Music in Ohafia war dance – An analysis of ikperikpe ogu

The Ohafia people are very warlike and are dreaded cum skilful head-hunters. The need for rituals of appeasement, propitiation and appreciation, which were elaborate ceremonies involving music, dance and poetry has been located within the world-view of the Ohafia man. Thus, it seems correct to hold that Ohafia men aspired to attain the height of fame and prowess by washing their cutlasses in human blood. Great satisfaction was derived from bringing home the head of a defeated enemy for this was an indication of strength, prowess and bravery. A man’s identity in the community became synonymous with the number of heads he brought home. Hence, once there was (in their reckoning) justifiable reasons to do so, the Ohafia would go to other towns, besiege them and return with human heads. It is said that the warriors carried the heads in traditional rectangular baskets known as ‘Abo’ (a cane basket). Each warrior carried his own ‘Abo’ with his acquired heads as they returned home. The people hailed them, and welcomed them, with songs. They used ‘Uri’ (cam wood) to design their bodies and tied ‘Nza ebulu’ (ram’s mane) on their arms to distinguish themselves as heroes. All these were part of the purification intended by the ritual cleansing. At the end of the ritual cleansing which was signified by the killing of a goat and sprinkling of its blood on the warriors’ feet the ‘Ikoro’ called the names of the warriors and they all sprinted about in the village square demonstrating their war antics. This was closely and immediately followed by the ‘Iri Aha’ or war dance.
The Ohafia thought of an aesthetic means by which the Ohafia legacy, history, social values and war tradition would be preserved and transmitted from generation to generation led to the formation of a dance group which transformed the ‘Iri Aha’ into a performing art was an articulation of the people’s response to that need, and this brought Ikperikpe Ogu into existence.

Ohafia war dance


2.3.1    Nature of Ikperikpe Ogu
Generally speaking, Ikperikpe Ogu has five basic characteristics, namely: ballads, lyrics, history, mythology and opera. Its music is, of course, martial and as Harcourt Whyte, quoted in Osuagwu, says: “the Ikperikpe music is the music of history in which one could hear of bravery, manoeuvres, patience, skill, and all that contribute to make up the science of war”. The dance itself he describes as “wild and frantic and calls to mind the South Eastern Nigerian art of war’’  Of its nature, the performance is concerned with heroism; it is dominated by a mood of tension, strife and competition. The music is quite capable of spurring and inspiring the people and galvanizing them towards action. It creates a spirit of gallantry and a feeling of nostalgia for the ancestral heritage. The ballads consist of simple songs sung in verses with melodic accompaniments. They narrate popular stories of the people. The lyrics are poems with a very high level of musicality. This implies that the poetry is rendered in songs. They express, basically, the people’s values especially relating to military exploits, valour, heroism and prestige.
2.3.2    Music in Ohafia war dance
The music of Ikperikpe Ogu has been described by Harcourt Whyte as Ikperikpe music. This term is used as a result of its martial nature and sustained frenzy. It is also derived from the name of the drum. The songs reflect various aspects of Ohafia world-view and socio-historical experiences. The musical instruments which were mentioned earlier during our discussion of the performance include: the Ikperikpe, a long drum made of a piece of log hollowed out and covered with animal skin on one end. The akwatankwa, which is made of short Indian bamboo sticks of one foot each. Initially, it was made from the ribs of an elephant. There is the opu. It is the talking horn made from the horn of a deer. The horn is dried and hollowed out. All these instruments operate on the principle of surrogation.
A careful examination of a typical Ohafia War Dance group has led these researchers to conclude that a typical Ohafia war dance group can be divided into three, namely: the orchestra, the dancers and the ‘Uyaya’ carrier with his two side companions. The basis for this division is the role played by members of each group. Prominent members of the orchestra are: the soloist, the ‘akwatankwa’ players, the Ikperikpe player and the ‘Opu’ (horn) player.
The soloist does all the singing. He uses ballads, lyrics, history and mythology with melodic accompaniments in his performance. He narrates popular stories and uses poetry in form of songs to express the people’s basic values relating to war, valour, heroism, and prestige. He narrates popular beliefs and ideas which the people hold about their gods and ancestors and the roles played by them in the Ohafia war endeavours. He recounts the heroic history of the people featuring their migration and warlike nature. He, also, addresses living heroes and warriors by their praise names, recounting each one’s special abilities. The soloist exerts tremendous influence on the entire performance because he determines the mood, tempo and pace. The akwatankwa players take their cue from him. The akwatankwa players usually number three in theory but practically depend on the number of the instrument available. Akwatankwa are flat sticks of about a foot each, made from the ribs of an elephant, but now commonly from Indian bamboo sticks. Then there is the Ikperikpe player. The Ikperikpe is the long drum. The Ikperikpe player together with the akwatankwa players play important roles in the performance.
The soloist learns the songs, some of which have fixed texts. But even the songs with fixed texts are amenable to improvisation since there is room for the soloist to put to exhibit his creativity. The themes of the songs are drawn from historical facts and epic deeds of the people from ancestral times to the present. The songs comprise of ballads in which the soloist narrates popular stories, lyrics through which he delivers poetry at a high musical level, mythologies in which he tells of the people’s beliefs and ideas relating to the gods and ancestors, and histories in which he recounts their migration and the epic battles which they fought in the process. He also sings the praises of the heroes past and present. Songs for performance and the tone of rendition as well as the rhythm and tempo of the instruments are determined invariably by the occasion for performance for the occasion could be a title talking occasion or a burial ceremony. The creativity in the soloist’s use of voice modulation can be seen in his use of broken tones in the dirge for fallen heroes and a high pitched voice for joyful occasions such as title taking. At intervals and depending on occasion he shouts “unu kwe wo” to which the chorus of audience reply “woh!” on pleasant occasions and “wee gee!” “chai!” “Onye me meee!” during funerals.
The Opu player is another prominent member of the orchestra. The Opu is the ‘talking’ horn made of the horn of a deer or a similar horn of a ram. The second group of performers are the dancers. The number varies between twelve and twenty. They are usually agile and virile able-bodied men particularly grounded in the Ikperikpe Ogu dance pattern. The third and last group is made up of the bearer of the Uya-ya and his two side-dancers. They are, indeed, the star dancers. His involvement in the performance is meant to inspire awe and call attention to the pristine symbolism of the performance. During performance, the orchestras first enters the stage and occupy one corner of it. A typical performance commences with the akwatankwa players playing their instrument. The sound from the akwatankwa players becomes the background rhythm for the music. Shortly after, the akwatankwa players are joined by the Ikperikpe player. The Ikperikpe initiates the dance movements. It also, taking its cue from the soloist, dictates the tempo of the dance. The Ikperikpe operates on the principle of surrogation by simulating human speech. It produces a background sound like kpum-kpum, kpum-kpum, in a rhythm which readily exhorts the dancers to readiness for the performance. Gradually, the tempo of the music rises and as this happens the dancers dance onto the stage.
The role of music in the Ikperikpe festival in Abia Ohafia community cannot be underestimated in that music occupies a predominant position throughout the celebration. According to lyeh and Aluede (2008:93), “Chernoff said that a village where there is no musician is not a place where human being can stay”. Music is said to be the life-wife of the Ikperikpe festival. Various aspects of musical activities displayed at the preparatory periods of the festival help to create awareness as well as awaken the spirits of the gods and ancestors that are consulted or worshiped.
Secondly, the Ikperikpe Ogu music serves as a social commentator especially as it employs the declamatory speech technique to recount some historical events of the community in addition to praises on both past and present heroes. This situation is similar to stone’s (1998:411) observation that “People enjoy a passion that moves them to dance, sing, and weep when occasion demands it.” The musical effects of the Ikperikpe Ogu dance often drive the celebrants into trance and frenzy state especially at the climax of the instrumentation. Apart from the above, Ikperikpe dance and other aspects of chanting from the youths make the atmosphere quite exciting and entertaining as some members even dramatize their occupational trades as they dance.

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