Since ancient times, the people of Ika have been known to be gregarious and belong to different groups. They come together for support, and even in their misery, the Ika people love company. The groups help to shape the character, relationship and the matrix of life in the society. In daily discourse in Ika, the term “group” is used to refer to fairly stable aggregate individuals whereby each person associates with a limited number of others in varying degrees of smaller groups. Such social and cultural groups dominate the people’s life, especially in the olden days. The groups are characterized by easily identifiable membership with clearly defined central activity; and the binding of the members to one another is a well established norm.
The groups range from Casual Street crowds or gangs to well organized societies. Some of the groups are something more than a mere aggregation of individuals. Some confer life membership while some cause their members to enter into written agreements, and yet, some may require the taking of oaths before membership is conferred.
Whether temporal, stable or in any other manners under which membership is conferred, these aggregations of human beings have capacity for communal endeavour in the different kingdoms in Ika. The groups are viewed as collections of persons who are capable of consistent and co-ordinated actions; actions which are consciously or unconsciously directed towards the achievement of goals, which bring satisfaction or prestige of some kind to the members. For example, big time farmers in Ika, from time, depend on group co-operative work. The hunters, carvers and nearly all craftsmen operate in groups. The Idibie, ndi Osegwu, ndi Uzun, ndi Iheren, and indeed all cults which are as old as the Ika community exist in groups.
In the olden days, on Eken days, innumerable meetings were held over drinks or food. Members of these gatherings were drawn together because they belonged to one lineage, village, quarter, sex, dance group, the same age grade, cult, guild, fraternity, etc. Because the groups were either socially or culturally inclined, only token money, if at all, was collected. In recent times, the number of groups has snow-balled. Many Christians and elite meet on Sundays, because they belong to the same Church or Sect, clubs, trade, isusu, and so on. The co-operative work groups, Idibie guild, Ogboni Fraternity, social clubs, isusu and Co-operative societies will be discussed, while others may be mentioned in passing in the pages that follow.
Co-operative Work Groups
Co-operative work groups have been in existence since Ika came into being. This entails the exchange of communal labour among farmers, especially when labour more than the household unit could provide was required. This appears to be the first known group in Ika because of the manual labour demanded to cultivate their farms in the then thick evergreen forests. For a prestige farming, some big farmers engaged the services of work groups, especially as there was no paid labour. The co-operative work group today, remains the chief source of labour supply for such farm operations as bush clearing, felling of trees in the farm, planting, staking and harvesting of yams.
Although a work group may recruit its members from its age grade, age is not a necessary criterion for membership. An adolescent who is physically fit and “weilds a machete” may join any work group. The number in a group ranges from two and above. During a farming season, a high turnover of membership is typical. There was always a moral obligation to perform a ‘return work’. The members of the group work in turns in one another’s farms. For this reason, the membership of a group constantly changes. In actual practice, however, the members of a work group try to ensure that they work for each member in turns. When unforeseen circumstance prevents some members from participating, the work may be postponed to a time when all can be present.
The itinerary of the work group is collectively planned and hosts have enough time to prepare for the group. The person to host first is chosen either by convenience or necessity. The person who organizes others into a work group does so out of self-interest, that is to enable him to meet his own work obligations. When every member has had his turn, the life of the work group may end, and its members may start a new cycle with or without new members joining, and some of the former members dropping out. They may join any other work groups, depending on the individuals’ farm needs and future commitments. It is through this closely structured work group that a man meets his labour obligations to his friends in other village groups. A person may send a work party to his friend, to his in-laws, and to his lineage members, without expecting any payment.
Co-operative work of this kind may take the form of having all the members actually working on the same task, such as bush clearing, or there may be co-ordinated division of labour in which, different jobs, such as hoeing and planting of yams are performed by smaller units of the work group. The team work stimulates competition. The member who works the hardest sets the pace for others to follow, each conscious of the efficiency demanded by his group or unit. Members of the work groups are provided lunch which is taken in the farm. Other entertainment agreed upon by the group may be held at the host’s home.
This was a system through which two men opted to be exchanging farm labour rotationally on each other's farm. It could last throughout a farming season.
To be continued…
Chief (Dr) Onyekpeze .F.A. (JP)