The Arts

March 6, 2017

Ndiche Umunakara: The music and dance of warriors

Ndiche Umunakara:  The music and  dance of warriors


Deep down the remote past, Nkaramoche inherited the eight slit drums (called ekwe), the music, and dance of warriors which his father, Oche, and his kinsmen danced once in a year to honour their ancestors. It was (and is still) a fiery music and dance beaten out of eight slit drums, playing eight hot, varied, and complicated rhythms. Why no other tribe in the world ever succeeded in copying this music and dance is quite understandable – it was associated with the Orieamafor deity. Thus, the ndiche music and dance became the only one of its kind in the world.

“There is no other land on earth where people play and dance the uhie and the ekwe,” Umunakara people will proudly tell you and sing it in war songs.

Umunakara is a small village in Imerienwe, Ngor-Okpala, Imo State, Nigeria, and Sunday 26 February was the day for the 2017 festival. It was a special edition for some reasons. One, the eldest people alive there today  cannot remember any time in history when the festival was held on a Sunday. For many, the fall of this years’ ndiche on Sunday is instructive in an age when some Christians among them are refusing to take part in the festival, saying it is idolatry.

Still, there is another reason the ndiche music and dance has taken on greater significance: One of the rhythmic patterns which gave the Nigeria pop-music its identity on the international music scene is strongly believed to have originated from one of the eight slit drums of this music tradition. The dominant rhythm of ndiche music (Owewelele) is, for instance, the basic rhythm of Bracket’s Yori Yori  and many other Nigerian hit pop-songs. It is believed that those powerful, fast, dried rhythms, concealed in various musical forms, had spread to other parts of Igboland, from where they were exported to other parts of Nigeria and Africa.

The music and the deity

In the past, the oldest man in the village must be the head of the ndiche music and of the Orieamafor deity. Sometime around 1980, Mr. Albert Afoiri, a devout Christian, became the oldest man. It was a critical moment. Mr. Afoiri rejected the responsibility,creating unprecedented tension in the land. Later, a compromise was reached, and Mr. Afoiri accepted to head only the ndiche music, leaving the priesthood of Orieamafor to go to the next eldest, Mr. Ukaegbu Agunwanna. From that point, the music and the deity split, and continue to be so until nobody could be found who was willing to be the head of Orieamafor. Thus, the Orieamafor deity died, leaving the ndiche music to continue.

Sitting from left : Mrs Eileen Emeghara and her guests watching one of the masquerades

Truly, the religious squabbles took a toll on the tradition, but the music is far from waning, due to the level of enthusiasm with which young people have embraced the age-long music and dance. “The Ndiche Umunakra can never come to an end,” Mrs. Eileen Nwaobiara Emeghara, an illustrious daughter of Umunakara who came all the way from the United States to attend the festival, told Vanguard newspaper. “Look at the youths and little children of 8 years old getting involved and deeply interested. How do you think it will die? For instance, most people who danced this music with me in the past are no longer here today. The younger ones have taken over. And that is how it is going to be as long as human beings remain on earth. The music is unique. There is none like it anywhere in the world. There is nothing in this music that is against God,” she said.

A VIP guest at the festival, His Royal Highness, Eze Bara K.K Ikegwu of Okpala-Umuekwune Autonomous Community also spoke to Vanguard: “From what I have seen today, those who have predicted that ndiche Umunakara will come to end have failed in their prediction. The challenge we have now is to mold and propagate this cultural music festival so that it will assume international status where it belongs.”

Reverend Father Chika Opara, another illustrious son of the land disagreed with the view that the Ndiche Music is idolatry, and therefore should be abolished. “Ndiche is a culture that signifies love, unity, and togetherness. I do not support the idea that this great cultural heritage should be abolished. Even the white men who brought the Christian religion to us have their own peculiar cultures.”

Pastor Joseph Nwaiwu, a Pentecostal church pastor, similarly, does not support the idea of doing away with the music festival: “It is our culture. All we need is to remove anything that is idolatry in it. Those things, I believe, have been largely, but not completely removed. It will get better,” said Pastor Joseph.

It is alarming that while government is trying to repatriate many Nigerian artifacts from the museums of the United States and Europe, some Nigerians are bent on casting away their own cultural heritage in the name of  religion. Meanwhile, as the beaf about religion continues, the ndiche beat  goes on, and the youths dance the warrior dance.