SOME RITUALS AND ABSTENTIONS IN IKA COMMUNITY CULTURE
Ika people have many aspects of traditional beliefs and practices. Some of them are:
Rainmaking is one of the socio-religious activities in Ika community. Rain is the focus of interest since upon it depends the agricultural cycle and even life itself in Ika. There have been some families renowned for the act of rainmaking in Ika community. There are others who are famous for their powerful rain medicines and knowledge in weather forecasting, which enable them to tell when rain is likely to fall in the community. People rely on them for their security to make rain fall for them and possibly make rain not to fall for their enemies.
Many methods of producing rain are tried, most of which are based on the principles of similarity; that is to say that they perform some actions in the hope that the elements will make rain to fall. For example, green branches and leaves are burnt in order to produce great clouds, which it is hoped will attract the rain clouds. Or the rainmaker crouches under a blanket over a fire and his running sweat symbolizes the coming down of rain. Or the rainmaker fills his mouth with water and squirts it into the air with the object of making the rain to fall in like manner. The rainmaker shedding tears applies the same principle in order to attract the rain.
The power depends on the rainmaker not to take his bath during the period in which he withholds the rain. If he bathes, the rain will fall. This is an implication of the principles that “like attracts like”, water attracts rain. Rain pots with some ingredients are said to cause rain when laid on the ground/fire or fair weather when they are hung up. Some rainmakers use magic brooms to “sweep” off dark clouds to induce fair weather.
The rainmakers observe some rules in their rain making acts. That they seek for rain does not mean that they know nothing about the regularity of the season. They do not try to induce rain in the middle of the dry season, but at the time when rain should fall. If there is a drought, they are called upon to stop it. Similarly, if there is too much rain and the crops are rotting, rainmakers are called upon to ‘drive’ the rain away.
Most of the medicines of a rainmaker are kept in earthen pots, which have varied contents. Such pots are kept in secret places, but when they are involved in the exercise of rainmaking, the pots are always put on the fire. No matter the quantity or quality of medicines, rainmakers never engage in the act of rainmaking without first of all appealing to their ancestors and the god of rain.
Agricultural Rites in Ika Culture
Ika people are essentially agrarian and they spend most of their days in the farm with the exception of the native Sunday, Eken day, on which they rest. Consequently, they observe a lot of rituals and taboos in respect of their main occupation which is agriculture. At the end of yearly cycle and at the beginning of a new one, every village has shrines and oracles to which rituals are made before they start brushing new farms. They do this to inform their ancestors that they are about to start another yearly cycle of farming and solicit for their help.
These rituals are performed by the elders or any age grade that may be assigned to do so. Prayers such as the following are said to their ancestors. “You once came and farmed in the portions of land, on which we intend to farm this year, and you left them for us your children. The Ali on whose soil we are going to farm has come round; and we are going to cultivate it. When we work, let a fruitful year come upon us; do not let trees fall upon us; do not let snakes or any harmful creatures bite us; let us not receive any injury throughout the year; keep us alive to be able to farm during the next farming season,” and so on.
There are obvious signs of bad farming year in Ika community depending on the different towns. In those days, in some Ika villages for instance, if a tortoise (mbekwu or okpoikpo) was picked on the first day of brushing in the new farm, it was regarded as a sign of bad farming year for the man. So also, if a Puff-adder was killed on the first day in the new farm, etc. The ancestors and the gods had to be appeased to ward off the evils intended by these happenings. For this reason, farmers do not keep long, brushing in the farm on the first day they go to locate the portions on which they would farm for any year. They only clear a small area (igbuye mkpara) and return home. (See the mystical four-day native week in Ika culture below).
The blessings of the ancestors are sought when the earth is tilled and crops planted. The same thing happens when the crops are ripe. There are many important ‘first fruit’ ceremonies, not just the harvest. The different quarters and villages offer sacrifices to their Ali Ozugbo and other gods before the first fruits of their farms are eaten. These sacrifices which were so important in the olden days were based on the belief that the spirits must eat of the first fruits before human beings could partake of them. The rite was ‘that of primogeniture’, since the spirits, if deprived of their priority in the hierarchy, could take revenge by threatening the harvest.
The yams are offered to the ancestors and divine spirits first through mashed boiled yam, ewuwu, which are thrown at the shrines of the ancestors and gods by the elders and the Umuadan in the different families or lineages in a town. The spirits are asked to come and eat; and requested to continue to protect them, their children both at home and away and against diseases and misfortune.
The most important sacrifice offered by the Ika people in respect of their farm is that to Ifejiokun, the god of the farm. In most of the towns, sacrifice to Ifejioken is made during the Iwagi festival. The Iwagi festival is an occasion of great joy and happiness among the Ika people for it marks the end of the period of famine, ogen onwun/ugari and the beginning of the season of plenty of food.
The Ika people have a lot of regard for farming and they detest any act that may offend the gods and spirits of the farm. This is the reason why many taboos are observed in respect, and honour of the gods and spirits that guard the farm, such as:
Going to Farm on Eken Days
Ika people have four days that make up the native week called izu or azun Eken. They work for three days in their farms and rest on the fourth day, which is Eken day. There is a strong belief that evil spirits and fairies move along the farm roads on Eken days. However, if anybody is pressed with shortage of food items, he may go to collect them. Such a person will not work or cook or roast yam and eat in the farm on that day. The same permission holds for the palmwine tappers and those who may want to go to farm roads to look after their traps. The spirits are said to understand the truth.
If anybody goes against this belief, sanctions and fines are imposed on him by the elders for attempting to bring the wrath of the spirits on them. The elders also believe that going to farm on Eken days angers their ancestors and results in unproductive farm labour.
Several men who went to farm on Eken days had different bitter experiences to give. There is an example of a farmer who lost his hearing sense when he was returning from the farm on Eken day. The legend had it that as the man was returning from the farm on that fateful Eken day, he had the voice of strange people behind him. When he turned to look at them, he had a slap and that deafened him.
Another instance was a man who went to farm on Eken day. He had strange voice of people singing and dancing behind him. He turned and his neck remained like that until he died.
Yet, there was a case of a man who went to the farm on a fateful Eken day. As he was returning home along a lonely farm lane, he met the spirits in session. Because the spirit were aware that he had been warned before, they got annoyed with him and slapped him. The man became blind and deaf and could not find his way home. The villagers conducted a search for him before he could be rescued. He did not recover until he died.
There was an instance of a man who went to the farm on a certain Eken day. He felt like doing a little bit of work and he had hardly started working when he had strange voice of people singing and dancing in his farm hut. He became apprehensive and moved near the hut and quickly asked who they were. As he was trying to peep into the hut, thick cloth of smoke puffed into his face. But for the passers-by who heard his shout, and who came to his rescue, he would have died in the farm. He was rushed home; and when he managed to get well, he swore never to go to the farm on Eken days.
Another man went to the farm on a fateful Eken day. He cooked his meal and as he was eating, he noticed very many strange hands rushing the food, but he could not see anybody. The spirit of one of his ancestors, who wanted to save him pushed him aside. He fell and became unconscious. His kin organized a search and brought him home; and he could not narrate his painful experience with the spirits until he got well.
And yet, another middle aged man went to cut palm nuts on a fateful Eken day. He climbed a palm tree that had three ripe bunches. When he cut the last bunch, he traced his eye down to see how it would fall. To his dismay, he saw strange figures carrying away the bunches and packing all the fruits that fell off from them. He became terribly feverish. How he was able to climb down from the palm tree and how he got home was a miracle. When he was hurrying to narrate his ordeal with the spirits, he was prevented from doing so until after a day, etc.
For fear of seeing spirits, people do not go to farm on Eken days. When people have encounter with spirits or fairies, the Ika elders advised that they should keep sealed lips until the next day.
In the olden days, people never moved along the farm roads during a certain period in the afternoon referred to as ogen ogogode or efinai gedenge, which is the period between the hours of eleven O’clock in the morning to about two O’clock in the afternoon. These hours were regarded as a dreadful period during which spirits and fairies trail the farm roads and lanes. To be continued…