AWO-OMAMMA: LAND AND ITS PEOPLE
This thesis is an attempt to explore the history, culture and geography of Awo-omamma in present day Imo State, South Eastern region of Nigeria. Making known its contiguous boundaries with its neighbors and trying as much as possible not to exaggerate its large landmass.
Awo-omamma is presently located east of Uli after its neighboring community Mgbidi.
It is home to the famous Njaba River on its eastern flanks.
The federal dual road from Onitsha to Owerri runs like an equator cutting across the Njaba into Northern and Southern parts from the West down to the East of Awo-omamma.
Awo-omamma has contiguous boundaries with communities of many local government areas such as Mbaitoli, Oguta, Oru-West etc. Awo-omamma touches Ukwuorji (Mbaitoli Local Area) after the Njaba bridge. The coastal people of Awo-omamma were refered to as “Umunnam bi la ofe” which can be translated the clan across the river. This clan shares borders with Akabo while Umuelibi and Ubahaze (Clans in Awo-omamma) clans share boundaries with Awa presently in Oguta L.G.A as far as the Uha mmiri along its borders with Ngbele.
Awo-omamma also spreads up to its contiguous boundaries with Amiri, Otulu and Mgbidi through Isieke, and Umuezike clan. Its landmass includes its northern borders with Okwudor in Nkwerre Isu through Obibe and Umuokwe. On the North eastern flank it reaches out to Umuaka through “Ogwuogidi” river in Ubaraogu. Ogwuogidi river is a tributary of Njaba river.
By political division, Awo-omamma is a community in Oru-East Local Government with the largest landmass in the local area. Oru-East is in present day Imo State of South Eastern Nigeria.
Climate and Vegetation
Its present location is a thick rain forest zone with relative weather/climate as felt in forest zones of Igbo land.
The presence of Njaba River and many other streams make life exist all year round.
Almost the entire landmass is a stable plain land except for coastal regions with relative highland and lowland. However, no mountain range is housed by Awo-omamma but hilly areas and valley exist round the coastal regions like the Ugwu Njaba. Its highland region is on the eastern fringes2.
Settlement in pre-colonical Awo-omamma was a sparse housing system as a result of forest demarcation between family settlement. However, families of the same ancestry settle together on what is called “ala-obi” until subsequent separation is a result of marriage, farm interest etc.
ORIGIN AND MIGRATION
This work to traces the origin of a people presently known as Awo-omamma, their ancestral account and possible migration to present location.
It explore such questions as may arise from the quest to identify the descendants of Awo-omamma.
The study of the emergence of a man known as Awo-omamma rather requires a more tacit effort because of complications in oral tradition and the absence of a written source as well as little or insignificant archaeological figures as at the time of this research.
Nevertheless, this thesis puts up a reliable and objective re-created past extracted mainly from oral tradition and present day cultural practices.
There are two way approach to the interpretation of the ancestors of Awo-omamma and at such has given rise to two different though contiguous accounts of Awo-omamma’s history. These accounts are referred to as:
The Nne-nasa theory
The Oma theory
The Nne-nasa Theory
This theory is popular among outsiders – that is the neighbouring communities of Awo-omamma.
The Nne-nasa theory holds that Awo-omamma was the last son among seven children of a father. The other sons are as follows in order of birth.
This account postulates that all the sons of Nne-nasa were begotten in their present location from where they expanded in settlements and farm land. That is to suggest that their ancestors may have migrated but these seven sons were begotten and raised in their present location from where they expanded by and large without migrating or sojourning for a way.
This theory gives credence to python as a sacred being. The proponents of this theory suggest that the sacredness of the python is a common practice among the children of Nne-nasa. The sacredness of the python entails that anyone who kill a python will be forced to host a ritual burial for the dead python in order to appease the gods.
The Oma Accounts
This account is popular among Awo-omamma natives. It holds that Awo-omamma is a descendant of Nri through an Nri child called Oma.
According to this account, Oma took a wife “Mma” – the progenitors were called “Umu Oman a Mma” (Children of Oma and Mma). The included Awo, Egbu, Egwe, Amiri, Omuma, Ama-ofoo, Egbuoma, Eleh, Aji etc. Oral tradition is not too clear as to the number of children Oma begot but it pointed that each child was addressed with the suffix. Oma either as the surname, or to reflect the origin as a way of distinguishing him form others. (Okeke and Nnadi 2010).
The couple, Oma and Mma were believed to have lived in Ibiasoegbe in the present Oru-West L.G.A as migrants from Nri. In Ibiasoegbe, they preserved their large clay water pot.
It is not clear who was the first or the last child of Oma. However Awo bore two sons named Idemili and Omamma (Awo combined the names of the parents Oma and Mma to form the name of his second son).
Prof Vincent O. Okeke supports this historical account in his book “Awo-omamma – “A Land of Beauty” when he pointed in page 7.
“History has it that the commonality of Awo in the names Awo-omamma and Awo-Idemili, was not by sheer coincidence. It was rather an eloquent reflection of blood relationship between the two towns which could be likned to lines of relationship as typified by surnames in the African setting2”.
It is believed that Awo-Idemili and Awo-omamma lived together in the present location of Awo-Idemili. It was from that location that Awo-omamma people made hunting expeditions and mounting guard at the bank of Njaba River before they entered into marriage relationship with girls from the neigbouring community – Umunoha, who were supposedly the first settlers around. The hunting expedition normally lasted for two days at the end of which they young men returned home to Awo-Idemili. Unfortunately most of the girls resented moving back to Awo-Idemili with their new husbands based on the stories of lack or near absence of certain natural endowment.
After protracted and detailed considerations, settling around the Njaba River became unavoidable17. It is believed that majority of the earlier sojourners were warriors from Awo-omamma descent rather they cultivated and developed the area into an agricultural town.
Note, socio-cultural figures and facts up to this present time suggest commonality in the society of both communities. For instance, market name, “Afor Awo”, similarities exist in the name of villages – Obibi, Isieke, Ubahaeze etc. exists in Awo-Idemili also with little difference in names like Akworji (Awo-Idemili) – Onworji (Awo-omamma), Amokwe (Awo-Idemili).
However, Awo-omamma begot two sons – Ezi-awo and Oofekata, (elderly) the names of the sons are today borne by the autonomous communities to reflect their lineages.
The following are the sons of Ezi-Awo whose names are used to refer to the various villages that descended from Ezi-Awo: Ubaheze, Isieke, Umuezike, Umuokwe, Ohuba, Umuezukwe, and Obibi. While Umueziala, Ubaraogu, Ubachime, Umueme, Umunnam, Umudim, Okwoji, Umuelibe and Umubochi are the sons of Ofekata whose names are used to refer to villages that descended from Ofekata.
It is known that Ubaheze is the eldest son of Ezi Awo while Umueziala is the eldest son of Ofekata and elderly among all the sons of Ezi-Awo and Ofekata put together.
Nwanjuokwe and Akunna were the warrior heroes of the conquest of migration. They descended from Ubaheze village.
The Nne-nasa and Oma Historical Accounts Compared
Both accounts recognize the sacred python as the messenger of Njaba god. This python is called Eke Njaba. The accounts also included some villages like Amiri, Ama-Ofoo as brother of Awo. However, Nne-nasa historical accounts tens to lopside the question of who is Awo-idemili and Awo-omamma’s earlier settlement in present day Awo-idemili. In a similar vein, the Oman account scan across the seven sons of “Nne-nasa” to include other villages like Egbuoma, Egwe, Eleh, Aji etc.
Mr S.F Ibeh in trying to give more credence to the Oma’s historical account discredits the Nne-nasa theory accusing of tracing origin from the material side (Nne-nasa) other than the paternal ancestry. This he feels is an error that has caused complications in Awo-omamma’s history and therefore should not be easily forgotten.
However, one would not hesitate to marry the two accounts because of suggestions of similarities. To this effect subsequent edition of this research work should make an attempt to address clearly or marry the two accounts.
Culture is a people’s way of life including their social values and religious belief.
The culture of Awo-omamma people is not different from the common cultural practices of the extended Igbo people. However, the settlement of Awo people in Awo-omamma gave rise to a wonderful cultural consummation with Awo as the hegemony culture introducing and acculturating its host
Therefore this chapter is an attempt to explore the precolonial and post colonial cultural practices and cultural values of Awo-omamma.
Owu Cultural Dance
Owu is a very popular dance festival in Igbo land especially within the areas East of Igbo Ukwu and Nkwerre region. Owu as a cultural dance was introduced by Ubahaeze into Awo-omamma. Ubahaeze learnt this act of dancing from their Ngbele neighbours and carried it home later on, Umuelibe clan was said to have borrowed it from another community other than Ubahaeze and Ngbele. Form this two cultural centers (Ubahaeze and Umuelibi) the magnificent Owu dance spread all over Awo-omamma and beyond as a dominant cultural dance even till today.
The own festival period is usually from late May, June and July with each clan hosting other one after the other until all the clans must have participated.
This period is a period of peace, no criminal act, no dispute and restricted movement. Anyone who indulged in evil act or caused trouble during the Owu period was asked to pay fine – usually a male goat.
the Owu dance festival calls from merriment with strangers and neighbouring communities.
Women also participated in Owu festival but they are strictly restricted to the “Ada-Owu” phase.
Ekeleke is a cultural dance with wonderful arts and artistic impression. The Ekeleke dancers hang on a stick of about 2 feet tall. Using the sticks and beautifully decorated, they make movements with dancing steps that match the beat from the drum side. Wonderful dances make fast dancing steps and gymnastic attempts to accentuate their expertise and entertain their audience.
This dance was introduced by itinerant Aro people from Umu-chukwu (also people called Aro-chukwu) who settled in Awo-omamma before the colonial period. This Aro people settled mainly in Umuelibi from where they spread to other clans.
Aro people held the Ekeleke festival in honour of their goddess but Awo-omamma people did not dedicate Ekeleke to any known god or goddess. They held the festival as a merriment dance party not as a ritual festival.
Ekeleke dance starts immediately after Christmas. It is being held up to the present time.
This is a festival celebrated in honour of the gods. It was done especially on an “Eke Ukwu” day. Idol worshippers turn out to their various shrines making sacrifice for their gods and making merriment with friends while eating wonderfully prepared native bean portage (Akidi).
Personal and family cleaning as well as community atonement were the practices drung Agwuechi ritual period11.
A child conceived or begotten during Agwuechi ritual period is seen as an extra-ordinary gift from the gods. Such child also serves as a symbol of mercy from the gods.
Ara Na Umu
Ara na umu is a family festival usually simultaneously done in every family to intimate extended family members with their relations to avoid marrying ones blood.
It is celebrated when kinsmen, children and women gather at the maternal home of the eldest Ada in a family. The family members enjoy wonderfully prepared native food served at meal intervals.
The women corporate with one another at he kitchen to ensure a delicious meal is served. The men stay together in a conference manner stressing out issues of concern in the family with jars of palm wine not far from them. The children had fun like never before within the yard.
Ara na umu period is a festival for family reconciliation and reintegration.
As practiced in every part of Igbo land, pre-planting period was a festive period. In Awo-omamma, a pre-planting ritual called Nfijioku is carried out before clearing the bush for planting sacrifice of goat and foul is put in a basket called “Ukpa” (long basket). The Ukpa containing the ritual goat or foul was abandoned in the bush for the consumption of the gods13.
It was believed that a farmer also skipped the practice of Njijioku (Ahajioku) ritual should not expect bountiful harvest.
Iri – Ji (New Yam Festival)
This festival is very common in Igbo land and beyond. Iri – ji is a festival held to appreciate the gods for providing bountiful yam harvest. It was held in an honour of chi-fijioku14.
Every average Awo-omamma man must not taste a new yam until the Iri-ji festival. Women were required to prepare delicious yam portage and pounded yam while the mean supervise the cooking. Iri-ji is highly respected because no one would want to incur the wealth of the gods. It was believed that the gods should eat the new yam before man. Nee-na-ozo and elite farmers play significant roles especially as organizers and sponsors.
Iri–ji festival is done twice yearly – Iba-ohia (before planting) and iri-ji (harvest)15.
TRADITIONAL RELIGION IN AWO-OMAMMA
The section is an attempt to explore the deities and ritual norms associated with them. Also, attempt is made in training their significance in Awo-omamma society.
It is ideal to note the words of Njoku (1980) as cited by V.O Okeke and F.N Nnadi in their treaties.
“The streams and their tributaries are believed to have their own guardian spirits. These streams bear the name of the particular “agbara”, like the Njaba of Awo-omamma, Ukwa and Mbaa. These Agbara new mmiri (gods of the stream) have their cults and laws and regular sacrifices are offered to them through their priests. Animals such as goats, fouls, or even cows are allowed to wander about because they were considered sacred. Anyone who makes away with them in public or private violates the laws of that spirit and has to face severe retribution”.
Awo-omamma people had rigid practice and belief in many gods through varied objects of worship. These ranges rack forest one to stream side as well as portable shrine (family deities) which are personal.
The gods are always consulted through priest known as “dibie”. Dibie is the custodian of culture and rituals. He is seen as the “eye” and “mouth” of the gods who mediates between the gods and man. Dibie is also consulted for health issues and sacrifices for atonement. No one dare doubt the divination and medical prescriptions of a Dibie. At most the people resort to consulting another Dibie for confirmation.
Special respect was recorded to family deities like Ofor, Ogugu, Ughamiri, Ihu-afo, Iyi Okpokoro etc. The famil prayed to these deities on daily basis making sacrifices or kolanut and local gin or even a foul. There are variations as regards rituals to family deities. Choice of family deities and mode of ritual is usually handed down to male children.
These family gods are ascribed with the powers of daily protection and guidance.
Object of worship or shrines deities vary depending on the family as kindred at large. But, use of gigantic trees, village square, sacred room or even craft wood was too common.
The ancestral spirits was an important element of divination in Igbo land in general. Awo-omamma is not an exemption.
Awo-omamma people worshiped and respected spirit nu their ancestors who are believed to be part of the family, watching over the living. Whenever there is merriment special share is given out to het ancestors and libation poured out to honour the might of the ancestors.
Specific reference is always made to the ancestors whose might is resounding by the living to assert claim for valour or wisdom.
It is believed that the spirit of the dead whose burial was not faulty of traditional norms and rituals was sometimes seen roaming around or terrifying its relations until such spirit is appeased. In a similar vein, the murder of someone draws attention as the spirit of the dead roars in vengeance.
However, the belief in reincarnation makes the ancestors very much admirable V.O Okeke and F.N Nnadi dictates it with the right diction.
“It is believed that ancestors reincarnate, hence the names like Nnanna, Nnenna, Nnenne (signifying my father’s father, my mother’s father, and my mother’s mother) respectively. The hope of reincarnation makes people make such wishes as “in my next world, I will be…”. This belief is so powerful that when children are born, elders go to the Dibia Afa to ascertain who was come back among the ancestors2”.
THE NJABA DIETY
Belief in the Njaba deity is common in all parts of Awo-omamma and beyond. It could be said to be the chief deity and supreme over other deities. It had its shrine in the river and its tributaries as well as in the thick forest.
The thick forest shrines are never cleared because it is exclusively reserved as the dwelling place of the gods. Thick bush grow in these areas with tiny path through the worshippers access the shrine for sacrifices. It habours the much acclaimed and sacred python called “Eke-Njaba”. Eke-Njaba is special specie of python which was believed to be the messenger of Njaba diety. No one dare attempt to hurt “Eke-Njaba”. In other words, it was a taboo to kill “Eke-Njaba” no mater how small it is in size critical the situation may be. A defaulter may be forced to leave the land or sponsor an expensive burial ritual for the dead python.
This practice is known to all committees believed to have decended from oma. In all such communites, the python is sacred.
Njaba River served as the hub of the community. It was adored as the source of living where the gods dwell and the very point of their blessing. People go to the river for purification and sacrifice3.
The river served as barrier against invaders from the east and protection for almost the entire community through its tributaries such as Ughamirie and Obana.
Njaba River was a major sea route to Oguta and other riverine areas within.
OFO (OFFOR) AND OGU
Ofo in Igbo land is a symbol of authority likewise in Awo-omamma. As a diadem it was held in high esteem and only the most elderly man in the kindred holds the Ofo.
Ofor in reality is a piece of wood which becomes effective after consecration by a powerful Dibie. It was as usually smeared with blood which had been used for sacrifice to deity.
As a diaden, it confirms a judgement whenever the Oji-ofor hits it on the floor in concensus with the decision of he people. The ofor was used in cases of dispute over ownership of land when a man wanted to swear innocence of wrong-doing or false accusation Ejim ofor o! it was used when oaths were sworn (idu ishi).
Ogu on the other side is used to assert one’s consciences is clear and innocent, no amount of course or evil fashioned one shall prosper. Elders of a community know as “Ndi Ji Offor” (Holders of Ofor) were summoned to the marked square to use their ofor against runaway, defaulters or criminals.
Priests (Cultural Custodians)
Cultural practices and rituals in Igbo land needed specialists who studied the round of the gods and relate it to mankind vice versa.
In Awo-omamma, some professionals of rituals are regarded as priests or custodians of deities. They are usually addressed as Dibie.
Names attached to a dibie suggest the area of specialization and expertise of such dibie. Dibie Aja was known to be a specialist who assisted people to apprise the gods and make atonement for sins through ritual sacrifices5.
Dibie Afa (the diviner) specialized in asserting facts from the spirit.
Ibeh Joseph Uchenna
Imo State University