The Okonko Traditional Men’s Society


By Lazarus A Emenogu

“Okonko-Ekpe” by D. L. K. Nnachy

Today we speak of the white man’s government as if we had no government in the past. The Okonko was an ancient society which served as a traditional system of government before the advent of the white man. The Okonko enforced the verdicts of the Amala (village assembly). In the past, if the Okonko music was played near the house of anybody, anxiety was created as to the reason for the beating of the drum. And if a palm leaf was left behind the man’s house, it meant that the person was to appear before the Okonko court of appeal. As at present, there was then no age limit for whoever wanted to be a member of the society. But then, only men of proven character and without any shameful past were accepted into the Okonko society. When we people talk of a better government today, we laugh because any thief can be in government because he has the money.

Okonko Masqueraders

Whenever there was a stalemate it any Okonko decision, the Okonko society would consult other recognized Okonko societies in other areas for mediation. Non-members of the Okonko society were known as “Okpo” and they were forbidden to go near or greet Okonko members when they were in the full session. To be recognized as a full member of the Okonko society, one must go through the Ida iyi ceremony which is as follows:

The rite is performed as midnight, when the atmosphere is charged. The man that is to be initiated is surrounded by the old members and a palm frond (omu) is placed between his lips to enforce silence. The members taunt and harass him. The priests now reveal about seven secrets to him, which he is not to reveal to any person. I shall not tell you these secrets either, since you an “Okpo.”

Okonko from Ibeku

The new member is paraded round the village, after which he comes back to the Okonko base. Later they move towards the stream or river. As they near it, the new member is exposed to the Ida iyi ceremony thereafter, the new initiated remains for about 14 days in hiding before he comes out. Non-members are warned not to come near the roads leading to all the streams or rivers in the area. Marketplaces are blocked with palm leaves. Before the Ida iyi ceremony, the novice is expected to offer a goat, seven eggs, four bottles of homemade gin, a white cock, ten large yams and one alligator pepper. These things, including a he-goat and a caly pot, are to be presented on the following Orie market day.

Young boy and masquerade at Okonko Festival in Ihitte/Uboma

The chief priest prepares yam in a hot pepper soup (mmiri oku ji) which every Okonko member partakes. During this Ida iyi ceremony, women are not supposed to see the members of the society. The traditional belief is that any woman who sees a member of the society will surely die, unless she brings a ram and alligator pepper -this is to facilitate her reincarnation- and stays one month in hiding. The Okonko society is highly respected, and during the Ida iyi ceremony which lasts for seven days, members from far and wide dressed in different Okonko attires attend. Even compared with the white man’s rule then, Okonko as an instrument of government has no rival. The most important objective of every government is to enjoy the loyalty of the governed, and this the Okonko enjoyed before the white man brought his own government. Okonko has three stages of initiation which are as follows: Akang, Mboko and Ekpe. Once you go through the three initiations, you become an Ezumezu. Once you become an Ezumezu, at this stage, one is very competant to discuss the affiars of this great ancient society.

Ebi Masquerade at Okonko Festival in Ihitte/Uboma


10 responses »

  1. I have my grand father’s Okonko staff staff. Preserved over the generations. It is still intact. Buy regrettably there are no other histories on the title ore than the staff. My father told me that his father was a member of the Okonko society. Lack of documentaries has denied me of much needed information.

  2. Pingback: 12 Cults And Secret Societies Of Africa | AFKInsider

  3. Obviously there appears to be three degrees in the Okonko Society: Akang, Mboko and Ekpe. Conclusion of the three makes one an Ezumezu ( meaning in Igbo: Completeness, an all rounder ). Okonko is still practiced in many parts of Old Eastern Nigeria. Some of the states are: Abia, Imo, Anambra ( Aro Ajali, etc ), Ebonyi, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River and River State ( Ikwerre, Etche, Bonny, etc ). Its Origin is traced to Akwa-Ibom/Cross River Leopard society of ancient time. It was brought to Igbo land by the Arochukwu. Hierarchy and well versed members of Okonko were the custodian of Nsibidi ancient writing and communicated their secretes by Nsibidi. Unfortunately, Nsibidi was deemphasized in favour of English with the advent of colonialism. Remnants of Nsibidi are still seen today in Igbo land when Okonko members go on a procession in their colorful nsibidi regalia
    during the burial of an Ezumezu It will be great to see some deep research to reestablish Okonko which also had a whole lot to do with social control and leadership development of men in the society.

  4. Daalu for this article. I’ve learned that I have a distant Ndoki relative that was a prominent member of Okonko. I am interested in learning much more about the society, particularly Nsibidi. Daalu again for this post nwanne m!

  5. My place in nkume we celebrate okonko festival every year around March and April
    It’s very interesting

  6. I am Ezumezu from Uzuakoli, Bende LGA of Abia State.
    Regrettably, today most of the elaborate rituals and ceremonies are no longer in vogue. It is more prestigious to have your father initiate you into it.
    The society is more or less ceremonial today…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s