Igwa Mang 2016: When culture/tradition meet Christianity
By Admin on November, 22 2016
As someone raised in Assemblies of God church I can easily tell you that if Rev. Dr Uma Ukpai had dressed in "ishi agu" attire in the 70s many in the church would have seen him as a backslider. In fact when he started deploying his "gospel time" band at Assemblies of God Church programs in the early eighties not a few eyebrows were raised in our strongly dogmatic church. We preferred to clap real hard instead of using musical instruments.
Kuoronu Chineke aka.
Today the most popular pastor in Igbo land even appears in his promotional posters wearing ishi agu that was at some point seen as unbelievers attire. I also don't know if there is any church in Igbo land today without musical bands, including our Assemblies of God Church.
Many of the dogmas of yesterday owe more to ignorance than the written word of God or direction of the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite Redeemed Christian Church pastors, 3 years ago, attended our thanksgiving service dressed in full Abiriba attire with his kpom kpom, hat and walking stick. Of course he mounted the pulpit and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in that purely traditional attire, similar to what Igwa Mang age grade members will wear to celebrate this Xmas at Abiriba.
Twenty years ago that pastor would have lost his congregation for dressing in that traditional attire. But with Pastor Adeboye regularly showing up in his own native attires with native music instruments to preach and praise God's name nobody will dare to condemn the pastor even when some "very holy" members were obviously uncomfortable.
Permit me to tell you a little about Igwa Mang ceremony of the ancient Kingdom of Abiriba from ancient and modern perspective.
In the olden days, Abiriba Kingdom which was surrounded by hostile neighbors on all sides, evolved the age grade system which grouped people according to period of birth. Normally each age grade will have members born around the same time plus or minus 3 years. For instance, those born between 1967 and 1970 might be grouped into one age grade while those born between 1971 and 1974 will be in another group.
Each age grade have duties to perform for the community and on completion of that assignment will graduate and pass the baton to the next age grade until they get to retirement from community service age called "Uche ceremony".
Once you perform the Uche ceremony (usually between 67 and 70 years) you can no longer engage in active community service but rather will be given everything you need to live out the rest of your life in relative comfort. Automatically you are addressed as a "chief" in traditional show of respect for great life achievement.
In those days, when it is the turn of your age grade to go to war or defend the community from hostile enemies you will leave the community with your age grade members, after being prepared for war. Of course that preparation starts from the cradle including your "igba nnunu" or bird hunting from age 6 and through mentorship by older age grades who are seen as your traditional "masters".
Abiriba people are warriors.
The Igwa Mang age grade are expected to successfully complete their mission and return to the community. When they are returning they are dressed as seen in the picture of my friends of Onyiba Age Grade of Lagos posted here. The missing item in their appearance is the absence of traditional machete/sword or gun.
That aspect that celebrates their arrival back to the community is called "igba mgbugba" and they are expected to stop at a location outside the village to remove their war armaments before joining the general population.
It is expected that their wives will bring food to them and other goodies including choice drinks to welcome them back as successful warriors or community defenders. (If you are in Abiriba on the morning of 18th December 2016, you will eat food from the wives of the current Igwa Mang age grade members free of cost). From there they will match to the village square (Amaukwu) and join up with others to match through the village market and show themselves to great celebrations at the market known as Afia Nkwo. From there they will march through orie square to the big Achi tree at the centre of Abiriba Kingdom.
When they pass through orie square those whose relatives didn't make it will cry. That's why that square is called orieakwa Abiriba, meaning orie square of tears. Even to date if members of the Igwa Mang age grade march through orieakwa and a member of the age grade is not seen by his family they will feel humiliated with a sense of loss/defeat because it means the individual couldn't survive current challenges of life to join his mates to celebrate. Whereas others will join their relatives in celebration till they get to the Achi tree where all celebrations and splendor ends
In modern times we no longer fight wars but the tradition is replicated in other ways and passed on from generation to generation. The Igwa Mang age grade still protects the community and enforces laws made by the King of the Ancient Kingdom with his ruling team called Enachioken in council.
More interestingly, rather than go to physical violent war, each age grade is expected to deliver a new development project to the community. The immediate past Igwa Mang age grade called "Erinma" completed a High Court and delivered to the community through members contributions. My own age grade, which is the current Igwa Mang age grade (Onyiba) is almost done with a school of nursing known as Onyiba School of Nursing.
I have painstakingly reviewed our current practices with regards to the Igwa Mang ceremony and am yet to see anything fetish or anti-Christianity. When we complete the school of nursing Christians and others will send their children there to obtain knowledge and further help develop the Kingdom to the glory of God Almighty that the majority of Abiriba people worship through Jesus Christ.
Rather than condemn this traditional cum cultural ceremony, I have seen biblical examples that support it. Jesus Christ our Lord was of Jewish origin and observed all the Jewish traditions from circumcision to observance of Passover Feast.
Again, take a look at the Bible book of Numbers and see where Jews were expressly instructed to organize into age groups. Incidentally we organized as age grades and yet people think it is a sin. May be because they don't want to contribute to community development.
Do you know that the feast of Passover is a war success or deliverance celebration? Just read Exodus 12 and emphatically note verse 14:
"And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever."
Jesus Christ of Nazareth celebrated that feast.
What then is wrong with celebrating our heroes and re-enacting their heroism through development projects? It is a fact that Abiriba Kingdom is the most developed homeland in Africa with almost every infrastructure provided by the people through age grades and philanthropy from her children.
My more religious Christian friends have talked about alcoholic drinks taken by some during the festival. Fact is that nobody is forced to drink or present alcoholic drinks. Personally I am strongly inclined towards providing non alcoholic wines and other drinks to my guests. Of course I won't stop my family members who want to celebrate my warfront successes by providing and consuming alcohol.
It all comes down to beliefs.
In the book of Genesis 35:14-15 when Jacob made it in life he actually offered a drink offering to God at Bethel.
"And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.
And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel."
Likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ himself attended a Jewish traditional marriage and turned water to wine to make sure that the tradition of His people was kept alive. In so doing He reconfirmed that marriage is ordained by God, especially traditional marriage. See John 2:1-10 and note that while He may not have taken the wine, He didn't stop others from drinking or tasting the wine. Tradition is tradition, culture is culture.
On the 10th of December 2016 I will join my peers of Onyiba Age Grade and celebrate our mock Igwa Mang procession at Aba. Then from 17th to 21st I will also join them at Abiriba to show myself as an Abiriba son who was not consumed by recession ""war".
Of course I have contributed and will continue to contribute my widows mite to the building of the Onyiba school of nursing Abiriba.
Finally, on the 26th of December 2016 I will give thanks to God for survival to this age of manhood. It will probably be my biggest celebration to date, particularly given that I don't celebrate birthdays.
I have no reservations in inviting all my friends to come in numbers and join me on the 26th of December at our Iyiofia Amaogudu Abiriba home. Unlike others I won't pretend to be celebrating my birthday because I wasn't born in December. I am simply thanking God for keeping me alive and well to fulfill my obligation to my community. In case you wish to bring gifts, the traditional gift is ebulu (big white ram) or cow (or the cash equivalent for any of those). Still come if you don't have any of those, I will pray for you and God will bless you.
You are all invited from start to finish.
"Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." -Hebrews 13:8