This passage examines some extant cultural practices among the Ika people that are out of tune with the present realities. Culture is dynamic and not static. Any culture, therefore, that does not develop the changing time is as good as dead.
It is well known that the Ika environment is ever-changing. Consequently, if Ika culture must give full meaning to life within the Ika environment, culture too must be dynamic. Some of the cultural practices of Ikaland deserve re-examination in the context of economic and social development as their expressions of life within a dynamic environment. There is a necessity for this re-examination because the Ika culture itself was formed when the world was very different and the community of Ika was fairly self-contained and self-sustained. Of course, the march of history brought radiant changes to the Ika environment culture. Accepting these ideas and staying in a cocoon would be a cultural dilemma.
Some of the cultural practices discussed in this passage are distuned and seem to hinder peaceful co-existence as well as a rapid social and economic development of the Ikaland. Some of them are very sensitive and expose primitivity in the 21st century, and the modern ikas are no longer at ease with them.
Death and Funeral Rites
The death rites of Ikaland present special problems in a situation in which Ika economy is affected adversely. Death in a family almost invariably involves a senior member of the family; even puts its surviving breadwinner in confinement (ino ahio, ito ekwa) of a month’s rituals. This means that where a husband dies, the widow must abandon her job, stays at home, bears the loss of the husband; and add to her problems of catering for the survivors of the family without any external help. She is thus emotionally, socially and economically in a worse position than before the death. The same problems befall the widower.
This needs re-examination because the cultural practice was devised for an agrarian close community in which sympathizers could help to look after the farm of the bereaved family during the confinement. Now, the bereaved can be half the world away, working for or with people of a totally different culture, and who may have no sympathies or engaged in a duty that cannot be long delayed. If this bereaved survivor loses the job, no remittances come home to the extended family and no development funds come home to Ikaland.
Many neighbouring communities and cultural sub-regions have tackled the problem by reducing the confinement to a symbolic status or shortening the period and the rituals so that the bereaved can go back to work and race the new realities. After all, Christianity had reinforced the traditional belief that death is an extension of life into another continuum. As a result, many of the outward manifestations of sorrow – black or white garment, isolation/sequestration, clean shave, and several taboos – are being shed. The paradox in Ika situation is that people which believe in ancestralization paint a picture of death as being such a humble thing or a punishment of the living. This attitude does not help either the social, cultural or economic development of Ikaland.
Another thing that deserves a re-examination is the quantum of substance – food, drinks, animals which go into the making of a successful funeral ceremony for many in Ika community culture. For example, to perform a burial, the Ika for a deceased parent, the sponsor would do the following:
Buy for slaughter different animals including cow(s), goats, fowls, etc.
Invite music instruments.
Lavish consumption of food and drinks, etc.
These items are quite expensive and run in hundreds of thousands of Naira for their accomplishment. The irony is that the deceased may have died because of the inability to feed well or receive good medical attention. He may have taken a title in good times, but may have fallen on hard times and died. Then, the funeral ceremony becomes a total re-enactment of the title and more. It is reasonable to imagine that half the substance and money spent on some of these funerals would have sustained life and comforts a little longer.
The irony becomes worse and more ridiculous when a house has to be built and painted; a bed bought and dressed for a few hours lying-in-state. If a man or woman has to put aside gainful employment for about a month of confinement and dehumanizing life, as an expression of sorrow at a bereavement, then what is the place of the slaughtered cows, the caroused drums of palm wine, the consumed bags of rice, the masticated mountains of manic and the consumed heap of yams, cassava-made fufu, new house which the deceased is definitely unaware of, and the new bed never laid in before him in the computation?
The culture that supports this, that will make a bereaved a debtor as well, will slow down production and productivity as a sign of mourning, is certainly anachronistic. The spirits of the ceremony can be in a symbolic manner, retaining the cultural essence while taking account of the realities of the changing environment.
The Marriage System
A unique thing in the marriage system of many Africa (including Ika) societies is the welding together of not merely two persons but two communities or even clans. In a way, this is comparable to the dynastic marriages of some societies. In Ika case, parents, the agnates and other kindred groups are involved in making necessary inquiries and in assuring that the marriage, if and when it takes place, is a marriage of two communities.
Comparing the Ika society with others, in which the divorce rate is becoming high, Ikas can congratulate themselves for erecting this communal tower of strength. Nevertheless, the processes undergone before marriages take place in some Ika towns and demands of the bride’s community seem to introduce problems unenvisaged by the founders of the culture.
Investigations and inquiries are necessary, especially in the situation where the marital homes enlarge into two marrying communities. But the number of inquiries and the quantum of drinks and substances; drinks especially seem to ensure not thorough investigation but excessive expenditure, even of those substances and money needed for beginning a new family. The results are clear. Many young men nowadays do not marry early enough or into some Ika society with caution.
Some families are founded on debts and the lavish celebrations that are the hallmarks of some non-Ika cultures have become the vogue. The acculturative result of marrying into a different culture may bring new ideas, but a culture that is conservative in many ways and which has certain material obligations that the husband’s community owes the wife’s, may in this way, be encouraging flights of capital and or development as well.
In any case, moderation has come to play in this regard. Ika towns should clamp down on this ever-spiraling material expenditure. They should place their own ceilings on the number of calls for investigations, the number in the visiting party, the quantum of foods and drinks, the bride price, and the bridal gifts. They should have in this way, succeeded in cutting down costs of getting married without altering the marriage system and the stability and validity of Ika marital culture.
It is true that Ikas are not heirs to big bank accounts and developed estates. Their young men should be helped to invest money on developing the land and leaving an inheritance for the future rather than on throwing food and drinks, marriage parties, which are forgotten after sunset but live months and years of trying to recover from debts.
The Ika Womanhood
The populating of Ika womanhood (1991 census) engaged as workers in the public and private sectors and in various professions and trades in the urban centres in Nigeria is decent. However, the demography of this population shows that most of them came from Agbor, Owa, and Umunede areas. Here a few women struggle, on equal terms with the men, to contribute to their town’s economic and social development.
The sad thing is that, in most of the towns and villages of Ikaland, a stigma attaches to a woman seeking employment in the cities or venturing into certain departments of the public economy. This unhealthy attitude necessarily drags down Ika womanhood. If, as the saying goes, “half the world is a woman”, then the contribution or help of Ikaland to the development of the economy and society of Ikaland is unnecessarily chained down by taboos, stigma, and castigation. In this aspect, only the Ika society can liberate the Ika womanhood and its contribution to the Ika society. A comparison may be odious but certain parts of Ikaland, which have produced the greatest number of women religious and women leadership, are also the areas where women are educated and sent on the missions of contributing to the society, anywhere and in any field, and on equal terms with men.
Ordeals of Widows
In some places in Ika Kingdoms, cases are where the in-laws would demand from a widow in her painful mood to explain how her husband died. In some cases, the bereaved women are even tortured and subjected to too much ill-treatment (verbally or otherwise) if they refuse to co-operate.
Instances abound also when a bereaved woman would be weeping for her late husband and the in-laws would order her to keep quiet and to tell them the amount her husband had in his bank account. Some may not stop there, but to ransack for and seize the dead man’s Pan Book or whatever had to do with the late man’s account or send her parking from the matrimonial home denying the widow and her children on what to depend on. These attitudes are unnecessary in the present development of the Ika people culture.
The Ika Traditional Palaces
Almost all the Ika traditional palaces harbor extant cultural practices which are out of tune with the present realities. These practices no longer match any cultural development of the Ika people in the 21st century.
Before, Ika Obis were almost restricted to their palaces; they married many wives, even any girl or wife of any of their subjects who appealed to them, etc. but nowadays, Ika royal fathers take flights to foreign lands, pass nights outside their domains; eat outside, live in refined palaces; attend schools to improve their educational standards; may marry one or just a few wives; and are doing many things their predecessor did not do, all in the sense that Ika royal institution culture is dynamic.
Nowadays, Ika royal fathers have the advantage of equipping themselves physically, spiritually, and intellectually for the task of providing the right leadership for their people. They continually attend retreats conceived as conferences and refresher courses, organized by governments, towards inventing and sustaining the traditional rulership in the present traditional governance with challenges of traditional rule and with prospects for reinventing it and sustaining its relevance in a fast-paced digital age.
And probably like before, the royal fathers are often told some home truths by people whose age and experience have conferred with enough wisdom to speak to them on issues at hand with the profundity of their exposition and frankness.
But these improved or civilized approaches of the Ika traditional rulers rarely reflected in ‘many dealings’ in their palaces. Take for example; the presentation and process of breaking kola nuts leave many things to be desired in Ika culture of today.
Kola nuts are still presented in the way they have done in the 17th and 18th centuries in Portuguese derivative plates/bowls and some on ancient disfigured carved stools and bowels. In some palaces, presentations of kola nuts depict primitive and anachronistic customs which do not match the personality of the present-day Obis and the improved standard of their palaces. Such practices were in vogue when Ika was a close society; they should be preserved, but not in that way.
Palaces are sources of great antiquity and monuments if Ika history. They are the last stronghold of the rites and mannerisms that characterize the ancient Ika. And they are the only places left in Ika nation where ancient customs are maintained and preserved. Like the Ika people have outgrown the use of nwape and utobi, as a means of dressing, such ancient plates/bowels, the carved stool should be kept with other ancestral objects on shelves, coaches, ceilings, etc. for preservation; while kola nuts should, as much as possible, be presented in a manner to show that the Ika people have grown more civilized than their forebears.
Like was mentioned earlier in this discourse, culture is dynamic; and any culture, therefore, that does not develop with the changing times is as good as dead. The Ika environment is ever-changing; and if Ika culture must give meaning to life within the Ika environment, culture too must be dynamic. Such cultural practices mentioned and certain others in Ika palaces deserve re-examination in the context of social development as an expression of life within a dynamic environment.
The Way Forward
Societal renewal can only come about with the introduction of new ideas and giving effect to these ideas in such a way that the whole social system moves upwards. This development cannot come about when the society is divided against itself when it is forgotten that “times makes ancient good uncouth” or that should “not attempt tomorrow’s portals with the past blood-rusted key”. (Lowell, James Russel). Culture does not derive its sole validity from its being culture, but rather on its fitting into the scheme of society using it to live a meaningful life within its environment.
Good enough, it is observed that the Ika culture has outgrown such evil practices as conditioning women on menstruation to stay out of matrimonial homes; the treatment of mothers who had stillbirth to relocate to casually built huts in a nearby bush; forcing widows to remarry sons or relations of their deceased husbands; the killing of the twins and deformed children, etc., or do we gladly recall that Ikas have outgrown such culture whereby children were served food on bare unwashed hands; where children were conditioned to drink water which their elders used in washing hands; where after eating children were made to rub their hands on their heads instead of washing them, etc. hence innovative cultural ‘approaches’ should be introduced to rebrand Ika royal palaces in line with modernity.
A couple of decades ago, Butler spoke some words that have the strength of prophecy and rightness of age:
All our lives, every day and every hour, we are engaged in the process of accommodating our changing selves to our changing and changeable surroundings. The life process is, in fact, nothing else than this process of accommodation: when we fail in it a little, we are stupid; when we fail flagrantly, we are mad, when we suspend it temporarily, we sleep; when we give up the attempt altogether, we die. Life will be successful or not according as the power of accommodation is equal to or unequal to the strain of fusing internal and external forces (Butler, 1972)
Dynamism is an acceptable kit for cultural survival. Any culture that insists on remaining unchanging has brought itself a passage to death and extinction. And yet, the injunction is to fuse the strain of internal and external forces to balance change with continuity and thus produce a feeling of changelessness. The task of cultural continuity and development falls on every head.
Meaningful development cannot take place unless people receive, understand, accept and act upon new ideas. Development and culture are both people-oriented. And when this is ignored, development often fails.