IKA CULTURAL CUM TRADITIONAL RELIGION
Belief In Ancestors
The idols through which the ancestors are represented in Ika culture are in the custody of the Ofo holder. An Ofo is made out of Ofo, tree, botanically called ‘deteriumelastica’. For any such branch to be used as Ofo, it should have naturally fallen down from the main Ofo tree. In other words, such a branch should not be cut fresh from the Ofo tree. A piece of about six millimeters long is cut and decorated with cowry-shells by special Ofo designers. This decorated piece symbolizes Ofo and the allied objects by which the ancestors are represented, and which is regarded as the visible symbol of righteousness or moral rectitude among the Ika people. Ofo is thus a short, thick wood; and as soon as it is decorated, it becomes a staff of authority symbolizing the collective will of the people and the sanction of the ancestors.
Ofo is seen in Ika culture as the traditional staff of office, the symbol of truth and justice. Ofo is believed to have inherent power of killing or ruining anybody who disobeys the ‘holder’. The Ofo and other allied objects in the custody of the ‘Ofo holder’ are greatly dreaded, and they form the pivot of the spiritual powers round which any Ofo holder’s religious jurisdiction revolves. The Ofo of each Ika clan/kingdom is in the custody of whoever its tradition prescribes. The Ofo of the different towns, villages, quarters or Idumu are held by the most elderly man; and it moves to the next in age at the death of the former holder. But the Ofo of the different family ancestors, handed down from generation to generation is inherited at the death of the holder, by the next of kin on grounds of primogeniture, on the paternal side. Ofo is a symbol of justice and retribution. Whoever keeps this symbol is required at all times, and within human limits, to have a clear conscience or face terrible anger of the ancestors and gods. These restraints on the Ofo holders force them to live a good life, and make them semi-divine. Their curse, which they rarely use, is regarded as fatal.
There are two main types of Ofo in Ika culture –big and small Ofo (Ofo uku and Ofo nta). Another name for the Ofo uku is Mmo Ndichen, and all Ofo through which the aboriginal heads of the clans, the different towns, villages and the different Idumu are represented, fall under this category. In some villages in a clan, the women have and reverend Ofo as their male counterparts do; and this is known as Ofo Umuadan. No matter which type, Ofo is considered very important and powerful that no matter the degree of anger or annoyance, an Ofo holder, or any other person never accursed anybody with it.
It is an abomination and a lot of ritual sacrifices are offered to appease the ancestors and the gods, if it is so done purposefully or by mistake. All Ofo are preserved in their ancestral shrine. Ekpa Ofo.
OFO UKU (Mmo Ndichen)
The big Ofo, the Ofo uku, otherwise known as Mmo Ndichen as discussed earlier on, is the symbol through which the first fathers of the clans, different towns, villages and the different Idumu, are represented in Ika culture.
The various towns, villages, quarters or Idumu have the Ofo of their founding fathers, and which are held by the most elderly man in the different places. At the death of any holder, the Ofo, under this category, passes to the succeeding eldest man in the place after the ceremonies of the second burial rites of the former holder have been performed.
Sacrifices, to Ofo take place at least, once in a native year during the Iwagi festival. The elders or their representatives or the Ilotu of the town gather round the delegated person while he performs the sacrifice on behalf of all the clan people. The person prays to their ancestors, naming the first one and as many others as he can remember, for safeguard against evils, their enemies, sudden deaths and other accidental happenings. Prayers are also offered for the Obi or Okparan-Uku, for good harvest, good health and prosperity for all their children at home or abroad.
Like in the case of Ofo of a clan, the various villages, quarters, or Idumu also make sacrifices to their Ofo. The elders of the towns, or their representatives, the Ilotu, gather round the most elderly man of the town while the elders of the villages, quarters, gather round the Ofo holders during the sacrifices to the various Ofo, respectively.
Sacrifices are also offered to the Ofo Uku when any member of the town, village, and quarters wants to undertake any important assignment or ventures like title taking, etc, or when diviners direct that any of the members should offer sacrifice to any of the Ofo. In such a case, the diviners prescribe the mode and items of the sacrifice, otherwise, the items for offering sacrifices to Ofo Uku are kola nuts, food, native chalk, drinks, etc.
OFO NTA (Ofo for the family)
The first male child of every family is expected to procure an Ofo in respect of his father, and on behalf of his relations. When the holder of the family Ofo dies, the Ofo passes to the next of kin. Ofo nta, therefore, is matrilineal staff of office to the holder. In some polygamous homes, another first male child by another mother might also decide to procure an Ofo, especially if the relationship with their senior half-brother was not cordial. This was allowed in Ika clans. The Ofo referred to in both cases come under Ofo nta.
Indeed, there was proliferation of this Ofo symbol in Ika community in the olden days.
The family gathers around their father or the Ofo holder during Iwagi festival. Prayers are offered to Osolobue and other gods through their ancestors with kola nuts, native chalk, food and drinks for all the members of the family. In some other cases, diviners consulted by the family members determined the pattern and items sacrifices may take.
This symbolized emblem of ripe age for the women folk in the olden days in some clans in Ika. Since no woman held Ofo in the community in those days, the Ofo Umuadan was kept together with the Ofo Uku of the village for the women. In other words, it was kept on behalf of all the Umuadan in a village in respect of their maternal spirits. The possession of the Ofo Umuadan was not common to all the villages in Ika clans.
Each time sacrifices were made to the Ofo Uku, the Ofo Umuadan shared out of the libations poured, pieces of kola nuts and native chalk thrown, on all the objects accompanying the Ofo. In the olden days, there was no time when the oldest nwadan in charge of the Ofo made sacrifice to it personally. The only time when the Ofo was particularly visited was during the Ite okpukpan ceremony, which marked the end of the final burial rites of the former holder of the Ofo in the village concerned. The succeeding oldest nwadan supplied some kola nuts, native chalk and drinks to the male elders of the village to pray for her to be alive and healthy to take charge of the Ofo Umuadan on behalf of her fellow Umuadan. The holder of the Ofo Uku would, in the company of the elders of the village pray for long, healthy and prosperous life for the Umuadan.
But nowadays, much has changed in respect of the Ofo Umuadan in the community. The senior nwadan holds and offers sacrifices required by herself in the gathering of other senior Umuadan.