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Interview of an Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ priest born in c. 1880s Umuopara

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9 months ago
Nwagu OkonkoThis is likely Nwa Agụ, in Umuahia, the leopard Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ mask worn by high ranking men as the emblem of the society. The costume's chequers represent leopard spots. The masker is signing (nsibidi?). Photo: G. I. Jones, c. 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

Uwaga Okeanya, aged c.90 (an Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ priest), in Ogbodiuumwu [Ogbodiukwu?], Ụmụọpara, 12 August 1972

You people now talk of the white man’s government as if we had no government in the past. The ‘044,0’ was a secret society which served as a traditional system of government before the advent of the white man, The Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ enforced the verdicts of the ama àlà (village assembly).

In the past, if the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ music was played near the house of anybody, anxiety was created as to the reason for the beating of the drum and if a palm leaf was left behind in the man’s house, it meant that the person was to appear before the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ court of appeal. As at present, there was then no age-limit for whoever wanted to be a member of the society. But then, only men of proven character and without a shameful past were accepted into the Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ society. When you people talk of a better government today, we laugh, because any thief can today be in government because he has the money.

The arrival of the white man changed the traditional pattern in Ụmụọpara society. The Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ society was condemned, polygamy was said to be an uncivilized practice, Ọ̀jam̄ Ụmụ̄ọ̄para, which united all of us in the past, was destroyed, the religion we used to know — all our Ǹjọkụ̄, ọ̀fọ, iyi àfọ̀ — were all discarded with the advent of the Christian churches and schools. One thing I must tell you is that most of those things that the white man came to destroy are still with us, and shame on us if we abandon the religion and practices of our fathers.

Interview by A. I. Atulomah (1977).

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