One of the most popular and significant aspects in the corpus of the Ebira-Tao culture and cultural heritage is Echane Festival. It is one of the two eku, masquerade traditions which are the ekurahu; the night masquerades and ekuechichi; the day-time masquerades of the people. Echeane which literally means feast for festival celebrated in Ebiraland.
Unlike ekurahu; the daytime masquerade that is privy only to men, echane festival involves the active participation of both men and women in its celebrations of much interest to this paper are the traditions or origin of echeane, the philosophy, types of masquerades on parade and their
social and spiritual functions as well as the performance of the festival. The paper equally focuses on the contending contemporary Ebira society dynamics on the festival with view to proffering workable stabilizing indices.
Echane is also known as Echeane
Echane Festival Introduction
The Ebira-Tao people inhabit the central senatorial district of Kogi State South West of the
confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue. Ebira is replete with traditional festivals of Ikede Ichekene, Ogugu, Eche aiuma ,fya ahaim^Ebe , Eika , Ekuechi, Eku-Otii, Echori, Okehi and Echeane_. Each of the festivals is celebrated once in a year. In other words, all the Ebira traditional festivals are celebrated annually. They are so organized that no two festivals clash with each other in celebrations.
Of these cultural festivals, echeane is second to none after the most revered ekuchi festival.
Ekuechi, the night masquerade and echeane, the day – time masquerade are the two most important and celebrated eku, the masquerade festivals in Ebira – Taoland. Therefore, the eku masquerade phenomenon is the transformation of deceased elders. Echeane is believed to be a period of the year when both the dead and the living commune. Various classes of ekuechichi, the day – time masquerades perform at Echeane. There are three broad categories of ekuechichi at echeane. There are eku – okise\ the fortune teller or diviner masquerades, the entertainer and those that combine both divination and entertainment.
The twenty first century civilization which ushered in new religions, social and political
outlook of the Ebira has upset the balance of the primary functions and value orientation of the
echane festival in the community. Consequently, many changes have taken place in respect of the
masquerade and masquerading systems arising from the contending contemporary external-stimuli.
Traditions of Origin of Echeane
There are four tenable traditions of origin of Echeane in Ebiraland. The first tradition was
narrated by Andah (in a personal communication) who tenders that:
“In the beginning; Ohomorihi, God created things in twos; male and female; land and sky;
day and night; tall and short; fat and thin; strong and weak; high and low; heavy and light, et cetera.
Ohomorihi, God gave women the science of witchcraft and men the art of masquerading.
“Each sex kept the secret of the divine gift as closely guarded top secret known only to its
members. That was in the time past. In no time, the women folk became curious, restless and greedy as they are taken to be by men. They wanted to take men’s gift to add to theirs and therefore concocted various methods to achieve their objective.
“At first, when a masquerade was about to emerge Onyayi, mothers, as the wife
referred to, surrounded the irapa; a box – like container for keeping masquerades’ costume and props with the sole intent of discovering how appropriate the costume and props would be as a masquerade Thus retaining the monopoly of their art became a problem to men.
“Men conjured a tornado which was quickly neutralized by the ‘mothers’ . Men’s plan number
one thereby failed. This engendered another thought. After a deep rumination and sincere communion with Ohomorihi; God through prayers for a rescue, an idea finally occurred to men..
“Amidst hectic drumming and dancing Ihine oweyi; a tiny ant, because of its insignificant size
slipped into the Irapa unnoticed. To the amazement of all, a masquerade started to take shape. The ‘mothers’ were defeated. Men’s secret remained intact but this was only for a short time.
“However the much – guarded top secret of eku, masquerade phenomenon was eventually
revealed to women. Tradition has it that a beautiful and seductive damsel lured a man to bed, the man losing his sense of secrecy to ecstasy, let the cat out of the bag.
Women thus got grips of ekuechichi in all its ramifications and took it over as their festival hence the name Echeane, feast for women”.
The second version of the story of origin of Echeane by Andah hinged on the fact that, “far
into the subsistence agrarian past, one of the early farmer settlers had a prepared eku charm given to him to be placed on a stick. The stick was attached to the rooftop of his hut as a potent protection of his farm. In compliance with the medicine man’s instruction, every day, whatever the farmer ate, a morse! must be thrown on the charm. This the farmer did until his death.
As he was about to die, in order to conceal the charm, he decided to wrap it up with multi
-coloured pieces of rags showing his first son that, that was his (fanner’s) charm. So the foods smeared over the years, and the dirty rags covering the charm, the name ekuechichi, eku of dirty evolved, and had come to stay.
In his own version of the tradition of origin Daudu, (in a personal communication) has it that
“in the past, when a notable elderly man in a household died, his easily identified clothes by many people were sewn together into a long broad strand running through, covering and blocking the least identification trait . The wearer must be the right height of the deceased elder and capable of mimicking his walking style, gait and general comportment. These portray the deceased elder as coming back to life in form of a masque known as ekuoba.
‘Since elders must as a matter of necessity possess servants who bid their backs and calls
when alive, ekuoba had a servant that cleared the path of dirt to facilitate a hitch-free thoroughfare and herald ekuoba’s presence. This harbinger was similarly dressed with provision for the arms unlike ekuoba without hands. The said harbinger was called ekuechichi, meaning eku masque, echichi, dirt literally put together as masque of dirt.
In essence, ekuoba was the first masquerade ever to emerge in Ebiraland with ekuechichi as a
servant by local definition. Ekuechichi therefore, was entirely at the mercy of Ekuoba as it obeyed all Ekuoba’s instructions to the letter. It had no sense of its own except that of its master /owner.
The fourth and perhaps the most plausible of the traditions of origin of echeane is the seniority
rivalry concepts between two brothers, Ododo and Obaji. The brothers lived at Eika and Okehi
respectively. Of the two, Obaji was the elder. According to Andah, Dauda (in personal communication) and Suleiman (2003; 175):
It is the custom of the Ebira that a young brother always serves his elder, so
Ododo was at the becks and calls of Obaji even at adulthood. Every family
had enjoyed these exclusive privilege, honour, respect and authority.. To this end
Ododo felt bad and wanted Obaji to serve him in return.
One day Obaji was seriously ill. Having established the authenticity of the severity of Obaji’s
failing health and the fact that he would soon die, Ododo felt cheated. Ododo quickly concocted a plan with his children and immediately committed suicide before the death of Obaji. Suleiman (2003; 176), posits that:
Ogugu, the ceremony which commemorates deceased person was staged the
following morning of Ododo’s death. This featured for the first time in the
history of burial ceremonies in Ebiraland Eku, masquerade. People could
not understand how the strange being Eku, masquerade came about. All that
they were told was that the Eku, masquerade was Ododo’s spirit.
Thus, since he died first and his Eku, masquerade was the first to be so formed Ododo
became Obaji’s elder in the hereafter.
However, the plausibility of the above traditions of origin of Ebira Masquerade (eku), masquerade as authentic historic source becomes difficult due to their inadequacies arising from individual informants probable intrinsic manipulation to suit their socio- political ends.
In addition, there are no trained specialists in the art of memorizing and recounting both past and contemporary events in Ebira-Tao land. Everyone memorizes events and recounts same according to his /her mental capability and capacity. So that in the process of recounting fear worts after several years of occurrence, many salient points are omitted rather unconsciously expect c in attempts to locate origins of things in time and space.
The Philosophy of Echeane
Basically, Echeane festival was built on the rock of unity, solidarity and oneness of the Ebira
both dead and alive. The intrinsic common currency is the celebration of life and to maintain the links between the dead and the living. The Echeane festival is a potent forum to share love, the key to spiritual freedom and in some cases to reset the balance of nature among mortals based on justice, equity and fairness.
Echeane literally means feast for women. Since women and children are excluded from
Ekurahu, the night masquerading Echeane is however, meant to compensate them. This therefore, engenders a lot of merriment and entertainments. Yet, the secret of Ekuechichi is stil! maintained.
“Echeane is equally a period when magical powers are publicly made available” (Picton,
1974:38), Anabe (1924:36) and Suleiman (2003:178), through Eku-Okise, the diviner masquerades such as Adega of Ihima, Onogidi of kuroko and Ovesa of Okene.
To honour and maintain the evergreen memory of deceased elders, Echeane festival becomes
the veritable vehicle among the Ebira. Yet, ekuechichi which was initially the traditional harbinger of Ekuoba has hijacked the festival and thus, relegated Ekuoba to the background if not totally expunged and exonerated from the scheme of things in Echeane.
Equally though, echane festival provides rest and leisure particularly to farmers after a hectic
fanning season. The period even coincides with the period of the ripening of guinea corn (Picton, 1970:38, Habib, 1993:85). In other words, Echeane festival is a period when farmers have a break from farm works to engage in some leisure which finds expression in Echeane.
Nevertheless, echane festival provides an avenue for the display of the Ebira store of
ekeuchichi, the day-time masquerades in the eht, masquerade cosmology.
Ebira Masquerade types and their Functions
A broad spectrum of ekuechichi, the day-time masquerades (examples are in plates ii, iii and
iv) exist. They are grouped into three main classes. This allows for identification and compartmentalization of the multiplicity of the masquerades to affect a sense of order and easy understanding. The group using local terms are
- Eku-obanyi, the great (first class) masquerades,
- Eku-Oguohuva, ‘the “Big’ (second grade) and
- Eku-Oweyi, the small (third class masquerades).
Eku Obanyi: Most Powerful Masquerades in Ebiraland
The first grade masquerades are few and varied. They are the great ones of domineering influence and unchallengeable authority, power and prestige in the corpus of the Ebira
masquerades and are considered the most powerful masquerades in Ebiraland.
Adokita, Evara, Evako, Asiri, Ewu Obanyi, Irezi, Iremaoza, Ine, Ajindivssi, Ohe in Eganyi. Others
are Ura, Akoko Ichakoro, Imorimoh, Osankoro, Evu, Uva, Adega and Okoruwa in Ihima and Odumi (Omope), Unaroko, Aguro, Ijanupo, Evara, Anupo, Omao, Ero, and Ijova in Ogaminana.
Eku Oguohuva: Second Most Powerful Masquerades in Ebiraland
The second class eku masquerades evolved through competition to outshine others over time. In essence, there were two grades before they evolved from the third grade through consistent annual performances involving stunning demonstration of magical strength in crises situations. Their feats in these areas have promoted many extant masquerades in this category and thrown them into limelight even beyond their immediate environments.
From this grade also, these second class masquerades could become first class.
Masquerades in this category are;
Ohihi, Ochuvovagwu, Agae, Aruwara, Tesiva, Odenge in Okene; Akoko, Ajindivi, Ichakoro, Agirimahonyi, Odonkoro, Anupo, Adega, Iduvu and Enarewu in Ihima; Onuvu, Odovo, Akamawu, Anupo, Odupo, Ivavara, Aditpo, Irezi, Ozube and Ositvoperesu in Ogaminana; and Adega, Agiripa, Idivi, Ajindivi, Okume, Echukurevu and Osankoro in Egtmyi.
Eku Oweyi: Third Class Masquerades in Ebiraland
Eku-oweyi, the third grade masquerades comprise Ivoyii. the harbingers of both the first and
second grade masquerades; the lone-rangers that are not accompanied by any human, and newly formed masquerades.
This group consists of Onchere, Umusu. Unokoja Inyanya. small-leta- capita-leta in Okene; No way, Ogancheche in Ihima and Idaku, Ovagwu, Asiri, Annori, Uruku, Upa, Mainono and Gangasi in Ogaminana.
Echeane Festival Performance
The Echeane festival beginning takes place on the eve. The oldest and most popular masquerade especially one of the first grades must herald the commencement of the much awaited festival particularly in Okene. I have so far witnessed two separate eku; masquerades perform this task at various times in Okene.
The first was Adokita a towering giant Eku, masquerade whose suzerainty among the Ebira Ekuechichi, the day-time masquerades had no parallel even till today. The incumbent
is Evako which during Adokita’s leadership was second class masquerade.
The heralding masquerade sets out on its mission at eight O’clock in the evening dressed in
the barest of its costume, preferably on Echaka, local baggy trousers. Both male and female
accompany it round the town amidst drumming, dancing and singing in heightened sensitivity and participation. And the town is happy!
The importance of this herald is however, a customary convention of setting the stage for echeane festival. Also, it is to impress it on parents and guardians to keep their young ones, the weak and the aged at home throughout the festivity and to avoid the rough violent and general disorder often present in Echeane. This warning is reflected in this song:
Oza na nyi onobo Osho nate konobo visa; Meaning literally that; owner of the aged should hide him/her, the aged is valuable.Echeane Song
The next day as early as nine O’clock in the morning, Eku Oweyi the third grade masquerades are out followed later in the day by the second class masquerades. Eku obanyi; the first grade masquerades surface the second day and through to the seventh day of the festival especially in Okene, Ogaminana, Eganyi and Obangede. While Ihima and kuroko celebrate echane festival for four days only.
The Ebira Dynamics in Echane Festival
Like all other human endeavours in Ebira – Taoland, Echaene festival has since been
drastically affected by some contending cotemporary external stimuli. Such external factors as
politics, social, religious and clan sentiments militate against the traditional festival. The festival has been bastardized through fractionalization along political party lines and clan cleavages. For instance;
Eku – Ewu obanyi singer artiste, Late Diyo Ozi Niger could take on Yakuhu; the custodian of Eku — Irenu ohi and reduce him to shreds on the basis of being a member of another clan different from Diyo’s on trivial clan dispute. Equally, in the second Republic particularly in Okene, Eku -Evako of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)” was at logger head with Eku – Adokita believed to be a staunch member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). This contemporary socio-political dispensation that tends to politicize and bastardize masquerades and masquerading traditions in Ebiraland, led Adokita since 1981, to cease ‘paying the annual ancestral visit.
Socially, clubs, associations, societies involve ekuechichi performance in their periodic
activities! ‘For instance, mere wedding, naming ceremonies, picnics, and house – wanning
celebrations, and even victory at the polls involve ekuechichi. So that at very odd times of the year ekuechichi of the Echeane performs outside the stipulated Echeane period.
Also, contrary to the essence of eku, masquerade phenomenon which according to Suleiman
(2003:174, Picton, 1974:38 and Habib, 1993:84), impersonate deceased elders, it is a common
practice among the Ebira youths to own eku, masquerades. Thus, the youths have hijacked Echeane festival and use it passionately disastrously. All the known and respected norms, decorum and customary conventions of the festival are brazenly over stepped and subverted by the youths. This negative trend has led to the total loss and collapse of the festival’s traditional value orientation, respect and fundamental philosophy with eventual spiritual decay.
As part of the Ebira culture, Echane festival is a link between the dead and the living. Its
observance throws into bold relief the unequivocal harmonious existence among the people which largely engenders unity, oneness and trust, firmly expressed in the preparations, participation and inherent comic relief of the Ebira psyche before, during and immediately after echane festival, For its sustenance and restitution to its past glory, all hands must be on deck.
The traditional leaders particularly the Ohi, Daunt Ohindasi and Ozwni in conjunction with and headed by the Ohinoyi of Ebira should organize Ebira Cultural Union (E.C.U.) charged with the responsibilities of overseeing the organization, conduct and security of all the cultural festivals including echeane. Such cultural association should be autonomous yet accountable to the Ohinoyi Ebira in council.
More employment opportunities should be created by the local, state and the federal
governments for the teeming jobless Ebira youths. The gesture will deter the yomfas from
contemplating owning eku masquerades. Consequently, the Echeane festival will remain and retain its basic philosophy and value orientation as a ceremony to commemorate deceased elders and not deceased youths.
General enlightenment campaigns through the print and electronic media on the need for the Ebira to live together in peace and harmony are imperative. Because eku masquerade phenomenon which Echeane connotes finds itself firmly fixed as a dependable livewire in the comity of the Ebira cultural festivals.
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