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Onitsha Ado N’idu: Origin, cultural perspective

By Florence Nwamaka Osu and Ojiaku Kalu
22 January 2023   |   3:45 am
In about 1520, when the Onitsha people probably migrated from Benin, it is likely that they came with the Ozo title taking as part of their culture, which they had been practicing in Benin prior to their exodus.

Okwachi is carried behind an initiate by a virgin

Title Taking In Onitsha
In about 1520, when the Onitsha people probably migrated from Benin, it is likely that they came with the Ozo title taking as part of their culture, which they had been practicing in Benin prior to their exodus. In fact, Ozo title taking is as old as Onitsha. One of the highest rungs in the Onitsha traditional, social and political ladder is attained through the acquisition of the Ozo title.

Ozo is an expensive title whose premier function is to confer on its recipient the priesthood of the ancestral cult. Ozo elevates one from the status of a commoner to that of an aristocrat making him a member of exclusive club: the Agbalanze.

The Agbalanze society is however not a secret society but because of the dignity the membership of the society confers on its recipient, more and more people in Onitsha are now taking the Ozo title.

The Initiation
Igba oko nti na inyado nna: For the igba oko nti ceremony, the intending Ozo man is expected to present his immediate family with kola nuts, palm wine, gin and money, the sum of N17 million. The goat is killed, the skin is separated from the meat, which is spread on the wall to dry, and members share the meat, which will be taken home. While the goat skin when dried will be used by the intending Ozo man to sit on during the installation ceremony.

Igo mmuo: On the day agreed upon, all the Ozo men of the group will assemble in a house considered appropriate for the purpose. Kola nut, palm wine, gin, and money are presented in the quantity and manner as laid down by the custom.

The Ozo man-designate comes forward and is enthroned as Eze-ozo by sitting him on the goat skin of the earlier she goat slaughtered during the inyedo nna ceremony. The date of the initiation is announced and all the Ozo men disperse.

Ibu ego na ikpalo: During the two ceremonies of inyedo nna and igo mmuo, an announcement is made of the day on which the initiation fees of about N5,000 is paid. The performances on that day are exclusive to Ozo titled men both of the kindred group and those from other villages, although non-titled men, friends and relatives of the candidate could be present as spectators.

Ina obibi: Prior to this stage, the Ozo candidate has collected all the symbolic objects, these include: A pair of osisi, Okwachi, Okposi, Ikenga and Ofor.

All Ozo titled men throughout the town will be personally invited to attend the initiation ceremony. The Okpala of the candidate proudly occupies the Ukpo before the shrine and starts the rite of Iwalozo.

The third and final ceremony for the night is reached when a representative of the Obi of Onitsha arrives on the scene with the symbolic object of Nza. Nza has the power of purification.

The initiate, then walks up to the bearer of the Nza into an enclosure where his whole body is smeared with white chalk powder and a white strip of cloth tied around his head with a white eagle feather stock on it while the Okwachi is carried behind him by a virgin. Immediately after the ceremony comes to an end, his admirers amid congratulations and gifts lead the new titled man home.

Ugwu Ozo a afia Ozo: In the morning of the following day, the initiate and his immediate relatives assemble before the kindred Ani shrine for the final ceremony of ugwu Ozo a afia Ozo.

During the ceremony the beginning of which is marked by breaking of kola nuts and libation by the Okpala, the remaining initiation fees are demanded by the clan’s Agbalanze society. The money collected are then thrown up and on reaching the, children scramble to pick them, thus comes to a final end of the long ceremonies of the traditional initiation to the membership of the Agbalanze society of Onitsha.

It can be said most emphatically that the Ozo title is highest cultural ambition of the average Onitsha man, because it confers on the recipient the traditional order of priesthood and the highest degree of social standing in the community. Nobody can officiate on the family shrine except an Ozo titled man.

Onitsha people were ruled by their Obi according to tradition laws and customs till 1901, during the reign of ‘Obi Okosi I’.

The customary law practice was resolved into the native court system by the British government, lastly, Onitsha has one of the most ancient Chieftaincy institutions – Ozo and Ndi Ichie such as Owelle, and Odu one of the most significant women association, the elite Otu Odu society wear Ivory Bracelets and Ankelets as a distinct feature of their traditional regalia.

Finally, Onitsha has one of the most magnificent markets in West Africa, the market started as a commercial center where traders from the riverine area of the Niger, from Lokoja to Brass exchange goods including slaves.

Osu is Chief Museum Education Officer, Department of Educational Services and Training, National Museum of Unity, Enugu and Kalu, PhD, is of Department of Mass Communication, Evangel University, Akaeze, Nigeria

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