By Prof. M.O. Ene
In Igbo country, there are four days in a week (Nkwọ, Ékê, Àfọ, and Orie) and seven weeks in full-moon period, one moon (“ọnwa”). Thirteen moons constitute one year (“áfọ”). Every day is market day is some part of Igbo country; hence the term “Igbo market days.”
Nkwọ appears to be the most favorable day for commercial activities. Apparently, this is why many major markets happen on Nkwọ: Ótú Nkwọ (Onitsha Main Market—adjudged the biggest and most popular open market in West Africa), Nkwọ Nnewi, Nkwọ Agụ Agbaja (Udi), etc. During the Nigeria-Biafra War, two of the most popular markets in northern Igboland happened on Nkwọ day: Nkwọ Umunze and Nkwọ Anaíké in Biafra II (a beehive of smugglers in federal-occupied Agbaja, in present-day Enugu State).
The reason why Nkwọ favors commerce may stem from myth but, essentially, the next day, Eke, is a holy day. As in such sacred days, serious sociocultural activities are normally prohibited on Eke: marriage proposal, burial of beloved ones, beginning of major communal celebrations, etc.
There are myths about the origin of the names of Igbo days. Eke day is generally assumed to be dedicated to the formidable force of Creation, Ékè. Some attribute Eke day is “éké” (the sacred python of Idemmili deity); others trace it to one of the fabled four strangers who visited Eze Nri. One consensus is that of the four days of Igbo week (“ízù”), Eke is the most sacred.
It does not require a comprehensive comprehension of Igbo theosophy—much of which is lost in antiquity—to accept the validity of the cultural convention. Then again, no culture is static. Everyday events become traditions, and traditions cultivate to become culture: Ihe na-eme n’afọ mee n’afọ, ọ bụrụ omenala. Ndiigbo still maintain a modicum of the more accurate four-day, seven-week, and 13-moon calendar, even with the dominance of Gregorian cobbled calendar.
The sacredness of Eke day is paramount in Igbo religion, Ọdịnanị. Eke deity is the other half of the duality of the Supreme Spirit (“Chi na Eke”). A remnant of “Chi Ukwu” (Almighty God) dwells in human beings; “chi” is our soul, our conscience, our personal providence, our being, and the spirituality of man. Hence, onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe: Believeth; achieveth.
“Eke,” the God of creation, embodies our existence. Eke day is somewhat similar to Sunday. However, while Sunday commemorates the Sun deity (“Anyaánwụ”—the undying eye of God), Eke day symbolizes the morning of creation. Hence we also say “Chi n’Eke”—God at the dawn of Creation.
Eke represents the day Chi and Eke came together and created human beings out of elements of the Earth Deity (“Anị”). For this reason and others, Ndiigbo anchor their religion on Anị. Islam is anchored on the Moon, a satellite of Earth, and, as other Mosaic religions (Christianity and Judaism) derives from reformed monotheistic Egyptian worship of the Sun god, the force of our Milky Way galaxy—of which the Earth is the only planet that supports life as we know it.
Some have queried the dissimilarity in pronunciation of the day, Ékê, and that of the deity of creation, Ékè. Why the difference in pronunciations? This could be a direct result of different dialectical dominance in matters of religion and of commerce. “Orie” refers to the same second day of the Igbo week, but it is not only pronounced differently in different parts of Igbo nation, it is actually written differently: “Oli, Olie, Oro, and Oye.” Besides the Anglicized spelling “Afor,” Àfọ is also produced as “Àvọ” or “Àghọ.”
There is another way of looking at the evolution of the terms: An overwhelming number of Ndiigbo are now Christians, a religion dedicated to Jesus Christ. Notice any difference in “CHRISTian” (as in Kris), and Jesus CHRIST (as in Kraist)? However the water of dissimilar pronunciation got into the Christian pumpkin leaves, so maybe it get into ”akwụkwọ ụgbọgụlụ Ndiigbo.”
Eke is a holy day. Therefore, it is inappropriate for one to return to the Earth deity (“Anị”) on the same day Chi and Eke came together to create man (“mmá ndụ”—the beauty of life)! That would be disrespectful, a sacrilege. The day is sacred for imagination, not expiration. In many communities, members of the agnate (“ụmụnna”—sons of the soil) still hold their monthly meetings on “Ụka Eke”—the 13 Sundays in a year that fall on Eke.
Why do these cultural codes survive? One can write a doctoral thesis on why Ndiigbo still do not normally bury a full-grown person on Eke, why Nkwọ appears to be the most popular market day, why farm work is done mostly on Orie, and why Àfọ influences positively the preparation of goods for the market.
Whatever the key elements preserving these observance, it is a thing of joy that Igbo practitioners of Eurocentric Christianity have not erased this aspect of Igbo culture. The custom has remained unchallenged and intact, unlike the attack with varying successes on sacred kolanut communion, propitiation to communal deities, reverence to personal providence (chi), preservation of sacred groves and shrines, and other cultural aspects of Igbo societies. It must be mentioned, fortunately, that such customs as “Ịgbánkwụ” (traditional Igbo marriage), “mmemme mmanwụ” (masquerade festivals), and “ụmụada” (sorority of daughters of the domain) have witnessed a laudable renaissance in recent years.
A people’s culture is a bond that keeps and propels them to greater things in life. Common codes of coexistence have helped to keep Igbo society safe and productive over the years. Here is a nation that never had a common king in living memory, no organized police force, no prisons, no centralized system of religion, politics, or judiciary, yet the people live and thrive in peace over the centuries. The preservation of elements of common culture is sine qua non to the survival of society. The Igbo nation should not be an exception. Our culture is our future; everything is embellishment.
© MOE, 9.9.16 👍