NTUMAKA: How an ancient practice found modern relevance

By Ego Mbagwu on Thu, 30/01/2020 - 16:59

I was very surprised and pleased to be told that NTUMAKA is back. It happened when a relative stopped by to bring me up to date on events that happened in the larger family. It was done casually like it was no big deal but to me it was, because it called up such happy memories.

NTUMAKA literally means ‘finger pointing’ or to finger something for identification. The last that I heard of that traditional ceremony was about 50 years ago during the Nigerian – Biafran war, while we were living in my village in the current Obowo local government area of Imo state.

It is one of the several cultural activities that punctuate and enliven the grind of the daily life of the village. I believe it comes soon after the new yam festival, just before the start of the planting season in early April. The village is in a festive mood as each family prepares to visit their in – laws on an agreed date. Each village chooses its own day during that still dry period before the rains come with mud. The in- laws on their part would have made adequate preparations for the reception.

There is a general air of festivity as each group sets out in their best clothes for the visit. In those days it involved one or two hours of trekking with the young or the weaker ones on a bicycle if the family owned one.

The highlight of the occasion is the introduction of the new members of the family which is the primary reason. The relatives on both sides will get to know each other as the daughters will proudly present the new additions to the family. This ceremony is considered very important, in that, besides other social benefits, you get to know each other in case of war or conflict and to prevent incestuous relationship.

The ceremony was revived when the village experienced two near misses of incestuous marriage. A couple who had met in the city found out that they could not get married because they were closely related. Kene was very pleased that he has met a girl he wants to marry and better still that she is from the neighboring village. When he told his mother she was ecstatic and so an introduction was arranged. A joyful occasion turned into sorrow and heart break when it was discovered that Akunna is auntie Margaret’s daughter and his second cousin, so the marriage was called off. After a second and similar incident, the Ntumaka ceremony was revived. As it is now, with people scattered and in diaspora, photographs are used to identify absent relatives. This is how an ancient custom found modern relevance.



Photo by Nicholas Jeffries

Photo has been edited

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