ELEME CULTURE IN PERSPECTIVES
BEING AN INVITED PAPER PRESENTED BY CHIEF OSARO OLLORWI AT THE ELEME CULTURAL HERITAGE EXPO 2015 ORGANIZED BY THE ELEME ARTS AND CULTURE IN COLLABORATION WITH INSIDE ELEME NEWSPAPER WITH THE THEME “CULTURE AS A TOOL FOR THE UNIFICATION OF ELEME PEOPLE” AT THE ϽTͻͻ ELEME SECRETARIAT, OGALE ON 31ST DECEMBER, 2015
What is culture?
Definitions of culture are as many as there are anthropologists. But, all definitions would emphasize approximately the same things – that culture is shared, transmitted through learning and helps shape behaviour and beliefs.
Culture is of concern to all people. However, while our earliest ancestors relied more on biological adaptation, culture now shapes humanity to a much larger extent. It remains the pivot upon which civilization/humanity revolves. The traditions that binds a defined set of people becomes the matrix in which future developments are anchored and depending on the relative level of attachment, a person grows to become a product of the regulatory forces of his native culture. That is how the Ogonis differ from Eleme, Hausa from Ibo etc.
Culture in its simplest form is “a society’s shared and socially transmitted ideas, values and perceptions, which are used to make sense of experience and generate behavior and are reflected in that behavior”.
Characteristics of Culture
Culture Exists in the minds of people.
Culture Varies considerably.
Although cultures differ in some respects, they resemble one another.
Once learned culture tends to persist and gradually change over time.
Nobody is culture free.
However, there are variations within a given culture.
Functions of Culture
Communicate with others.
Makes it possible to anticipate actions of others.
Standards to distinguish right from wrong; safe/dangerous situation or condition
Provide knowledge & skills for meeting sustenance needs.
Identification with society & community.
(The foregoing is explained in detail below vis-à-vis Eleme culture).
Values and Beliefs as Elements of Culture
Values are a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society.
Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true.
Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, the real Eleme man prides himself as belonging to a culture that abhors stealing and witchcraft and that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the Eleme value that wealth is good and important.
Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sought or avoided. Consider the value the culture of Eleme places upon the present generation of youths. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful adult appearance signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of naira each year on cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful. The present generation of Eleme also has an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In past, our culture was collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group and group relationships were a primary value.
Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are valued in Nigeria, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. Values often suggest how people should behave, but they don’t accurately reflect how people do behave.
Values portray an ideal culture, the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture, the way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or ethnic tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. Our teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy.
However, the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but that the value alone is not enough to spare teenagers from the potential consequences of having sex.
Reward and Sanction
One way societies strive to put values into action is through rewards, sanctions, and punishments. When people observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People sanction certain behaviors by giving their support, approval, or permission, or by instilling formal actions of disapproval and non-support. Sanctions are a form of social control, a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: good grades, for instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers.
When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label—lazy, no-good bum—or to legal sanctions such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.
Dynamism of Value
Values are not static; they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in the Nigeria where that behavior often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in the U.S today, and many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. A simple gesture, such as hand-holding, carries great symbolic differences across cultures.
So far, the examples have described how people are expected to behave in certain situations—for example, when buying food or boarding a bus. These examples describe the visible and invisible rules of conduct through which societies are structured, or what sociologists call norms. Norms define how to behave in accordance with what a society has defined as good, right, and important, and most members of the society adhere to them.
Formal norms are established, written rules. They are behaviors worked out and agreed upon in order to suit and serve the most people. Laws are formal norms, but so are employee manuals, college entrance exam requirements, and “no running” signs at swimming pools.
Eleme is one of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic nationalities and is made up of two districts namely: Nchia and Odido, ten federating clans and over one hundred and eleven communities and several villages. Among the 400 languages recorded in the book “Studies in Nigerian Languages” Eleme Language features at No. 96. Eleme is distinctively shown as “one of the twenty major ethnic groups in Eastern Nigeria with its language, culture, and social order quite different and distinguished from those of their immediate neighbours”. The territory is known as Eleme; the people are called Eleme; the language is Eleme.
Eleme main food crop is yam (Esaa). This is supplemented with Cassava (Ojaku, Ojakpo), which can be made into Nja Garri (Garri), Nja Ojaku (Foofoo/Loiloi), Pipini ojaku (Tapioka slice cassava), mbiri (grinded cassava flavoured with ripe plaintain, a sort of moimoi but richer and costly than ordinary moimoi), Cocoyam (Edente (Etoo Eleme), Etoo Akara, Echuru, Etoo Mmi – these can be cooked and eaten as obaa etoo or be pounded with enough palm oil and eaten with looloo mbalo as nja etoo).
Plantain (Obinͻͻ), can be eaten fried or boiled. It can also be pounded into omu or be grinded and mixed with cassava, fired and eaten as Pankek). Three-leave yam (Ochu are of two varieties: Ochu Eleme and Joebi), Vegetable e.g., fluted pumpkin (Nsogũ), Pepper (Okofe(e)), – all of which are grown for family use only and not for sale outside the community.
In other words, the staple foods that are customarily eaten by Eleme people are yams, cassava, cocoyam, plantain, three-leave yam, etc. The manner in which these foods are prepared and served makes the difference. Eleme yams are of different species and each has its particular use. They include: Ngwe, Ↄyᴐᴐ, Ↄkԑlԑmԑ, Chindonya, Dᴐkara, Mkpányi, Aka-Mkpányi, Okikaenu, etc. they are served sliced (Obaa Esaa) or pounded into eyarayara nja esaa or ͻtãrã nja esaa and eaten with the appropriate soup.
Other notable Eleme yams are Eburaale and Kᴐrᴐkᴐtᴐ, which are cultivated mainly by women and are mostly prepared into Esuri ( yam pourage) and eaten.
There are three types of soup with cultural values in Eleme. These are Looloo Mbalo, Ebͻri Mbalo, and Ͻkwͻi Nsogũ. Each type of soup requires particular types of fish to go with, and they are meant for different occasions.
Looloo Mbalo is usually cooked with njijoii (snapper), nda (shynose), obui (catfish), ekoko (skate), ͻmεε (barracuda), and ekokoabura (shark) among other ingredients. Looloo mbalo is mostly served with nja esaa (pounded yam).
Ebͻri Mbalo is Eleme soup thickened with adε-mkpͻͻ (cowpea). It is known generally as native soup and may be prepared with dried fish and/or meat along other necessary condiments.
Ͻkwͻi Nsogũ entails the preparation of enough fresh pumpkin leaves, boiled and carefully grinded in mortal. The ingredients include mgboro, esͻrͻ ͻbani, dried meat, and one of the following types of fish – nda, ekoko, obui, eboakpina or ekokoabura. This type of soup is preferred during rainy season when fresh pumpkin leaves are abundant.
The ideal Eleme housewife knows the temperament of her husband and selects the type of soup she offers him to sustain and promote his love and good health.
Regulation of Behaviours
The behavior of Eleme indigenes groomed within the locality is regulated by the belief in the continued presence of the ancestors of each family as well as existence of deities endowed with supernatural powers. The average Eleme person will readily made confession when interrogated on issues for which he/she had knowledge or participation to avoid society’s rejection if the matter goes to the level of swearing before a deity or in its name.
Eleme Traditional Dressing
Eleme culture regulates the type and manner of dressing that suits different occasions. That accounts for the prescription of different dressings for both sexes at any given occasion and this promotes decency and morality among the people of Eleme. Eleme culture forbids a man dressing like a woman; while a woman must not dress like a man.
A spinster, except during a group customary ceremony, is not expected to tie two wrappers round her waist at the same time. O’ura Osuãa is the preserve of married women only. A widow who remains unmarried is precluded from tying her wrapper to reach down lower than her knees.
A bachelor in the process of marrying is expected to tie his wrapper in the manner called Ojibi Osuãa and this must not be knotted on the right side of his waist.
For members of the Chieftaincy Cadre and related title holders an outfit of Jumper, hat and walking stick with appropriate loincloth is the requirement. But a titled chief must always tie Njiri, whether plain or designed.
Folktales and Story Telling
Stories and songs are instrumental in retaining languages and culture. Eleme folktales are particularly entertaining as they usually include a song with which the listener joins in. Stories are usually told in the evening to entertain adults and children alike. In addition to original songs, there is a rich culture for original composition of hymns – written and performed.
Arts and Crafts
Eleme people were once efficient craftsmen and women who produced mortals, pestles, drums, facemasks and masquerades, ladles, combs, chairs, boxes, among others. To meet their needs the Eleme people also produce clay pots, weave baskets, mats, etc. Painting is done mainly as a body decoration during festivals like wrestling, marriage, and ekpete dance.
Traditional music in Eleme was developed out of the desire to transmit information. Singing and drumming were also developed for different types of occasions and ceremonies. Music is also essential parts of the Eleme culture.
Eleme cultural music includes:
1. Mkpaa Ekoro
2. Mkpaa Egͻni
6. Esͻ Mba
7. Esͻ Akε
8. Esͻ Ngwe
9. Esͻ Okea Ebiε
12. Ogolo Ejԑ
13. Ogolo Akԑ
Ø Mkpaa Ekoro – This is a dance music in which men demonstrate their bravery and/or affluence. It is as old as Eleme.
Ø Mpkaa Egͻni – It dates back to 1840 and remains a major talking drum of Eleme. Expert drummers use it to sing praises, encourage skills and bravery. Mkpaa Egͻni is the premier drum that is entirely indigenous to Eleme. It is customarily used for chieftaincy installation ceremonies and for yam title ceremonies. The burial of any traditional title holder is incomplete without mkpaa egͻni.
Ø Egelege– This is a talking drum whose drummers are versatile and is used to convey a lot of information that remains people of the past thus gingers them into wrestling or warns about the consequences of an individual’s intended actions. Wrestling is the most popular sport in Eleme and egelege remains the special music for wrestling.
Ø Ogolo– This is a local xylophone played as major dance music during celebrations. There are three major drummers, each handling 4, 7, or 3 of the wooden instruments. There are other drummers that handle the Ogũ, Okpo, and Ekere.
Ø Ngelenge– Ngelenge has similar setting like Ogolo. The distinguishing feature between Ogolo, Ngelenge and other forms of Eleme traditional music is that while the songs related to Ogolo and Ngelenge are rendered entirely through drumming, the songs associated with Egelege, Esͻ Mba, Esͻ Ngwe, and Esͻ Okea Ebiε are rendered by designated singers.
Ø Esͻ Mba – Esͻ mba is a musical group whose membership is confined to married women and widows. There are always Esͻ Mba groups in every Eleme clan or town and the group consists of two efficient singers and a concerted membership. Their instruments are “Egbe”, “Ekere”, and “Nsisaa”. Their songs related to matrimonial problems and their solutions and are inspiring. Esͻ mba is also used to exposed immorality and control social behaviour among women folks.
Ø Esͻ Okeaεbiε – Esͻ okeaεbiε is rendered by a designated singer and is concerned with revealing whatever offence that was committed in secret. Because Esͻ Okeaεbiε convened a lot of information concerning evil deeds or deviant behaviours of individuals and families, it acted as, “social or cultural means by which systematic and relatively consistent restrains are imposed upon individual behaviour and by which people are motivated to adhere to traditions and patterns of behaviour that are important to the smooth functioning of a group or society”.
Ø Esͻ Akε – This consists of songs specially designed to encourage wrestlers. There is the lead singer and another person who sings an undertone to support him as well as maintaining the Ekere that provides the rhythm.
Ø Esͻ Ngwe – This is another set of songs that relate to farming of yams and/or agriculture and the glory of acquiring the highly esteemed Eleme Yam Titles of Aachu, Obo, Obεrε Obo, Otaa Obo, and Achuete. Esͻ Ngwe is known to have given much encouragement to individuals who ordinarily were not inclined to taking any of these titles, as it made them reflect on their ancestors and proceed to taking two or more Yam Titles.
Ø Kukunεnε, Ebͻni and Ogolo Ejԑ – These are ancient music played by warriors or secret cults in Eleme. They can be played at any time or day especially during emergency or community threat; or at midnight and only members of the cults concern participates. A lot of secrecy is associated with them but they ginger their members into action. They are played mostly during funeral ceremonies of members or during their meetings or initiations.
Ø Esᴐ Eduduu, Kprikpԑ and Ogolo Akԑ – These are music of warriors, community defenders (Oku Ejԑ) and wrestling champions.
Eleme Dance refers to the dance of Eleme people. Eleme dances teaches social patterns and values; and help people work, mature, praise, or criticize members of the community while celebrating festivals and funerals, competing, reciting history, proverbs, and poetry as well as to encounter the gods.
Eleme musical instruments include: musical pot, gong, flute, horn, wooden drum, split wooden drum, egbe, nsisaa, okpo, ogu, ogela, ekere, and so on which produce sounds by hitting, shaking, beating, blowing in the air, and rubbing them against another.
Few Eleme dances worthy of mention include:
1. Eje Ekpete - This is a common dance among the Eleme women folks.
2. Eje piopiopioo – It is the girls that dance piopiopioo. The style is exciting, percussive footwork danced bear footed at a particular temple on whistle, fiddle or mouth music. That is beating ones heels, toes, and feet in as many ways as possible and imaginable, keeping time with the rhythms of the music in reel and jig time.
3. Eje Alikirijã – There are many styles of alikirijã dance that can be demonstrated. The style has never been prescribed, except dancing steps neat and close to the floor. Many alikirijã dancers have their own individual style and steps they like to do to particular tunes.
4. Eje Agala- Dance for the boys and girls.
5. Eje Mbᴐkᴐ/Ngelem – Wedding dance for new brides.
6. Tamkpe Eje – Dance for both male and female irrespective of age.
7. Okeri Eje This is the most popular dance step in Eleme. It is waist dance that is performed by both men and women. Okeri Eje dance step has been perfected in Eleme that both men and women use it to dance all types of music.
8. Eje Echῑi Osila This is first daughter dance. In Eleme, every first daughter is entitled to this dance (as of right), and it is the only dance in which the dancer’s legs never touches the ground. The new bride, who must be first daughter, is usually dressed in a mountain of expensive cloths arranged in concentric circles round her waist. She will put on her legs/ankles heavy bracelets (abarachwa), heavy coral beads round her neck and both wrists, together with a ceremonial staff with white handkerchief tied on top of it. She also wears short skirt with her body exposed, carried on the shoulder of an able bodied young man, and she dances the ngelem music to and from the market, hailed all along by jubilating crowd of admirals.
Let it be stated here that Eleme traditional music and dance and accompanying activities are now on the decline because the generation of expert singers, drummers, wrestlers, and so on has given way to another generation of footballers, disco dancers and cultural alienators.
Eleme traditional festivals include:
Agba Esaa– This is the ceremonial conferment of graded traditional yam titles of Aachu, Obo, Obere Obo, Otaa Obo, Achuete, and Ewoachunsin. These degrees conferred on recipient certain rights, privileges and honours, and are recognized throughout the Eleme country.
Agba Esun –Agba Esun (or New Yam Festival) is celebrated to express gratitude to the ancestors and to the living elders. The sacrifice known as “Ↄtԑbԑ Enu” is offered annually, usually in October, in the belief that the ancestors who have transformed to spirits upon their death are still very much around, seeing everything they are doing and trying on their part to guide and protect them; and who labored to cut the virgin forest and gradually reduced them to farm lands desired the first fruits. The sacrificial offering usually consists of one cradle (now basin) of good yams, drink, fish, fowl, or goat and other condiments.
Ogbo Nja– This is a cultural festival for children and new brides where parents, husbands, mothers-in-law, and fathers-in-law present gifts to their children, new brides and relatives; where children make new friends and eat happily and freely from community to community; and where women in their best and newest dresses sing, dance and rejoice for being hardworking, healthy and sensible enough to sustain the growth of their children throughout the year.
Ogbo nja is celebrated between the 13th and 20th of July annually depending on the position of the moon and traditional weekday known as Ͻkͻͻ. Ogbonja festival is celebrated for two consecutive days. Day one known as Ͻkͻͻ Ͻbibai Etoo is for women while the next day called Mma Agba Okundo is for men.
Agba Nkikεε – This festival is celebrated annually on Ochu within the second week of March in honour of Nkikεε, the Earth goddess, and to mark the beginning of the planting season. Five days thereafter, precisely on the next Ochu another related ceremony called “Agba Etenchi” is marked, again to inform all and sundry of the commencement of the year’s farming season. Although only the initiated elders (Oku Nkpͻrͻ and Oku Nyoa) are involved in both festivals, it is used to communicate the beginning of a farming season, which resulted in both the young and old participating actively in farm work.
Obira Asã – This is lovers’ festival or celebration day; a sort of Valentine Day. It is also the final day for wrestling competitions across Eleme.
Ͻla Mba – This is Eleme’s wedding festival day. It was previously celebrated once a year, in June.
Other festivals worthy of mention are: Agba Mba, Agba Okundo, Oɂe Akε, and Agba Obibai Etoo.
Masks and Masquerades
Masks and masquerades are important elements of culture. In Eleme masks and masquerades are generally called Owu. Most owu are named after their bearers. However, there are few outstanding masks and masquerades in Elemeviz:
2. Ete Okolaa
4. Ogolo Kurukuru
6. Dededede Ebiri
Marriage is a highly respected institution in Eleme culture. The Eleme culture recognizes marriage as a union between man and woman in holy matrimony. To the people of Eleme, marriage is not only the coming together of man and woman in holy matrimony but, also a union of two families and two people for mutual benefits. The Eleme culture promotes polygamy and encourages intra Eleme marriage. An Eleme man is expected to marry Eleme woman as first wife and is then free to marry from any other tribe or ethnic nationality. Because the culture frowns at Eleme man marrying first wife from outside, it accords no marriage recognition to those who do so, and they are exempted from participating in several cultural activities including taking of yam titles, admission into Ogbo Nkporon and conferment of traditional chieftaincy titles. This once cherished tradition has been bastardized. Do not ask me how and why because we all know it.
Greetings remain an important aspect of culture. Greeting is regarded as a sign of good behavior. It is expected that children greet their parents, teachers, and elders whenever and anywhere they see them. Eleme has no special way and manner of greeting. Although, the mode of greetings in Eleme has changed over the years, perhaps proving that culture is dynamic, this has been highly influenced by the English Language and tailored in that direction of our colonial masters. To my mind, Ade Ageta (Good Morning), Nnyimԑ Eɂera (purported to mean, Good Afternoon) and Mmuji Abã (Good Evening) are acceptable manner of greeting which should be adopted by all in keeping with changing times.
We have demonstrated that Eleme has a rich cultural heritage and that Eleme people are known by their dressing, language, behavior pattern and have music and dances for various occasions and festivals.
Gutkind, P & Waterman, P., (ed) “A Science of Social Control”, in African Social Studies, London: Heinemann, 1977
Jennings, J. D. &Adanson Hoebel, (ed) “Readings in Anthropology”, New York: McGraw Hill, 1972.
Ngofa, O. O., “Eleme Tradition,” Rescue Publications, Ogale-Eleme, 1994.
Osaro Ollorwi, “Community Policing & Crime Prevention in Pre-Colonial Eleme Issues & Perspectives” Port Harcourt, 2009
Osaro Ollorwi, www.ollorwi.com.ng
Ottenberg, Simon & Phoebe, (ed) “Cultures & Societies of Africa”, New York: Random House, 1969
Chief Osaro Ollorwi