Calendar and Time The traditional calendar in Igboland is based on the lunar calendar. It comprises four market days (Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo) with seven weeks per month. With thirteen months a year, this puts the total number to 364 days per lunar year. The beginning and ending of the year are marked in July. The dates for the various village festivals depend on the local native calendar. The solar month equivalents have been listed below, but note that these months are just approximate comparisons as the solar and lunar calendar do not exactly match with each other: Lunar months solar months Önwa-mbü July Önwa-abö August Önwa-atö September Önwa-anö October Önwa-ise November Önwa-isii December Önwa-asaa December/January Önwa-asatö February Önwa-itolu March Önwa-iri April Önwa-iri na otu May Önwa-iri na atö June Önwa-iri na anö Thirteenth month Masquerades Igboland holds many festivities and cultural performances, most notably the masquerades and the new Yam festivals. Masquerades (Mmanwu) are held in accordance with the community native calendars during festivals, annual festivities, burial rites and other social gatherings. The masquerades are geared in colourful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only at one festival, but the majority appears at many or all. Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements, as according to Igbo belief, they represent images of deities or sometimes even dead relatives. The identity of the masquerade is a well- kept secret and performed exclusively by men. In the past, masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and order and were primarily used as law enforcement agents. The whole village would come out for the ceremony of the colourful masquerades. While entertaining through dances and exhibiting extra-human feats, the masquerades would walk up to certain individuals and loudly expose any bad habits, crimes or misbehaviour of that person. As people would always take corrections from these exposures, the masquerades were effective in keeping up with traditional norms and values in the communities. With colonisation in the 20th century, masquerades became more relevant as an institution for cultural entertainment. Nowadays, they are used more for tourist attractions when they come out in colourful robes accompanied by traditional dancers and music. The masks are determined by local tradition and beliefs. Best-known are those that represent the spirit of deceased maidens and their mothers symbolising beauty and peacefulness. This masquerade may be accompanied by the elephant spirit, representing ugliness and aggression, which frightens the male spectators away from her beauty. Other characters include the European (Mbeke), a pair of boy and girl (Mba), the boy dressed up as a girl satirising his counterpart, and animals (crocodile, snake etc.) representing various local deities. There is an annual masquerade festival in November organised by Enugu State and involves masquerade groups from various parts of the state. You can click on this link to see more Igbo masquerade photos. The other festival with high social significance carried out by most communities in Igboland is the new Yam (Iri Ji) festival, which marks the beginning of the harvest seasons for new yam. The festival takes place usually between August and October, though the time varies from one community to the other. The New Yam festival raises the occasion for celebration while offering special prayers to God for a good harvest. It is marked with colourful display of cultural dances and rites, including roasting and toasting of new yams. Obviously, time for feasting and merry-making. Some other ceremonies worth attending are: Chieftaincy coronation, an installation rite carried out by titled men, the elders and initiates on behalf of the community; Özö title taking, involving ritualistic initiation; Traditional marriage and funeral both mentioned in more detail later in this book. Igbo New Yam Festival Yam is a very important food crop in Igboland. Evidence of this is in the cultural significance attached to New Yam festival ” iri ji” in Igbo land. The traditional Igbo society is mainly Agrarian. Emphasis is placed on farming and the cultivation of sufficient food to last until the next food harvest. Special emphasis is especially placed on yam cultivation. The traditional Igbo man takes pride in showing off his yam barn neatly stacked with yam tubers from top to bottom. It signifies wealth and success. In the days of old, a common question asked by a bride’s father when a young man signifies his intention to marry his daughter is “how big is your yam barn”? A big yam barn means the man is hardworking and can take care of his daughter. The iriji (new yam) festival is a time of thanksgiving to the gods for making the farm yields possible and praying for good yields for the next planting season. The Iriji festival is celebrated at different times within the various Igbo communities, varying from August until October every year. The solemn role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man or Eze: traditional ruler – different Igbo communities have different names for their traditional rulers – of the community.  It is believed within the traditional communities that their position bestows on them the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. Infact, many traditionalists and title-holders in Igbo land will not taste the new yam until the day that is traditionally set aside for that purpose. At the Iriji festival, only dishes of yam are served. The oldest man or the traditional ruler is normally the first person to eat the new yam and thereafter every other person can eat. The Iriji festival is associated by feasting, dancing and merry making. There is also a spectacular display of Masquerades of all shapes and Sizes. They appear in all corners with the highest Intensity of dance and display in the market square to the excitement of the Crowd. In primordial times, masquerades were believed to be spiritual elements that specially reincarnate into human forms for the purpose of celebrating the new yam festival. It signifies the approval of the gods in the celebration. Thus communities venerate and indeed fear these spirits for their own safety. Uninitiated members of the community are expected to run away from the masquerades on sight or risk being cursed by them with devastating consequences. Stories are rife within Igbo communities of persons who were cursed by masquerades and suffered terrible diseases. Arondizuogu (a notable Igbo community) is famous for its Ikeji festival and powerful masquerades with magical powers.   The new yam festival is an event that should be seen by every Igbo son and daughter. It is an epitome of the beauty of Igbo culture. A great Site to behold!   Traditional Family Ceremonies Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three most important family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception to that. It is common to get invited to a traditional marriage (Igbankwu) and certainly worth witnessing one. Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villages. First the groom asks his potential partner to marry him. Assuming that this is affirmative, the groom will visit the bride’s residence accompanied by his father. The groom’s father will introduce himself and his son and explain the purpose of his visit.     The bride’s father welcomes the guests, invites his daughter to come and asks her if she knows the groom. Her confirmation shows that she agrees with the proposal. Then the bride’s price settlement (Ika-Akalika) starts with the groom accompanied by his father and elders visiting the bride’s compound on another evening. They bring wine and kola nuts with them, which are presented to the bride’s father. After they have been served with a meal, the bride’s price is being negotiated between the fathers. In most cases there is only a symbolic price to be paid for the bride but in addition other prerequisites (kola nuts, goats, chicken, wine, etc.) are listed as well. Usually it takes more than one evening before the final bride’s price is settled, offering guests from both sides a glamorous feast. Another evening is spent for the payment of the bride’s price at the bride’s compound when the groom’s family hands over the money and other agreed prerequisites. The money and goods are counted, while relatives and friends are served drinks and food in the bride’s compound. After all is settled, the traditional wedding day is planned. The wedding day is again at the bride’s compound, where the guests welcome the couple and invite them in front of the families. First the bride goes around selling boilt eggs to the guests, showing to both families that she has the capability to open a shop and make money. Then, the bride’s father fills a wooden cup (Iko) with palm wine and passes it on to the girl while the groom finds a place between the guests. It is the custom for her to look for her husband while being distracted by the invitees. Only after she has found the groom, she offered the cup to him and he sipped the wine, the couple is married traditionally. During this ceremony, there is also the nuptial dance where the couple dances, while guests wish the newly weds prosperity by throwing money around them or putting bills on their forehead. Nowadays, church wedding follows traditional marriage . During this ceremony, the bride’s train, made up of the bride followed by her single female friends, enters the church dancing on the music, while the guests bless the bride’s train by throwing money over the bride and her entourage. The groom receives the bride at the altar for the final church blessing by the priest. Sometimes, the traditional marriage is combined with the reception that is then preceded by the church ceremony.   Birth celebration, as the wedding ceremony, varies from village to village. On the eighth day, the child (male only, though there are some discussions whether it should apply females as well) is prepared for circumcision, and on the twenty-eighth day, the naming ceremony is performed, each event accompanied by a feast for the relatives. Death in Igboland is regarded as the passing away of the person from the world existence to the spirit world. However, only after the second burial rites, it is believed that the person can reach the spirit world, as otherwise, the departed relative would still wander between earth and the spirit world. The honour of the death varies dependent on the background, title, gender, relationship with family and circumstances around the death. The corpse is normally buried at the village in the person’s compound after it has been preceded by the wake keeping. During the funeral ceremonies, relatives and friends of the deceased pay their last respect to the dead and mourn with the bereaved in colourful ceremonies marked with singing and traditional dances. In the olden days, the wake keeping was accompanied by masquerades, traditional music and animal sacrifices. A high-ranking chief or traditional ruler would be buried with two human heads alongside his body and would go along with the release of canon gun shots to notify the general public on the loss. Many more customs surrounded the burial rites, but the church nowadays has overtaken most of these traditions. To go in more details would go beyond the scope of this book, and I would suggest to read the books mentioned before for further research. Kola Nut Kola nuts are not only known for its origin to many American and European soft-drinks and its chewing by labourers to diminish hunger and fatigue, but even more for its sacred significance in Igboland. Attending a kola nut ceremony is almost inevitable for anyone visiting Enugu and is Igbo tradition at its best. Elder agree that once the 5-centimetre nuts are blessed with incantations, the visitors will feel ensured that they are welcome. People are more than willing to explain the ceremony, and where there is no kola nut available, the host will need to do the explanatory apology to his visitors. The kola nut tradition is used for a variety of events, but principally to welcome guests to a village or house. Breaking of Kola Nut The ceremony may vary depending on the occasion and people present at the ceremony, but there is a common understanding in the traditional way of breaking them. To illustrate this delicate ceremony, I will take the occasion of welcoming a group of visitors to a village. The host presents a plate with a number of Kola nuts (ranging from two up to sixteen) to the leader of the delegation, who will take the plate and shows it to the most senior member of his entourage. To acknowledge that he has seen the plate, he briefly touches the plate with his right hand, before it is shown to less senior members and so forth till most members have taken a glimpse of the plate. After that, the host gets the plate returned from the visitor and takes one of the kola nuts and gives it to the visitor while saying: ‘Öjï luo ünö okwuo ebe osi bia.’ When the Kola nut reaches home, it will tell where it came from. This proverb says that the visitor needs to show the kola nut to his people at home as a proof of having visited this village.
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