“Bia nu k’anyi kwulube okwu onu e! Enu uwa bialu n’ofu mbia”. “Come let’s have some discussion, we only come to this world once”.
The women sang as they flung their hands, tapped their feet, swayed their hips or shook their shoulders to the beat of the “igba, udu, ekwe, ichaka and ogene“; the traditional set of drums, wooden gong, beaded gourd and metal gong used to produce the vibrant African music they were dancing to.
We grew up watching my Mum dance, and it was beautiful, she had the body and she loved to dance, sometimes bursting some moves in front of the mirror. The fact that the Catholic Church was able to integrate the traditional dance into the Catholic Women’s Association is indeed amazing.
I remember at a point, my Mum was the President of St. Ann Chigozie, a Catholic Women Dance group from St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in my village, Uke. On this particular occasion at Christmas, they had a major dance outing which started with ‘Oso Egwu‘.
‘Oso Egwu’ was a dance outing to the house of a prominent personality to showcase their newly learnt dance routines. This meant that they learnt new dance steps, usually created by them or learnt from another dance group. They also learnt the songs and the beats, it was usually an all women group, so they did everything, though the men might assist with the beating of the drums.
The name of the dance they learnt that year was Opuruiche meaning Different, it was taught them by dancers from Isseke and after they had finished the ‘Oso Egwu’ which could be several, they scheduled the grand finale or major dance outing/release at the grand square in the town.
The grand square in our town was known as Union Circle, a large space circled with sitting areas where shades were erected with aluminium roofs supported by metal pillars. Rising staircases served as seats like you would find in a mini-stadium.
A few days before this major dance outing, the announcer went round all the villages in the town with his megaphone shouting ”O ga akpotu akpotu na Union Circle’‘ basically hyping the event and creating awareness so people can attend. Usually the patrons, sponsors and the VIPs would have been given special invitation cards.
On the d-day, the women were dressed in their dance uniform, which was usually a white blouse, beautifully braided hair and a coloured wrapper. They wore heavy waist beads or jigida and the bell-like ankle dance chain graced their legs. Their wrists and necks were also decorated with colourful beaded bangles and necklaces. They held clean white handkerchiefs in their hands which they swerved when they danced and a few among them carried the ‘Nza’, made from horsetail tied to a stick.
“Ora nnoo nu nnoo, Ora bialu ije, nnoo nu nnoo”,
“Welcome dear guests that travelled down here”.
The singers would chant, while the dancers sang as well but focused more on doing the captivating dance routine with smiles on their faces.
The patrons, matrons, sponsors, VIPs and the husbands to the women would troupe out to spray naira notes on them, the monies sprayed would be immediately picked by select young women. At the end of it all, more pledges would be made to support the women group.
This was obtainable in the city as well. Here, my Mum was the Vice President of CWO Zone B and they usually had dance-offs or dance competitions amongst the Zones. The winners went home with trophies and cash prizes.
There was this occasion when my Mum and her troupe worked so hard, it was like they were preparing for a major sports event. We were glad when they came back with a trophy. They took the first position and were so elated that they danced from street to street, singing;
“Nekwa ndi nwa, nekwa ndi nwa a na-ekwu o, otu Chibuzo a bia nu, agbala na-aka ibe ya”
A victory song that pointed to them as the winners. Their group was known as “Otu Chibuzo”
One memory that sticks so clear was the ‘Oso Egwu‘ or dance outing that was had on our street then; Ideani Street, Omagba at Onitsha. I remember, they would call the lead dancers by their name and they would dance out and perform a complicated dance routine. When it got to my Mum’s turn, they chanted;
“Fashion Nwanyi nwayo kwa”, and the response “Obodo n’egwu anaa”;
“Woman of Fashion take it easy,” the response “my people the dance is ending”.
And she stepped forward with her horsetail held high, waist in a slight squatting position, shoulders quivering, waist and hips vibrating as she took rhythmic steps towards the patron and VIPs that day. It was beautiful.
My Mum danced into her years as a Grandma, she took part in the Egedege dance, a very energetic dance usually done by young maidens!
I remember when I visited home for an event, and asked her about the dance and she mentioned that it was still on, though at this point, they had also introduced the modern dance done with band set in addition to the traditional dances.
During my Mum’s burial, there were about 3-4 dance presentations in her honour by her dance troupe, St. Ann Chigozie. The women were colourfully dressed in their regalia as they bade a final goodbye to their colleague and dancer in the language they knew best – Dance!
I would like to add that this dance was greatly therapeutic, the women in my Mum’s generation don’t have a lot of the priviledges that we do now but they had community, they had fellowship, they had the dance or the choir or the meetings where they could go without their plenty children or husband and be women, be leaders, express their creativity and achieve something.
I’m glad my Mum had her dance groups and I’m glad we joined in that final dance.
And as they would sing in one of their dances;
“Anu bi na mmili biko senyite, senyite n’enu ana k’anyi bulu gi lie,
onye no n’uwa na-elikwa ife di nma,
onye nosia n’uwa na o ga-ana ana.
Which was generally a song calling on the sea animal to surface and be used for food because the people on the earth deserve to eat good stuff.
And the last line goes “He who is done staying on earth would return home”….
That was exactly what my Mum did on June 29th, 2019 when she took a peaceful bow and exited the earth.