It was an indelible day for the Anam people in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State, when the people celebrated Ive Okpu, the most revered ceremony in honour of the Anam woman.
‘Iyom’ refers to the titleholder, while ‘Okpu’ is made from the elephant tusk. Okpu is known as Odu in other parts of Igboland. The elephant tusk is expensive and rare, making it one of the most sought after ornaments, even by Europeans. In many African cultures, it depicts class and authority.
Princes Ijeoma Eunice Nnakwe was one of the women that exuded splendour and royalty as they danced that day.
Former commissioner for commerce and industry in Anambra State, Professor Augustine Eboatu, said of the elephant tusk and Ive Okpu ceremony: “In Yorubaland, people wear trinkets made of elephant tusks. The elephant is the biggest land animal created by God. It is a very intelligent animal and could stay in Awka and hear conversations going on in Onitsha. It is the only animal that has that ability. Therefore, anything from an elephant, the trunk, the tusk, the bone, is revered by man.”
In Anam, there are two title-taking ceremonies: Imee Oba, for men, and Ive Okpu (the ‘breaking of wife’s legs’), which is for women. The ceremonies are for those that have distinguished themselves in their respective endeavours in life and have been found worthy in character to become Ogbuevi and Iyom, respectively. Ive Okpu is about initiation into Ndi Okpu society.
Sir Chibuko Okonkwo of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) also explained: “Ive Okpu is an ancient noble and prestigious initiation ceremony that qualifies a woman to bear the Iyom title in Anam. The women usually appear in a procession; sometimes carrying beautiful decorated stools. In the olden days, it was the dream of every Anam woman to become Iyom. It is a mark of industriousness, wealth and encourages hard work and resourcefulness among the womenfolk.”
But these days, Ive Okpu is no longer as popular as it used to be. In fact, some think that it is fetish and should be allowed to die like many other cultural practices. But some others think it should be revived as a way of imbibing cultural values in the people.
The national president, Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), Professor Alex Asigbo, also an indigene of Anam, said: “Culture is a way of life. Ive Okpu is equivalent to the Oba title for the male folk. In Anam, for a woman to qualify as a true Iyom, she needs to be initiated into the Otu Okpu society. There is nothing fetish about it. There are only rituals of initiation, and there is nothing fetish about rituals. Anything you do in a fixed order is a ritual.
“A man that feels that he has achieved some height takes the Oba title; the woman does the Ive Okpu. We figuratively say that ‘n’ogbajigo go okpa,’ meaning that ‘your husband has broken your legs.’ That could be the highest expression of love from a man to his wife. It is an expression of our culture. With due respect to Christians, virtually everything that is done in the Christian religion is done in African traditional religion. They have their own images of people they worship. They call on their great-grandfathers and ancestors during worship and same happens in African traditional religion. Those not mentally liberated see African religion as fetish.
“Some elite are victims of this mental slavery. I strongly believe in the African tradition. In 2013, I took the Oba title. When the elders asked me if I wanted to do it in the Christian way, I replied that I wanted it the traditional way. Some people, while taking the title, go to church for prayers. To me, that is mental slavery of the highest order. The Whites do masquerade. Masquerade is not African language, it’s the white man’s language. Everything we do, they do. It’s because of mental slavery that most of us look down on our culture.
“The British want to keep us perpetually enslaved. They make you lose confidence in yourself, your way of life and everything your forefathers taught you. You regard them as inferior. They taught us the Devil must be black then the angel has to be white and we bought all that hook, line and sinker. If you go to Israel today, the Jews that are supposedly the father of Jesus Christ are not worshipping Him; they worship Yahweh. They practise Judaism than Christianity.”
Asigbo, former dean of the Faculty of Arts, Unizik, said that the value system needs to be revived through some cultural practices. He said: “The Civil War made us privilege survival over values. We no longer ask how people made their money. Before now, a criminal could not take Oba title. But now you see people travel to different parts of the world, come back in two years as someone that has made money. What do you think he did to make money? These people are not skilled labourers, too, so it is either they are involved in one crime or the other. It’s in all tribes and races but prevalent in Igboland since there is crave for survival. Before now, if you had questionable character, there were certain honours you could not get. There is general erosion of morals. We see priests bless criminals as long as they pay. Even our filmmakers now do harm to our culture.”
A surveyor, Alex Okeke, said the Oba title is referred to as Ichi Ozo or Ikpalor in some other areas: “The difference in theirs and ours is that, in Asaba, particularly, the son does not take the title while the father is still alive. But in Anam, every male child is qualified to take it as soon as he is born, though he will not be admitted into the society till he is of certain age.
“In those days, when you have been initiated, you have to tie a rope around your ankles and wear a red cap when you are going to a function. If you are taking a chieftaincy title, you are expected to have taken the Oba title first so that you can legally qualify to wear the red cap. Somehow, I am no longer proud of the practice, because it has been corrupted.
“In the olden days, many things were considered before it could be conferred on anybody, but not anymore. As for being fetish, it depends. Ordinarily, in taking the title, the Ofo is placed on your chest seven times. It forbids you from doing evil or telling lies. That’s the aspect that appears fetish. So, Christians who wish to take the title pay all the money required but go to church for prayers.
“Ive Okpu is similar to Oba title. But many things are skipped now. There is nothing wrong with our culture. Our problem is that, because we are developing, people believe that the white man’s culture is better than ours. But that’s not true. Some people even change their names because of religion. We need to build our confidence and conscience. The youths and the elderly have abandoned our culture, that’s why we have this level of decadence in society.”
A poet, an Anam indigene, Eliada Israel, also agreed that Ive Okpu is a celebration of womanhood.