The concept of mma in Enugu Ezike
by HENRY ODO EYA
In Igbo mythology, Mmanwu is a spirit-manifest. It is not made. It becomes. It comes from the anthole and it is unknown.
Before the Igbo people’s world views and life aspirations got exploded by new religion, modern state system and modern rationalizations of the purpose of life and value in achievement, Mmanwu was the most encompassing agency for validating and consolidating community polity. Hence it was imbued with so much mystery and myth as to transcend trivial regard, flippant treatment and careless associations.
In Enugu-Ezike, until late seventies, Mmanwu (Omabe) was the most important agency of social control. It was used to collected taxes from unyielding taxable adults and to act as night guards. Omabe was also used to adjudicate on matters between warring parties; and its judgement was never a subject of appeal by the aggrieved party. It was final as no mortal dare question the decision of a spirit. Mma, omabe was able to play those roles because of the people’s belief in the legend that it is a spirit of some sort, which has come out to commune with mortals in their own world and serve their own need. The mythology regards Omabe simply as a metaphysical reality and no man, whether initiated or not, ever admits knowing Omabe (mmanwu). Whenever Omabe addresses a man, no matter how elderly, the person normally respond with Mma. And if the Omabe should pose with the question: “Do you know me?” or “Have you recognized me?” the men always deny knowledge or recognition of the Omabe.
Thus nobody dared retaliate against any of Omabe’s actions or challenge its decision. For instance Omabe can come to the village market and cart away any palm wine of its choice displayed for sale, and its judgment was never a subject of appeal by the aggrieved party. It was final as no mortal dare question the decision of a spirit. Mma. Omabe was able to play those roles because of the people’s belief in the legend that it is a spirit of some sort, which has come out to commune with mortals in their own world and serve their own need. The mythology regards Omabe simply as a metaphysical reality and no man, whether initiated or not, ever admits knowing Omabe (mmanwu). Whenever Omabe addresses a man, no matter how elderly, the person normally respond with “Mma”. And if the Omabe should pose with the question: “Do you know me?” or “Have you recognized me?” the man always denies knowledge or recognition of the Omabe.
Thus nobody dared retaliate against any of Omabe’s actions or challenge its decision. For instance Omabe can come to the village market and cart away any palm wine of its choice displayed for sale, and the most the owner can do is to pray that he returns the empty container afterwards.
This unquestionable authority and unchallengeable decision of Mmanwu applied throughout Igbo land before the rape on our culture by the colonizing forces. This happened in Umuofia in Achebe’s Things fall Apart’ when the Egwugwu (mmanwu) came in judgement:
“We have heard both sides of the case” said Evil forest, ‘ Our duty is not to blame this man or to praise that, but to settle the dispute. He turned to Uzowulu’s group and allowed a short pause. ‘Uzowulu’s body, do you know me?’ How can I know you father? You are beyond our knowledge’, Uzowulu replied. ‘I am evil forest. I kill a man on the day that this life is sweetest to him’. That is true’. Replied Uzowulu. I am Evil Forest. I kill a man on the day that his life is sweetest to him’. That is true’. Replied Uzowulu.
‘Go to your in-laws with a pot of wine and beg your wife to return to you. It is not bravery when a man fights a woman’. He turned to Odukwe, and allowed a brief pause. ‘Odukwe body, I greet you’. He said ‘my hand is on the ground’, replied Odukwe. ‘Do you know me? ‘No man can know you’. Replied Odukwe. “I am Evil Forest, I am Dry-meat that fills-the mouth. I am fire-that-burns-without-faggots. If your in-law brings wine to you, let your sister go with him. I salute you’. He pulled his staff from the hard earth and thrust it back. ‘Umuofia Kwenu!’ he roared, and the crowd answered. I don’t know why such a trifle should come before Egwugwu’. Said one elder to another. ‘Don’t you know what kind of man Uzowulu is? He will not listen to any other decision’, replied the other. As they spoke two other groups of people had replaced the first before the Egwugwu, and a great land case had began. (Achebe 1958)
In such ancient society, where there was no written law and there was need for both parties to a dispute to respect and unchallengeable power, the judgment of Mmanwu was a vital mechanism of social order. Today, in Enugu-Ezike, we have various Mmanwu types whose functions range from entertainment, social control to rituals. Some can be seen while others cannot, especially the night Mmanwu. In this write-up, and attempt will be made to itemize the notable Mmanwu types in Enugu-Ezike and to provide a brief description of their features and an explanation of their features and an explanation of their purpose.
AGBEJI: This is specie of Omabe and, like Omabe general; it appears once in every five years. It is a manifestation of artistic ingenuity in living colours. It has big roundish head adorned with long gathers of mixed colours. It moves in calculated steps. The followers provide vocal music in a poetic form which rhymes with it movement. It is presented by a clan. And even though it is generally believed that every mmanwu is a spirit-manifest, the members of the presenting clan regard their Agbeji as a pride and a display of their wealth. Hence whenever Agbeji moves, members of the clan normally shout ‘eg-ego’ (money – money), to show that a lot of money was invested in realizing the Agbeji.
The Agbeji’s head is also a demonstration of the numerical strength of the presenting clan as the size depends on the feathers contributed by the initiate adult males of the clan; Agbeji is a spectacle to behold. It is for entertainment and it is loved by all including women and children.
AGELE: This is also specie of Omabe. It is noted for its metallic body and elegant poise. It can jump and mount on a platform where it makes some majestic moves to the admiration of one or two followers. It is usually provided with some poetic music by one or two followers, but it does not move in a particular fashion. In fact the ability to thrill the spectators with sheer body movements and undeterminedable steps is one of its main attributes. It is very shapely and a good entertainer.
EJI OGBENE: This belongs to the specie of Omabe also and is the most dreaded. It is fat, ugly and clad in leopard skins. It carries heavy charm in its left hand and menacing cane on the right. It is usually held by another Omabe called Ugoke-Eji to prevent it from causing destructions. But sometimes it breaks loose and stampede ensues. It is only the young men can run very fast that dare to watch it. Women and children usually run for cover on learning of its approach, its audience thrill is on its manifested magical potency and demonstrations. It is believed to be associated with much ritual.
According to a legend (Emeka 1992) the Eji-Ogbene’s (Omabe) relationship with leopard was a devasting predator. So the Ancestors devised a magical-ritual process for coping with its overwhelming, often traumatic menace. And the interractional medium of Eji Ogbene afforded an opportunity for reverential communion during which the potent and its menace ritually-theatrically managed. The process, at the same time, imbues the Eji Ogbene with some of the admired attributes of the totem animal. The leopard, thus ritually appeased, the people would pursue their primary subsistence occupation of hunting and farming in a hostile ecology with less dangers of the leopard being a menace. Eji-Ogbene is so dreaded that it can carry any keg of palm wine displayed in the market place, whether for sale or not, just as it is able to lay its hands on it, returning the container.
AJULAKA: This belongs to the domain of Omabe. It is noted for its talking prowess. It is noted for its talking prowess. It is wordsmith and pours out incantations, idiomatic expressions, proverbs, provocative, sometimes vituperative outbursts – all with poetic rendition. It chases unexpectedly and it changes the direction of its movement with mesmerizing agility. It lashed anybody it catches. It is believed to be very deep in rituals and charms. It is ugly but entertaining.
OZIGBO: This mmanwu is in a class of its own. It is only associated with dead people. It appears in the day time only with it is moving from house of its dead host to the new one. It looks very slim and measures up to forty feet tall. It shakes to the movement of the wind and it is a wonder as to what sustains its height. Its colour is oark-blue. It is believed that whoever is crossed by its shadow will die, hence whenever it is passing spectators normally line up on one side of the road depending on the position of the sun, to avoid its long cast shadows crossing them.
All other appearances or manifestations of Ozibo are in the nights when it mourns a dead man, it never calls a living person’s name. And if it does it is a bad omen and the person called is believed to die soon unless a ritual is performed to appease the gods. In fact, there is no recorded event within any living memory where such call was made.
It sings a lonely, soronous, awe-inspiring song that sends shivers down the spines of listeners. Sometimes, its “children” (umu-Ozibo) will chorus the song; but most of the time it is lonely voice that is heard in the dead of night. It weeps profusely; expressing resignation that the person he is calling is gone to the “cold earth” it is totally ritualistic and not entertaining at all. Enugu Ezike is believed to have inherited Ozibo from Idoma people.
ABERE: This is a typical night mmanwu. It is never seen by the day nor by women. It performs once in a year. Its favourite food is Okpa (grampea) and Iho (Egusi pie). Abere is an agency of social control. It talks or sings about actual or purported events in village and neightbouring settlements, openly mentioning the names of the people involved. Such people mentioned do not have any right of retaliation or opportunity to reply since one does not engage in verbal war with ‘spirit’. It is the lot of the village folk to conduct themselves to escape the length of Abere’s tongue.
There are of course other mmanwu types, like Akatakpa, which is basically for entertainment and recreation for young men and women. There is also the Ekwe that adorns and graces the funeral ceremony of titled men and a host of other mmanwu associated with Christmas.
The concept of Mmanwu is deep-rooted in Enugu-Ezike tradition and western civilization and influences have only scratched the surface, leaving the substance, the belief, the myth and the mystery largely untouched.
Culled from The Trail Vol 1, No. 1 , OAUG, 1994.
Last updated Saturday, 18 June 2005 20:42 +0100