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Author Topic: How Mkpa Nwaotam and Ugele Mkpa came about in Opobo - Allen Brown  (Read 9506 times)

Peter B

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The Ibani tradition has it that the Nwaotam originated from a dark mythical grove in Mkpajekiri around Ohambele Ndoki. By this time, the Ndoki native, which included the Ottam tribes men, had started serving this 'Mmoh' gods believed to be heterosexual; and would organise dance during a season of the year. Those dances were mostly organised based on age grade systems; and after several years, the deities' head was changed to masquerade head of the Nwaotam. The nucleus of the Nwaotam masquerade at that time metamorphosed into a cult, because this domestic deity at Ndoki had acquired a great deal of ritual authority. It was at these instances that Opobo people of the Captain Uranta family adopted the cult of Nwaotam called 'Ntuma Mkpa' and then ferried the male native original totem (mummified Nwa-ottam head) through Azumini river to Imo river, then to Queen town by 1920 on the authority and assistance of late King Arthur Mac Pepple, the then Amanyenabo of Opobo kingdom.

Mkpa means burial ground(cemetery). It all started when a group hunters stomped into a strange sight in the bush where some spirits were dancing. Among the strange group, one of them covered its face and was revered among the dancers . The hunters were revelled by the sight of what they saw as they watched the spirits dance and sway to the rhythm of the gods.

"The hunters came back home and narrated their experience and later formed a group to mimic what they saw during their hunting expedition". Thus began the origin of what today has turned into one of the mystical cultural group and festival of the Ndoki, Opobo and Bonny Ijaws all over the world.

From a small group at Mkpa Ejekiri Ndoki near Ohambele where it originated in today's Ukwa East Local Government Area in Abia State, Mkpa Nwaotam spread to Opobo area first at Queens Town (1920) and later to Opobo main town.

It was from Opobo that the Bonny Nwaotam Society was found with the likes of late Alabo Eugene MacPepple and late De Brownson Oko Jaja led the first delegation to set up the "Uke Mkpa Society' of Bonny sometime in the mid 1940s.

The play found its way with large presence of Opobo and Ndoki people at Andoni, Egwanga, Aba, Lagos and Port Harcourt. Today Nwaotam has becoming Opobo's cultural identity as it's displayed for two days from 31st December to 1st day of January every new year.

At Bonny, Egwanga, Aba, Lagos and Port Harcourt, it's displayed on 25th of December except on Sundays. The society came to Opobo following the palm oil trade, as many Opobians were doing business at Ohambele and Azumini areas. " It thus was displayed first at Queens Town as "Ntuuma group"- a fearful looking mask with marks as whiskers. That is why the Nwaotam has those lines on the face.

"The one at Queens Town was the female and does not have any group attached unlike Opobo's that has different colourful groups that came up as a way to add colour."

In Queens Town, its is still displayed and danced open for everybody. However, when it came to Opobo in the early 1930s it became modernised as the Ntuuma group was dropped for new age groups attached to play. The first was Ejesilem, followed by Uwa Wu Nkonye, Iye Eke, Ofona Ogu and later Amatemeso.

Ugele Mkpa is the only group that originated from Mkpa Society. They are like Mkpa Nwaotam son. Following the recalcitrant attitude of the Ejesilem group to follow directives, especially their uniform, Mkpa Society had to form another group. The name Ugele Mkpa was as a result of the Mkpa gong handed over to them."