May to mid-August between planting and harvest, especially of yams. This period is known as “Onwa Aka Inyere.” Another period when no wedding, divorce or remarriage takes place is “Isiji” usually known as “Udumini Edda Egbebu,” which stretches from “Igba Eko” to “Mburu Isiji” (August to mid-September).
Prior to moving into her husband’s home, the bride must go into “incubation” (Nnoba Ulo, known as Nkpu or Ire Mgbede in other parts of Igbo land). This is a peculiar custom and backed by elaborate preparations, the aim of which is to proclaim that the girl will shortly be entering the marriage state. The “incubation” lasts from one to six months in line with the wishes and wherewithal of the girl’s parents and her husband. During this period, the girl stays with her mother for close direction and supervision (although in some other parts of Igbo land, she takes up her own quarters).
While in incubation, the girl does not perform any chores, is provided food in abundance and must not venture into the open in daytime. Her main preoccupation is the preparation of cam wood dye (ufie) which she uses as cream to give her body a red complexion. Some of the girls in incubation really become grossly fat, and when they are on parade at the end of the period, they received praise in proportion to their size and, of course, beauty. The fatter they are, the more gratified their husbands are expected to be.
The final stage in “Nnoba Ulo” is spread over four days. On the last day – usually the market day of the girl’s village – the girls in incubation go to the market. Generally, the more affluent the background of the girl, the grander her appearance. They wear no clothes whatsoever, other than ropes of “Udi” and “Asi” (jigida) around their waists. Rings of brass (okpogho) adorn the legs, graduated in sized from the ankles up to just above the knees.
The coiffure is a very elaborate affair and requires great patience and care to arrange. The hair is saturated with a mixture of cam wood, clay and palm oil to a sticky mass. It is then molded into a shape resembling the center-crest of a fireman’s helmet. The central ridge comes well over the middle of the forehead and extends backwards into the nape of the neck. Below the main erection and on either side, delicate patterns are traced with tiny plaits curled into small coils plastered flatly down to the head.
Maids of honor attend to the “Nnoba Ulo” girls throughout the festivities; the number accompanying each girl depends on what her parents or husband can afford. The maids are smeared with cam wood dye, the fashion being to use as much paint as possible, from the crown of the head down to the feet. The grooms hire women whose job is to decorate their brides and her maids with cosmetics and some of the materials needed for the festivities. Depending on the means of the girl’s parents or husbands, a goat or duck is slaughtered on the first day of the carnival.
The parades generally take place in the late afternoon. A girl may join others observing the “Nnoba Ulo” or elect to do it alone. Dancing is an exhausting exercise and the “Nnoba Ulo” girl does not spare herself in efforts to win the applause of the spectators, including her relatives and those of her husband. Usually, she receives gifts of cowries or cash from her relatives, in-laws and delighted spectators. To help refresh their ladies, the maids, use large fans on them after the bouts of dancing.
“Ila Di” refers to escorting the bride to her husband’s home. Preparatory to her moving into her husband’s home, the girl’s parents and close relatives purchase cooking utensil, household furniture and the like for their daughter. Where the parents can afford to, they could give her some goats and chicken for breeding.
Tradition demands that the girl be escorted to her husband’s home at night. The man’s friends and relatives would go early enough to the girl’s home to ensure that the departure actually takes place. On that day, if the matriclan has any complaints about unfulfilled requirements, such matters are put forward for resolution.
From the girl’s home, her relatives carry a rich package of food to be prepared, while the husband’s people also make their own arrangements to welcome their new wife and her escorts. After receiving her father’s blessing, the girl and her escorts either proceed through the village square or behind the yard (Uzo Owere) – the former route reflecting that she is a virgin and the latter (an unceremonious exit) signifying that she is pregnant. It is always a mother’s pride for her daughter to be escorted through the village or town square to her husband’s home.
Decorated almost like during her “Nnoba Ulo” outing, the bride is escorted home with such traditional music as “Okuma” (Ubo) or “Kekwu.” The movement to her husband’s home is not normally a straightforward journey as the bride could be made to stop at a number of points. At every stop, the groom’s representatives will present the bride with gifts of money (farm produce in the old days) to “lighten” her “heavy laden” legs to enable her continue the journey. The most significant stops are those in front of the husband’s compound (Onu Nkpu) and in front of his own house. At these points, the escorts could cause as much delay as they wish until the groom’s representatives prove they are equal to the challenge of mollifying their new bride with more gifts.
In front of the groom’s compound, his parents would come out to present gifts to the bride and the singers to express their joy at welcoming their son’s new wife and, with more praises on the girl, she is urged on to her husband’s house.
After entertaining the guests, the bride’s escorts are given some bars of soap, heads of tobacco and a goat or duck for their homeward journey later that night. The goat or duck is meant for the girl’s mother, while the rest of the gifts are retained and shared by the female escorts. It is not all the escorts who return home the same night as some of them will stay back for four days to perform some household chores and keep the bride company. Until they leave, the couple do not sleep together. As they prepare to depart for home, the husband presents them with a parcel of soaps, cosmetics, groundnuts and a head of coconut.
Thus a new nuclear family takes off.
Ikwu Eku Nwami
As in other parts of Igbo land, no marriage is assured consummate until the bride-wealth is paid. The bride-wealth ceremony usually involves the parents of the bride and groom as well as their immediate paternal and maternal relatives. These latter attend as witnesses, although the immediate blood relative of the bride’s mother has a share of the bride-wealth.
The groom does not usually accompany his people to their in-laws for this ceremony, which is held in the house of either the girl’s parents or her eldest uncle. The groom’s representatives – all male – would take along a pot of palm wine, some meat or stockfish, ground tobacco (snuff) and money.
The cash disbursement involved is just N30.00 (thirty Naira), and in the past the bride-wealth would comprise a cow, goats, ducks and hens. Of course, a lot depends on the wherewithal of the groom and his parents. Out of the N30.00, the girl’s parents take N20.00, while her mother’s closest blood relative gets the balance.
Essentially, “Ikwu Eku Nwami” is undertaken at the groom’s convenience; when he would have recovered from the financial tedium of fulfilling the requirements of betrothal. However, where this is unduly delayed, the young man may be reminded through a middleman.
Some observations are imperative at this stage. One is that the bride-wealth is not paid in installments. Another is that women do not carry pots of palm wine meant for marriage ceremonies. And a third is that if on the way to the girl’s parents, the pot of palm wine falls and smashes, the marriage is called off as the gods and goddesses of the land would be deemed not to sanction the union.
In Edda, it is the belief that a marriage does not end when the new couple begin to live together, because it is the pivot around which the principle of cooperation and mutual affinity revolves. Except for this belief, Ibi Ulo (Idu Ulo in some other parts of Igbo land) is technically the completion of a marriage and the bedrock of marital union in Edda.
The ceremony involves the girl’s parents directly, but their immediate blood relatives, especially those who were fully informed during the betrothal period, are not left out either. The occasion is designed for them to demonstrate to their in-laws that they, too, are proud of their daughter and would spare nothing to make her comfortable and happy in her new home.
It would be recalled that all the while, the girl’s family has always been receiving gifts from the groom’s side and as the Igbos say, “Weta weta ka nma n’aka onye ozo.” In this modern age, a rich parcel from the girl’s relatives for “Ibi Ulo” would include: Kitchen utensils Sewing machine Household furniture Radio and television sets and a car, where possible
In traditional Edda society, the kitchen utensils are meant to include pots & ladles, mortar & pestle, broom, mats, fermented cassava, a basket each of maize, cocoyam & melon and a round-species of water-yam (Ajungworo). A grand occasion by any measure, the ceremony is usually planned to fall within a major festival such as “Ike Ji” or “Iri Mbe.” On the appointed date, the items are taken by a large entourage of women through the town/village square to the husband’s house and he, in turn, prepares to entertain them as lavishly as he can afford to. Again, “Igbo siri na uka a kpara akpa, e ji isi ekwe ya. Uka a kpara akpa bu nweta keke, ka Edda siri.”
At their destination, the august visitors display the items in an open place in the man’s compound for his “umunna” to witness and comment on. When the visitors are due back, they are presented with a hen, a goat, some fathoms of cloths, a blouse and head-tie to match, a bar of soap and a duck. The last two items are for the guests to share, while the rest of the items are meant for the bride’s mother.
Divorce and Remarriage
Naturally, the Edda do not go to all this length and expense with failed marriages in mind. Nuptial mobility is not rampant in Edda, because marriage is a dovetailed institution. There are however, procedures to follow in the case of such eventualities as divorce and remarriage.
When a marriage breaks up irretrievably, a few identified items are usually evaluated as dowry to the husband. These include any loans and the bride-wealth (now doubled to N60.00; that is, if the woman remarries, in order to avoid friction between her new and former spouses). Where the bride-wealth is not settled, the former husband can lay claim to any child from the new relationship, while the new man is regarded as a mere concubine. The Edda have a saying that “Okwa adighi agu nwa afa” (A bush fowl does not name a child).
It is the norm that such items as cosmetics, soaps, wine, meat, stockfish, fish, cloths and services rendered earlier are excluded from the settlement agreed on.
If the separation is by the death of her husband, the woman is free to remarry after the period of mourning – usually a year during which all the burial rites and ceremonies would have been completed. Her new husband is, however, expected to pay the sum of N10.00 as refund of the bride-wealth to the late man’s family. It is a token known as “Ikwu Eku Onye Uso.”
“Ikwapu Okwu” (removal of her kitchen tripod) is another source of separation but from which the man forfeits all his divorce entitlements. “Ikwapu Okwu” refers to the man throwing away the wife’s kitchen tripod to induce their separation. It is a very serious matter in Edda and reunion is not ordinarily possible. If later sought, the land must be cleansed with the assistance of a powerful native doctor (medicine man) and the woman’s family mollified by the man.
In Edda, no one may marry by inheritance, and members of the patrilineage are forbidden from marrying or taking over a woman formerly married to one of their fold. Therefore, a divorcee or widow must of necessity remarry outside the agnatic circle of her former husband. If this custom is flouted, it becomes incestuous and the gods have to be appeased. In the past, the offender could be banished, sold off into slavery or even killed.
∗Egbebu progressive union
∗Edda women wing Enugu
∗contributed by tc okporie of the okporie chima,s Ogbu-Edda
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- Amos Dike (1986)
- Dike Azuka A. (28 October 2009). "Ethnology: Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People. Philip O. Nsugbe". American Anthropologist. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 78 (1): 172–173. ISSN 1548-1433. doi:10.1525/aa.1976.78.1.02a00920. Retrieved 15 October 2015.