SOCIAL AND CULTURAL GROUPS IN IKA CULTURE
The Reformed Ogboni Fraternity is the best known Secret Society in Ika. Its members are drawn from all walks of life, and they are found in every part of Ikaland. The membership of the society is for life. A respondent said that the number of members has been thin until about the 1980’s when the number snowballed. Many people, especially males started to patronize the cult about this time. Some men joined with their wives. The society, according to the respondent exercises a form of social control by laying down certain rules of conduct for its members and prescribing certain forms of behaviours which are considered unworthy of a member. The cult takes active interest in what goes on in Ika society. In other words, he said that the Society seeks for the welfare of not only the members, but also of the community in its doings. “We are co-workers and seek progress of, man”, he said.
An initiate into the Society pays a heavy initiation fee which is shared according to a laid down custom among the members. In effect, the cult serves as mutual insurance, enabling the socially ambitious to invest the savings he accumulated in his youth while guaranteeing him continued economic support and prestige during his old age. Another respondent informed this writer that it is their tradition to assist their fellow members. The membership of the Society is helpful. It provides assistance in troubled times. If a member is wrongly punished, or if he lacks anything, brethren will rally around him. Again if a member is wrongly punished or afflicted, it is normally the duty of the members to collectively ensure that the person is not arraigned. And thirdly, members are always favourably disposed to helping each other first before helping a non-member. And of course, members provide necessary funds for the successful prosecution of the business of the Fraternity, the respondent said.
One other important function of the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity is the burial of its members. Usually, the group takes complete charge from the digging of the grave to the dressing of the corpse of a member who fulfilled the Society’s rules before his demise. Just before the interment, non-members, including the relations of the deceased are prevented from seeing the corpse. This has given rise to speculations that parts of deceased members’ bodies are tempered with before they are interred. But this was vehemently denied. “It is entrenched in our constitution that members should see to the mortal remains of any deceased member by providing coffin, or financial assistance up to a reasonable cost, and to give his or her remains a decent deposit in the bosom of the mother earth. And we do this in the presence of the family of the deceased brethren”. “If what they are accusing us of is the oath that we take before being initiated, all state governments have their way of swearing to oaths, all top civil servants also do. What their problem is, is that we don’t allow the non-initiates to witness all that we do. Such things are practised in the Churches. Mosques do it too. All societies including government have their constitutional rights to choose venues and mode of their meetings”, a respondent said.
The Society gives its members elaborate and expensive burial which perhaps, accounts for the popularity of the Society in Ika nowadays since burials are becoming highly celebrated affairs.
A more recent phenomenon is the development of Social Clubs or Associations all over Ikaland. Unlike secret Societies, Clubs are social groupings consisting of a number of persons whose relationships are based upon a set of interrelated roles and statuses. They interact with one another in a more, or less standardized fashion, determined by the norms and a standard acceptable by the members. They are united and held together to a greater or lesser extent by a sense of common identity, or a similarity of interest which enables them to differentiate members from non-members. The memberships of a Social Club often cut across towns, villages, age and sex boundaries. The Clubs ensure social security for their members both in material and social terms. Their system of contributions and benefits is carefully spelt out; thus members know beforehand, exactly what to expect. The affairs of the Clubs are conducted in the open, and they have none of the mysteries and suspicious ritual characteristics of the Secret Societies. In some moment of crises, the members receive not only material benefits, but also solace and companionship.
Some Clubs are registered under the Land Perpetual Succession Act (cap. 98) by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some are registered under the State Ministry of Social Welfare. The Clubs are usually open to anyone who can afford the entry fees and meet up with the other demands. In exercising their insurance functions, they provide members with protection from the hardship caused by death and other disasters. They arrange befitting burial ceremonies for their deceased members, and pay out money to support their dependants. The Social Clubs have their codes of conduct apart from their constitutions. Prominent in such codes are the stipulations that members should show kindness to one another, and that member must not behave in any manner that will disgrace the Club and its members. To be continued…
Chief (Dr.) Onyekpeze JP