Rites of Passage

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Obosi in Idemli North Local Government of Anambra State is one of the towns in the state that takes its customs and tradition seriously. David-Chyddy Eleke writes on the rites that admit one into the Ndi Ichie, the highest decision making body in the town parading the likes of Chief Emeka Anyaoku

As this reporter walked through the gate of the expansive compound of Dr. Emmanuel Monagor, a youth came out of a small hut at the back of the Obi (a small house habited by the head of a family in Igboland), a big lifeless cock in his hand, and a close look showed that the cock was strangled to death. He threw the cock far away from the hut, and it fell on the ground with a thud. The youth moved swiftly back into the hut, and this reporter peered towards the hut to see that they were over two dozen men in the hut, all dressed in white attire, including their shoes, except for the red cap on their heads, and beads round their necks.

Thoughts ran riot in the mind of this reporter over what the men could be doing in the hut, when the youth returned again, this time he was carrying a big lifeless goat with both hands. The neck of the goat, just like the cock had been slit, with blood dripping from it. Again, he threw the goat on the ground, beside the cock, and it fell with a bigger thud than the cock had. THISDAY later learnt that the men in white were members of the Ndi Ichie society of Obosi, and the slain animals were those with which they were performing traditional rites known as Ime Uke, to mark the admission of Dr. Emma Monagor into the Ndi Ichie society of Obosi kingdom.

Among the over two dozen Ndi Ichie, who were on hand to admit Monagor into the Ndi Ichie Society were great men of substance, including; Chief Emeka Anyaoku; former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation among many others. As they filed out of the hut after performing the Ime Uke rite on Monagor, into the Obi, the bell boys ran to their bells, picked them up and began ringing.

Each member of the Ndi Ichie society had his own bell boy, and as they walked out of the hut, each went straight to a spot, where all the members of the society had left their staff to pick them up, before walking into the Obi, just as the bell boys rang their bells to usher them in. One of the bell boys who identified himself simply as Arinze, and said to be a bell boy for Agbadike Obosi, one of the Ndi Ichie members, while speaking with THISDAY on the reason they were ringing the bells said, “each member of the society is supposed to have a bell boy who carries their bell. The bell boy is expected to ring it anytime the Ichie appeared. It is meant to mark the arrival or exit of the Ichie. That is why each time you see them, whether they are going or coming, we had to ring the bell to herald their presence.”

The Ndi Ichie Society of Obosi is considered to be the highest decision making body of the town, admission into it automatically makes one a member of the ruling class in the town. THISDAY gathered that there can only be one member of the society in a family, which means that once one is admitted into it, every other member of that family is barred from being a member, and that also automatically confers on the entrant the headship of the family, irrespective of his age. The society, THISDAY gathered admits only people of integrity, who must have the backing of their family members for them to be accepted as members. Membership confers on one the right to be the one to break kola nuts in family gatherings, and to give out daughters as wives to suitors in the family.

In an interview with THISDAY, Monagor, the newly admitted member of the society said there was nothing fetish about the Ime Uke ceremony, which admits one into the society. He said the ceremony mostly consists of prayers from other members of the society who come to pray for the new entrant for God to help him lead his family well, endow him with wisdom to make the right decision at all times. He said that truly there were some elements of fetishism in the culture before now, but with the spread of Christianity, and its wide acceptance, it became obvious that some of the laws must be repealed. He said the tradition and customs of the community has also been married to Christian religion, and some dangerous practices removed.

On his part, Chief Osita Chidoka, who is a member of the society said the town cherishes its tradition, and will not jettison them for the simple reason that some people think it is fetish. He said the community has the obligation to tell its story and believe in their customs without apologising to anyone about what they do. “It depends on the person who said the practice is fetish. For us, we will not let others describe our custom for us, so we need to tell our own story by ourselves,” Chidoka who bears the traditional title of Ike Obosi; strength of Obosi kingdom said.

Another fascinating aspect of the Obosi culture as it concerns the Ndi Ichie society is the fact that each member is supposed to take an Ichie name, different from the title they took, when they were admitted into the Ozo society. A brother of the newly admitted member, and a Nollywood star, Mr. Amaechi Monagor told THISDAY of the origin of Dr. Monagor’s Ozo name, which is Mkpu Na Elu Aku. He said, “My father had 12 children, and he worked very hard to educate all of us. At a time when his mates were taking titles, he refused to take titles, preferring to train his children with his money. He later started bearing the name, Mkpu Na Elu Aku, which in English meant; the anthill that grows wealth.

The significance of this was that he was telling his friends who were laughing at him for not taking any traditional title that he is an anthill on which wealth will grow. True to his words, out of his 12 children, the least educated of us are those with Masters Degree. He has doctors, engineers, lawyers and all other profession. He also has a film star like me, who is known all over the world. Today, that anthill as he called himself now grows wealth. So our brother decided to make the name more pronounced by using it as his Ozo title name. Today that he has joined the Ndi Ichie, he has changed his name to Mkpu Obosi.”

Joining the Ndi Ichie Society is not a move one can start and conclude in just one year. Chief Chidoka told THISDAY that even though Monagor has been formally admitted, he still has two more rigorous stages to pass through before he will be a full-fledged member of the society. He said the two stages left, when done will complete the six stages that a man is supposed to pass through before he can be seen as a member. The two stages left include; the coronation ceremony which takes place in the palace of the king of the community and the outing service. This he said entails the new entrant walking through one end of Obosi Kingdom to the other end, and must be accompanied by his kinsmen as a way to show support to him, after which he would be deemed to have completed all the processes.

Monagor in an interview took THISDAY through the four processes he has already passed through. He said the first is the submission of application to the society, requesting to be a member, while the second is the first visit of the intending member to the palace of the king of Obosi. During this second process, the intending member is interviewed by the king in the presence of his cabinet to ascertain his level of preparedness for the task ahead.

The third process is the second visit, where the intending member is expected to go with the members of his kindred, who will also be subjected to interviews on how prepared they are to let the intending member lead them. The fourth, which is what Monagor underwent is the Ime Uke, where other members of the society converge to perform rite, welcoming the member, and also praying for them. He also told THISDAY that he is looking forward to the remaining two processes with relish, and hopes to accomplish them soon.

The high point of the event was the expulsion of everyone from the Obi, as the men filed into it. All non-members of the society were ejected, and the door securely locked, while after a moment, Monagor emerged from the Obi, accompanied by all the Ndi Ichie. The crowd erupted into jubilation at his emergence at the door, while all traditional dance groups in attendance began playing their instruments, while Monagor danced into the crowd, with shouts of Mkpu Obosi renting the air.

As he moved towards the crowd, he shook hands in the traditional way with all male guests, which entailed slapping the back of the hand thrice, before also slapping together the front of their hands. For the female, they simply squatted at his feet and bent their back at him as he approached them, while hailing him in his title; Mkpu Obosi! He taps their back gently and the ladies get up again. Chidoka who is also a member of the society told THISDAY that Obosi has about the richest culture in Anambra State, and that they plan to sustain it.