Obongha, nyaung kor letu beeh: the Crisis of Cultural Catharsis among the Yakurr –By Prof. Oka Obono

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Over the years, I have been examining the significance of Lobo as a terribly mystical phenomenon. It is a premium rite of intensification, as anthropologists would call it. Thus, it has certain fundamental lessons that our ancestors sought to teach us, and transmit to all future generations. 

As an otambongha, you would see that the importance of Leboku-pom, and the trance-like repetitive incantations of grandmothers (‘Ejom, Ejom, Ejom…Epal-epal…atawaletu…ayimor nwene…ayeni liman…akam yanen yaba…Ejom. Ejom. Ejom… Wofai…’) are fully reinforced by the mantras and other pronouncements with which the freshly initiated Obongha flees from the shrine of Oblansin where ‘his head was broken’ (Let the reader understand). If Leboku-pom was the theory, Lobo was the practicals.

And those worms (‘nyaung’) on his head, who ever had the eyes to see them? Does it mean they were never there?

Outside the esoteric messages that come from the Okoma-dom during Obam’s celebratory outings, few incantations come this intensely close to Yoruba oriki. There are many cross-cultural parallels.

What the Oblansin does in his dark shrine is to reveal secrets acquired in the proximate homeland, Lekanakpakpa, as the people sought to re-transform its forest environment into the more aboriginal, primordial Savannah they were used to in Central Africa. He re-enacted for the new Obongha the mysterious balance between human strength and spiritual assistance in the Forests of Focus and Oblivion.

I meant to say there that the forest is habitat of spirits. If we annually uprooted a specific tree and brought it to town, it was a mechanism for unifying the sacred and profane dimensions of Yakurr existence, the past and the future, the disruptive creation of openness.

The whole substance of Yakurr social life is thus an engagement with dialectics of this kind.

How spirits wait for one in the bush, next to one’s tree. That’s destiny. You work it out. It might not yield easily.

This is a comforting expectation to have in a zone of dreadful entities. His destiny will yield to him in the end.

What (other) lessons in self management can we extract from these processes?

Why is the Obongha required traditionally to remain stoic and silent as missiles of abuse were hurled at him from all sides? Yet, it behoved him to (1) have the presence of mind to prioritise the protection of the be-bangled maiden by his side, not minding how hurtful, or close to hurtful, some of those verbal barbs could be, and (2) have the fortitude to plot his revenge in absolute silence, no matter how distracted he might be by his pain.

Everyone could mock yabongha, who merely shrugged and danced away the shameful insinuations of the things the people said, during this merciless communal catharsis. It is all a play that conceals menacing intentions.

That stoicism is being eroded in the average Yakurr man today. He boils too quickly. He talks too much. He is narcissistic without knowing it. Unity eludes his enterprise as he is embroiled in fierce competition with all his brothers. Therefore, malice lurks near. The man is cantankerous. All he knows is himself. All he sees is himself. Betrayal comes easy to him because of this. Even when he is great he is small. When he is lifted up, he pulls himself down by his viscous and voracious need for worship from metaphorical underlings. He heats up as fast as aluminium. He walks perpetually on thin ice, and we must raise up a uniform lamentation. Where is the depth of our ancestors gone?

These days, you find that as the womenfolk abuse yabongha these merely polished whip-wielding miscreants and parboiled yabongha would stand arms akimbo and abuse them in return. The salient point of the interaction is lost, and perhaps ended, even as the day ended. The enterprise is dead.

Once, I heard an Obongha walk past my compound. Rather than chant “haaaaaah”, which I have stated elsewhere (in my inaugural, to be precise) is at par with the Aum chant in Shintoism and, more locally, generates the same spiritual vibrations produced by the Eckist Hu, as well as sundry applications by a range of Freemasonic societies, the young Obongha summarily burst out with “ho-o-h!” as though he had seen something despicable, or truly abominable.

I invited him into my compound and required him to tell me about who taught to make that particular sound, and if he had at all visited the prescribed shrine before he started perambulating the town on his private mission to manhandle culture. Lets reserve that episode for another day, please. The issues here are serious.

Isn’t it marvelous that our fathers found a sound that packed power comparable to the sonorous doorways to the spirit world that had been discovered by ancient mystical societies?

Haaaaaahhh… At its end, or peak, the vibrations grant access to a different dimension of encouragement. It enervates the initiate.

Not once did it ever cross his mind to give up on the tree he aimed to uproot, alone in the forest, without a cutlass. He was single-minded about that.

He sweats it out, alone in the forest, the personification of determination. The sun joins him. In his despair and solitude, he keeps encouraging himself until the tree yields to his powerful importunity.

How did the Yakurr uncover this? How did they realise historically that an army of one, alone with his spirits (which are attitudes really), was as formidable as ten thousand men?

If the Yakurr man is like that in the forest, why does he give up so easily in the forest of the Nigerian labour market?

Why is it that it never occurs to him to seek help in uprooting his tree in the forest but in the human forest, he believes all the trees in his life that were never uprooted remained un-uprooted because nobody helped him? He drops out of school because he thinks he is hungry. Did you ever hear of a Yakurr man, an Obongha, who abandoned his tree half uprooted in the forest? So, why do our youth give up so easily? Were they not all out on display at yekpi? Are they not yabongha?

This is actually why some yabongha return so late with their trees. It’s the way it is Their tree would not budge, and the Obongha would not yield.

We are missing out on this solid part of our heritage through this current deyakurrization of our mentality.

Next year, we could organise ourselves with the traditional, political, academic and other authorities. We could distil the philosophical principles and self-management ideas that are the hallmark of Yakurr wisdom, the mesmerising implications of our double unilineal descent system.

In this way, we would not forget.

In this way, we would remember.

In this way, we would pick up our crosses, those trees we uprooted, whose medicinal values we are yet to explore, place them on our shoulders again… and drag them to the frontage of Oblansin’s house so that only he could make sacred food from the sacred fire of this sacred wood.

But what happens when federal law debars deforestation completely?

What happens when cooking with firewood becomes blasé?

We should hold a cultural seminar to examine these issues as an integral part of leboku next year. Let it not just come and go like that any more. We have work to do.