Heritage:Garlands For Isama Diji, Commanding Officer For Onicha-Ugbo Community
BUSTLING Onicha-Ugbo, Delta State, was recently agog, as it played host to friends and well-wishers of High Chief Onuwa Michael Diji, who was official installed as the seventh Isama, the king’s guards’ commanding officer and one of Onicha-Ugbo’s head warriors.
It was a colourful cultural ceremony dating back months with the consultation of the afa (divination) on who the next Isama should be following the death of the former occupant, Chief Edwin Uzoka.
Many steps and customs are required before becoming an Olinzle Akpukpor Awolo (High Chief/Leopard skin-wearing chief) or Onotu (warrior) in Onicha Ugbo Kingdom. First is the ida nzu (sacred white chalk) marking ceremony, followed by the ibu ibeli ceremony (retrieving and carrying the traditional staff of office of an Olinzle Akpukpor Awolo or Onotu, which kick-starts the official installation ceremony.
As the traditional staff of office of a leopard skin-wearing chief, the ibeli must be recovered from the family of the previous holder, in this case the late Isama Uzoka. On July 23, High Chief Diji, who is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of First Choice Leasing Limited, as the Isama-designate, performed the important ibu ibeli ceremony.
Led by the Iyase (traditional prime minister and head of Onotu) of Onicha-Ugbo, High Chief Festus Mafiana, and supported by his lieutenants, the Odogwu, High Chief (Dr.) Ibe Emmanuel Kachikwu represented by Mr. Onyekansi Kachikwu; the Ozah, High Chief Azubuku Mosindi and the Uwolo, High Chief Matthias Asielue, a retired Nigerian Army Cornel, represented by Mr. Sunday Ojiede, and their troupes/members of the Onotu (ndi afe ododo), all decked in red costumes, danced from his residence to the residence of the late Isama to forcibly retrieve the ibeli.
The event had a series of mock battles at the residence of the late Isama between the Onotu’s kinsmen and those of the invading warlords. When they eventually overwhelmed those of the late Isama’s men, the Ibeli was retrieved and given to the new Isama Diji. It is usually the second to the last ceremony the incoming Isama performs before he is formally installed as the head of the Onotu of ogbe obi (the king’s immediate clan) in the town. This is followed by the ilashu ezi (all night) ceremony, where he spends the night that precedes the official installation and presentation to the town. He dances around the Kingdom with his onotu and visits all the chiefs for their blessings.
The rituals for the installation shifted to high gear on Saturday, July 25, signalling celebration for everyone. The ceremonies began at the Idumu Oseh residence of the new Isama, where the other four High Chiefs were waiting to accompany him to the palace grounds. Assembled at his residence were his immediate and extended families, onotu men in red costumes (afe ododo), clans’ men and women, natives of Idumu Oseh and Ogbe Obi village, and friends and well-wishers. Amid noisy blasts of native canons, they formed a procession with the High Chiefs and the onotu in front and danced to the palace about half a kilometre away, where the entire town was waiting to catch a glimpse of the fierce-looking warlords dance.
At the palace, traditional canons (akpala ani) were fired to alert the king, his chiefs, ikpala and dignitaries of the arrival of Isama’s procession. The warlords and high chiefs were lined up in their order of supremacy, with the new Isama standing next to Odogwu, followed by Ozah and Uwolo while Iyase leads, after a series of synchronised march and dance steps to the blast of egbe aka (dane guns) and the symbolic plunging of their traditional staffs of office into the ground.
With staffs standing upright to signal affirmation, the warlords standing before the king in unison then pay their respect in a series of movements, the raising and lowering of their traditional spears and cutlass several times. The king then inquired from the Iyase the nature of their visit, to which the Iyase replies that they had escorted the Isama-designate for installation as substantive Isama.
The most recently installed warlord, Odogwu then paired the Isama to perform a series of dances. His Majesty, Obi Victor Chukwumalieze, Agbogidi of Onicha-Ugbo, then took the chalk and blessed the new Isama, breaks some kolanuts and blessed him again and offered prayers to the ancestors.
All the while the Isama was on his knees with his representative and aide. He rose, saluted the king and affirmed his allegiance by tapping his cutlass and spear several times on the king’s sword.
After the installation, the commanding officers took turns to perform the traditional warrior-dance, with Iyase leading, then followed by Odogwu, Oza and Uwolo. They all pranced around, cutting the posture of ancient warriors backed by their traditional troops, the onotu, who wielded their machetes to deadly effect in centuries before. The scene at the palace was incandescent, a kaleidoscope of colours as various women groups, gracefully dressed in the traditional akwa-ocha (knitted traditional white wrapper) and beads, displayed egwu oshushu (traditional dance) the Anioma people of Delta State are known with.
With the dancing over and installation completed, tradition demanded that the Isama must complete the journey home on foot. And a few minutes into it, the sky, as if to test the resolve and power of Isama, opened and the rain came down, forcing everyone to dash for shelter. But not Isama and his band of traditional warriors (onotu), who ignored the elements; they soldiered on, as the unpredictable sky reduced its downpour to a drizzle, blinking in the eye-balling contest with the warrior chief. The new Isama won his first battle.
A total of seven kings attended the ceremony. It was the first time the new chief was allowed to put on his akpukpor awolo (leopard skin costume). He was escorted by the other High Chiefs.