From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Curators and culture enthusiasts are worried that many components of Igbo culture and tradition are at the verge of extinction. This, according to them, came as a result of the influence of Christianity and western education, creating a situation where aspects of Igbo culture are seen as idol worshipping and fetish.
But for the people of Igboukwu, Aguata Local Government, Anambra State, the noble culture and tradition associated with Igbo should be promoted, handed over to generations and not allowed to die. It is on that premise that culture enthusiasts and Igboukwu sons and daughters gathered recently to celebrate a centenarian adorned with Ichi marks on their faces.
Ichi, Igbo historians say, is a facial scarification worn mainly by men indicating that the wearers have passed through initiation into the aristocratic Nze na Ozo Society, marking the wearers out as being noble.
Regent of Igboukwu, Chief Mike Nduka, said echoes of the Ichi tradition are found in the contemporary derivative word Ichie, which denotes a member of a class of titled chieftains amongst the Igbo: “Due to its broad social, political, and economic signification, Ichi was the most common of these markings.
“In the case of families of high social and economic status, Ichi marks could be obtained for their children at a relatively early age. In adulthood, one can also do it as an expression of one’s wealth and prestige.
“Ichi is seen as a sign of class stratification, not only by virtue of receiving the marks, but by the Nwa Ichi’s ability to ‘hire’ the costly implements used to make the marks.
“In the mid 20th Century, the Ichi marking tradition was disrupted by the expansion of Christianity, which held that it was a fetish practice. Ichi is celebrated as an important part of Igbo cultural heritage.”
Chairman, Planning Committee, Chief Barth Nwibe, said the event was used to mark the centenary birthday celebration of the last surviving Ichi-titled Nze n’ Ozo member in Igboukwu, Nze George Umeokonkwo Umennadi.
He said: “The celebration is unique and symbolic because the celebrant was initiated into the Nze n’Ozo institution over 90 years ago. He recently clocked 100 in a country where life expectancy hovers around 55 years.
“He is also the only person with Ichi mark in Igbo-Ukwu and arguably the last surviving person with it in the whole of South East. Our town is celebrating that aspect of our culture, which he represents. Our people had their way of life before the white men came in and changed a lot of this.
“If you look at some of the archaeological artefacts excavated in Igboukwu, you will notice the Ichi marks. These were a sign of nobility in those days, which shows that Igbu Ichi is culture that has been with our people until Christianity came to challenge the practice, and changed it.
“So, it is important to preserve that aspect of our culture so generations unborn will know that we had a culture like that. That’s why we need to document it and show the world that this practice is real and indigenous to the Igboukwu people.”
The cultural event took place at Shaw Institute for Cultural Arts, Anambra State Museum. It started with Igboukwu history lecture delivered by Professor Onwuka Njoku, of the History Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
He described Ndigbo as frontrunners harping on the need for thorough research on Igbo history and traditions. He said there was need for the establishment of an Igbo Study and History Centre, where budding researchers would be groomed for adequate research and publications.
The don commended the organisers for thinking home and for making efforts to bring to the fore, the cultural heritage of Igboukwu people, as well as presenting to the world, the age-long artefacts and relics found in Igboukwu. He charged the organisers to use various organs of communication and information dissemination platforms to tell their stories.
One of the conveners, Humphrey Obikwelu, said the lecture was intended to get the people aware about Igboukwu history and to sensitize them about their forthcoming workshop later in August.