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VIEWPOINT: IKA MARKET CULTURE BY CHIEF (DR.) ONYEKPEZE

The market institution has been an integral part of Ika community since the ancient times even before the advent of money, when barter and later silent and open market trade existed in Ika towns and villages. Trade by barter system was the exchange of goods and articles for another as there was no money in circulation. Silent and open trade existed in Ika towns and villages after the Portuguese cowries had been introduced as currency. Articles were arranged for sale on the streets, frontage of houses, village squares, on path to the farm, because there were no space set aside for marketing activities aside the pathways and other sites that were thorough fares for people in settlements.

Prices were set in cowries with seeds and iron rod to indicate to buyers the amount to be paid even though the seller was away until he or she returned afterward. The iron rod was a juju (god of iron) to guard the articles against dishonest practices. The fear of God was extreme in the minds of Ika primitive brothers and sisters. With the growth of Western civilization, the old practice of exposing articles for sales without the presence of anybody was abandoned because, not only that the iron rod would be thrown away, but also be sold to metal smiths (“ndi akpu ozun”).

Ika Calendar and Markets

As time went on in Ika, four days had been celebrated as the week days. On these days, all the citizens observed certain customary rites. Markets were held on the names of each of the days namely, Eken, Orie, Afor, Nkwor, derived from the early days of patriarch Ogelle.

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At the beginning, Agbor (Eka) had two known markets-Afia Igbudu and Afia Owuwu. In those days in Ika, these two markets were centres of all articles of trade. During the slave trade days, dealers from Benin, Warri, Aboh, etc. came to these markets to exchange slaves and goods from the interior; also, many wars were conducted from the neighborhood. The two markets lasted for hundreds of years before they were closed down at the dawn of the European interference. With development, many local markets opened in Ika towns, such as Afia Ogbema in Agbor-Obi as Nkwor, Ozara Ogogo as Eken, Baleke Orogodo as Orie, Ogbe as Nkwor Umu-Ede, Orie Alero , Orie Oyoko, Orie Ekuku Agbor, Nkwor Udomi, Afor Ute-Okpu, Afor Idumu-Uku – Alisimie, Eken Idumuesah, Orie Igbodo, Afor Owa-Oyibu, Eken Otolokpo, Nkwor Mbiri, Olie Ute-Ogbeje, etc.

With the introduction of money into Ika economy and creation of permanent sites for marketing to every Ika town and group of villages, the markets were not only the economic sustenance tools, but they became the centre for information dissemination, town meetings, religious and political gatherings as well as social engagements; and hence specific days were set aside for market functions, making the periodic market the first to evolve within the Ika society, though the exact period it started cannot be easily traced in history.

History states that the periodic markets started when exchange of goods required a mutual convenient time and place and parties had to travel to a common place to trade and the importance of traders and consumers knowing where to meet became pronounced.

Because people had to come together physically to sell their goods, the markets were planned in each town or group of villages on different days. The clans were closed with a network of markets. Since the four days of the Ika native week days were insufficient to accommodate the markets, some of them were then fitted into eight-day cycle, “Izu Uku,” the big native week.

This was the nature of trading in Ika community, like all other communities in the pre-colonial era, for a long time until the Portuguese cowries were introduced. The cowry was the first known popular currency used in Ika community. Cowries were in use for many decades of years before the advent of the British sterling. Other materials like iron bars, manilas, brass and copper were introduced, but the cowries were never displaced by these other materials because the former were in short supply and were not so used in the Ika towns.

When the British introduced sterling, cowries continued to be used in units of ten to equate the British currency in Ika community. For example:

10 cowries  =  One Farthing   (1/4d).

50 cowries    =             Half a penny   (1/2d).

100 cowries   =            One penny  (1d), etc.

This Whiteman’s money was obtained by the natives by selling palm oil, fowls, goats, food stuffs and other materials to the outside traders who brought the Whiteman’s goods.

Then, all markets were local and small in size. In most cases, markets were held under the spreading branches of huge trees situated in some Chiefs’ compounds, where the vendors squatted on the ground with their goods spread out before them. This was based on popular belief that Chiefs (Kings) were the overseers of the economic activities of their people and consequently the market which was the main stay of the community. The marketers drew attention from the immediate inhabitants. Local small scale exchange took place among tens and scores of people, who exchange minutes quantities of different materials. The articles of trade in those days were mainly yams, corn, or maize, various types of meat, palm oil, native chalk, black soup, pepper, salt, kerosene, vegetables, earthen wears, cocoyam, bowels, mortars, mats, pudding of various types, plantain, snails, fowls, ropes, coconuts, trays, palmwine, variety of fruits which grew abundantly in the forest around them and many other products from their farms. Thus, the bulk of Ika economic transactions then consisted of exchanges, over short distances, of products which were locally produced.

In addition to economic roles, the markets served a social purpose in the sense that they facilitated social intercourse among different people, who had occasion to meet in the markets in their different roles as buyers, sellers and observers. Since this period, markets became the mainstay of the Ika community. For the village-group or village which owned the market place, it was a great status symbol for the traders. It was news and gossip centre and a place for ceremonies and parades, especially following important second burial rites, successful swearing of oaths of innocence, title taking; and nursing mothers parading their successful child births in order to attract gifts. It was a place to collect ones contribution, important forum for contracting marriages, for organizing other social events, meetings and to have a drink with one’s age mates, friends or in-laws. Markets were important nerve centres in any town or village in those days.

Due to frequent tribal wars, fear of kidnapping people into slavery and the rumour that made around that the Igbo, Bini and Urhobo people were often hunting for human heads during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the insecurity of life and property, movements of traders were restricted. Markets began to be established out of the areas inhabited by people. Most markets in the midst of people now in Ika were then situated outside areas that were not inhabited by people. This was a precautionary measure to prevent enemies from invading the villages disguised as traders.

(To be continued)

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