By Ada Dike
There are some events spectators don’t want to end on time, and one of such events is Foundation Age Grade’s traditional retirement ceremony.
On December 29, 2022, members of Foundation Age Grade in Ndi Ebe Abam in Arochukwu LGA, Abia State, Nigeria had their traditional retirement (Ipurafia).
The celebration began on 28th, the day all the age grade members began to cook meals for the occasion. Men cooked rice, stew and yam porridge, while women cooked moulded melon soup (ofe egusi or ofe ahu) without leaves in it, rice and stew.
In the morning of the celebration day, around 7.30 a.m, they took the food to a river called Igwu River, a river (tributary) that flows from Ebonyi State side, passes through many towns in Abam including Ozu Abam and Atan Abam and Akwa Ibom then ends in a sea in Cross River State. Tales abound on how majority of the village’s members and grandparents used canoes, which were the major means of transportation then to Calabar where they were based and traded majorly in textile materials. So the river is apart from a place the inhabitants of the town go to fetch water, bath and wash clothes hosts different age groups every four years.
Members of the age group wore a uniform (red velvet material with black horses in it and a beautiful George materials as their wrapper.
Declaring the occasion opened, the town’s king, His Royal Majesty, Okoko Arunsi, Ochi Oza 111 of Ndi Ebe Abam, said the ‘ipurafia’ is an age long tradition in the town and expressed gratitude to God for the peaceful day the age grade members turned out in large number and celebrated their retirement ceremony despite the fact that many people decided not to participate, claiming that their religion forbids it, meanwhile, there is nothing the community and age grade members do that go against Christianity.
In his words: “Our forefathers did it. It is an event that usher usher an age grade to retire from active service to the community so as to allow the younger ones to continue to join hands to develop our land, maintain peace and order and participate in every activity that will unite one another as well as make the land habitable.
“This year’s celebration attracted timbers and calibers from different places due to the personalities that are celebrating their retirement. I thank them so much and pray that the next age group that will do their own in four years’ time will do better than us.”
He advised parents to ensure that young men and women obeyed the rules and regulations of the elders by maintaining peace and tranquility in the land during the festive season and beyond as the defaulters would be severely punished.
“Parents, warn your children to maintain peace and order. I am prepared to do good not bad things. Anyone that is doing bad thing should stop it because whatever you sow, you shall reap. If you love fighting, sheath your sword. Enjoy your money, food and drinks with joy,” he added.
He prayed for God to grant Ndi Ebe Abam sons and daughters safe journey to where they returned from.
He also warned people to take pictures and videos of the event at the village and booths before 3pm as it is forbidden for anyone to take pictures or record videos of the ‘Ekpe-aka” (long masquerade).
“Defaulters will be severely punished and will also pay fine. If they invite soldiers or the police to arrest the elders of the land for punishing them, when they hear our side of the story, they will go.”
The age group built a palace for the community as their retirement project.
In his speech, the Chairman of the age grade and a former senior Customs and Excise officer, Mr. Eric Ukaha, said he was elated to participate in the celebration as a leader and member of the group. “Good thing is good, so I’m glad that we are promoting our culture and tradition today.”
He advised people to embrace good things and eschew evil, to make the world a better place.
He further say that: “I thank you all for finding time to grace the occasion and support us immensely. Celebrations will not seize in your homes.”
By that river, the age group made up of notable personalities including Mr. Eric Ukaha; HRM Okoko Arunsi; the village’s past king’s wife, Lolo Lucy Thomas Uba; U.S based business woman, Mrs. Pauline Ikechi; and a former woman leader of the community, Mrs. Comfort Kalu Ogba, to mention a few, displayed their well cooked meals on their tables for inspection by members of the last age group that did their retirement ceremony. Anyone whose meal was not up to standard paid fine. When the inspectors finished collecting their meals from all the participants, sons and daughters from the village ate the remaining food to their satisfaction.
According to one of the spectators, Mrs. Grace Kalu Okoko, it was a beautiful scene to behold as many indigenes who returned from different parts of the world went to the river to catch a glimpse of the age long tradition.
Furthermore, she said: “We were told that the remaining food would be thrown into the water but, I was surprised that no food remained in any of the celebrants’ pots because young boys and girls ate everything. The act of cooking for people to come and eat beside that river showed that members of Ndi Ebe Abam community are united and also love themselves.”
She added that since she was born, she had never seen the size of moulded egusi and stockfish she saw in the soups there.
From the river, members the age group were escorted by their loved ones who covered them with the biggest size of umbrellas while they danced melodious music played by a band group.
In a single file, they danced to the village square, where they were received by elders of the town. After some minutes, they danced to a place called ‘ihu elu ogo”, where traditional land guns (Ukurutu) popularly known as ‘mkpo-na-ala) saluted them.
From there, each celebrant went to their houses and sat in tents built with George materials where friends and family members visited them, wined and dined with them, and gave them gifts including money.
They were asked to dismantle their tents around 4 pm and prepare for the celebration of long masquerade (Ekpe-aka).
Recall that the masquerade is what stands the town out culturally, in the whole Igbo land due to its height. The masquerade has a young boy on top that entertains spectators by waving two hands to the tune of the music being played, “Ife anyi ji ka mba, yayariya! Mm, mmm, yayariya!!!, meaning, ” This is what we have which other towns don’t have.”
Everyone tied George materials, sang and danced the song.
Just like the Igbo adage states that, “Before a big masquerade comes out, smaller ones must appear first,” spectators watched dual face masquerades called ‘Ukwanyiri’ and ‘Ukpokporo’ as well as multitudes of young men artistic works and expressions, who entertained spectators with drama and comedy while they wait for the arrival of the long masquerade.
The event ended after the boy on top of the masquerade was taken to the town’s square in celebration that the outing was successful. People then danced to the boy’s parents’ home who received him with joy. Then men, women, boys and girls danced along Abiriba-Amaguzo road before they converged at the town’s square where they sang that what makes them unique from other towns in the world came and left peacefully.
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