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RITES IN CONNECTION WITH CHILD BIRTH IN IKA CULTURE

Before the end of confinement rites are performed on the shrines, on deities, or for the elderly people, a rite known as iju ulo/olo must be performed, after which come two other important rites of, Ife-ehu and Ighan onu.  The two last ones are to absolve and purify the male and female adults from the unwholesomeness of impurities and defilement (agwa), which they contacted by living and eating in an unwholesome environment.  That is an environment where a woman has shed blood during the process of birth, and which they could not help to contain because of the need for procreation.

The Iju ulo, Ife-ehu and Ighan onu rites must have to be performed in that order, to mark the end of the conferment whether the delivery was successful, unsuccessful, or with a birth which resulted in death of the child or mother, or both.  However, rites accompanying unsuccessful births are short in time and brief in performance.  Ife-ehu and Ighan Onu rites are both performed for the same people by the same nwadan or umuadan on the same day and place.

 

Iju Olọ

This rite seeks to purify the premises, houses, shrines and sacred places from impurities. The rite is performed with a chicken tied to a piece of coconut or palm frond and dragged round the premises, houses, shrines or any place intended to be purified, by the ụmụadan. As the exercise goes on, the performing ụmụadan recite some incantations meant for proper purifying rite. Such expressions like impurities and defilements, agwa, are hereby cleansed from this house, shrine or premises, are altered while the rite is performed.

In addition, a member of the performing ụmụadan would carry a dish containing concoction of odon leaves mixed with native chalk and soaked in water (odon). This substance is sprinkled on every place on which the rite of iju olọ has been performed to complete the ceremony. This rite is considered very important in Ika religious culture, and it is believed to be capable of removing any form of impurity, defilement or ‘bad thing’ from anywhere, or things, on which it is performed.

 

Ife – Ẹhụ

The Ife-ẹhụ rite is performed with a chicken tied to a palm or coconut frond, which is waved over the adult members of the family and the lineage, standing on a row facing the nwadan performing the ceremony. The nwadan waves the tied chicken over their heads four different times while counting in Ika numeral in a form, from one to eleven on each waving, ending each round with the phrase , ‘impurities hereby come out of you all’, mbụ, ẹbuo, etọ, mgbe-iri, mgbe-mmanai, agwa puha ọnụ ẹhụ. The three other rounds are done in the same manner, but the end phrases differ to make the purification prayers comprehensive enough. Such phrases like impurities will not take your heart, agwa agrụ ọnụ obi; impurities will not blind you, agwa etikpọ ọnụ ẹnyan; impurities will not make you lame, agwa ahan ọnụ dan ngụrọ; impurities will not spoil your lives, agwa ewiwi ọnụ oku elu, etc., are implored in the prayers of ife-ẹhụ rite. The phrases may not be said in the order in which they are put down here.

While the purification rite is going on, the participants move their feet on the ground, forward and backward alternatively reciting in unison, after the nwadan; ‘impurities hereby come out of me’ agwa puham ẹhụ, ‘impurities will not blind me’ agwa etikpọlẹm ẹnyan, ‘impurities will not take my heart’, agwa agrụlem obi; ‘impurities will not deafen me’, agwa etikpọlẹm ntẹ; ‘impurities will not make me lame’, agwa emẹlẹm dan ngụro, etc., just as the nwadan performing the rite may say in her purification prayers.

At the end of the fourth waving, the chicken is waved over all the participants and thrown towards the outlet of the compound. To show that the purification exercise is successful, the chicken would face the outlet. Otherwise, the last waving and the throwing will be repeated after the performing nwadan has altered some incantations believed to be prayers to the maternal spirits of the lineage. The chicken is picked up, and if it has not died, as often is the case, it is hit on the ground by the nwadan to cause it to die. The chicken’s peak or mouth is turned open enough to let blood ooze out of it. The nwadan dips one of her fingers to the blood and touches (anoints) the eyelids, ears, chest and the big toes of each participant, while reciting the same prayers she said during the waving exercise. This completes the ife-ẹhụ ritual, which is strongly believed will be able to prevent impurities contacted from defilement and other sources from blinding them, or taking their hearts, or making them lame, etc.

 

Ighan Ọnụ

The third is the rite of ighan ọnụ, and it has to be performed before the people will be convinced that they have been completely absolved from; and guarded against impurities and defilements contacted during this period of birth of a child into the family. It is performed immediately after the   ife-ẹhụ rite.

To perform this rite, a small quantity of odon leaves are picked from the bush and squeezed inside a dish or a medium sized plate. Some quantity of native chalk and salt are added. Water is poured to make it look an ideal concoction for the ighan ọnụ rite. From the dish, the nwadan picks a small quantity of odon and drops some liquid in the participant’s mouth. When she does so, the person spits the liquid out, while saying all kinds of prayers he would wish for himself for proper cleansing of impurities and defilements he contacted during the period. “Impurities hereby come out of me; I ate and drank in a nursing home; I sat and mingled with people in such an unwholesome environment; let all impurities, known and unknown, remembered and not remembered, hereby come out of me.” These and many other prayers are said in any order the participant desires for him or herself.

Each time the participant spits out the quantity of odon dropped in his mouth, he makes his mouth ready to receive more drops. The nwadan continues to give him the required drops of odon while she, herself, will be saying, in response to the participant’s prayer, ‘impurities hereby come out of you.’ Agwa puha ọnụ ẹhụ, each time he ends a version of prayers. When the man finally ends his prayer he will swallow the last drop of odon. He may put his mouth ready for more drops to be swallowed, which are readily given to him by the performing nwadan. The nwadan finally sprinkles some quantity of odon on his face and body. This rite is performed on the participants, one after the other.

This ends the rites, which are performed against impurities and defilements supposed to have been contacted by the male adults and the very elderly women in whose families or homes children have been born. This also is the case if the delivery ends up with either stillbirth, or death during birth. That is the belief, and the cultural Ika people need the rituals to be cleansed of such contaminations to enable their ancestors and deities to continue to protect their lives. Even where the rites may have no cleansing power per se, the psychological belief that they have been cleansed of such contaminations if ever, is enough cleansing in itself, and they feel safe and comfortable after these rites.

 

COMMUNAL AND INDIVIDUAL SACRIFICES IN IKA CULTURE

The Ika people imbibed, right from the ancient times, the habit of offering some other sacrifices.  They offer many other sacrifices for many reasons.

People do not just offer sacrifices for no just reason.  A diviner, upon consultation, may direct a member of a family, or lineage, or quarters to offer a “sacrifice with a live animal and drinks (Ikwa ese ihien ogbugbu le ihien orera). In most cases, the aim always being to placate the ancestors and the gods for any offence against them.

An essential accomplishment of some of these sacrifices is confession, which is done through prayers. To start any sacrifice, the person for whom the sacrifice is intended uses the kola nuts, which he or she presents in a plate to pray for himself or herself.  The person kneels down before the shrine, holds the plate, prays fervently for himself or herself, while acknowledging his or her guilt of whatever offence, asks for forgiveness and promises to change in his or her life.  He or she also prays for his or her children, relations, well-wishers and those performing the sacrifice.  This mode of prayers is known as ihihion oge, which amounts to confession of one’s sins or misdeeds in the presence of those performing the sacrifice and others present.  This is very much in line with the Scriptures:

 

“And it must occur that in case he becomes guilty as respects one of these things, then he must confess in what way he has sinned” (Leviticus 5:5).

“Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another, that you may get healed…” (James 5:16).

 

A sacrifice of such nature in Ika culture consists of libation of water, drinks and the offering of some quantity of food.  As an animal is involved, it has to be slaughtered; and the blood sprinkled on the shrine or oracle or on the ground and the rest cooked for the worshippers and all others participating. When this is done, it becomes a sacrifice of ‘sacramental communion’ Ese irigbame.

It is the blood of the animal for sacrifice that is given to the spirits and sometimes also, the intestine.  The Ika forefathers taught their descendants the great understanding of the symbolic importance of the fact that ‘the blood is life’.  The blood contains the soul of the sacrifice.  It soaks into the ground and so, is absorbed by the spirits.

Eating together during such a sacrifice as well as in any family or lineage gatherings during a festival establishes a bond of unity among kindred and a renewal of union of close relationship within the family or lineage, especially if such were threatened.  They offer opportunities for emotional catharsis as well as reinforce social norms by binding people together in the family or community.

To be continued…

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