In the oral tradition, legend has it that the founder of Abua had four sons, namely:
Ọtapha the ọkpana or 1st born male, Ẹmughan, Okpeden and a fourth who stayed with his parents and whose name got eclipsed in the mists of his father’s influence.
That son was the one whose line eventually fathered Ẹgiọm and Ogide the traditional rulers of Abua.
In order to secure the area in those days of intertribal wars for territorial claims, the eldest
son, Ọtapha, was strategically deployed to the southeastern frontier where the salt waters of the Sombriro Sea meet the land of Abua. Ọtapha’s location served as a strategic sentry
Abua people did fight many wars in those days especially with Nembe people in
particular; so it was important that invaders be easily sighted and emissaries quickly sent to the center for reinforcements. Esidia Ogudu, for example, was the launching and
return port for many of those wars.
The youngest son, Okpeden was then positioned to the southwest of his elder brother both to keep an eye on any incautions from across the Ọrashi River as well as maintaining a link to his elder brother, Ọtapha.
The northwestern segment of territory
was assigned to Ẹmughan so that he and his children would have enough farm lands and act as a defensive against inroads from Ẹkpẹ tribes men from that sector.
With this secure set-up in place, Abua as the area and people are known began
developing as a society utilizing their natural resources, talents and interdependence on
each other to forge-out a life style, a culture. In Abua, life is woven around family, clan and community, societal mores which include:
• Land Tenure and Farming
Land Tenure and Farming
Every Abua town is divided into Clans (Arughunughun) which are misinterpreted as families in the provincial (local) official English spoken there. A clan may be defined as a group of people who at one time were kinsmen/people. In Ogbema, for example, there
are twelve clans if I remember correctly; my maternal grand father, Chief Karama Obina,
being of the Kulan Clan or Ọtọ Akulan. In Dighiriga, on the other hand, we have only four clans, namely; Ẹsẹki, Ebeke, Agoni and Aposi Clans. Consequent on the above structure, Land in each town or village is communally owned not by the town but by the clans in that town. So there is no town in Abua where Land is owned by the town. Most people in Abua are small-scale (subsistence) farmers. And although the land is owned by
one group or the other, such a group does allow others (non-members of their group) to use the land temporarily on request for farming. The custom is to approach the administrator of the land of the particular clan and make a request. The request usually
entails a bottle or two of gin and a token amount of money. The administrator accepts this stipulated amount in behalf of the clan and subsequently notifies the clan elders of the request. And at the proper time, the administrator and some elders would go with the requester(s) to a location to be farmed that year and a plot is assigned to each requester for that year’s annual crop farming. The temporary tenant(s) clear the area and plant their crops.
At harvest of those crops, the requesters lose tenancy of the plots. This system ensures that any person in the town that is willing to work does not go destitute because of lack of land. As for persons from clans with extensive land holdings, they can plant
permanent crops like cacao, rubber or even establish an oil palm plantation. Such an establishment is off limit to others even from his clan. For permanent structures, such as putting up a building or to burry the dead, the request procedure is similar but modified in accordance to Abua custom.
The male occupation for most (technologically unskilled) Abuans is the production of palm oil and palm kernel. To make this possible all naturally existing oil palm trees on
lands in that town are usually free to be harvested by all members of the town,
irrespective of land ownership. The presumption seems to be that all Abua males are imbued with an innate ability to climb or should be able to climb a palm tree. However, in times of need or in order to raise funds for the town’s coffers, a moratorium is usually
declared on harvesting of palm fruit from select areas for a given period; at the end of this period the ripened palm fruit in that area is sold for the needed funds. Hunting and
fishing are companion activities along with farming in Abua depending on where one is. There is trade and markets so there are merchants as well.
Marriages for the young were usually arranged by the parents. The mother of a young son is usually on the lookout for a good family with a young daughter. In this process beauty is usually not the driving force in the selection, rather industry and honesty on the part of the parents together with fecundity of the potential bride’s mother are major
criteria. This appears to follow from a simple understanding among the people that if a thing looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it surely must be a duck. When a suitable prospect is located, the wife passes the information to her husband who on an appointed date brings consultation wines to the father of the bride-to-be. If the interest is mutual,
the wines are tentatively accepted and the word is passed on to the elders of the extended family.
Following consultations a future date is set for the public wedding ceremony.
An Abua marriage ceremony is a grand spiritual and emotional experience, the coming together – unity- of two families not just two persons and a commitment to help the young union work in spite of the many known challenges in living.
For grown-ups the process of getting married is slightly different in that it’s more a two-person selection process to the extent that two adults consent to a union in the hope of fulfillment of their mutual needs. Past this difference all else remains the same. One prerogative for the husband, though, in a marriage in accordance with Abua societal mores is that he could marry more than one wife mainly with the consent of the first wife for there to be sanity in the home. In those days when a man’s worth and influence were
measured by the quantity of yams in his ban, the number of children he has, the number of domestic animals he owned and his ability to communicate, it was incumbent on an ambitious Abua man to have a large family size. This surely provided an expanded work force.
For not only were the wives and children involved in the family’s agrarian
business, even his in-laws and friends became part of the labor force, albeit, temporarily. For at the appropriate time the man would send word to his in-laws and friends that his farm is ready for planting and the in-laws would all show up and the yam-sets would be prepared and planted. Maintenance of the farm was the owner’s business until harvest
time when the word again goes out and the harvest is done. This process is a mutual enterprise between in-laws and friends. So to the westernized African with little understanding of his culture, the term polygamy may seem odious especially when wielded at Sunday school classes. Such a westernized African often cowers under the
disparaging remarks, only because he or she has forgotten the basics of his/her culture.
Polygamy as practiced in Abua was a socio-economic system that served the practitioners
and communities they lived in. To illustrate the societal mores that promoted polygamy, I here use a personal example. My maternal grand father was married to six wives. Was he just sampling females? Absolutely not. He was Uwema of the largest town in Abua;
he was well respected for intellect and industry. He was a Customary Court Judge in those days of British rule. Abua custom dictated that grand father must have a successor (male) child to inherit his position when he passes on. But his first wife had two daughters; so by agreement he married my grand mother who gave birth to an only child, my mother. Grand father therefore had to keep the quest alive; he married a third wife
whose first child was again a daughter. The momentum had gathered steam so he
married three more. Of course his star finally shined more brilliantly in the male arena with the arrival of three sons followed by several more daughters. And you can bet, this was a teaming household for a youngster to grow up in. Grand father taught us many
skills including thatch making.
This narrative is the story or part thereof of many Abua multiple-wife families. But it must also be understood that not every Abua man could afford to be married let alone being polygamous. And as the old Abua saying goes, “Ikaraph iba ikpẹ raala”.
The story of the location of Abua bears resemblance to that of the real estate broker or sales person. They say there are three important factors that influence the successful sale of a property in the Real Estate Business. These factors are: 1) Location!; 2) Location!! and 3) Location!!! Abua is propitiously located within the equatorial rain forest belt of West Africa and so is naturally rich in a myriad of medicinal plants. And as a
consequence of this divine blessing, every segment of Abua was noted for healers with in-depth knowledge of curative herbs. This awareness enabled the practitioners of herbal medicine to heal all manner of tropical diseases including bone fractures at minimal cost
and at speeds that were a marvel to the Western trained medical doctors. For those of us who believe in divine order and the bounteousness of the universe, this location of Abua and the awareness of herbal medicine practice was not an accident in view of the lack of other modes of health-care in the area.
Besides the healers there were prophets and seers. So Abua had a reputation as a land of wonder to their neighbors. As in all facets of life the herbs used for healing could also be misused by the narrow-minded in that trade and
some did slide into that slippery slope of witchcraftcy with the consequent unfailing undesirable outcomes. The well informed healers were those that recognized the personal responsibility and accountability of each act of each individual in this part of life especially for those to whom greater awareness had been granted.
Abua Holy Days
The Abua week is actually eight days long with two holy days – Aakẹ Adighi Ogudu is the most holy day and Aake Anyezi the less holy one. On Aakẹ Adighi Ogudu, the land is not worked on, i.e., no farming activity, not even harvesting is permitted. The other days of the week are: Ogudu, Obagh, Adule Aakẹ and Aakẹ Adighi Ogudu. Ogudu, Obagh, Adule Aakẹ Anyezi, Aakẹ Anyezi. But on Aakẹ Anyezi, harvesting in case of need is allowed.
Thus with the invasion and acceptance of foreign religious practices the
Abua person seems to observe many holy days in the week. The natural Abua person sees no dichotomy between the seen and the unseen or spiritual
aspects of life, that is, to him/her the ethereal and the material worlds exist as a continuum or two sides of the same coin. Therefore God becomes very personal. God is so personal that every clan, every town in Abua claims a subdivision of that all pervading, divine essence called Akẹ Abuan. Indeed, Akẹ Abuan is recognized by the adepts as the same Universal Essence animating all life whether in Abua or anywhere
else on earth.
Thus in every constructive Abua ceremony, be it in the home or in the
larger community, Akẹ Abuan is invoked at the commencement to shower intuitive ideas into the proceedings so that all would go well. Because of this awareness of the divinity in all life as manifestations of the sacred, Abua people had long viewed shedding of
human blood as a no no, a taboo irrespective of the circumstance. Accordingly, in the unusual instance that a murder is committed, the close relatives of the murderer would
prepare a farewell diner for the murderer late at night. And after he had eaten that meal and had a drink, the family elder would give the murderer the somber final advice, “legheri loor ana”.
Another derivative of this metaphysically guided way of life is the respect for the personal property of others. Abua people had a way of enforcing this.
A thief was actually regarded as one who has lost his moorings, his mind. And towns people ignore saying things to him/her, rather it is the relatives of the thief that are given a difficult time since they seemed not to have bothered to correct their errant relative.
Abua culture is not just a bunch of “do nots”. The recognition of the providential, protective activity of Akẹ Abuan led the people to confer an “Akẹ Abuan” title on those
upright and sage-like elderly men of the community. Likewise, elderly women of good
repute and wisdom were inducted ceremonially into the “Uma’kẹ” (Goddess) ranks.
These men and women became the corner stones projecting a strong influence of peace
and stability in each community and Abua as a whole.
Ẹghi ka Akẹ Abuan
A notable annual Abua cultural event early each year before the planting season is a visit
to the Shrine of Akẹ Abuan. The shrine is located outside of Ọmalem off the Ahoada
Abua road. The convocational procession used to be led by the priest of the Oracle
followed by seers or intuitives, prophets and elders of Abua. This convocation was
consultative in nature, seeking direction and clarification in the course of activities for the
current year. This consultative process was also carried out at the Shrine of Akẹ Ọtapha,
Akẹ Ẹmughan and Akẹ Okpeden. And those were the days when Abua functioned as a
unit under divine guidance
This was the premier cultural society in Abua for a very long time. This group was all-male and had the largest temple/warehouse in most towns. Non-Christian males were supposed to have their male children of a certain age initiated into the group. In fact, in
more orthodox areas of Abua the uninitiated male was given the same classification as female and did not participate during the night exercise in preparation for cleansing the
town. For the night operations a curfew was proclaimed about 10 p.m. and all non-initiates close their doors. And each initiate automatically become an Egbukele during this period even those that carry no mask. Consequences were exacted upon the uninitiated for openly seeing an Egbukele during the curfew period which continued until
7-8 a.m. next morning. At about 5 a.m. depending on the size of the town, the Ekumoor Egbukele (Ekpekere in Ogbema) leads a group round the town for the purpose of cleansing the town of evil influences. In this process the initial
cleansing song is:
“Na siiny anyu riiboom mo ogho
Iyaa, Iyaa, Iyaa
Na soor ude riiduul o ogho
Iyaa, Iyaa, Iyaa”
To paraphrase, this song reminds the initiate that Akẹ Abuan is with him when he climbs up that palm tree to seek his livelihood because up there are manifestations of the divine surrounding him. So also is he protected and in harmony when he descends back to the
ground and finds himself in the midst of different life manifestations of that same God.
The thrust of the song to the initiate is an admonition to be in harmony with all of life around him as he seeks his livelihood, for all is one divine mind in action. The town cleansing is finalized by the initiates and adepts gathering in the town’s square,
forming a circle and the Ekumoor Iyaar phọ prancing and dancing in closing to another admonition to all the people; and the final song is:
“Na sighiẹphẹn asugha, Na sighiẹphẹn asugha
Aruukunia phọ, Aruukunia phọ
Na sighiẹphẹn asugha Na sighiẹphẹn asugha
Aruukunia phọ, Aruukunia phọ”
Again in paraphrase this song is a strong reminder to all that have ears to hear; it reminds the listener that the freedom of action that God has given to all comes with associated
responsibility and accountability. And in the humble opinion of this narrator who became an initiate to this society at about age six, an Anglican Communicant at about age 24; and a life-long student of metaphysical principles in whom the evolution and upwelling remembrances of those past experiences seem to have come full circle to a realization of the crystal form of
awareness in the manifestations of the one Spirit of Life; the combination of these two songs is metaphysics at its best, practiced by a people with an inner call to awareness.
This humble son of Abua has often wondered in reflection how Those Unschooled Abua People Came to this Universal Awareness privy only to the Mystics of all the ages! The last of these songs has been one of the favorite in the public day time Egbukele
performance to entertain and admonish all the town’s people.
Obe Dance Group
Another unique, cultural group was the Obe Dance Group. I do not know if Obe was universal in all of central Abua or not. The only Abua town in which I watched it once or twice in those early years under my maternal grand mother’s watchful eyes was in Ogbema. Ogbema was where I spent the first six or seven years of my life.
In this town there was a group of elderly men that had membership in the Obe Dance Group. Unlike the Egbukele Society this was a senior-citizen-only club. The site of the dance was the
town’s wrestling square. The instrumentation for this group consisted of an unusually long drum supported about the height of the drummers (two men) by two forked posts.
This drum produced a very unique but different kind of sound compared to regular drums; it sounded flat. Other equipments included a wooden gung such as used in most Abua entertainment set-ups and some rattles. Each dancer had a ward of small rattles worn just above ankle of each leg so it sounds as the dancer moved.
No shoes were allowed for the dancers. And one more very important component of the accutrements was an earthen pot half-buried at the center of the dance ring. This pot usually contained
a proprietary concoction known only the adepts of the group. The potion in that pot was imbued with cleansing properties.
For the rules of this arcane dance include a provision that no two dancers’ feet touch. However, in such an event the person touched would exit the dance circle, dance to the center of the circle sounding o..o..o and dip his touched foot in the cleansing potion before rejoining the dancing circle which was usually unbroken even as members went o..o..o to the center for purification and returned again.
As much as I could remember there was only one song ….
“Obe, obe, obe jaijai
Obe, obe, obe jaijai.”
These are at a lower level of development relative to the Egbukele. But they are very popular. These are once a year events for every town that has them. In Ọtapha, for instance, Ogbokuma is always scheduled first; then Serebia, followed by Emelesua.
Again, in Ọtapha, which ever town plays, their masquerades must come to Dighiriga on the first day of play for a formal ceremony, “osoph adikpaany”. The popularity of Arughu Ẹma may stem from the lack of set conditions for participation and no membership
requirement except for those who bear the masks. Arughu Ẹma seem to be lineage type affairs where the particular mask is passed on from parent to child or in rare occasions.
Arugu is a group play comprising a few masquerades and many dancers. It has no
mystery content although some writer in the 1970s had erroneously claimed it to be an Abua Mystical play. Its real roots, in fact, is the brain child of a Sẹrẹbia renegade named Major Osibi. Major was a short medium sized man with a deformity in one of his lower
limbs and hence walked with a limp, yet the powers that be in Serebia would not exempt him from monetary levies that all able-bodied men were subject to. So it appeared he started Arugu play to poke fun at the powers that be in Sẹrẹbia and shame them to leave
him alone. One of the most popular Arugu songs is
“Amajor, Amajor, Amajor osogh phọ sogh
Isighẹ ogele ku egbeel ẹma phọ ma Major osogh phọ sogh”
This play was successful beyond Major’s dreams that soon he was in high demand
beyond the confines of Abua teaching Arugu songs and dance. Arugu had been so
successful in the Kalabari areas that some Kalabaris started claiming in Port Harcourt news papers in the 1970s that Arugu Dance was originated by them. The ridiculous aspect of the claims was the obliviousness of the claimants to the fact that the language of all the songs is Abua, a language which most Kalabaris had never in their arrogance
bothered to learn to speak. In the area of entertainment in Abua, Arugu is only one of several other programs usually started either in protest of something by the initiators in dissent to something the group members (sometimes male and female but most often
males) strongly object to in the cultural life of their community.
Wrestling matches are a yearly seasonal and universal form of entertainment and
competition in Abua since the world began. Abua towns vie with each other for supremacy on the wrestling field. In days gone by a small town like Dighiriga having a handful of stalwarts could challenge Ọtariir, Ọmokua or any town twice or even four times its size and route the giant. Abua towns also undertook trans-tribal wrestling
matches with Ikwerre, Dekema; and with Odual and Ọgbinya towns or wherever
powerful wrestlers were located. Occasionally such contests were even extended to some Kalabari towns that were considered worthy of meaningful exercise. On the whole the one neighboring group with whom Abua people do no wrestling is Ẹkpẹ.
This is mainly because of differences in the rules governing the game in that area. For them it is a hand to hand; and a leg to leg game, whereas for all other groups hands and legs are simultaneously at play in the contest. The Role of Women in the Culture In most entertainment settings the women play complementing roles to those of the men.
For instance, whenever an august visitor like a head of government comes to Abua, a select group of women traditionally dress up in “Igẹ” to show off a dignified old custom.
Ige is plural referring to circular chains intricately made of cupper or brass and worn in the waist-line over an ogbaany ijiri; the top is usually a marching short blouse, of course,
with an appropriate matching scaff. In most relevant occasions women of importance are so attired to reflect its augustness. Other than dressing up the women have always been the strength of the culture behind the scenes. There are dances like the Ogbo which
is an all-woman affair except for the drummers. Ogbo was derived from the neighboring Kalabari area and the songs are in that language. For girls under twelve, there used to be
a dance for this group—Obiomini. It is probably extinct now.
Now that we have surveyed some of the life styles of the Abua people, let us take a look at how we governed ourselves. It was true that at the time of the British inroad into Abua
some 90% of Abuans were not literate so far as book reading and writing were
concerned. But did this condition block their intellect also? Far from it. There was a sacred unit, the household or family comprising the father, mother, children, grand father, grand mother and in some cases great grand father and great grand mother. The effect of
this extended family system gave stability in the home and the community. The elders of the larger community formed a stratum of wisdom that helped mold the character of the younger generations in accordance with the customary norms of the people.
Administratively each town had its Uwẹma, usually male. The Uwẹma was supported by a close circle of advisers usually elders representing the various clans comprising the town. A second level of administrators was the town council composed of rotationally
selected town’s people to handle petty disputes and the collection of levies. The Uwẹma and his advisers address the more serious problems among the people. Under this system there was order in Abua. Abua people are a proud people, self sufficient but not arrogant.
Thus there were no beggars and no greed was apparent. This was the Abua I left some 34 years ago. What happened to Abua in the last few years of the 20th century and these early 21st
century world seemed to be the emergence of greed in its most vicious form among a handful of young Abuans in positions of power. And an observer could describe it as the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not in Abua. It robed us of many things including our guidance systems (our elders). So what are we going to do to off set
the calamitous actions that ensued as a result of those thoughtless behaviors? I know we have talked of scholarships for bright but financially indigent young persons in Abua.
This is admirable properly directed. But what about the presence of absentee officials, like Abua-Odual local government head and others that live in Port Harcourt and not in
the area they are paid to serve? What about the absence of sanitary workers in the place and the high cost in lives? There used to be maintained unpaved roads connecting the towns but those have gone by the way side and what is happening to our primary and secondary schools? Do we have qualified Abuans running these schools, people who can
claim ownership and a stake at what we hope to be our future? If not, why not? The response to these and other pertinent questions seeking restoration of the Spirit of Abua is the urgent burden to which this gathering must endeavor to address. It is not unthinkable seeing what is going on now that Nigeria would most probably have remained under British imperial rule today but for the valiant efforts of those Africans most of whom stowed away to this country in the early days of the twentieth century, got really educated
here by observing what their kinsmen and women were being put through and resolved to return home to challenge British imperialism and colonial policies on the continent.
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