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Ekuechi Festival Of Ebiraland


There are few accounts of how the festival started. However, the differences inthese accounts are not fundamental. Generally, Ireba Eku (masquerade cult) wasbelieved to have been formed under the divine instruction of God to check the excesses of women, apart from serving as ancestor worship. Myth has it that aftercreating man and woman as husband and wife, one day God sent for the man but hewas too busy to honour the call. Instead, he requested his wife to heed God’s call onhis behalf. God gave her Irakwo (an egg-like object that contains the secrets of lifeand has the capacity to manifest supernatural powers) for her husband. Having dis-coveredits contents and being fascinated by them, she hid it in her uterus and laterswallowed it without giving it to her husband. She thereafter became quite powerful,performing supernatural feats as turning into any animal and changing back to ahuman being. She could instantly grow wings to fly around in astral travels. She alsobecame capable of all sorts of mysterious transformations. Her husband becameenvious of her powers. In sympathy, God enabled the husband to create the Ekumasquerade cult from which women membership is strongly discouraged as a coun-terforceto the powers the women posses.

Department of the Performing Arts, University of Ilorin (
African Study Monographs, 22(1): 1-36, May 2001)

The Adeika of Eika, the traditional Chiefof Eika clan in Ebiraland in an interview recorded by Shamoos Adeiza, collaboratedthis notion:Eika is the senior clan in Ebiraland and Ekuechi originated from them. The real originof the festival is a traditional secret and I wonder whether I should reveal it. Well,well, I will...Ekuechi originated from necessity, for when witchcraft crept intoEbiraland it was the women who reigned supreme in the cruel craft and they cheatedus men by it. Many people were being killed by them especially men. In retaliation,we men also set up the Eku cult to dread the women. Women are made to believe thatEkus who perform during Ekuechi are ancestor spirits raised from the dead to comeand admonish, warn and punish evildoers in their songs and ritual (Adeiza, 1994).This is one of the major reasons women’s participation in the night performanceof Eku’rahu is highly restricted. According to Ogunba (1978: 24),in many African cultures women are not admitted into the secrets of the masking art;indeed, they are often the favourite target of masking and satirical ridicule, theassumption being that they live a more poetical life than their menfolk, have secretpowers, are more of spirits than human beings, and therefore an object of fear or ven-eration.A more encompassing conceptual thought on this phenomenon of female exclu-sionfrom masquerade cults within the African context resides in the understandingTraditionally, like everything else of any importance, masquerading and its secrets arethe prerogatives of the men-and initiates at that. Women have been excluded fromsharing in the secrets for they are weak and fickle and are therefore not fit to take partin them. They are also mysterious and sometimes unclean. They cannot thereforeapproach these ancestral manifestations, whose character is diametrically opposed totheir own. Any meeting between them would have adverse effects on both parties.Much harm would come to the women and masquerades would lose something of theirvirtue. Apart from this fear, there is the desire to avert the wrath of these spirits whosecondescension to visit mankind in the form of masquerades is a great honour, whichmust not be abused. They are mindful of the fact that ancestral spirits are superior tomere mortals and constitute an unusual phenomenon when they assume physical forms(Nzekwu, 1981: 132).In modern times, however, women are beginning to pick information here andthere on the secrets of masquerading without being participants. Nevertheless, themysticism surrounding the masquerade cult is still intact, for previous attempt toneutralise this always met with stiff mystic and physical opposition from custodiansand a cross section of Ebira people who believe strongly in the inviolability of suchcultural practices.According to oral account and Sani (1993: 84-85), Obaji and Ododo were said tobe the progenitors of Eku. These were two brothers who constantly antagonised eachother on account of seniority contestation. But seniority was generally conceded toObaji, and Ododo was not pleased. One day Obaji took ill and was about to die. Hisbrother, Ododo, said he would not like Obaji to be his senior here on earth and againbe his senior in the great beyond (Idaneku). Ododo then decided to change his iden-titywith his dying brother. When Obaji died, Ododo put on the costumes of an Ekuand the women were made to believe that Ododo rose from the dead. So, Obajibecame the senior of the living, while Ododo became the senior of the dead in theworld beyond. Adega, a masquerade character who specialised in the chants of his-toricalevents, myths and legends, gave a similar account in his 1983 annual Echanefestival performance:Ozi Ododo vana si ozi Obaji dosi mo nyi ehi niIjo ozi Obaji vaso ka yo ozi OdodoKa ani ewun ma ze ada aniniDo ozi Ododo va se so ka ine hi ni
Do Ododo ka Obaji ana vo zoku yoni ehononiDore vana ve ozoku idaneku yo niDi Ododo wusu niDa hure Eku niIhe gwo eta ani do Obaji oni re wu suni (Adega, 1983).(Translation)Ododo’s son took Obaji’s daughter for a concubineWhen Obaji’s daughter told Ododo’s son of her father’s illness,Ododo’s son went home to relay the informationOdodo enviously opined that Obaji who is his senior in the human worldWill again be his senior in the world beyond (Idaneku).Therefore, Ododo passed on before Obaji.His Children made Eku out of him.The third day, Obaji also passed on....

The two accounts by Sani and Adega slightly contrast each other but both agreethat Eku cult came to be after Ododo’s death or exchange of identity.There are five prominent masquerades in the cult. These are Eku’rahu, Eku’ahete,Eku’okise, Eku’echichi and Eku’oba. Eku’rahu features during the night perfor-manceof Ekuechi, Ebe, Okehi and Otu festivals. It is also performed at the funeralceremonies of a deceased male elder to transport him to the transitional void, and toembody the spirit of the dead for a gentle repose of his soul in the world beyondbefore transmigrating into an ancestral figure. This performance also takes place atnight. Eku’ahete ensures a safe and free passage in the ancestral visits to earth dur-ingEkuechi festival. Eku’okise proclaims divine messages from God and prophe-sisesto people with clairvoyance, featuring in both Ekuechi and Echane festivals.Eku’echichi is performed fully masked during Echane festival, which is mainly abroad daylight affair with active women involvement in the general celebrative for-matbut not in the core performance rituals. Eku’echichi also performs in Ekuechifestival, as Agadagidi with no prescribed roles except to add colour to the generalfestive mood. The performers are now referred to as Agadagidis because they do notdon their full costumes and often do not mask. They chase people around and play-fullyflog them. Sometimes, some men offer themselves to be flogged to test andexhibit their manly valour. Eku’oba does not feature in Ekuechi or any festival. Itannounce the masking season is also performed in some core traditional funeral ritesand to commemorate deceased male elders of high traditional standing as theOhinoyi (the traditional political head of Ebira people), Ohindasi and Ozumi, whoare key figures in Ebira Traditional Council. To have an Eku’oba perform is consid-eredan extreme honour because it is believed that its appearance will atone for allthe sins committed by the deceased while alive. Thus heavenly bliss is assured inthe world beyond. Eku’oba can come out during the day or at night but always fullymasked, irrespective of the time of appearance. To acknowledge this unique and val-uedappearance, the families of the deceased often sacrifice rams or cows, depend-ingon their financial capabilities, to mark out a bloodline for Eku’oba to cross intotheir compound. The traditional importance of this masquerade is further establishedby the fact that it must rain within that same day or the next of its appearance. Itscoming out is also believed to secure peace for the land. It is the wish of an averagetraditional Ebiraman to live long enough to merit the appearance of an Eku’oba athis funeral. That majority of these prominent masquerades of the Eku cult feature inEkuechi ensemble makes the festival a converging forum for Ebira ancestors, andfurther enunciates its unifying force for the corporate existence of Ebira people.Ekuechi festival enjoys corporate ethnic involvement in terms of preparation andpresentation. At its artistic peak, the festival can easily be mistaken for a celebrativespectacle meant to entertain only. But it always has conceptual bases that transcendmere entertainment objective (Nzewi, 1997: 20). Put differently, there are somefunctional values of the festival that are conceived and manifested within the gen-eralfestival atmosphere. For instance however entertaining, satirical songs are ren-deredfor social control. Very often, an important personality of the community whois satirised might be carried away by the entertainment values of the songs withoutinstantly apprehending their import. He then sneaks away from the festive arena inshame at the point of cognition.
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