Eze Ji in igboland

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The igbo people of old placed much importance on land because they were predominantly farmers. They worshipped the land and believed that the god of the land existed. When one desecrated the land with sacrilege, one was said to have committed Iru Ala, and sacrifices were quickly offered to appease the gods.

The Eze Ji is a highly revered title in igboland given to the biggest yam farmer in the community. Almost everything in igboland in the past revolved around the ownership of land.

There were different means to acquire lands but the most common was through inheritance. You could also be given ownership to land through marriage ties, or by a pledge (usually in exchange for something).

Land ownership in igboland

Land was and still remains a measure of wealth. In igboland, every family is entitled to an ancestral land, usually the land which their forefathers settled in and built homes. Wealthy men would go on to acquire more land thereby increasing their share in the community or village.

The eldest son of the family automatically inherits all his fathers lands upon the fathers demise. The responsibility falls on him to share the land fairly amongst his brothers. The inherited land is shared out and is typically used for farming purposes only.

Cases abound where some younger brothers pledged their land holdings to others outside the family circle to meet immediate needs that could not wait for yams’ harvest.

The Eze Ji

The igboman takes pride in a lot of things, top of which is how well fed his family is. How much land he owned and the number of yams in his yam barns followed closely on that list. The Eze Ji which can be loosely translated to mean the king of yam, is a title given to the biggest yam farmers in the community.

The Eze Ji is a highly revered and coveted title reserved for only the best farmers in the land. The title does not come cheap and only a very successful farmer will be able to afford it and the celebration required during the initiation process.

The requirements for the Eze Ji title

The ultimate display of tremendous wealth in yams took the form of acquiring the highly reverent title of Eze ji. The prospective Eze ji titled man must provide 200 yam stands, or 400 yams stands in time past, but this is no longer the practice.

The least level to attain the title was the ten barn structure, whilst the highest was the twenty barn structure, or more as the case may be. The prospective Eze ji barn which passed the twenty barn structure was known as Onyo or Anyakata.

Yams often filled the nook and cranny of the barn, stacked high, and rooted to the ground. The prospective Eze ji was not permitted to buy any of his yams from the market. All the yams must solely come from his farms. The flamboyance of this ceremony made it inconceivable for the poor. It was a show of affluence.

The Eze Ji ceremony

Before the elaborate ceremony swings into full gear, the prospective Eze ji formally invited people to the ceremony with some money, which was to be returned double by the people so invited. This was called Ncho. He went as far as extending this invitation to his mother’s people and his best friends, concubines, brothers, and more.

If the twenty barn structure was attained, he invited the titled Eze ji people as well and his father’s brothers. If the Eze ji group were impressed after inspection, the barn would be locked and the key given to the prospective Eze ji’s first wife, pending the Eze ji ceremony, which usually occurred on the Eke market day.

The prospective Eze ji holder was permitted to have a sponsor called Nnnad’imubatayal’ Eze ji, meaning ‘the father that is bequeathing the Eze ji title on him.’ He was the one charged with the enormous task of ensuring the ceremony went as successfully as planned, with grandeur and fanfare.

Items provided by the prospective Eze Ji for the ceremony

The initiate provided the following items:

  • One goat, ram, large fish and tortoise
  • Four racks of dry fish
  • Four cocks
  • Fifty snails
  • Fifty balls of pounded melon
  • Four kola nuts and alligator pepper
  • Two cartons of beer and soft drinks
  • Two jars of palm-wine
  • One bowl of crayfish

If one were to be initiated into the twenty barn structure of the Eze ji, one would bring double of the items mentioned above.

Requirements for barn inspection

On the day of inspection, the initiate was expected to bring the following amounts of money: four naira, forty kobo – kola nut for the Eze ji group; four naira, forty kobo kola for the initiate’s father; two naira, forty kobo – money for sacrifice and prayers; four naira, forty kobo – money for the narrow basket; one naira, sixty kobo – money for Njoku (the king of yam); two naira, ten kobo – money for the non-initiates; eight kobo – money for have you gone to farm and another eight kobo for have you returned from farm; six naira, sixty kobo –money for feeding the Eze ji group; ten kobo – money for the women title holders; six naira, sixty kobo – money for feeding the Eze ji’s sponsor or father; and one hundred kobo – money presented on the floor.

In addition, the initiate would provide a basin of kola nuts; three bottle of Schapps for the prospective Eze ji’s father, the Eze ji group, and the general gathering; one bottle of Schnapps for unlocking the barn; large mounds of pounded yam, and any number of animals slaughtered, with one kobo placed on the head of each slain animal.

Other accompanying things at this initiation stage were ekpuru music (egwu ekpuru), traditional flute or trumpet (okwa oduh), cannon fire (egbe ntulala). Any of these items not well presented attracted a fine. All of the non-initiates stayed away, while the Eze ji group formed a circle and greeted themselves with a peculiar greeting.

They would first shout ‘Hutunu’ which means Shake or dance a little, and the response is usually ‘Yaghayagha’, onomatopoeia for shaking or moving the body. Then, there is also ‘Ruzienu’, which means Farm well, with the sharp response of ‘Rizienu’ which means Eat well.

The initiation period

The initiation period was usually from the harvest to the planting season, so that the yams could be seen at the barns. A gong (igbugo) was used to stop noisemaking and call people’s attention. The first day’s ceremony was the Olile ji (the yam inspection), and it was usually on the Eke market day.

After all the above rituals and procedures had been duly observed, the Ime Eze ji ceremony would swing in top gear. It usually lasted for three days, starting from an Eke market day. That day, the initiate would allow the persons in attendance to pick one yam each for themselves from his stack of yams.

Several foods, rich and sumptuously cooked, such as pounded yam and soup, would be served to the Eze ji group, and this soup could only be compared to the Okonko soup. The initiate would also give his best man the head of cow slaughtered during the ceremony. His second best man would walk away with the jaw of the cow; his grandmother’s people would take the fore limbs. His mother’s people would take the hind limbs, his father’s brothers would take the forelimbs and ribs, his father, if he was still alive would take the belly and the liver.

Any day these people came to carry their booties, they would be entertained properly with delicious meals. The non-initiates did not eat with the Eze ji group during the ceremony. The persons initiated into the four hundred yam stand (nnonkpa ji) were called the umuosuji.

It’s glaring from the above requirements that the Eze ji title and all its attendant paraphernalia were expensive. Those days, the ceremony cost thousands of naira, and it was the highest title bestowed on a successful farmer.

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