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Rites of Passage for an Agbalanze(cited from our Featured book - 'Origin & Developments of Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Assoc. by Chinyelugo Osita Anionwu

The rites, obligations and financial implications of the Ozo title have experienced varying fortunes since the pre-colonial times. When the economy was rural, agricultural and subsistent, farm
produce provided the yardstick for measurement of wealth and surplus. According to Orakwue:14, “generally after the harvest or during famine season, a wealthy farmer usually brings out some of the surplus products of his farm to his family to divide instead of retaining them in his barns for nothing”. These are divided by the people accordingly, the value of which would be credited to the benefits of the farmer as a kind of investment against the shares of other prospective members of the family. After this, the fanner is then regarded as an honourable member of his family and a wealthy person in the community. He had not much religious duties to perform as the Okpala of the family but was however entitled to certain rights and privileges in honour of his new rank and position in the family. A wealthy‘ farmer invested his surplus farm produce over several years in Ozo. He paid part of his initiation fee each good year in yam tubers, maize cobs and pods of okpodudu (locust bean).

Over time, the expectations of many concerned indigenes and prospective initiates were met when there was some standardization of the fees across ozo kindreds and quarters. This notwithstanding, some families or kindred groups who were more liberal showed some desire to have more of their kinsmen within the fold of the Ozo title. Hence their tariffs were relatively lower than those of others.

The Process of Purification: Becoming a Servant of Nze - Agbalanze

OZO ONITSHA AT KINDRED GROUP LEVELS:

It is the kindred group that projects the individual prospective initiate into the Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association. The later development can only arise after the kindred group must have performed to their satisfaction all the necessary and sufficient conditions prescribed for a successful acceptance of the initiate.

Herein lies the significant role of the kindred group led by the Diokpa in conducting and concluding the spiritual rites associated with initiation into Oz0 title. In ancient times, Ozo title was not taken by any man other than the one upon whom the office of Diokpa devolved. This imperative compelled entire families in certain climes to rally round and collect the money for the expenses to actualize this necessity in their kindred groups.

According to Henderson: 252, “the primary process of purification is called attaining [title] “Ichi 020”. The process of attaining Ozo The Rites of Passage for an Agbalanze entails continual tests and transformations of a man’s relations with his ancestors and with the spirits of his patrilineage”. The rites of passage involve the performance of many religious rituals both to the patrilineage family and that of the mother of the initiate. Today in Onitsha a male can aspire to become an Ozo initiate within his own patrilineage or within that of his mother for whatever reason. This truism attests to the saying that, “Oso chuba onye onaa ikwu nnei”, literally translated, in the event of confusion or flight, the nwadiani can always have sanctuary in his matrilineal abode.

The Processes

Ozo is a spiritual undertaking that can only be perfected with the muo and related paraphemalia of the respective kindred group that have a common ancestry. On the other hand, Agbalanze Cultural Association of Onitsha is the social element of the Ozo institution and only becomes involved following the spiritual anointing and perfection by the kindred group.

The prospective initiate, having lost his father (whether titled or not) by death and the second burial rites consummated, has to bring back the “spirit” into the house so that his father might receive his annual share of sacrifice from…

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After Inyedo Muo, the prospective candidate begins a series of consultations (Igba Okonti) with his relations. This begins with Nkata Usokwu – discussions with his maternal brothers, then….

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The initiate is led at this stage by members of his family to his mother’s village and to his father’s maternal kindred to announce his proposal. Prayers which may or may not be said on the family shrine are offered by the…

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According to Orakwue: pg18, at about 9 o’clock on the morning of the appointed day of the ceremony, all Ozo titled members of the family would then assemble at the family house of the initiate or Iba. Kolanuts, hot drink and palmwine or their equivalents in cash are provided by the person taking Ozo title. This is followed by…

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When the value of money as a medium of exchange and store of value was not realised, such farm produce as yam, maize, okpodudu (locust bean) and other vegetables were used to take the Ozo title. These were evaluated according to the tariff for Ozo title taking. The arbitrariness of the Ozo title members in assessing the value of these farm produce stock requirements as against cash requirements eventually made way for the use of …

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Completion of the “carrying of money to the ghosts” is followed by the ceremony of “assessing wine” (igbako mmanya), in which the candidate must distribute 160 pots of palm wine to the …

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According to Orakwue, this involved Igo muo, food, two pots of palmwine, two bottles of gin and the giving of a goat to the Ozo title members, or their equivalent in cash, in addition to about one fifth of the first approximate real Ozo title fee. This is shared by all the Ozo title members accordingly in the same manner or proportion as in the case of the first original amount. After the sharing of the items, the Diokpa then kills the goat on the shrine of the idols of the initiate and his ancestors. After the killing of the he-goat described as “itigbu mkpi”, the candidate is made to sit on a goatskin. Usually, a corn drink, “mmanya omumu”, is served, during which the presiding Diokpa holds the candidate(s) by hand and makes him/them sit (ldonye ikee na akpukpo) on a goatskin, thus the intermediate status of “Mkpalo” is conferred on him. With this status, he automatically assumes the cognomen “Eze Ozo” (Ima Ezegodu Ozo). In this status, the candidate remains a non-partaker in Ozo ceremony takings until the final day of initiation when he takes a permanent Ozo name. A cupful of omumu drink is given to the Eze Ozo to perform for the first time the ceremony of libation. This marks his appropriation of the right to sit on goatskins and to libate wine freely before he drinks at any religious ceremonies or functions. This ceremony of libation known as “Itu mmanya” is a privilege reserved for …

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Synopsis

Any person who cannot or is unable financially to complete the ceremonies of the Ozo title may stop at this principal stage of the title otherwise generally known as “Ikpa Muo” after which he is named “Mkpalo”. He, however, becomes entitled and qualified to officiate as priest or Okpala of his family when it is his turn to do so or particularly when a full member of the Ozo title is not available. This, however, does not confer any benefits to the mkpalo from the Ozo title. As mkpalo, he has certain minor rights and privileges attached to him in honour of his position over the title. He has right to accompany the Ndichie in attending to second burial funerals of deceased persons and is always entitled to the hip (“ukwu anu”) part of any goat killed for the funeral hence he is popularly called “Oli Ukwu Anu”. This sinister name calling resonates in the Agbalanze song “Oli ukwu anu echirozi ozo anyi” during the afternoon dance culminating in the embrace of the wife as one of the three personae to publicly embrace the initiate three times in public glare.

The rationale for this novelty of mkpalo was to accommodate the son or okpala of the family in general, whose main duty is to officiate as priest of the family, but cannot afford to take the Ozo title. Also, it was instituted such that a younger brother who was not sufficiently buoyant to conclude two Ozo titles simultaneously, could bring his elder brother or diokpa thus far to enable the diokpa to preside over their father’s idols as priests and okpala or head of the family. Although this is not a compulsory obligation, it is usually done as a mark of respect and parental regard for one’s own elder brother.

According to Henderson, the holder of Nze, the head of the clan, should see that proper seniority relations are followed in Ozo title taking, and that younger brothers have not by passed elders, thus upsetting patrilineage ideals. A few other smaller ceremonies called lkpa Aka Uno and lkpa Aka Ilo involving presentation of two hot drinks of gin, one goat, two pots of palm wine at each point or their cash equivalents are further made to the Ozo titled men to share accordingly after a formal sacrifice has been made to the idols of the
spirits of the initiate’s fore fathers. Thereafter, the “Okika Mmacha”, commencing with “Ika Obibi ” — the vigil for the Ozo title grand outing is announced.

Developments

Recent developments show that Ibu Ego Ozo has been upsoaled from an entirely immediate “Ozo kindred” affair to that of the entire Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association. The proceedings at the lbu Ego for the Onitsha Agbalanze Cultural Association are usually conducted in the venue where the Egwu Ozo takes place. It starts at exactly 11.00 am. Here, members of the Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association who are present are presented some 50 kolanuts, 6 hot drinks, 4 pots of palmwine and some cash. After accreditation, the President commences the proceedings with the breaking of kolanuts. Thereafter a member is called upon to attest to the quality of the palmwine by tasting a glassful. His verdict – which is often positive – gives the go-ahead for the wider circulation of the palmwine to other members. Members’ dressing is informal in Ibu Ego Ozo, consisting mainly of Ankara jumpers on uniform trousers of same material, azuzu and Ozo cap without feather.

Members of Ndichie Onitsha who attend the Ibu Ego Ozo ceremony are also entitled to some fee as contained in thé Agbalanze tariff.

Specifically, for Ndichie Ogbe, i.e. Ndichie of the village or who superintend that village, they are entitled to 7 kolanuts, 1 bottle of hot drink and N4,000 each. In the same vein, the lregwu (those males that support and dignify) are given some drinks and cash. They are also served generally from the central pool of entertainment provided by the initiate. It is said that the Iregwu share of the Ibu Ego originated from their role in building the booth of palm fronds and seats of bamboo stems for the sitting arrangements for Ozo title taking in the olden days.

An aspirant may or may not physically undertake the performance of Ibu Ego. He may be represented by a proxy, who must be a member of the Ozo kindred group and an Ozo title holder. Whether the aspirant acquires the title directly or by proxy, he is entitled after the initiation to full benefits of members.

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The featured book titled ‘Origin & Developments – Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association’ is a major contribution to the growing body of published materials on, and documentation of, the life of the people of Onitsha Ado N’ldu. It calls for-further research and understanding which will enable the present generation to effectively strengthen and re-position our Ozo institution and Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association for the future. I welcome this book and commend it to a worldwide readership of both Onitsha indigenes and everyone interested in indigenous cultures and traditions.

His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni
Obi of Onitsha

Proxies may represent Ozo initiates if at the time the consideration is attempted the following extenuating circumstances come into play:

  • If an infant is being initiated;
  • If the initiate is unavoidably absent from home;
  • If the initiate is invalidated because of old age or a disabling
    illness, or
  • If after Ibu Ego, the prospective initiate dies and it is deemed necessary and mandatory to complete the ceremonies, in which case, a proxy will take the osissi in what is usually described as Ichi Osissi and bring the process to a logical conclusion.

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