Popular stories of one sort or the another have existed in every place and age. Some of these stories, over time, have become part of the people and invariably their culture. Ogudu, having been in existence for over 300 years in the community of Agbiyi Umuede–Amaegbuato, Nkpa, in Bende Local Government of Abia State, has become a cultural phenomenon used for celebration every leap year of the community.
Ogudu is not a human being, an animal or artifact preserved for ages, which has become an object of worship, but an old male Ngwu trunk that looks rickety having survived vagaries of weather over several decades; it has remained a mysterious object of celebration till the current dispensation. Ngwu is not just any tree in the forest. Those who are competent to decipher mysteries like personalities endowed with uncommon mystical prowess like juju priests and native doctors are better informed to talk about Ngwu and its species: Male and female. Mere mortals cannot identify Ngwu tree, and differentiate the species.
Maybe that informed the mystery behind Ogudu having a wife after a couple years. A certain leap year of Ogudu celebration, its compound was extended after clearing the surrounding of weeds, and an additional hut was built for the wife of Ogudu after due ritualistic process by the community’s old men. But the wife is not celebrated…. ‘She’ is rather indoors in the comfort of her hut while the celebration lasted each leap year.
The celebration of Ogudu is very unique because it is a healthy outing like sports, and health benefits of sports need not be over emphasised. It involves movement of people en masse from place to place, and from one village to another within Amaegbuato community. At the end of day, all and sundry who participated in the celebration go home satisfied and relieved of boredom as they talk about the excitement of Ogudu celebration.
The Chairman of Amegbuato Nkpa, Mr Onyeogadirimma Uzoechi, and his counterpart, Mr Ude Nzekwe who relish carrying Ogudu during the celebration for about two decades spoke to Sunday Vanguard.
Nzekwe said it was always an amazing experience! “The ‘Ogudu business’, to me, is quite interesting; it was very exhilarating to be in the crowd of Ogudu lovers during the December 2015, celebration. The atmosphere was really lively and full of fun. Often times I enjoyed carrying Ogudu during our leap year celebration”. Uzoechi corroborated that every leap year December, people visit home; some Nkpa sons and daughters come all the way from overseas because of the end-of-the year celebration(Ila oso),and especially to witness Ogudu outing.
“The interesting thing about Ogudu, if you come with a good intention just to have fun, you will enjoy it…. But if you come with a convoluted mind—probably with your charms to challenge Ogudu that you are a strong man, you will regret your power game because Ogudu will take you through a horrible experience you will never forget such encounter that, indeed, the devil has power.
Who qualifies to carry Ogudu?
Uzoechi and Nzekwe said that only young married men without blemish who also have children are qualified to carry Ogudu. Some candidates who hid what could disqualify them were exposed by Ogudu. How? Ogudu will not perform until the bad person is exposed; even if its favourite rhythm, the Ikoro (carved talking trunk…) like the Yoruba talking drum communicates to it esoterically amidst singing, dancing and all the theatrics.
Prospective candidates are required to put on shorts and tie wrapper, preferably George; and their bare body: neck and chest region will be robbed with nzu (a native white-chalk-like powder); a leaf of palm fronds folded and put in their mouths which they will hold with closed teeth as a mark of identity for Ogudu show. Apparently their mouths are temporarily gagged as long as the business of the day lasts. The idea and the spiritual implication is to gag their mouth from complaining or begging to be relieved…such is not permissible; rather one is expected to endure until the business of the day is over. You can tell your story afterwards when you are free from the reign of Ogudu for the day.
However, the crowd does not have dressing code. But one has to bear in mind that, to be in the Ogudu train you must walk slowly, briskly and run as Ogudu dictates; and failure to comply, you be left behind while the crowd moves on.
Of course, you must not have any iota of deformity or disability. When Ogudu certifies you okay after screening, i.e. having fulfilled all ‘rituals’ with the help of able old men, who are the custodians of Ogudu, they will lift it and place it on the heads of the two men bearing folded palm leaves( Aju) on their heads, and they are ready to savour the tensed atmosphere. The music makers are busy with their songs and pepping it up with bamboo sticks clapping to synchronise with the rhythm of Ogudu songs. The crowd will march and run with it, to wherever it directs them.
In this kind of tensed atmosphere, expectations are high and all eyes will be on Ogudu to perform as usual or pep it up with strange actions so that fans and visitors who came from far and near will have some stories to tell at the end of the day.