Tradition & Beliefs An overview of the people of Ohafia and the War Dance


Tradition according to the dictionary is the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice. It can also be refined by saying that a tradition is a belief or a behavior that is bequeathed down a group or a society that is also accompanied by a symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Belief, on the other hand, is having faith that something that doesn’t exist is real.

This article is to x-ray the interconnectivity of tradition and the beliefs of diverse cultures which has persisted and evolved for many years. Many traditions and beliefs especially in Africa, have ancient meanings. However, some have been deliberately invented to put a face to a movement that might have a political undertone or a cultural undertone. Such traditions might not last. The influence of tradition and beliefs are evident in many aspects of daily life, especially as Africans. In Nigeria for example, each culture has a tradition and a belief that is distinct to the other. While an Ijaw man believes that Egbesu protects him from harm and danger an Igbo man might believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect him from harm and while others might believe in the protective power of charms or amulets, shrines, and other sacred objects.

With the influx of religions like Islam and Christianity especially to the African setting, a lot of beliefs and traditions have been jettisoned but still, Side by side with their high levels of commitment to Christianity and Islam, many people still retain beliefs and rituals that are characteristic of traditional African religions which include sacrifices to idols or ancestors, annual traditional festivals like the Ogun festival in the southwest of Nigeria, the New yam festival in the Southeast of Nigeria, the Argungu Festival in the Middle belt, etc. Also worthy of note is the traditional belief of consulting native doctors when one is sick which has been an age-long practice by people who hold strongly to such beliefs. Such practices asides have been an age-long practice laid down from one generation to another generation could be also motivated by economic reasons or the absence of orthodox health care systems in such places.

Also evident in some aspects of traditional daily life is the belief of re-incarnation by some people, a situation where a dead person comes back to life or the conviction that people will be reborn in this world again. Also worthy of note is the traditional belief that witches or sorcerers cause illness or other harms by attacking their life- force. They seek to protect themselves with spiritual acts and traditional medicines.

Ancestors are believed to be part of the human community though they are in the spirit world. Believers hold that ancestors sometimes act as messengers between living beings and the divine, helping to maintain social order and withdrawing their support if the living behaves wrongly such wrongdoings might result in hardship, suffering, and illness for people or communities and must be countered with ritual acts to re-establish order and well-being.

In conclusion, despite beliefs in a supreme being who created and ordered the world but is often experienced as distant or unavailable to humans. Many traditions believe in lesser divinities or spirits. They believe are more accessible and are sometimes believed to act as intermediaries. A number of traditional myths explain the creation and ordering of the world and provide explanations for contemporary social relationships and norms. In this current article, we will be exploring the traditions and beliefs of the Ohafia people with preference to the origin of the Ohafia War Dance.

Ohafia is a town and a local government area in Abia State, Nigeria. It is an Igbo speaking region. The ancestral capital of Ohafia is located in the village of Elu. The Ohafia Local Government Area also includes the towns of Abiriba and Nkporo.

Historically, Ohafia people left Andoli and settled in Isi-Eke, from where they ran away one night when they heard the rattling sound of calabashes. The sound was interpreted to mean that they were being invaded which lead to a commotion, as some of them escaped toward Ngodo and others went towards Isuochi. At one point, some of them headed towards Abam leading the group heading to Abam, was a man known as Ezeama Atita, and two sons called Uduma Ezeama and Onyereobi Ezeama. When they got to Abam, Onyereobi’s wife, who was heavy with pregnancy, could no longer walk. He, therefore, remained in Abam with his pregnant wife, while the group continued on the journey.

In the present location of Ohafia, at a place called Ugwumgbo, Ezeama Atita and his second son Uduma settled after many years and their offspring established the 26 villages that makeup today’s Ohafia. The ancestral headquarters of Ohafia is in Elu Ohafia. Each village is governed by an eze ogo. All the Eze ogo’s come together to form the Eze Ogo-in-Council with the amala and decide how the community is to be governed. The overall traditional ruler, Udumeze, who lives in Elu Ohafia, intervenes only when there is a matter between an Eze ogo and a subject.

The History and Origin of War Dance

In the past, the culture of Ohafia was hinged around one’s prowess in war. They were constantly on the lookout for wars in which to take part. They became something like

Mercenaries and the people of Arochukwu, who were all over Igbo land ‘hunting’ for slaves, harnessed this warlike spirit in Ohafia people to their own advantage. The ancestors of the Ohafia people were renowned as mighty warriors. This aspect of the Ohafia people’s history remains fundamental to the Ohafia people’s sense of identity. The warrior’s cap or “leopard cap”(Igbo: Okpu agu) is well known and is an associated product of Ohafia.

The Ohafia warrior tradition is embodied in the performance of iri agha the practice of beheading a fallen foe was a favorite pastime. A human skull was valued as a souvenir, and it was proof of a man’s courage, which brought to the Ohafia man different types of honour. Only those who brought home a human head could join the Ogbu-Isi society and wear the eagle plume of courage. The love of military glory became a consuming passion and the focus of all social values.

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