(Traditional retirement in Ohafia Land )
Age grade (Out-Ebiri) is an integral part of the Igbo cultures and traditions, in every Igbo community the practice of age grade exist. Age grade system has remained an intervening self-help structure for meeting communal needs, such as community development, security and peace in all Igbo communities and villages. It is usually open for both male and female, athough the male folks plays a prominent role in its formation and sustenance. They women according to traditions are believed would be married and gone to their various husbands houses as such not much is expected from them in terms sustaining an age grade practice.
In the 26 communities that make up Ohafia land, the story is not different, When children are born in Ohafia, those within a certain age bracket not exceeding three years interval. They are usually group together as belonging to the same age grade. From early stage , they began to familiarize among themselves as they play together and enjoy folklore as mates until they come of age after 18 years. When they come of age, their senior Age grade would formally assemble them as an Age Grade and propel or guide them to recognition by the community . This is known as ‘’IZA AFA’’ naming ceremony.
From that moment they are known as whatever name the leaders of the community assign them, the pronouncement is usually from the traditional ruler of the particular town( Ezeogo )of the community after some traditional rituals are made usually at the community cultural square or market square.
As soon as these new entrants are named, the community apportioned duties to them with due recognition as full-fledged men or women. After their naming and recognition, the age- grade in question will start to hold regular meetings at intervals under the tutelage of their male patron and female patron known as ‘’Nna Ukwu’’ and ‘’Nne Ukwu’’ respectively.
As the Age grade progress to maturity, a major and final project would be assigned to them according to the critical area of need of the community at a time. Which will be unique and applauded by the community.
The ota- omu ceremony is the oldest legacy bequeathed to Ohafia people by their fore-fathers . In the olden days it’s an event for the roll-call or tattoo in military parlance after wars, sickness, and natural calamities; welcoming and celebrating her survivors , heroes/ heroines , cementing the unity of her people and above all, charting a way forward(planning) for future wars (in the olden days) and development. In that era of ancient Ohafia belligerent society, Age Grade (or militia groups) were often deployed by Ohafia villages , or hired as war mercenaries by contiguous communities , for conventional wars to ward off invaders who infiltrated to threaten their peace.
Occasionally , the elderly and superannuated warriors exhibited proofs of their wars, mostly decapitated enemy human heads, and danced jubilantly amid resonant drumming of ancient ‘’ hollow – scooped wooden log’’ (ikoro) and cannon shots at the community square. They received accolade amid the process of adoring (igbawa) their war shieds (ota)nwith young palm frond (omu) to signify their retirement from active war services and induction into elders forum.
Those days are gone, instead of waging wars, the community assigns capital projects such as building of town halls, roads and hospitals to any Age grade holding the fort( Uke-nọ-Ogo). The completion and handover of the project signifies proof of the members exploits ( instead of human heads) which qualifies them to be awarded certificates attesting to their participations (instead of War shields).
They are thus inducted amid pomp and pageantry into the elders’ forum using the reformed ‘’ Igbawa Ota Omu’’ platform; and thereafter are exempted from active community services. In other words ‘’ igbawa ota omu ceremony is now a festivity of remarkable accomplishments in socio-economic advancement and community development.
EVENTS BEFORE THE D-DAY
The Igba- Ota Omu is usually done during the festivity season of Christmas , mostly from 26th December upwards, the age grade observing the Ota-Omu before now must have been holding series of meetings and contributing heavily to make sure they completed the project which they community had apportioned to them. It may be a classroom block, hospital, market square , road network or school laboratory . After the completion of their project which must be done before the day of Igba-Ota Omu. They celebrants will send messages to their children, friends and associates both far and near informing them of their traditional retirement from active community service and elevation into the community elder statemen.
IGBA –OTA OMU DAYS
The event is usually done in two days, the first day the celebrants will file out from their houses well dressed in a cultural outfit of red cap(Okpu Abam) white cultural longsleeves, wrapper for the waist, a staff (mkpo) for the men. While the women we wear scarful, traditional blouse, wrapper all the same colour and marched to a particular spot in the community , from their they start a procession tranversing the length and breadth of the community with their family and friends singing, dancing, and drumming of all kinds with pomp and pageantry involved in it. The procession is usually lead by the legendary ohafia war dance. They will continue procession until they reached the peak of their procession which is the market or cultural square.
Their the traditional ruler (Ezeogo) and his council of chiefs will address the celebrants, congratulates them for they feat they have achieved and thereafter they now proceed with the traditional and his cabinets to inspect the project and commission it. Several cannon shots will be fired signaling the completion of the first day. The celebrants will now retire to their homes to entertain their guests and loved ones .
The next day is purely for eating and merriment of all kinds, people coming to the celebrants’ houses to appreciate them and wish them well as elder statesmen of the community. While the celebrants blesses them and give them food and drinks and all kinds of souvenirs for coming to celebrate with them. It is a spectacular cultural event in Ohafia land.
Ohafia kaa nu