A survey of the life of the Itsekiri people (Religion and festivals, Language)

Good day, readers and welcome to Informationhood. Having gone through the historical accounts of the Itsekiri tribe( both the ancient and the present day account in our first part of this survey, we will focus on other aspects of the tribe which includes their festivals as well as the religions they follow and their language.

The Religions they practice

Before the introduction of Christianity in the 16th century, like many other Nigerian ethnic groups, the Itsekiris largely followed a traditional form of religion known as Ebura-tsitse, a religious system which is based on ancestral worship.

The Word Of God
The heart of men is full of evil and entitled to destruction, except for those whose heart is for God. Check your ways now.

Ebura-tsitse was eventually embedded in modern-day traditional Itsekiri culture. Once the dominant form of western Christianity in Itsekiriland for centuries, only a minority of Itsekiris are Roman Catholics today whilst the majority are Protestants notably Baptist and
Anglican.

Language

The Itsekiris are a complex mixture of the many different ethnic groups and races that have settled in their area, however, the Itsekiri language is very closely related to the Ilaje and other south-eastern Yoruba dialects and to the Igala. It has also been greatly influenced by the Bini, Portuguese and English languages due to centuries of interaction with people from these countries.

However, it remains a key branch of the Yoruboid family of languages even retaining archaic or lost elements of the proto Yoruba language due to its relative isolation in the Niger-Delta where it developed away from the main cluster of Yoruba language dialects.
Unlike nearly all key Nigerian languages, the Itsekiri language does not have dialects and is uniformly spoken with little or no variance in pronunciation apart from the use of ‘ch’ for the regular ‘ts’ (sh) in the pronunciation of some individual Itsekiris, e.g. Chekiri instead of the standard Shekiri but these are individual pronunciation traits rather than dialectal differences. This may be related to past dialectal differences. The English language continues to exert a strong influence on the Itsekiri language both in influencing its development and in its widespread usage as a first language amongst the younger generation. Modern standard Yoruba (the variety spoken in Lagos) also appears to be influencing the Itsekiri language partly due to the similarity between both languages and the ease of absorbing colloquial Yoruba terms by the large Itsekiri population living in Western Nigerian cities. The Itsekiri language is now taught in elementary schools up to university degree level in Nigeria.

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The Awankere festival

The Awankere Festival popularly known as ‘Okere Juju’ is an annual festival celebrated by the Itsekiri people of Okere. It is a fertility festival, which dates back to the 15th century when the community was confounded by a Benin warlord called Ekpenede (Ekpen). The 2002 edition of the festival is the 505th edition. The festival is usually celebrated for three lunar months between June and August of every year. However, it comes in two stages.

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(i) PRE-FESTIVAL ACTIVITIES
During this period, purification rites are made to thank and supplicate the Awan’kere deity called “Okioro”. The rites here include:
(A) Ajafifas – Purification of the community
before the festival.
(B) Ibiribi – Night masquerades coming into the town at nights before the
Festival.
(C) Awerewere – Cleansing ceremony.
(D) Odegbigba – sweeping the arena.

(ii) THE FESTIVAL PROPER
The festival proper is a convivial communal rite with mimes of sexual acts, phallic symbols and lewd songs replete with fertility images. Explicitly expressive dances, movements meant to evoke exogenous empathy between spectators and performers.

The Masquerades

(i) Otsogwu-Umale – This is the father masquerade.
He is always attired in resplendent white.
(ii) Okpoye – This is the mother masquerade.
She is always dressed in sack cloths.
(iii) Children – Numerous and wear costumes of varied colours.
All the masquerades apart from the Okpye, carry two specially designed whips called “Ukpatsan”, which produces gunshot-like sounds when the masquerades whip the floor with it.

The festival takes place during the rainy season to ensure a conducive environment for the deity, Okioro, who lives in the waters. During the festival masquerades and other performers splash about in the rains in a symbolic washing away of evil spells and diseases from peoples’ bodies.

The festival lasts for five weeks with one performance each week on succeeding days. The festival combines both the sacred, in its numerous rituals, and the profane in its orgiastic dance and lewd songs. Underlying it all, is the expectation and yearning for a life more abundant.

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Significance of The Festival

Besides the spiritual significance of the Awan’kere Festival in terms of cleansing and purification of the community and individuals, the festival has over the years, become an economic and tourism asset to the people and government as over 100,000 tourists visit the community during the period of the festival, thereby, causing an astronomical increase in commercial activities in and around the community.

Conclusion: The Itsekiri people are a group of strong cultural bond and how their routine activities pan out is greatly influenced by these supernatural culture power. Much things have changed most recently due to the growing effect of modernization but yet, they are regarded as strict custodians of their historical process.

We appreciate the inestimable time you had devoted to going through every single detail of this com survey. In as much as we might not have provided you with every needed information, we believe you will find what we brought up here of gold value and as such, make the most of it.

In a short while, we will try to delve into another of the Nigerian communities so as to detail you with yet another interesting survey. Once again, a million thanks.





The Author

Emmanuel Chinaza

Hi! This is Emmanuel Chinaza. A seasoned content writer on all things necessary(it just helps that creativity spurs me on) . An optimist who is very willing to take risks, a big fan of Marcelo Biesla. With my pen, i just might change the world and lest i forget, nothing beats a plate of pounded cassava and Egusi soup!

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