ONYEKPEZE AND IKA
IKA CULTURAL CUM TRADITIONAL RELIGION
Ancestor-worship is at the centre of Traditional Religion in Ika. In the community, any ritual begins with the invocation. “Osolobue (Deity) come and eat kola nut, Olokun come and eat kola nut; our ancestors come and eat kola nut”. This shows indisputably that the ancestors are assigned a significant place in rituals in Ika culture.
The people of Ika do not debate whether their ancestors are gods or can be prayed to or not; they believe that having passed the grave, the ancestors have out-soared the shadow of their nights. They have acquired new powers, and so can help mortal beings on earth. It is this belief that makes a man to appeal to his ancestors for help in times of need. Their belief is generally that only good people become ancestors after they have received a ‘well-done’ judgment by the deity or by the ‘court of the ancestors’. In other words, they are those who lived well and great live when they were on earth; those who attained perfection and have joined the ancestors in the final home of mankind, okun.
Bad or wicked people will be cast into a ‘rubbish heap’, the ‘hell of madden’, or the ‘hell of potsherds’. In some cases, they become wanderers in celestial plain. The bad and the wicked people never arrive at the sublime resting place. They stay in their graves or keep roaming about on earth constituting bad or wandering spirits, ihoghai, and disturbing human beings and causing troubles. When they re-incarnate, they are afflicted with all sorts of misfortunes as punishments and purification for their bad deeds.
The Ika people believe that the ancestors have survived death and to be living in a spiritual world, but still taking active interest in the affairs of their families. They are believed to be watching over their families like a ‘cloud of witness’. Everything that concerns the family, its health, wealth and fertility are of interest to the ancestors since they are its elders, and will also seek rebirth with the same family. The family land is their property; and they must be consulted when land is let out to other people. In everyday life of the community, the dead are very present. Most people, as a regular habit, never drink and may never eat, without throwing a small portion on the ground for their forefathers.
As a result of their concern about, and their presence with their families, the community believes that their lives are profoundly influenced by their ancestors. Consequently, the ancestors should be continually loved and respected; their names should be adopted; their descendants should bear their titles of relationship like father and mother, respect their beliefs, values and culture handed over to them. These beliefs require the people to respect their parents and elders maintain their family bounds such as to avoid meddling with wives of their kinsmen, ina nwunyen ebon, and so on; and practice hospitality towards strangers and visitors. The living should always call upon them when they are about to undertake any great task. They should invoke the ancestors when they break kola nuts, or when they are at meals. Their ancestors should always be in their lips so that their lives may be guided by their sacred presence. And above all, they should strive to live noble lives so that they may join them after death.
When Ika people celebrate the traditional festivals of the community, it is believed that the ancestors are present even though the people cannot see them physically. The ancestors are believed to be very important in the traditional religious, social and moral life of Ika community. Communication with the ancestors is a factor in the social cohesion and moral discipline of the Ika people.
The ancestors are sought for all the benefits in the world. For example, they are believed to make the earth fertile and promote the growth of crops. They receive offerings at the beginning of any farming season, before planting and when the crops are harvested. The childless seek their help. They are thought to be able to help their tribe in times of problems and are invoked before any battle. In particular, the ancestors are believed to have acquired special knowledge in the after-world. Many consult them, and oracles, and mediums pass on their messages to those who consult them. In dreams, the ancestors are believed to speak to men, and the interpretation given by mediums indicates the will of the forebears. They are believed to give medicine and reveal new forms of treatment to the native doctors.
At the same time, all evils may be attributed to the ancestors. For example, drought and famine are believed to be sent by ancestors angry over the misdeeds of the people. Thereafter, they must be appeased if drought or famine must end. Thunders and lightning or storms may be caused by angry ancestors. The very enraged ones cause sickness and death. They may be angry or annoyed at the neglect of their descendants; and special diseases are sent to the living as warnings. The ghost of an unsettled dead person may enter a human being on earth and weaken him. Cure will be brought by sending the ghost away through rituals or medicine.
Because the ancestors are no longer in the human world, the way they are approached must be different from the ordinary approach. They are spirits and are approached as spirits. In the invocation of ancestors in Ika culture, the liturgy includes the names of those known and remembered; and those not known and not remembered. It is often pointed out specially that “we cannot remember all of you by name; nevertheless, we invoke you all”. But often, attempts are made to mention ancestors connected with certain professions like medicine, crafts or priesthood, of certain deities as far back as the first persons who introduced the practices. So also, are those who were the aboriginal heads of the clans, towns, villages, quarters or Idumu.
Consequently, special relationship is maintained with the ancestors in the community. People offer sacrifices and give food to them because the ancestors are believed to be their mouth piece in the unknown; and they stand between the living and Osolobue, the gods and other spirits. They often offer sacrifices to them by first giving particles of kola nuts to the idols by which they are represented, calling or invoking their spirits at the same time, soliciting them to keep them alive, give them good health and all their heart desires. They ask their ancestors to save them from harm, ward off evils and avert dangers of all kinds for them. They also give drinks to the idols saying the same prayers after which they share the remaining kola nuts and drinks among those present for the sacrifice. After this, and during some certain occasions, goats may be slaughtered and their blood sprinkled on the idols. These idols through which the ancestors are represented in Ika culture are in the custody of the Ofo holder.
To be continued…
Chief (Dr) Onyekpeze .F.A. (JP)