ABAM WAR DANCE: A single strike and the head is off

By Tony Nwankwo

It resonates in  folklores across the land. Generation after generation witnessed this epic in the celebration of the ancient warrior people of Abam.  The culture has survived for thousands of years. This year’s attendance included state radio and television stations across the East, and other social media who came to record the moment of the beheading.

Members of the warrior kingdom are traditionally head hunters.  In the past, associations existed which qualification for membership was the ability of the individual to chop off a man’s head with one strike of a machete. So, there existed mercenaries who were invited to far away lands to make war.  The Abam War Dance, for instance, reflects the fight to avenge the killing of a palm wine tapper, Ojingwa of Ndi Ukaforegbe Compound in Idima Abam.

However, the icing of the cake of the Igboto Nma celebrations of Ugbogu and Biakpan Age Grade was the sacred one machete strike to severe the head of a live goat as the Amogudu Biakpan rounded off two years of celebrations of mandatory retirement from communal task.

Kalu Uduma, 49, performed the traditional feat on January 7, this year.  It was he that Biakpan chose to sink or swim in their celebrations.  Uduma carried out this strike in the full view of hundreds of thousands of on-lookers from far and wide, and till date, he is being celebrated and presented with gifts in appreciation.  He explained to Sunday Vanguard what it takes to replicate the century old tradition.  “In Idima, I know the culture.  I was born into it, so everything I do I try to do it well. I would have done this first in 2005, when the Ajuruemea Age Grade performed their Igboto Nma.  But they brought propaganda into it and denied me.  But this time, the Biakpan people were initially nervous, aware of the consequences if I failed to perform as tradition demands, because a second strike is prohibited.  In 1995, I desired to wear the Ekpe masquerade under which cloak you do the job”.

But how do you take an aim at a moving object and cut off a particular part in  powerful one strike?, he was asked.  Uduma was forthcoming: “By right, the neck should be the target, but with the tension and anxiety that surrounds the exercise, some may target the middle to fulfil the desired result of cutting the animal into two. As the date draws near, there will be many advisers, particularly those who had performed the feat before or had attempted to do so.  The animal is fettered to a stake, just like of old, so you take the aim”.

According to Uduma, the sacredness and security of the machete is paramount.  The machete is not to be exposed to every Dick and Tom as evil people could intervene to void and shame you historically. And even the cutting has its principles. “In the process of the cutting, you are not to bend over backwards, you only raise your hand skywards and come down with the machete and with sufficient strength in the strike, the deed is done”.

The other half of the Age Grade, the Anang Ugbogu, a more progressive group will have their ceremonies continuing from September 2016 and rounding off in January 2017. At the end of the ceremonies, the Age Grade becomes part of the official cabinet of the Chiefs and Elders in Council.  The noble among them become part of the king’s cabinet.

The Ugbogu and Biakpan Age Grade are a significant group.  They represent  the heart and soul of the kingdom. They are the age grade that witnessed as young men and women the devastating effects of Nigeria – Biafra war, so they represent the closing generation of modern war effort and   the beginning of structured ambition of the Igbo people in Abam. The age grade had provided fearless leadership, creating institutions that has brought prosperity and modernity in the kingdom.

The celebration includes a public parade of participating individuals (male and female) all dressed in regal robes, depicting the dress code of the Abam people.  The parade is led by the  War Dance troupe. As they marched forward, the male folk respond to the Ikoro Drums, the highest public announcement instrument of ancient Abam.  If the Ugbogu outing of January 21 is a yardstick, Idima Abam must be the most grandeur tourist community later this year.  Meanwhile, traditionalists are scouting for another Kalu Uduma, who will, with a single strike of a machete sever the head of another unlucky sacrificial goat in commemoration of an age-long tradition of a warrior people.


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