Many nations and ethnic groups all around the world have their own traditional dances to celebrate love, peace, harvest, and even wars. Original Ohafia war dance is one of them. It is traditionally performed in some regions of Eastern Nigeria. It’s a live example of Nigerian culture and traditions, a window into past centuries, to the times when overcoming an enemy meant life for a whole tribe. Let’s see what this bright traditional performance is about.
How the Ohafia warriors found their present home
Ohafia is an Igbo speaking region in Abia, Nigeria. The capital of Ohafia is now located in Elu village. The area also embraces Abiriba and Nkporo cities. In the ancient times, the Ohafia people originated from Andoli but were forced to leave one night due to what they interpreted as a threat.
They heard the sound of the calabash and thought somebody was invading their territory. In the commotion that followed, people rushed sideways. One part of Ohafia people went towards Ngodo while others ran towards Isuochi. Then, some of them chose a direction towards Abam. They were headed by a man called Ezeama Atita and his two sons.
READ ALSO: Igbo couple looks extremely beautiful in photos from their recently held traditional marriage
When the group reached Abam, one of Ezeama’s sons remained there with his wife who could not walk any longer being heavily pregnancy. The rest of the group kept on heading forward and settled down in Ugwumgbo. This is the present location where Ohafia people live. Now, Ohafia involves 26 villages with the center in Elu. There is an eze ogo who rules each village. When necessary, all the eze ogos gather for a council that decides how to rule the villages and how to solve their problems.
How was the Ohafia War Dance invented?
In the ancient past, the Ohafia people were known for their war prowess. They were in constant search for wars, in which they could participate and show how great they were as warriors. Eventually, they turned into something like mercenaries and the Arochukwu people, who were taking slaves all around the Igbo region, soon learned how to take advantage of this spirit to meet their own interests. Since those times, the Ohafia people have been proud of being part of a line of mighty warriors and have keept as part of their spiritual and cultural heritage.
In accordance with the Ohafia war dance history, these warriors started the tradition of iri agha, beheading their fallen enemies. From a usual war event, this process turned into a performance that was called to show the might and prowess of Ohafia people. Human skulls taken during wars were kept as souvenirs and as a proof of their courage and honor. Only those who had a human head to bring home from another battle could wear eagle feathers that were a sign of courage and might.
The performance: Ohafia War Dancers, Oyaya, and the traditions
The war dance is meant to celebrate some war achievements, be it individual victories over some enemies or the victory of the entire army. The group of dancers is headed by a leader who has a basket with human skulls. This basket is traditionally called oyaya.
It shows how many skulls the warriors have gathered owing to their prowess and smartness. He also carries a small cutlass and a palm shoot. In the meanwhile, men who accompany him, pretend to be cutting human heads. The performance done along with Igbo traditional music played with the akwatankwa.
What about an Ohafia War Dance Festival?
The traditional Ohafia dance with the mimicked beheading of their enemies has already become a popular Igbo cultural dance rather than an everyday warriors’ routine. Those who visit Igbo lands have a chance of seeing this dance performed by the ancestors of the renowned warriors. Of course, there should be a special occasion for the dancers to perform but once you see it, you’ll never forget it.
The true sons of the Ohafian people devotedly perform the dance of strength and prowess to the sounds of traditional instruments, the melody brings you centuries back, to the lands ruled by courage and battles, and you almost feel the rhythm of this ancient enchanting dance. It’s an experience to remember!
READ ALSO: Nigerian dancer breaks world record for longest dance marathon by an individual (photos, videos)