IN African tradition, one of the rights of passage in an individual’s life is the coming of age. It is an important stage in an individual’s life that ushers him/her into adulthood. In the cultural practice of the people of Umueszeala-Nsu, it is referred to as Iwa-akwa, where young boys graduate into manhood.Umuezeala-Nsu is one of the autonomous communities out of the 29 in Ehime Mbano. It’s people are predominantly farmers and hunters. They are also deeply rooted in a variety of cultural practices and are also involved in trading.Ehime Mbano, one of the 27 Local Government areas of Imo state, has its head quarters in Ehime.
It is made up of five major clans namely Umueze Agbaja Umukabia, Akanumuezeala, Nneato Ugwuemezi and Nsu. Ehime Mbano is bounded on the East by Obowo, on the west by Isiala Mbano, on the North and South by Ahiazu Mbaise and Ihitte Uboma respectively.
Iwa-akwaIwa-Akwa ceremony in Umuezeala-nsu is an age-long tradition. This tradition is as old as the town itself. The ceremony is usually practiced by the people of Ehime Mbano, Ihitte Uboma, Obowo and Ahiazu Mbaise Local government areas, all in Imo state. The ceremony comes up once tri-annually. This Iwa-akwa ceremony, also known as ‘cloth wearing’, means an initiation into manhood. It is a ceremony that entails the passage of a young boy transforming into a full-fledged man; and it is highly valued and respected in the community. The participants are usually mates of a certain age grade. In this place, when a young boy gets to a certain age, usually 21 years, he is assumed to be due to become a man and partakes in this ceremony as a proof that he has grown into a man, who can now take up civil responsibilities within his community and family circles.
When a young boy gets to that age, he and his mates would gather at the village square where they undergo age grade selection process. This entails certain qualification, through the tracing of family background, like whether the mother was married properly and indentified by the women of the community, whether the father of the initiate was known to have properly passed through that stage in his days. It is equally checked if he has any link or heredity with osu (outcast).The successfully selected ones would then form an age grade with a symbolic name attached to identify them. This age group will then prepare and go through the sensitization process of how to be responsible men in their family and the community. A date is usually set aside for the proper ceremony of initiation, and it must be on the particular market day in which the people of Umuezeala-Nsu do their buying and selling. That day is the orie market day because it is known and seen to be the community’s day.The ceremony properBefore the day of the celebration, a lot of preparation is usually made by the participant and his family for this remarkable ceremony. The indigenes, including participants residing in other villages and cities, usually travel back home to witness and partake in the ceremony.Friends and relatives are invited to witness as well because of its fun-filled in nature. It is mandatory that every male in the family must go through this right of passage in order to be identified as a man in the community and thus be accorded due respect. It happens only once in one’s lifetime.On the appointed day, the participant ties a colourful George wrapper as a banner in front of his family house as a sign that a young boy of that household is partaking in the ceremony. The participants are also clad in their George wrappers tied around their waists. They dance in a procession and are led by the elders of the community. Traditional band groups play and sing folk songs of celebration and proclamation with very unique drumbeats and songs. As they approach a participant’s compounds where they see the George as a banner, the participant is expected to run out or step out bravely with his George wrapper tied round him and march forward with them, to receive or invite another participant. During the procession, at the back is usually the younger age group next in line; they all dress in their own uniform of different George wrapper.
Family members and friends who wish to accompany the participants to the ceremonial ground are allowed to dance alongside the celebration. For the women among them, wrappers are tied on their waist. The men tie theirs around their neck. In huge excitement as a mark of great support, everyone heads to the village square called ogbor, where the proper ceremony takes place.At the ogbor, the younger age group that will be next in line, forms a large ring by holding hands together, thereby separating the participants from the entire crowd present at the ceremony.
They are usually respected at the ogbor because they do anything within their powers to protect the initiates. The participants are then required to run around in that circle; jumping up and down to show their excitement and masculine virility but they are not expected to burst through that ring. This very stage is known as ‘ihuahia’. During this stage, every participant must show how excited he is to be present and to have come of age, and this is made evident by the shouts of joy, jumping and running around with the real traditional dances and steps exhibited. The reason why they must not burst through the ring is due to security consideration, to keep them safe from the crowd and for proper organization.
After the ihuahia stage, the procession line of regal men will then usher the young boys into a secret meeting with the traditional ruler of the community known as the eze and his cabinet. In that secret place, they identify themselves individually and make a ‘vow of honour’ to protect their community. After this the eze advises them on how to be responsible men, blesses them and finally proclaims the young boys full-fledged men of the community. Thereafter, they are accepted to partake in the recognised activities of men in the community. After this, the young men are sent out in a to the ogbor where their family members are waiting to cheer them up. The running and shouts of joy is that of excitement to show that the boys are now men. The newly proclaimed man is carried shoulder high with joy and excitement for a great achievement to his family house, where further refreshment and entertainment are extended to visitors.
The iwa-akwa ceremony in Umuezeala-Nsu is a special ceremony that is valued by the community because of its great significance. A male in any family in Umezeala-Nsu who partakes in this right of passage is known to be a full-fledged man and should be respected by the community and his family. He is also assumed to be a responsible and noble man in the community.
In the olden days, every male participant of the iwa-akwa must be physically present in performing this rite of passage. It is mandatory for every male in every family in Umuezeala-Nsu to pass through this stage in life. But in recent times, there may be situations where the participant may not be physically available. It falls on even a female member of the family to represent him by tying a George wrapper and carrying an enlarged photograph of him during the procession.




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