Reviving dying Igbo culture
From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
When in the early 1970s, the maidens of Afikpo in present day Ebonyi State dazzled the world with their exceptional dance steps regarded as the best in the history of local dance in Africa, many did not know where the inspiration came from.
The story was widespread of how prominent Igbo sons and daughters entertained themselves with the dance group.
The Nkwa Umuagbogho was a very big instrument used by the defunct East Central State to entertain prominent Igbo and their guests during big occasions.
In those days, damsels abundantly blessed with the beauty of nature led the dance group.
Popular was the dance group that a story had it that the the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe met his beloved wife, Prof. Uche Azikiwe at one of the outings of the Nkwa Umuagbogho.
Apart from the story of how Prof. Azikiwe, a prominent member of Nkwa Umuagbogho Afikpo dazzled and captured the heart of the late Zik of Africa and Owelle of Onitsha, there were other stories of how the dancers and maidens walked into stardom.
In its over 40 years of existence, the Nkwa Umuagbogho Dance Group has entertained heads of states of dozens of countries, thrilled hundreds of thousands of spectators and audiences in Africa, America and China.
Oriental News gathered that in 2006, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conferred the Living Legends Award on the group’s founder, Chief Vincent Omeri Nwachi,
for his choreographic skills and lifetime contributions to the advancement of African art and culture.
But today, unfortunately, it appears that the fanfare and paraphernalia that were once the hallmamark of Nkwa Umuagbogho Afikpo are fast fading away following the inability of the younger generation of maidens to key into the prestigious dance group, which was the pride of Nigeria’s cultural heritage.
In the past, group had won a host of local, national and international merit awards dating back to 1972, when it beat hundreds of competing dance groups to win the first place at the All Nigeria Festival of Arts and Culture.
This winning streak has continued to flow as the group, now led by Mr. Godwin Emeka Omeri, son of Chief Nwachi, beat a host of other groups to clinch the first place at a competition organised in Ebonyi State by the Radio, Television and Theatre Art Workers Union (RATTAWU) of Nigeria in 2010.
Mr. Ogbonna Oko-Enyim, chairman of Afikpo North Local Government Area, described the way Igbo cultural value was going as unfortunate, saying that the only solution was for all the Igbo-speaking states to re-introduce culture into their school curriculum.
The politician who said the Nkwa Umuagbogho was one of the identities of Afikpo, lamented that younger generation were shying away from participating in the dance group, a situation he said has been responsible for decline in the fortune of the once loved dance group in the country.
Oko Enyim challenged the maidens to remember that dancing, as part of culture, would never die no matter how they shied away from it, adding that Afikpo has benefited immensely locally and internationally because of the Nkwa Umuagbogho group.
In her reaction, Maria Oko-Ewa said the group has remained one of the best.
She said despite the challenges, the group is still together and could still perform at any local or international event.
“There is no threat and there is no reason to fear. They (members of the group) still travel far and near to perform in various big occasions and are still the best. Though there could be one or two issues affecting it, which is mainly age, the group is still together. Young maidens are no longer interested in the dance of their mothers; rather they prefer to dance ‘kerewa’ and other music, and that is one of the issues the group is trying to address,” she said.
She lamented that when one leaves the group due to age, there was always problem to replace such maiden because new ones were not forthcoming to join the group, resulting in having mothers and even over-aged women as dancers.
“The reluctance of young maidens to join poses great challenge to the group. In most cases, the dancers are married women who are held back by family responsibilities and that could hamper their performance, especially when they have invitation to perform outside Ehugbo (Afikpo) land,” she said.
However, in what looked like a light at the end of the tunnel, the Faculty of Arts, Federal University, Ndufu Alike-Ikwo in Ebonyi State recently organised a cultural festival to re-introduce all the eroding culture back to the people, especially the younger generation and the Nkwa Umuagbogho Group came back to life as it performed live.
The Dean, Faculty of Humanities in the University, Prof Grace Emezue said the event was organized to bring the Igbo culture back on track in the institution, adding that, “the idea is to encourage people to go back to their roots, to understand some of those values that we have as people. Igbo people are known for being hardworking, they are also known for being loyal.
“They believe more in good names and not necessarily wealth. These are some of the values that are fast going into extinction because of impact of acculturalisation. It is true that there are some bad cultures in our society but the good ones should be upheld. We should identify the good ones and hold them firmly because our culture has good things in them like moral uprightness and hardwork.”
Also, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Prof Austin Chukwu blamed the extinction of Igbo culture on colonialism.
“We are trying to resuscitate our language. Colonialism has really done some bad things to us. The Igbo man likes to show that he can excel in anything. When the colonial masters came, they were teaching English in schools. People ran away from few people that were teaching the Igbo Language and said they don’t know what they were doing, they met the colonial masters who taught them English and today we are seeing the implication.”
One of the participants and student of the school, David Isu condemned the attitude of students who were not proud of their culture.
Addressing the people during the event, which was well attended, the traditional ruler of Amagu community, Ezeogo Dominic Aloh lamented that the Igbo culture was going into extinction and called for concerted efforts to bring it back.
“Our culture is gradually going into extinction. Our children no longer speak their mother tongue; they no longer dress properly or reflect the Igbo culture in their dressing. Our parents have not helped matters in this regard. They are the ones who, from the first day their children were born, teach them foreign culture. They speak English to them from the tender level till they grow up and this has affected our culture badly because our children nowadays no longer speak our dialect,” he said.