Abriba in Abia State, South-East Nigeria, is a place renown for its rich culture and heritage. Recently, it came under the spotlight in Lagos State, when one of her illustrious sons, Philips Akwari, a photo-documentary artist, staged a solo exhibition of photography on June 8, 2019, at M Visuals and Thought Gallery, Ikoyi.
Themed: “The Rich Abriba Heritage”, the exhibition was attended by eminent Abribans from all walks of life.
The special guest of the occasion, who declared the exhibition open, was none other than the paramount ruler of Abriba kingdom, Chief Kalu Kalu Ogbu (IV), who led other chiefs and dignitaries to the showpiece. TIMEOUT asked him a few salient questions about Abriba, its culture and its tradition of N7:50K dowry.
What are your views concerning the exhibition?
The exhibition tells the story of Abriba in a very simple way in pictorial form. When we look at the works, you will see the beginning of a man to the end of the man. The story telling is beautiful and flows naturally. It is a true picture of Abriba in a very simple format.
This exhibition is an opener for all of us. What the artist has done is good and encouraging. But at the end of the exhibition in Lagos, if he doesn’t come down to Abriba to exhibit these works, it doesn’t make sense because it is the people of Abriba that the exhibition is targeted at. Though the entire world would see it, we have to start from home because charity begins at home. He would hold the exhibition in Abuja also; I urge and encourage him to hold another exhibition in Abriba during the Christmas period when a lot of our people would come home to celebrate with their relatives. It will give good hope for the younger generations who may have forgotten something about Abriba.
Some of the interesting aspects of the exhibition underscore the importance of the marriage system. Can you shed more light on the dowry that is N7: 50k in Abriba from time immemorial till date?
This is a beautiful thing about Abriba culture and tradition. We believe that marriage is not selling––and you are not selling your daughter. The dowry is a token, to show that you actually did something for the marriage of the lady. For the people of Abriba, it is not about the money; it only shows that the man has shown interest and commitment.
Since when did you ascend the throne and what has been your major challenge?
I became the Enachioken of Abriba at the age of 36 and now I am 20 years on the throne. As for the experience, it has been ups and downs. There is no place that you would stay that you would find things running smoothly. I have always had a lot of challenges but all these challenges have prepared me and kept me strong for the future. Each challenge that I have is a stepping-stone to be able to know the heartbeat of my people and how to react and handle situations that comes my way. Abriba is made up of wise and elderly men. For instance, when I ascended the throne, the oldest man in my cabinet was 103 years old. Some people would wonder, what is this old man doing there? Some would suggest he should go home and start doing something else instead of coming to sit at the council with us, but then it is a responsibility, and in Abriba, it is hereditary. You have to be a descendant of the founder of Abriba to be an Enachioken of Abriba. I am the 17th generation of the descendant of Abriba.
Some people are of the opinion that some aspects of tradition are fetish.
Tradition and culture talk about the beauty of the people and every human being cannot talk about the same thing. When you talk about the same thing, then it means that you are singing one tune, then it would be monotonous. But when we speak from different perspectives and exhibit our different cultures, then one can see the beauty of creation and harmony. When different opinions of people come together, it makes harmony and that is how you can celebrate God for his beauty.
Culture is flexible and it reflects the people at any point in time in history. As you are evolving, some of these cultural practices will continue to change. The white man created a system to judge our own culture, which is not proper. For us, culture should reflect the spiritual consciousness of a people at any point in time. When people say that our culture is barbaric, they don’t understand us; people should know that they are different from one another. When we respect our different culture then there is beauty in this world. Then, when people call their culture barbaric, I don’t understand what they are saying. Our culture is not fetishistic or barbaric. Our system emanates from the white chalk, Nzu, which signifies peace and purity. That is what Abriba is all about. Abriba is not all about fetish things. We don’t have a particular shrine in Abriba. Rather, shrines belong to families, groups, not for Abriba people.
How have you been able to preserve your culture?
It is a very difficult challenge to maintain your culture for more than 500 years in a place like Nigeria under this environment that we live in. The grace of God is upon us and my people are working hard to ensure that we keep our culture. Once in a while, people bring their children to Abriba to look at the culture and go through the system. That way we have been able to sustain our culture all these years.
Interviewed by BRAIDE DAMIETE