Egwu-onwa Among The Ndoki Of Rivers State

IN our world, children have always played since the dawn of civilization, and description of these activities are found throughout the literature of mankind. Every civilization handed down to its children from one generation to another, traditional types of games. Play itself helps in the development of the brain. It is the vital activity that children use to learn about and interact with their world. It is usually the work of a child in which they are preparing themselves for adult roles and for society at large. For a child, play is the vehicle for exploring and learning, developing new skills and connecting with others. Through self-directed play, children follow their interests, explore the unknown, link outcomes with choices, conquer their fears and make friends.

Clinically, play is good for children’s health, hence they can play all day, that is, if some sort of check is not put in place. In Ndoki area, much like what obtains in other climes, the chattering voices of children are occasionally heard re-echoing from the streams as they jump and swim away. The girls will splash water and chase-about one another at the shallow areas while the boys, in their characteristic bravado, maneuver tree branches to plunge into the deep. At home under the shade of big udari or ugba trees in and around the neighborhoods, children continue to have fun as they group themselves in their play.

But despite these plays children indulge in at daytime, there are equally the ones they engage in by moonlight. However, in the course of this discussion, we would not include other entertainment activities of moonlight which abound. For example Oku-kpum or Eru-Onwa masquerades of the Azumini areas, which swiftly jumps and summersaults. And the Ari-ada which expands and contracts in size as it performs. We would concentrate on the moonlight play as practiced by children.

Here, the ‘children,’ mostly within the age range of five to 15 gather themselves for play activities which include storytelling, tongue twisting, riddles, hide-and-seek, dancing, singing choreography, group dynamics and so much more. Play activities during moonlight in the culture of Ndoki people is known as egwu-onwa.

The Ndoki are an Igbo-speaking group which inhabit a vast area located around the southern most fringe of the Imo river and sprawls into three states of Nigeria, namely Abia, Akwa Ibom and Rivers. They are mainly farmers, traders and fishermen.

Moonlight play in Ndoki is carried out at nights when the moon is full, or whenever it gives enough light for visibility. It is played during the dry season. Those who participate in the play are usually between the ages of fives and fifteen years. It could be more or less. The play is a recreational activity which commences especially after dinner and runs into the night. It is characterized by a wide spectrum of activities which include songs, précis and responses, wrestling, dance/choreography, mimes, riddles, puzzles, story telling, group dynamics and so on. The origin of moonlight play in Ndoki may not be clear but it seems to date back to the beginning of the Ndoki as a people. These plays take place within the courtyard of a family or compound, especially for the very young children. But it is organized around the compound square or meeting ground for the more grown-up ones. It could last from the period after dinner to midnight, when everyone in the village may have retired for the day.

To begin the play, the leader of the children or anyone else usually shouts or calls – ota-e, ota-e! and the response will be uwuu! At this time all the children will dash out of their houses, abandoning whatever irrelevancies they may be engaged in. After being through with their home chores. All will head to the usual square where they would either sit or squat, depending on what the leader may direct. It is worthy of note that the leader may be the eldest, the most vocal or the most domineering among them.

When he or she calls outs, the children respond:
Leader: Ota-e!
Response: Uwuu!
Leader: Ota-e!
Response: Uwuu!

Leader: Eze elu kwe gi (if you lose all upper row of your teeth) Eze ala kwe gi (If you lose all lower row of your teeth). Gi were umoro ta aki (then you chew palm kernel with your bare gum)
Response: Uwuu!

The literal meaning of the call may well be unconnected with the actual expression of invitation to come out for the play, but the outright communication it draws out is all that matters in this case.

As the children begin to converge, they may quickly draw out a game by forming a circle. They stand side-by-side one another holding each hands of the adjacent person in a circular form. The leader may sing:
Leader: Akpankolo
Response: Kpankolo
Leader: Udumee
Response: Egele
Leader: Onye omara
Response: Soro ya-ya-ya-soro yaaa!
While still holding hands following the tempo, they run side ways, clock wise or anti-clockwise, At the termination of the song, everyone stoops down as quickly as possible. So as not to be the last to do so. But should anyone be spotted to have stooped last, He or she is carried by two stronger people who will grab his hands while the other holds the two legs. He is carried to an imaginary garbage dump, while the rest will jeer at the loser and singing thus:
Leader: Ebufuenu nwa’ruru ala o! (let’s throw away the mischievous child)
Response: Echi-echi amuta ozo!! (Tomorrow a better one will be born)

Otuka Victor Ucheoma is of National Museum, Port Harcourt

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