Importance of Childhood Life Celebration in Eleme Culture
Celebration is a special enjoyable event that people organize because something pleasant has happened or because it is someone's birthday or anniversary. The celebration of something is praise and appreciation which is given to it. In Eleme culture, all of a child’s milestones and major accomplishments are celebrated and this gives the child a sense of achievement, and offers a widow for rewarding the child for a job well done. The life of the Eleme child is eventful. The Eleme culture have a process to carefully recognise each of the events, identify it, appreciate it, celebrate it and award it from cradle to grave. The people of Eleme celebrates birth, naming, sitting, crawling, talking, teething, dedication, walking, hunting, socialisation, graduation, marriage, coronation, conferment, promotion, anniversary, death, among others.
The people of Eleme also celebrate and shower gifts on their family member and friend who join association (ogbo) and unveil/launch their group (chusɛ ogbo), song and dance, clothe, masquerade, and so on. This is captured in the adage, “Ɔnɛ Osila aka nyɛ nje rēɛ je Èkpété. Someone without mother’s first daughter will not dance Èkpété. Èkpété is a special musical presentation and energetic dance that brings people together from far and near. The style is exciting waist and footwork danced bear footed. It attracts presentation of different types of gifts to the celebrants (who are members of the group) by family members and friends. The reason for this proverb is that if you have no relations no matter how good your dance steps are no one will be at the town square, venue of the celebration, to present you gift.
In fact, since the beginning of time, the people of Eleme have given high priority towards the commemoration of special events in the life of the child. Every major events and achievements in the life of the Eleme Child is celebrated and is culturally designed to appreciate and reward the child. Each event or achievement offers the Eleme Child an opportunity to be treated to showers of gifts for accomplishing something challenging in life and it enables the adult family and friends to share in the joy of that accomplishment.
Special events like childbirth, naming, teething, walking and so on do lead up to/with great gusto. The Eleme culture and tradition developed its own unique ways of honouring special occasions in the life of the child from the beginning of time. These are direct products of our cultural background, history, and even religious beliefs. Few among these celebrations are discussed below:
1. Childbirth Celebration
In Eleme culture the birth of a child is greeted with jubilation. Childbirth is considered the most important event in family life. Experienced traditional midwives are responsible for delivering babies. They help to deliver the baby. After delivery, the birth of the baby is celebrated. Family members, friends, well-wishers, men, women, boys and girls from far and near join in the ceremony that followed the birth of a baby, and the child’s father was expected to give a feast for all members of the clan in recognition of the powers of womanhood. This celebration is known as Birth Celebration (Agba Emásã). It entails drinking, singing and dancing. Some family have also added music and foods to solidify the birth celebration. Powder is also shared and rubbed freely by all. The women usually grace the day with the following song and dancing:
Seɛ onwi nje, amɛ ɛka nɛɛ (chɛrɛ) poida onwi?
This, when interpreted into English Language means:
If the child is not there, who will give (rub) child’s powder?
Rubbing of the child’s powder is the climax of the childbirth celebration. This is usually extended to outside the immediate compound to include neighbourhoods.
2. Naming Ceremony
Eleme tradition vests the responsibility of naming a child on the father. Where the father is deceased, his next-of-kin takes over the responsibility. Eleme father don’t just get up one morning to name his child. He contemplates for months, trying on different names to see which one will suit the child’s purpose, bundle and dreams. This is because the Eleme father knows that in traditional Eleme culture names have real meaning and power. Eleme names are not mere tags to distinguished one person from another or labels to define, classify, or compare persons or things but an expression of the nature of what the entity represents or stands for. They tell the family stories and exhibit the hopes and expectations of the parents concerning their children’s future. Every child in Eleme has at least a native and a Christian name.
Because it is generally believed that names are like spirits which would like to live out their meanings, parents do a thorough search before giving names to their children. Naming ceremonies are performed with the same meticulous care, generally by the father. Symbolic of the hopes, expectations and prayers of the parents for the new baby, drink (mmi), food (nja), water (mmu), palm oil (nnɔɔ Eleme), salt (nlό) each have a place and special meaning in the world-view of the people of Eleme. For instance, drink (mmi) represents celebration, and the prayer of the parents is that their baby’s life will be celebrated in the world and beyond. Drinks are usually served, singing and dancing rends the atmosphere as people from far and near are invited to participate in the naming ceremony. Some families are known to have brought life band to entertain guests; others use deejays (DJs) while others hire the services of local singers to grace the occasion.
3. Teething Ceremony
It is a time honoured tradition in Eleme culture to throw a party for your little ones as soon as they cut their first tooth. When the baby shows his first teeth, his parents, relations and well-wishers will gather around the baby as he sits in front well dressed to celebrate the milestone. Each person will struggle to see the baby’s teeth, enticing the child with gifts of all sorts so that he will smile for his teeth to be seen and admired. Hence, it is generally known in Eleme that “You cannot see the teeth of a child with an empty hand”. Baby will be encouraged to walk in front of someone who wants to see his teeth while holding baby’s hands. As the baby is cheered to laugh and expose his teeth there will be loud ovation and offer of lots of encouragement and praise.
4. Walking Ceremony
Walking is a major developmental leap for babies, and parents are often anxious about when it will happen. Every baby learns to walk at his own pace. When the parents watch and see that the child has make few steps unaided, it is assumed that the child has walked and fit to be celebrated. The parents will procure three or more heads of coconut, depending on the number of children invited, two big rackets of Awala and four or more sticks of dried Obĩi (Mudskipper). The coconut will be shelled and cut into small pieces. The Awala and Obĩi are cut into small pieces and mixed with the pieces of coconut. These will all be put into a basket. By this time the whole children in the neighbourhoods, as many as is possible, are assembled with the celebrant.
The elder of that compound who has been briefed beforehand will carry the basket with both hands and addressing the toddler who is standing in front of him, recites the following:
Èbé era nninini chãa ochɛyo tãmarũ.Ka chãrĩ wɛ oju obãrãrũ okuũ
Chã sigwã ɔka, chã sigwã echii. Ebo akɔrɔrũ ɔmɛ.
This, when interpreted into English Language means:
“As from today you should walk steadfastly. Do not walk and relapse to creeping again.
Walk to the farm; walk to the market. Enjoy a long life.”
After this recitation, the elder will then turn towards all the children who are now standing expectedly and tell then to widen the circle and prepare to pick the contents of the basket. He will raise the basket up and down a number of times saying:
Ɔnɛ Ebu, abu chue!
(“Who struggles to pick, pick and take!”)
And the children will respond, “Aaye!” (Yesoo!)
After ensuring that the children attention has been obtained the elder finally throws out all the content high up so that when they fall, each child will struggle to pick as much of the contents as he can. The agile ones gather so much of the fish and coconut while the weaker ones pick whatever may be left on the floor. This ceremony is known as Obuenu O'o Onwi.
5. First Market Ceremony
The first day that a child walks unaided to the village market unaided is celebrated. This ceremony is figuratively called, Oke Enu O'o Onwi. The Eleme culture acknowledges the significant of this milestone achievement of the child and celebrates it.
When the child walks to the market unaided his mother makes him to sit at a comfortable in the market while she buys something for the child to eat. She buys a big fish like dried barracuda, catfish, snapper, or Tasty-Shynose and other ingredients which she hides.
At home, the fish will be brought out and showed to the child as his Prize for walking unaided to the market and back. The fish will be used to cook Loloo Mbalo and the entire head of the fish will be given to the child. Family and friends are given pieces of the fish and the Loloo Mbalo as they eat and drink to the child’s achievement.
6. Hunting Celebration
The Eleme child is taught the use of bow and arrow and latter catapult and animal traps. He begins by shooting lizards and fixed targets like oranges and pawpaw fruits. He is taught fishing by his friends. When the male child kills his first bird or animal, it is cooked and cut into small pieces which are distributed to family and friends, distance relations and people far and near. They are informed that this is the bird or animal, he has killed. His parents will give him one piece of nice cloth each; while other persons will give him gifts of clothes, money and so on. The day is usually marked with singing and drinking to celebrate the attainment of the milestone.
7. Food Celebration (Ogbo Nja)
The people of Eleme don’t just eat food for eating sake. Food must be of the right quality and quantity; it must result in a stable and adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. The Eleme culture has developed a system known as Ogbo Nja to build oneness among the Eleme people and promote proper feeding and ensure communality. Ogbo Nja is food carnival. Most Eleme festivals revolved around foods because they are fulfilled farmers and they use food to build bridges of relationship, cement brotherliness, encourage socialisation, enhance cooperation and enhance communality among others. Other prominent food celebrations in Eleme include but not limited to Agba Esaa Otɛbɛ Enu and,Okor Esaa..
When a child grows to the age of seven (7) years and beyond, he is encouraged to participate in the Ogbo Nja ceremony in which small groups of children from within and outside ones immediate community are brought together as friends that have to cooperate with one another as they grow up.
Ogbo Nja is one of the most popular festivals celebrated across Eleme. Although people of all ages, sex, social status, or religious inclination do participate; the festival is met for children and new brides. It is celebrated annually on Ͻkͻͻ between 13 and 17 July, depending on the position of the Moon. The feast is celebrated in two phases. Phase one is called Ͻkͻͻ Obibai Etoo and is celebrated by female.
The second phase which is marked by male the next day is known as Mma Agba Okundo.
In Eleme, yams, cocoyam and other foods items are reserved after planting for the Ogbo Nja festival. It is believed that only very good farmers can reserve the quantity and quality of yams, cocoyam, etc. that is required for Ogbo Nja at the time of the year. The fish used for preparing Ogbo Nja meal are those valued by people of Eleme for major entertainments and they include: Obui (Catfish), Nda (Tasty-Shynose), Njijoi (Snapper), Omεε (Barracuda), Ekoko (Stingray), among others.
Ogbo Nja is specifically dedicated to children and new brides. It is celebrated with friends in pair. Children arrange for their friends to visit them to participate in the annual celebration. New brides also seek for their partners to take active part in the occasion.
The occasion provides an avenue for clearing the house of old yams and cocoyam in anticipation of new ones. It also affords parents and in-laws opportunity to present gifts to children and new brides in appreciation of their assistance during planting and weeding. To be counted as good children and be presented with varieties of gifts and words of blessings, children exercise maximum obedience and discipline in anticipation Ogbo Nja festival.
In the morning of day one occasion, children usually wake as early as 4.30am to clear the compounds and town square in readiness for the celebration. The children will also fetch water into all available pots and containers. The atmosphere is usually charged as evidence of Ogbo Nja festive period.
Parents will assemble their children and present them with gifts of clothes and wrapper. Gifts will also be sent to children of extended relations and friends to commemorate the year’s Ogbo Nja.
The recipients of these new clothes would wear them and go visiting friends and relations to display their gifts across Eleme. As the children move from compound to compound and from community to community filled with happiness, they receive words of encouragement and praise for being obedient and hardworking; and promising them of greater gifts next year. The new brides are also presented with new dresses and wrappers by their husbands, father-in-law and mother-in-law, etc.
That evening the women will gather at the town square dressed in their best and newest attires to make a feast, singing and dancing to Egbe Mba music till night falls. By 6p.m. or thereabout, the women will return to their various houses to dish out food to their visiting guests and family members. The food for this day is cocoyam.
The celebration is designed in such a way that children move from compound to compound and from community to community, eating and rejoicing. At the end of the day, they will return home with wrapped fish as proof of participation in Ogbo Nja feast of that day. The new brides will also do the same.
The day two celebration starts with the same preparation. It is the men’s turn to present gifts to children and others who were loyal, obedient and hardworking during the year according to his assessments. The food for the second day celebration is yam, which will be cooked and eaten pounded and/or sliced. The women will continue their music, singing and dancing at the town square. Later in the evening, the men will gather at the town square to eat together in groups, thereby bringing the Ogbo Nja festival of that year to an end
These and many other childhood ceremonies which are celebrated on an individual or community basis reinforce and promote sense of community, love, joy, reverence, success, unity and brotherhood. It gives the child a sense of achievement and it is a great way of rewarding the child for a job well done. Besides, it is important that you celebrate your child’s milestones and accomplishments. Significantly too, because most of these celebrations involve almost all the children, their parents and other adult family members and friends in the community they are not just celebrated for the fun of celebrating but to:
1. Cultivate/inculcate a Sense of Community
They offer opportune times to bond with our families and friends and well-wishers and a chance to connect with those we love and care about on a deeper and more profound level.
2. Promote a sense of achievement and encourage exploit
These celebrations spur our children to greater achievements and propel them to make positive exploits; to accomplish those milestones worthy of celebration and praise. Then criminality and all forms of anti-social behaviours were frowned at and industry was cherished.
3. Instil a sense of meaning and significance to our lives as a people
The unique practices that highlight important milestones such as childbirth, naming, walking etc. all serve an important purpose. Participating in the customary rites (rubbing of powder, singing, dancing, drinking or children struggling among themselves to get pieces of coconut and fish during Oken Enu O'o Onwi) connects us to the significance of the role that such occasion plays within the grand scheme of our lives. It instils a sense of appreciation for the gift of life.
4. Create lasting fond memories
The human mind tends to recall memories that carry a high emotional charge to them. When we commemorate a special occasion in the life of our baby, we are essentially placing a mental bookmark on the child’s experience, thereby making it easier to remember it in the future. The photos, videos and other forms of memorabilia from those occasions serve as triggers that children can use to re-live those pleasant experiences and achievements in the future.
5. Add fun and excitement to our lives
These Celebrations can be incredibly fun and provides children and their parents with the perfect opportunity to engage in the joys of life such dance, song, food, play and laughter.
6. Enables children take their place in the circle of life.
They are not only ushered into the world but celebrated at every point of achievement. Besides, when we take the time to celebrate these events that were cherish and celebrated by our ancestors in the yesteryears we are essentially connecting with our humanity and the commonality that we share with all those who have been long gone before us.
The modern Eleme family’s carefree life of excluding themselves from participating in gatherings that pay homage to the important milestones in their children’s life is robbing Eleme younger generation sense of achievement, community, love, peace, cooperation and fun that comes with these celebrations.