Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My home town, Igarra, is the Headquarters of Akoko-Edo L. G. A. which is today the oldest in the Nigerian Federation. Igarra is a chic little town which you cannot altogether describe as sleepy as the town could sometimes be bubbly and actually boisterous at weekends and during celebrations whether it be of a social or cultural nature.

Igarra which is otherwise known as ETUNO has a very congenial and serene atmosphere as it is nestled among large boulders and exotic greens which explain why the chief occupation of the people was and remains farming though it is fast becoming unfashionable as Igarra has had its own brush with urban drift. It is estimated that more than 75% of its sons and daughters live and work outside the town.

Igarra is a unique town in Edo State as it shares and has little in common with any other in the state, its history, language and cultural heritage has nothing to do with those of neighbours as close as the Enwan, Somorika or even the Uneme people.

It has been established that the Igarra people have a common ancestry with the Igalla’s and the Igbirra’s of Kogi State, even as there are other theories as to the origin of the Igarra people but the former remains more plausible and has become widely accepted. The others are largely myths and legends unsubstantiated with little or no shred of evidence.

Be that as it may, the Igarra man does not understand a single word of the Igalla language and the corollary is also true of the Igalla man. The Igbirra’s with whom we share some language and cultural affinity albeit to a very limited extent is totally different in outlook and make up from the Igarra man. Whither then did the Igarra man emanate and who is his brother and how did he get to his present place of abode? (i.e. Igarra).

Igarra town has maintained its rustic charm over the years, there is something about it that will and always brings back those born and bred there. Those of its sons and daughters born abroad are not left out, it takes only a single visit for them to join the bandwagon of end of year holiday makers and fun seekers in that rustic rocky town. Many reasons have been and continued to be adduced for this state of affairs but we make bold to say that the most important one is that Igarra community is structured in such a way that every son and daughter even if begotten in far away Australia has an affiliation with the red earth of Igarra and will always come back to commune and once the communion, the bond of affinity may never again be broken.

This structure that I write about has been likened to a ‘beanstalk’ (orupeza) by the erudite Prof. Adebayo Akerele of the University of Benin in a most elucidating lecture delivered in Igarra in April 1998 to mark the Igarra day celebrations of that year. The average Igarra family is connected to the other in more ways than one; the town remains a close knit community where people are related by blood and marriage. This is why it is possible for Mr. A of Ugbogbo to be related to Mr. B of Utua paternally as cousins and Mr. B is related to Mr. C of Ufa maternally as cousins and Mr. C marries Mr. A’s daughter. Mr. A is related to Mr. B by blood though not related to Mr. C, now Mr. C has become a relation of Mr. A by marriage whilst still a relation of Mr. B by blood thus completing the ‘beanstalk’ theory of Igarra families. The mind picture drawn in this analysis is a reflection of the entire Igarra community.

A most interesting aspect of the structure is the Anda/kindred/clan family system (that is a group of families descended from a common ancestor, the families could either be large or small, extended or nuclear). The ‘Anda’ system consists of 14 existing families. In this ‘Anda’ system, members of the same ‘Anda’ may not be strictly related by blood yet they are forbidden to marry. They see themselves as brothers and sisters. A marriage between any of the members is an abomination, sexual relations amongst them incest, viewed as, if not even more abominable than sexual relations among siblings. If sexual relations thus occur, all be it inadvertently, the parties involved must undergo a spiritual/public cleansing to appease the gods and to ward off the unpleasant consequences that are sure to follow.

Meanwhile, when a female member of an ‘Anda’ marries into another ‘Anda’, (i.e. from/into any of the other 13 ‘Andas’) she becomes an ‘Opashi’ in Igarra parlance but remains a bonafide member of her ‘Anda’ and She continues to enjoy some rights and privileges conferred by the ‘Anda’. Her children are equally seen as ‘extended’ children of the ‘Anda’ (‘Azi’ in Igarra parlance) even though by virtue of the patrilineal system in Igarra they are children and descendants of their fathers ‘Anda’ only, to which the mother’s ‘Anda’ can lay no claim. Be that as it may, the ‘Azi’s are always welcome to the mother’s ‘Anda’, they have full freedom and access to the ‘Anda’s heritage short of being or claiming membership of the ‘Anda’.

In the Igarra heritage, there is the ‘Chao’ (Hello) phenomenon. The word ‘Chao’ in Igarra is the principal phrase of greeting, this word is so adaptable and flexible that it often takes its meaning from context, which is why it is possible to use it both in times of grief and happiness. If a man is bereaved, you use the word in that context and you bring a lot of succour to him and the burden becomes lighter to bear. If a man has a new-baby, a new car, use the word ‘Chao’ in context and it is perfect for felicitation. From this has emerged the unifying, rallying, all encompassing ‘Chao whistle’. This comes to the Igarra man naturally at birth such that every Igarra son and daughter, young and old knows and uses this whistle, if you wish to draw on Igarra man’s attention, if you wish to know who the Igarra man is in a crowd whether in Igarra or in far away Australia, use this whistle and you see eyes turning, necks craning to behold the source of the whistle. You do not have to know a man’s name, just blow the whistle and he/she will answer back. The point I am driving at here is that the ‘Chao’ phenomenon is another veritable force that binds the Igarra people together and perpetually keeps step with them wherever they may be, constantly prodding ‘the red earth of Igarra, the red earth of Igarra, do not forget’.

Every Igarra man has a relation back home, why will he not go to Igarra? During the festive period of Easter and the Christmas and New Year festivities, you can be sure to meet others you have not seen in years as they too will surely come home to roost. At such times, the meetings and celebrations are usually boisterous and whoopy. So lasting are the impressions and memories that you wait in anxiety for the year to roll by, so you can be back. Such is the stuff dreams are made of.

To the average Igarra man, the historical and cultural festivals are even more important, revered and respected, that is why the Igarra man will speak of, prepare for and partake in ‘Ekuochi’ festival, second and final funeral ceremony and the ‘Aba’ festival (which is the mother of them all) with brio and gusto. The ‘Ekuochi’ festival is essentially a night of ritual and drama (masquerade/musical concert). The Aba festival is a seven yearly affair; it is a week long cocktail of ceremonies that is a study in exoticism and epicureanism. It is the single most important festival in the Igarra socio-cultural calendar. For those who know, it borders even more on the spiritual than the physical activities the general public enjoys. The festival marks the initiation of youths into adulthood and signals the passage of ‘Opoze’ into ‘Azebani’ (that is the movement of those at the peak of their prime, usually between the ages of 55 and 65 into elder statesmanship). Just as in National life, the Igarra culture and traditions recognizes that once a man has paid his dues, contributed his fair share to the development of Igarra community and the society in general it is only natural for him to step back and savour the last days while waiting in the lounge to board the flight to eternal rest with other souls triumphant in he Lord God Almighty. His role then will be one of advisory and custodianship of the rich cultural heritage of the Igarra people, he will no longer take part in that tedious aspect of the day to day administration of the affairs of the community. This task now devolves on the new ‘Opoze’ and after a cycle of seven years when another ‘Aba’ festival is celebrated, the process is again repeated. Now between the ‘Azebani’ and the youths that are initiated into adulthood every ‘Aba’ year, there are seven (7) age grades, it therefore means that it takes 49 years or thereabout for the Igarra youth to become an elder statesman during which time he may have completed his earthly mission. He could have retired from paid employment and for those self-employed, their children or trained subordinates and aides may have taken over/picked up the gauntlet from where they let off. They may still be active, they constitute the experienced elite of society and for them the energy remaining is to be employed in the service of community and humanity. It is time to annex/harness extended ties and link the old with the new.

The Igarra man, wherever he is comes home for the ‘Aba’ festival, the last three editions in 1993, 1999 and 2005 on which I am competent to comment as an adult who had the opportunity of viewing things maturely and dispassionately, with the benefit of hindsight drew crowds from all over Nigeria, the rest of Africa, Europe, America and Asia. From the four corners of the world came many Igarra families whose only link with the town hitherto were positive averments by their forebears that their roots and ancestry were in that rocky, rustic town tucked away somewhere in the bowels of the black continent of Africa and most probably at a time when the only impression they had about Africa was that of the ‘dark continent’ and for them therefore their roots were in the middle of nowhere. But then, they took the leap of faith, they came, they have since established their root and halted their cultural displacement and ancestral history which was dangerously spinning and sinking into atrophy, they avoided self immolation and the atavistic urge is at an all time high. The ‘Aba’ festival is fast becoming a tourist attraction and one can only hope that someday it could become something as big and revered as the Argungu fishing festival or the Osun/Oshogbo festival with international clout and flavour which has brought renown to the Sokoto and Osun people respectively.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that Igarra has all it takes to be a great town, the careful and delicate structures in place is to give the town and its people strong communal base and a sense of public duty. Igarra’s sons and daughters have made good at home and abroad, their clout permeates all aspects of our national life and human endeavour both in the public and private domain (science, medicine, law, engineering, finance, arts and the social sciences). It is not for want of human resources or persons who can make things work that Igarra remains poor as many of our people are erroneously led to believe. At every material time in history, the Igarra’s have always had and will always have such people but this will only translate to common good if the people apply and address their minds to it. Today is the right time; the Igarra people must jettison old praxis, find a new way of doing things and release the latent energy in us all to develop our town and our people. The problem has always being with people with bankrupt and less than puritanical sense of public duty, but this has to change so that when our earthly sojourn ends and we are no more, history will reserve a kind and positive place for us in its annals.

In whatever we say or do, we must know that we have only one place to call home, whatever heights we attain in life, we can never, ever divest ourselves from Igarra. Let these words of Martin Luther King Jnr. be a constant reminder of what you owe yourself, others and Igarra as an Igarra man, ‘every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment; life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?’ And for Igarra, permit me to add.

I end this treatise by asking you to call to mind the immortal words of Frantz Fanon thus, ‘every generation must discover its mission which it either fulfills or betrays’. We have and you have discovered yours, it is Igarra, we must fulfill it.

Stephen O. Obajaja Esq. is a Partner at the Lagos Law Firm of Fountain Court Partners.


Fountain Court Partners

Block 36B, LSPDC Estate

Ogudu Road

Ojota – Lagos.


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