AKWA OCHA, SYMBOL OF PURITY AND PRIDE OF ANIOMA KINGDOM

AKWA OCHA, SYMBOL OF PURITY AND PRIDE OF ANIOMA KINGDOM


Akwa Ocha, the age long fabric of the Anioma People of Delta State, Nigeria, is steadily growing in its cultural, exotic and elegant attributes globally. Fashionable and distinctive at all and for all culturally significant occasions, Akwa Ocha is a landmark heritage of Anioma people, which Anioma Kingdom holds in high esteem.

Peculiar to the Anioma people, a subgroup of the Igbo ethnic group in Delta North senatorial district of Delta state,  Akwa Ocha which means “White cloth”, is a popular hand-woven cloth, while “Anioma” a collective name for this Igbo ethnic group, means “Good land”. Thus, the Anioma Kingdom comprises nine communities spanning (across) nine local government areas, speaking different Igbo dialects. These languages include Enuani (Aniocha /Oshimili)  Ukwuani (Ndokwa), and Ika-Igbo.

Anioma Bride decked in Akwa Ocha

 

Prominent Anioma people include Maryam Babangida, late wife of former Nigerian Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, Godwin Emefiele, the current Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Ifeanyi Okowa, present Governor of Delta state, Professor Zulu Sofola (nee Okwumabua), the first published female Nigerian playwright, dramatist and first female professor of Theatre Arts in Africa; former Obi of Issele-Uku, the late Rufus Obi Osemene; the present Obi of Issele-Uku, Agbogidi (Engr). Obi Nduka; Martha Dunkwu, Omu of Okpanam; Obi Keagborekuzi, the Dein of Agbor land; among others. Some people wonder how the Anioma Kingdom came to be identified with the Akwa Ocha, hence the need to look into its origin.

Anioma Bride on her big day

ORIGIN OF AKWA OCHA

Various communities and towns have their own sociological background of the actual origin of this fabric, which many persons tend to credit to Ubulu-Uku, one of the communities in Aniocha/Oshimili constituency, better known as Enuani. This community is believed to have been producing Akwa ocha after processing harvested cotton, widely cultivated in the area, which brings us to the process of making this fabric.

Royal Symbol of Anioma Kingdom

AKWA OCHA-MAKING PROCESS

The process of making Akwa Ocha is a combination of efforts among men and women.  The men plant the cotton, do the harvesting, while the women filter the cotton by drying and treating them in such a way that forms a roll of cotton, turning them round and becoming strings or yarns overtime, it comes with different procedure. This procedure is commonly known in Enuani as “itu olulu”, using a tool known as “ude”.

Cotton, raw material for Akwa Ocha

 This process can be compared to that of processing cassava into “garri”(one of the powdered forms of cassava). As the world has become a global village, many weavers or knitters of Akwa Ocha in most cases, skip the cotton planting and harvesting processes. This is because these yarns, strings or threads are readily available in the market, as told by Patricia Osu, a weaver of Akwa Ocha from Abuedo Quarters in Ubulu-Uku. Thus, she takes us through the traditional weaving of Akwa ocha which is in two major stages.

The weaver starts by loosening the yarn or thread as directly bought from the market while sitting at the loom/stand, as opposed to patiently waiting to harvest the cotton and waiting to process it.  Modernity has made it so easy to do with ready-made thread bought from the market. The thread is spread across the part of the loom called “ogbo”, using the stick “okpa”, through which the measurement or yards are got. The measuring tape is not used here like in most fashion outlets. The weaver determines the measurement while sitting in the loom. She does these as seen below.

Staying in the loom or stand to get the desired number of yards.

When the loosening is concluded, the thread is removed from the loom, washed, starched and dried under the sun. Starching makes the thread stronger, preventing breakage while weaving.

The final stage is where the major work lies; putting the yarns between the loom. The dried yarn is put to work at the second loom, using various parts and tools. To make it more colourful, different colours of thread are used such as red, gold, blue, silver and green. These are used to draw or write on the fabric, depending on what the client desires. This knitting is a female thing thus with much expertise, the woman knows where and how to manoeuvre with the thread, which gradually forms the fabric. The weaver continues the process to get the desired type of Akwa Ocha described differently as “rice and beans”, “mkpopu”, “apapa”, aka “ngwose”, among others; all identified with the patterns made on them. The end product is a wrapper.

Dr. Sam Osemene in Akwa Ocha.

On the flip side, the size of men’s Akwa Ocha differs from that of women. That of women is usually bigger than that of the men. Besides, this process is time consuming, so a client cannot get up and tell the weaver that he/she needs it urgently.  The client ought to allow the weaver to do a nice job in at least two months, so as to get the desired result. Although the Delta State Government under the ministry of Arts and Culture in recent times, has encouraged the mechanized production of Akwa Ocha through its empowerment programme in Issele-Uku, but the hand-woven one is most preferred. This simply tells that nothing good comes easy hence, the need to look into it as the people’s pride.

WHY AKWA OCHA IS THE PEOPLE’S PRIDE

“You can have everything in life if you dress it”. Thus, “Akwa Ocha Anioma”, which means  “Anioma white cloth”, also called “Akwa Olulu” (cloth of thread or strands), generally stems up the “Anioma” in the people. It is a cultural aspect depicting a statement of the values of Anioma people.

Handing down Akwa Ocha Culture to posterity

In the words of Philomena Mordi, an Ubulu-Uku indigene from Awu quarters, “We the Enuani people are known by our neatness therefore, the “Ocha” in the “Akwa Ocha” has its own cultural and religious significance, since we are dealing with purity or neatness. Neatness or purity is our pride. In those days for instance, a bride is accompanied with one yard of Akwa Ocha, having been trained to be pure. This Akwa ocha is laid on the bed on the first night of meeting or mating with her husband, as it is expected that blood drops on the fabric. The husband then returns it joyously to the bride’s family, as a testimony that the bride was never wayward. The bride’s family in turn, receives it with greater joy. As we all know, ‘virginity is pride’. This is where the pride of the Akwa Ocha in the Anioma people comes to play. This is its religious significance.

His Royal Majesty, Agbogidi (Engr) Obi Nduka, Obi of Issele-Uku, with raised hand, front row.

As a ceremonial attire, Anioma men also tie it across the shoulder. Tying this fabric in contrast with the red cap is usually a remarkable sight. The red colour traditionally signifies royalty and valour, no man wakes up to wear a red cap. He has to merit it. Brides equally tie it around the chest during the marriage ceremony. Hardly does one come across a non-durable Akwa Ocha. This fabric can last for a hundred years. The Anioma Kingdom therefore prides itself in not just the purity embedded in this fabric, the dignity it attracts as a ceremonial attire, but also takes pride in it as a craft. Ubulu-Uku women in Anioma Kingdom are known for this craft which has created great employment opportunities for them. It is indeed a craft and culture to be exported to the outside world. Come rain, come shine, Akwa Ocha remains a “goldmine” which the Anioma Kingdom proudly displays to the world. It is shipped abroad for Nigerians or Anioma people in diaspora. The Akwa Ocha mainly speaks for the Anioma people, a Kingdom with an interesting culture.

Hello, I am Lilian Chudey Pride. Good to welcome you to my online world. I am a Writer, Teacher, Encourager, Author of Life Beyond Motherhood, Dignity of Womanhood and Publisher, iwriteafrica.com online Magazine. I love Africa so much and I derive joy in telling the world about her beauty and strength. I share the challenges of the childless African community, providing Support, Encouragement and Empowerment. While guiding the childless African woman to trust God, I help her to understand her peculiarity, grieve properly, heal and embrace purpose. See my book: Life Beyond Motherhood on Amazon. Welcome to Africa.
Mary Grant
Lilian Chudey Pride
Publisher
Lilian@iwriteafrica.com
www.iwriteafrica.com

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