An instance of Ika communal labour was the building of mud house (itun ulo/olo ejan). Annually, every Idumu in Ika community employed communal effort to build new houses for their kinsmen in need. Kinsmen then had reasons to build new houses. Some existing buildings might be cracking after some years and needed destruction in order to rebuild them. In other cases, some young men who were recently married would crave to have buildings of their own from those of their fathers. Hence in every year and from the months of June to September, when the rains fell, people willing to have new houses would indicate during their Idume gathering (ogwa) assembled for that purpose. During this period of the communal assignment, mud was dug and kneaded (izo ejan) towards the buildings while from the months of October to December or January, when the rains had ceased, the mud walls were raised (igbe ulo), and roofing (iwa ulo) came afterwards. Through the communal labour, every Idumu made houses affordable for their kinsmen.
Communal labour was often the assignment of all the age grades from the Ikoro to the young boys (Ikpele) led by the Okwa Ikoro age grade (the quin-quagenarians) between 51-60 years of age; and supervised by the lowest Ndichen age grade, Okwa Ikogbe/Ikoro-Uku (the sexagenarians) between 61-70 years of age (See chapter Four for the age grades and functions).
The reward for the communal labour of itun ulo ejan was not in cash payment, but the merriment which probably ended in local drinks especially palmwine, first on the commencement of the communal labour and the entertainment of sumptuous pounded yam and drinks on the day the house was roofed. On the occasion of this gathering, the elders of the supervising age grade would pray for the peaceful progress, for fertility of the new homes and uninterrupted continuation of communal labour for the kinsmen of their Idumu. The elders eventually supervised the formation of two groups to embark on the communal labour for the year on this day.
Each of the two groups was led by a respectable male in the Okwa Ikoro age grade. Then, each of the leaders was made to choose members in turns for their teams. These two teams would engage in competition to see which side was the more hardworking and dispersed at the end of year’s communal labour assignment.
The communal labour for house building was always on Eken days within the period. The assignment began with determination of the source of mud and water. Towards these, each team broke into two or more sets. While the elders of the groups dug burrow pits in which enough tromped mud would be heaped (otobo) with digger and wooden shovels (oseken), the young ones went for water with which to mix the mud for easy tromping in many smaller pits to produce consistent blended mud which were stacked at the main burrows. In most cases, the workers chanted songs to ease the tension of hard work.
This was the case for three different times or days on which an Idumu would come to knead mud for any house builder. The tromped mud heaped in the two burrows were often deemed sufficient by experienced mud builders for any size of building required, whether it was a three or four bedroom house. Each team carefully covered their otobo with foliage to prevent hardening from the sun.
Apart from digging mud from the pits, there were cases where mud could be gotten from the ruins of old houses (nkpru). This ended the first stage of the communal labour towards mud building (itun ulo ejan).
When the mud had been dug and mixed, a gap was given for the rains to subside before the second stage of the communal house building which was the raising of the mud walls. Towards this, a building plan was set out at the building site. A master builder often from the supervising age grade ruled either with leg or guide ropes. Workers from the two groups went back to their otobo to mix, making sure that the mixture was soft enough. One set of a group used their wooden shovels while the other kneaded the mud by stomping on it, often amidst melodious songs which gingered the workers to work harder.
Each team having chosen which wing to wall, the lead person for each group surged forward and started laying large lumps of mud to start the Iyeto/mgba ejan, the first layer of the building. The members of each group had a duty. While some elders in a group would mould, one or two of the elders smoothened the molded walls with their wooden shovels; and others either draw water and carried for the mixture of mud in the burrows, some energetic ones prepare the mud in lumps for the younger ones to carry to the molders in their awiwo, a wooden palette, according to age and strength.
Layer after layer, the lumps of mud were laid from Iyeto/mgba ejan to mgbe ebuo/mgbenai to mgbawa/mgbe-eto and mgbe-eno/mgbedu, on four different Eken days or times after allowing the preceding layer to get well dried. At the mgbawa level, provisions were made for agba as the lintel board; and on these agba were moulded mgbedu/mgbe-eno, the last deck that finalized the construction of Igbe ulo ejan in Ika mud building culture.
The walls were ardoned with many fixtures while they were wet. For example, mgbawa level had holes (uvun) dug in the mud walls to provide saves; pegs (mkpukpo) were driven into the walls at different heights and ends of the parlor and rooms for hanging clothes and other materials; while shelves (okpukpen) were provided at some corners on which to place materials and things. Also, the ceiling of a house (ifiri) after roofing was decked on the mgbawa level with plank and mud.
On the tops of the mgbedu level, the last layer, were provided with nogs (mkpukpo) round the building on which the roof was firmly secured to the mud wall. The owner of the building made his arrangement to provide termite proof sticks or bamboo sticks which the structure of the roofing was made of. The broad leaves, mgbodo with which to roof the house were collectively cut by the assistance of the builder’s relations and friends. These broad leaves overleaping each other were tethered by the stem of the bamboo sticks which were used to do the nogging, while smaller bamboos were used for the purlines. Strong ropes were used to tie them firmly. Because this part of the construction was an art, it was reserved for the matured men usually between 35-45 years.
It is pertinent to note that throughout the communal labour building process, teams were encouraged to finish whatever they did in time. They would do so before nightfall on each day, and there were hardly any time when a team would abandon their work, especially during the laying of the mud walls levels. Everything was timed, punctuality being the key. Teams were traditionally the same all the time. If any member was late, he was thrown into the mud and his age mates would cover him with mud to embarrass him.
Itun ulo ejan, an age-old Ika tradition actually points to a long-lasting solution to the housing question in the olden days Ika culture. To be continued…