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Permanence, temporality and the rhythms of life:
exploring significance of the village arena in Igbo
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi & John Schofield
To cite this article: John Kelechi Ugwuanyi & John Schofield (2018) Permanence, temporality and
the rhythms of life: exploring significance of the village arena in Igbo culture, World Archaeology,
50:1, 7-22, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1473164
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2018.1473164
Published online: 01 Jun 2018.
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Permanence, temporality and the rhythms of life: exploring
signiﬁcance of the village arena in Igbo culture
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi
and John Schoﬁeld
Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK;
Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of
Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
The village arena (or ‘square’or ‘Otobo’in Nsukka Igbo) is at the physical and
socio-cultural centre of Igbo life, in southeast Nigeria. It is a space where
intangible Igbo cultural heritage is played out, and also serves as a virtual
museum where heritage materials are kept. The arena performs its roles in
two very diﬀerent ways: as a sacred space hosting initiation rites and religious
rituals; and as a profane space for meetings and ceremonies. Either way, these
uses see the arena transition between permanency and temporality, following
routines and rhythms which themselves give the practices meaning and
signiﬁcance, and contribute to their inscription on the landscape. This paper
explores the complexities associated with these village arenas with a parti-
cular focus on their socio-cultural, political, economic and religious functions
through time, as well as the way those complexities are manifest in material
cultures that serve to characterize the village arena.
Village arena; Nigeria;
temporary space; permanent
space; rhythmanalysis; Igbo
The Igbo are found in the southeast part of Nigeria, in Western Africa and occupy an area of c.41,000
square kilometres (Uchendu 1965;Ofomata2002;Oriji2011). The area is made up of Abia, Anambra,
Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states with some Igbo living in some parts of Delta, Rivers, Cross River and
Akwa Ibom states in the south. The Igbo population is placed at around 16 million (NPC 2006).
The origin of the Igbo people is contested, with three schools of thought suggesting diﬀerent
backgrounds: as autochthons; and according to either a Niger-Benue conﬂuence theory or an
oriental hypothesis. The autochthonous model suggests that the Igbo are indigenous, with
evidence including environmental change in the area over a long period (Sowunmi 1991) com-
bined with archaeological (Shaw 1970,1977; Chikwendu 1976; Anozie 1979; Okafor and Phillips
1992; Eze-Uzomaka 2009,2010), and, more recently, by ethnolinguistic evidence (Acholonu 2005,
2009). Archaeology provides a date for earliest settlement from pottery at 2555 BC (Hartle 1965).
The Niger-Benue conﬂuence theory is derived from the linguistic model of glottochronology and
lexicostatistics (a linguistic model that compares the percentage of lexical cognates between
languages to determine their relationship). According to Greenberg (1963), who applied this
technique to undertake a linguistic grouping of African societies, Igbo belong to the Kwa family
within the Niger-Congo stock (see also Armstrong ). By this model, it is estimated that the
CONTACT John Kelechi Ugwuanyi email@example.com Department of Archaeology, University of York, King’s Manor, York,
YO1 7EP, UK
2018, VOL. 50, NO. 1, 7–22
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Igbo speakers arrived at their present location after 8000 B.C. (Manning 2005,2006; Webb 2005).
The ‘oriental’theory of Jewish origin is derived from the Biblical trace of descent through Jacob to
his son Gad and to Eri, one of Gad’s sons (Gen. 46: 16). Apostles of this model argue that some
cultural traits among the Igbo are found among Jewish people, suggesting to some that they may
have migrated from Israel (Equiano 1789;Jeﬀreys 1956; Isichie 1976; Onwuejeogwu 1981; Onyesoh
2000; Nwaezeigwe 2007).
Either way, the Igbo today live across the region in independent villages. A village among the
Igbo comprises groups of people tracing descent to ancestors who lived in their current location, or
to more distant towns and villages from which they emigrated. Exceptions include settlers adopted
into the ancestry on the basis of good relationships or because they possessed a particular and
useful skill or craft. These people maintain quasi-independence and have their own village arena, but
pay allegiance to the ﬁrst settlers. Their origin/migration narratives are woven into that of the
autochthons, requiring careful and sustained enquiry to uncover their diﬀerences.
These complexities over indigeneity deﬁne who controls what based on migration, birth,
innovation and war strength. By migration, emphasis is on the ﬁrst to settle on the land; by
birth, focus is on the ancestor(s) born in the land before or after others; by innovation, interest is
on the person(s) that founded or brought a particular skill, knowledge or practice; and by war
strength, who led the war that brought the people to the land or who helped in conquering the
enemies that troubled them in their place of settlement. These factors shape how the people of
Nsukka Igbo understand indigeneity. It confers prerogative right(s) on people to have control over
a particular cultural or heritage object/material, place or practice.
Amongst their many characteristics, each village has an arena, variously called Otobo, Obodo,
Ọnọkọrọ,Ọfu, Ilo/Iro, Ama or Ezi, according to dialectal diﬀerences. Otobo is the more centralized
name for the arena among the Nsukka Igbo. The arena is central to the Igbo social structure and
social processes and was present in the founding of all Igbo villages. It provides the frame around
which the architecture of the village and/or town structure is constructed (Aniakor 2002). In scores
of ethnographic, historical and archaeological studies on Igbo life and culture, the arena is viewed
as a centre of unity (Aniakor 1980,2002; Okolie 1992; Anigbo 1996) used for village meetings
(Ajaegbu 2014). It is also a theatre for ceremonies and masked performances (Achebe 1958;
Nwabueze 1984), religious tabernacle (Shelton 1971; Metuh 1973; Okolie 1992) and a place for
judicial proceedings (Onyeozili and Ebbe 2012). Consequently, Okolie (1992,18) notes that
it is the theatre for the practicalisation, in all its ramiﬁcations, of [an] Igbo worldview whether it is on
socio-cultural, politico-religious, economic, educational or judicial levels. It is the centre that holds all
the communities together, without which things are bound to fall apart.
Thus, it is a place for negotiation and renegotiation of social institutions for the survival of all
the communities. The village arena is vital within the Igbo landscape.
According to Cresswell (2004,12),‘place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the
context of power.’In his phenomenological study of ‘existential anxiety’, Giddens (1991) established
that one’s ontology is that of the environment within which s/he was raised and nurtured. Referencing
Altman (1992), Lewicka (2005) argues that place attachment forms, maintains and preserves identity
and fosters individual, group and cultural self-esteem, worth and pride. So, ‘when we look at the world
as [a] world of places we see diﬀerent things. We see attachments and connections between people
and place. We see [a] world of meaning and experience . . .’(Cresswell 2004, 11). Cresswell further
8J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
argued that ‘places are never ﬁnished but produced through the reiteration of practices –the
repetition of seemingly mundane activities on a daily basis’(Cresswell 2004, 82).
These views promote the idea that the tangible and intangible nature of spaces is found within
and gives signiﬁcance to speciﬁc places. Mazundar and Mazundar (2004) observed that within
some communities, religion is one of the more obvious means for forging attachments between
people and place. Spiritual leaders and elders teach place ritual, give value to artefacts and expose
people to signiﬁcant places through rituals. Stories and myths, dramas and plays, songs and
hymns all become important strategies in the teaching of place attachment and identity. In New
Zealand, Schroder (2008) found that social relations based on family, friendship and participation
in community life are the major ties for attachment. Mazundar and Mazundar (2004) may be
correct in stating that religion is one of the strongest bonds that sustain social relations. In this
way, place attachment constructs identity on the one hand and creates heritage on the other.
The relationship between landscape and time is also relevant here. Ingold (1993, 152), for example,
describes how ‘human life is a process that involves the passage of time . .. this life-process is also the
process of formation of the landscapes in which people have lived’. This position aligns with cultural
relativist anthropology and its observation of life activities existing in its rhythms and spatial context
(Durkheim  1912;Malinowski1927; Evans-Pritchard 1940;Geertz1973;Munn1992), and with the
view that such activities also exist in linear and cyclical time, which combine in many cases (Bloch 1977;
Appandura 1981; Howe 1981; Schaepe et al. 2017). This combination creates the transitional move-
ment of a space from permanence to temporality, a characteristic of Otobo –the Igbo village arena.
This paper concerns itself with this transition, the intangible aspects of the arena, as well as the
material manifestations, and how its use is negotiated through time.
To help understand these complex relations between people and place and how they play out in
the village arena, ﬁeldwork was conducted and data collected between October 2016 and June 2017
from the region of Nsukka Igbo comprising Nsukka, Udenu, Igbo-Etiti, Isi-Uzo, Uzo-Uwani, Igbo-Eze
North and Igbo-Eze South local government areas in Enugu state (see Figure 1). Seven villages, one
from each of these local government areas, was studied. For the purposes of this paper, we focus on
two villages: Umu-Obira Nkporogu and Amokpu Uhunowerre in Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Eze South local
government areas respectively. An ethnographic method was applied, and the techniques used for
data collection were primarily ﬁeld observation, in-depth interviews and focus group panel (FGP)
discussions. Nine months were spent carrying out ethnography in the region, additional to more than
three decades of one of the author’s life experiences as a member of this culture, where he was born
and brought up. Good ethical principles were adopted and anonymity was granted to all participants.
Accordingly, individual and group narratives are presented in coded reference.
Permanent and temporary places of the village arena
The multi-functionality of the village arena also renders the permanent physical place a transient place
regarding the values and belief systems associated with it at diﬀerent times of the day, week, month
and year. Values attached to the arena itself have assumed a permanent position as a collective identity
in the hearts of the people. Yet, the activities that occur are temporary and cyclical. Touw (2006) argues
that the ‘intervals between successive cycles’deﬁne the position of the arena at any particular point in
time. ‘Time’is a very signiﬁcant variable in the transient periods of such successive cycles. Rhythm also
provides a helpful context for understanding the complexities of the arena, recalling Lefebvre’s
rhythmanalysis and the central premise that ‘everywhere where there is interaction between a place,
a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm’(2004, 15). Edensor (2010,3)furthersuggeststhat
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 9
despite ﬂuidity and dynamism in the ways that we use space, and the potential for disruption and
destruction, ‘many rhythms oﬀer a consistency to place and landscape over time.’We shall see clear
examples of this in the case studies that follow. These are highly complex places and this short paper
can barely touch on that complexity. But we recognize that concepts of place attachment, time and
rhythm provide helpful frameworks within which to appreciate and begin to understand it.
Figure 1. Map of southeast (core Igbo states) Nigeria.
10 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
We now turn to assess some of the values and signiﬁcances associated with the arena, and
notably socio-cultural, political and religious signiﬁcance. Attempting separate discussions of these
roles of the arena is diﬃcult as these functions are inextricably combined. Although we may
attempt speciﬁc identiﬁcation of these diﬀerent roles, the discussion is simultaneous, covering
each in turn, creating an integrated and thus complex narrative.
The Igbo village arena is empirically deﬁned as the ‘general compound of all members of the
village’(FGP, ObiraSAs, 21 January 2017), ‘where young people learn what they do not know about
their history and tradition’(interview, AmokpuME, 18 May 2017). It is the ‘meeting point for human
and spirit, for the dead and for the living’(interview, AmokpuME, 18 May 2017), the ‘religious
tabernacle of the people’(FGP, OnichaRA, 17 March 2017); ‘a place where communal cultural
properties are kept, where important communal monuments are also located’(interview, OgorON
and OgorAA, 28 November 2016). Otobo is the ‘symbol of Nkpụrụ–an independent village’
(interview, EborOU, 6 December 2016; AmokpuOU, 26 May 2017), a ‘centre of unity’(interview,
ObiraSAj, 11 February 2017), and a ‘leisure and recreational centre of the village’(interview,
UsehPN, 3 January 2017). In the views of all the participants in the research, the village arena
was in the past and (in some places) is at present the centre for political, cultural, religious and
economic meetings. It provides space for cultural rites, festivals/ceremonies and juridical proceed-
ings. It is ‘our native court, a place where “Itarigba”(meaning “strictly of a people tracing descent
from a known ancestor”) meet to make laws/policies and resolve crises’(interview with AmokpuJU,
25 May 2017). In the words of OnichaIU2 (interview, 16 March 2017), ‘Ọfụis the village.’His
position agrees with those who see the arena as the symbol of an independent village. The arena
is the ‘Whole’of the village, the heartbeat of the community. This core deﬁnition accounts for the
reason for locating some important monuments outside the village arena, yet they are regarded as
being part of the arena. They also express the civic role of the arena and represent a system that
connects the ‘Whole’–the village. These deﬁnitions also illustrate ways in which the arena has
become a signiﬁcant landscape in the political structuring of the Igbo, where the decisions in all
aspects of life are made. In the past, life radiated from the village arena. Consequently, an
independent Igbo village must have one or more such spaces that asserts its sovereign identity.
The process of establishing the village arena is in part profane and in another spiritual. It either
begins when the people arrived on the land or when there is expansion that leads to founding a
new independent village. Either way, land acquisition is central to the establishment.
There are two classiﬁcations of the Igbo village arena based on ownership and functions. According
to ownership, there are those owned by the entire village and those that belong to the lineages that
make up the village. Those owned by the entire village also confer identity to a speciﬁc lineage within
which the arena is located. Village arenas found in this category also serve as the political, cultural and
to an extent religious headquarters of the village or the confederacy. Examples of this in the two case
studies to be examined are Otobo Umu-Agbo in Amokpu Uhunowerre and Otobo Ifu in Umu-Obira
Nkporogu. The arenas that serve only the lineages in Umu-Obira are Otobo Ugwuenechi, Ogbara,
Amaozaka, Akpachi and Uwani; and in Amokpu, there are Otobo Amauzu and Amaegu. Looking at
categorization by functions, all the village arenas in the ﬁrst category also belong here. Those with
special functions are found in Umu-obira –Otobo Ogwudinama (Ogwu in short form) and Otobo
Amamgbokwe (see Figures 3 and 5for their distribution). The ﬁrst is dedicated to the great deity of
Ogwu, which led to locating other vital shrines here, such as ỌnụAl’,ỌnụEnyanwụEzechitoke and Ọnụ
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 11
In summary, the village arena is established among the Igbo to be used for one or more of the
reasons below. A village may have one arena that embodies these responsibilities, or more with
speciﬁc functions assigned:
(1) To stand as a symbol of an independent village.
(2) To provide space for keeping or locating shared cultural materials and monuments
(3) To provide a venue for meetings, where laws/policies of the land are made and reviewed.
(4) To serve as a civic space for inculcating values, ethics and traditions of the land.
(5) To serve as a religious centre/tabernacle of the village.
(6) To serve as a native court for the people, where cases are tried and judgments delivered.
(7) To provide space for carrying out performances, festivals, ceremonies, initiations and all
kinds of communal feasting.
(8) To provide space for leisure, games and sporting activities.
Two case studies will now examine these various roles in more depth and over time.
Otobo Ifu is the cultural and political headquarters of the Umu-Obira village and Nkporogu town, a
confederal arrangement with a cluster of villages that share descent and/or cultural interests. It
assumes this position because the descendants of Dimara whose lineage arena is Otobo Ifu hold
the royal stool (Eze) of Nkporogu. Also, the location was the ﬁrst settlement of Diugwu Idu, the
founding father of the Nkporogu people. In Ọnwa mbụ(ﬁrst month in the Igbo calendar), the
arena hosts the Ika Ezugwu rite –a pronouncement of the festival of the great Ezugwu deity. On
this day, the Igbo calendar is counted by Ọsha/Ọha/Idi Nkporogu (council of elders) to mark the
beginning of a new year. Other cultural or heritage rites/ceremonies are also scheduled for the
year at this meeting. Mini celebrations take place, and prayers are made in the Ifu Diugwu Idu
(shrine) located on top of the settlement mound of the founding father of Nkporogu, Diugwu Idu
(see Figure 2).
Similarly, Ọsha/Ọha Umu-Obira and that of the larger Nkporogu confederacy hold their meet-
ings to settle disputes and discuss matters that aﬀect the communities. In Ọnwa iteg’na (the ninth
month in the Igbo calendar), during the festival of the Ogwudinama deity, the priests of Ogwu
perform the rite of Ite Ushue (dancing to the music of Ushue –a wooden gong). Ite Ushue is a
celebration that signiﬁes the people’s reconciliation with the Ogwu deity and includes a successful
cleansing of the land for the year. The reconciliation and cleansing rites are performed around
Otobo Ogwu throughout the night before the Ite Ushue is done the following morning. Later in the
afternoon, masked performances are observed in most of the arenas, and the entire village is
thrown into a celebration.
In Ọnwa enọ(the fourth month in the Igbo calendar), during the Ikpa iyi festival, a group of
Ụmụada (daughters of Umu-Obira), made up of elderly women, assemble maidens who are to
undergo the rite of passage to adulthood in this arena before proceeding to Obunyịko (the village
spring) at midnight. The women and the girls return to their various lineage arenas to perform the
ﬁnal ceremony. Monumentally, there is a village hall, masking house and masking paraphernalia,
Ifu Chi Ogwu (an extension of the Ogwu shrine), Ifu Diugwu Idu and Ọmụ(a public sharpening
stone) in Otobo Ifu.
12 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
Otobo Ogwu is an arena dedicated to the Ogwu deity. This space is central to the cultural and
religious life of the people as it holds the shrines of the Ogwu deity, Al’/Ani (earth goddess), Enyanwụ
Ezechikwoke (the sun of the supreme God) and Ụmụada (a shrine depicting powers of the daughters
of the land). Others are shrines of Dimgbokwe (the deiﬁed medicine man whose help settled Ogwu in
Umu-Obira), Odiokara (the medicine that Dimgbokwe applied in making Ogwu settle) and Obu
(palace) of the head priest of Ogwu (for information on Ogwu history; see Ugwuanyi ). There
is a mound of pots and potsherds, and some of the pots contain ‘healing’water. Signiﬁcant also are
the daily rituals that take place within the landscape of Otobo Ogwu. According to ObiraASj (inter-
view, 11 February 2017), ‘Ogwu protect and prosper our people. When someone’s property is
missing, Ogwu is called upon to help look for it. If one is shortchanged or deprived of his property,
Ogwu is used to seek justice.’These activities allow the people to experience the space on a regular
basis through daily rituals and supplications (meaning humble requests and prayers).
Otobo Amamgbokwe is used for an annual legislative meeting, where Ọsha/Ọha Umu-Obira
meets on the day of Izu Amamgbokwe (a yearly legislative session) during the Ogwu festival in
Ọnwa iteg’na (the ninth month in the Igbo calendar). At this gathering, the council of elders make
and mitigate laws/policies of the land. On that day, heads of lineages assemble at a particular
point carrying the Arua of their lineage (an ancestral symbol of authority) and a large bell. The
head of a speciﬁc family leads the procession from that point to the Otobo Amamgbokwe. The
Aruas are mounted in the arena as deliberations on laws/policies and other important matters of
interest to the land begin (see Figures 4a and b). In the end, they will individually remove their
Arụaand the laws/policies and other issues will remain as agreed and cannot be negotiated until
the next Ọnwa iteg’na in the following year. It is believed that the dead ancestors meet with the
living elders on this day and at this venue. Conspicuous monuments in Otobo Amamgbokwe are
Figure 2. Settlement mound of Diugwu Idu in Otobo Ifu (the arrow points to Ifu Diugwu Idu –a shrine dedicated
to the founding father of Nkporogu).
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, January 2017
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 13
Figure 3. A map showing Otobo Ifu, its contents and other arenas in Umu-Obira Nkporogu.
14 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
Ọgbụ(Ficusthon ningii)Otobo and a buried stone where the person that led the procession to the
All other Otobos (Otobo Ugwuenechi, Otobo Uwenu [Ogbara], Otobo Uwani, Otobo Amaozaka
and Otobo Akpachi) belong to the lineages that make up Umu-Obira where they hold various
meetings and ceremonies.
These otobos comprise a hall, masking house and masking paraphernalia, Ifu Chi Ogwu (an
extended shrine of Ogwu) and Ọgbu (Ficusthon ningii)Otobo. During most of the festivals, dancing
and masking activities are typical, and the village arena also provides space for spectators. The
cow-killing rite of passage for the dead is carried out in the lineage arenas. Initiation of young men
into the masking institution is also done in this space when the Iba Mmowu rite (initiation into
masking society) is organized. At diﬀerent meetings, rites and ceremonies, individuals usually
Figure 4. (a) Section of Ọsha/Ọha Umu-Obira during Izu Amamgbokwe (annual legislative session) in Otobo
Amamgbokwe, (b) Complete view of all the participants in Izu Amamgbokwe.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, January 2017
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 15
attend with diﬀerent cultural objects/materials which are either then deposited or lost within the
landscape. These physical manifestations become the archaeological signatures from which ritual
behaviours may later be inferred and interpreted.
Otobo Umuagbo is the socio-cultural and political headquarters of Amokpu village, Uhunowerre
town (the cluster of villages with traceable descent and shared cultural interests) and the Eketeker
confederacy (the cluster of towns that have traceable ancestry and shared common interests). Oral
narrative has it that the Umuagbo people were the ﬁrst to settle in the area. As the ﬁrst people, they
hold the leadership position in indigenous culture, politics and religion and their arena was elevated
above others. Also, Otobo Umuagbo is said to be a holy place where the gods and the ancestors
attend meetings and all participants are expected to speak truth to avoid being cursed.
Umuagbo people are trusted with the observation of the moon and counting of the Igbo
calendar. In this way, every new year in the Igbo calendar, the Onyishi (the oldest man and head of
the village) and Ọha (council of elders) of Umuagbo assemble here for a ceremony called ipa
mmanya ahụa(literarily translated as ‘carrying wine for the year’). It is at this event that they count
the calendar and schedule cultural rites/festivals for Uhunowerre people for the year ahead.
Prayers are made in ỌnụAl’(shrine of earth goddess) and ỌnụEnyanwụEzechitoke (shrine of
the sun of the supreme God). But more recently, this rite has moved from the arena to Obu –the
palace –of Onyishi because of Christianization and modern inﬂuences that have combined to
reduce the number of participants. Ọha Umuagbo, Ọha Uhunowerre and Ọha Eketeker previously
Figure 5. A map showing Otobo Umuagbo, other Otobo and heritage sites in Uhunowerre.
16 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
had their meetings in this arena, but these have also now been moved to the Obu Onyishi of
Umuagbo for the same reason.
Every four years, in Ọnwa ebo (the second month in the Igbo calendar), the Ọmabe mask spirit
enters the village from Agụ/Egu (farmland), before settling in and operating from the arena.
Festivals associated with Ọmabe ranging from arrival, a rite in Ọnwa ise (the ﬁfth month in the
Igbo calendar) to departure in Ọnwa ishi (the sixth month) are done in the arena. The Ọmabe
shrine (Figure 6b), the musical instruments and all the masking paraphernalia are found in the
Figure 6. (a) Hall Umuagbo, (b) Ọnu Ọmabe in Otobo Umuoagbo.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, June 2017
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 17
Ọnwa etọ(the third month in the Igbo calendar) is the Egba Eze festival, when the Akatakpa
masking performance is observed. Within this feasting period, an ịkpụEbule (ram) rite is organized
in Otobo Eketeker. IkpụEbule is the most popular ceremony in Egba Eze (see Figure 7). This is
marked with cane whipping and merriment. On that day, many of the masked Akatapka in
Uhunowerre come to perform in Otobo Eketeker. Prizes such as an Ebule (ram) for the ﬁrst position,
an Oke Ọkụkọ(rooster) for the second and some Ji (tubers of yam) for the third are made available
and distributed among the most beautiful and best performed Akatakpa. But because of the crisis
caused by sharing these prizes in the past, the prizes now rotate annually from one village to
another. A day following ịkpụEbule is the Ụla Akatakpa (the day that the Akatakpa spirit departs
from Uhunowerre). Ụla Akatakpa is marked with a rite that sees all the masked Akatakpa in
Uhunowerre place their whipping canes in ỌnụAkatakpa (popularly called Igbudu Akatakpa)
located in Otobo Umuagbo.
Ọnwa Esatọ(the eighth month in the Igbo calendar) is the Uke (agricultural/new yam) festival.
There is Uke Eguru (Uke for blacksmiths) and Uke Ọha (Uke for the general public). Uke Eguru is
carried out by blacksmiths in Amauzu before the general public would do the same after Nkweizu
(one native week, four days). Amauzu has this privilege because they produce the agricultural
implements. In the past, this festival involved a wrestling competition in the arena. Oriri Chukwu
(celebration of the supreme God) is in Ọnwa iri (the tenth month in the Igbo calendar). On the
appointed day, all members of the village bring food, meat and wine to the arena to feast
together. Prayers are made in the shrines of ỌnụEnyanwụEzechitoke (shrine of the sun of the
supreme God) and ỌnụAl’(shrine of the earth goddess). It is important to note that Oriri Chukwu is
separately organized for men and women. Ọnwa iri is for the women while men celebrate in Ọnwa
iri ne na (the eleventh month in the Igbo calendar).
ỌnụAl’,ỌnụUgwuoburu and ỌnụOshu-Idenyi are shrines situated outside the boundaries of
Otobo Umuagbo but have some link to the rituals and activities taking place in the arena. Apart from
the shrines mentioned above, there are ỌnụAbere (Ikpọnyị) and ỌnụỤmụada in Otobo Umuagbo.
Abere is the wife of Ikpọnyị, a night masking performance that reveals to society individual ways of
living. AmokpuPO (interview, 1 May 2017) narrates his encounter with Ikpọnyịthus:
Just [a] few days ago when Ikpọnyi was performing, it passed beside my house, called me and I answered.
It started by telling me that I am a drunkard; that I go to market and return late every day because of my
drinking attitude. . . . I am lucky because if I were living a life that is considered very bad in the society, it
would have exposed me to the public. . . . But friends were praising me after that encounter. .. . Ikpọnyi
Figure 7. IkpụEbule (ram) ceremony during Egba Eze in Otobo Eketeker, Uhunowerre.
Source: Photo by John Kelechi Ugwuanyi, May 2017
18 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
told my neighbour that he is a trouble maker, that he should conclude his brother’s funeral rites, avoid
making trouble with people and stop sleeping about with diﬀerent women.
The goal is to expose people that have bad and dubious attitudes and to appreciate those with
positive behaviour. This masking performance involves a procession that sets out from the arena
after some rites are carried out in ỌnụAbere. Thus, ỌnụAbere is found in virtually all the lineage
Otobos –Amauzu and Amaegu.
ỌnụỤmụada is a shrine associated with womanhood, particularly the daughters of the land.
Prayers are made in this shrine during the assumption of oﬃce as a new Onyishi Ụmụada also
known as Ede (the eldest person among the daughters of the land). In a separate context, when a
married daughter of Umuagbo or Uhunowerre dies, the ịgba ọba rite is carried out for her. Igba
ọba is one of the rites of passage for women in Uhunowerre. In ịgba ọba, the children of a dead
woman arrange an Ọba (a small basket containing some money and materials that signify their
mother’s place in society) which they take amidst dancing to their mother’s people. The Ọba is
received by the ﬁrst son of their mother’s family. Some prayers are made in ỌnụỤmụada and the
Ọba is hung around the shrine. The practice is gradually diminishing and faces extinction due to
the inﬂuence of Christianity. However, there are some women who insist that the rite should be
performed for them when they die.
Otobo Eketeker houses the Eketeker customary court and provides space for many festivals/
ceremonies. There are ỌnụỌmabe, ỌnụAbere and other shrines associated with the lineage that
own Otobo Amauzu and Otobo Amaegu. As such, meetings of all kinds are also held in them.
Nevertheless, Otobo Umuagbo remains the headquarters of all the social institutions in
Uhunowerre, and to some extent, in Eketeker confederacy.
Discussion and conclusions
As we have seen, time is positional in the transitional movement of the arena from permanent to
temporary states. Time in Africa according to Animalu (2011, 27), ‘depicts the world as an immortal
regenerative cycle of birth, death and re-birth of all things in nature in which time –the “African
Time”–is cyclic and irreversible. . .’. Ifesieh (1989) asserts that time among the Igbo is marked with
reference to traditional landmarks, ‘in the life of the community’such as cultural festivities and
events. Time in Igbo is oge, which if speciﬁcally applied means mgbe. Because time, whether as oge
or mgbe according to Ugwuanyi (2017) is organized by the Igbo in a non-sequential and var-
iegated manner across space, cultural events/rites transiently occur within the Igbo cyclical
Igbo cyclical time organizes all the events/rites that happen in the Igbo village arena in these
temporal perspectives. They occur periodically and follow an established course. Similarly, atten-
tion given to monuments and events in the arena is also framed by these same rhythms. Though
the space and its contents are physically ﬁxed/permanent, the time of the event/rite occurrence is
ﬁxed in its rhythm, but temporary in nature. Take, for instance, the Ika Ezugwu rite, Izu
Amamgbokwe and Ogwu festival in Ọnwa iteg’na in Umu-Obira and ipa mmanya ahụa, egba eze
and Ọmabe festival in Amokpu; these events are temporarily carried out in the arena within the
Igbo cyclical cosmos. By contrast, Igba Ọba in Amokpu is more ﬂuid and unpredictable, as is the
death which brings it about. What seems permanent about the rites/events is that they are found
within the cyclical experience or rhythms of life which characterize the lives of the Igbo people.
The shrines permanently sited with the arena, and the associated materials, form archaeological
WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY 19
signatures that contribute to understanding the complexities of this important space in Igbo life.
Further and extensive enquiries into the use of the arena among the Igbo will help to understand
and better appreciate Igbo history and heritage.
Going by the cyclical temporality of the village arena, the landscape is a space where the inter-
generational behaviour of the Igbo, from the ancient, through the present to the future manifest.
Ingold (1993, 152) noted that ‘landscape tells –or rather is –a story. It enfolds the lives and times
of predecessors who, over the generations, have moved around in it and played their part in its
formation’. This essay not only aﬃrms Ingold’sﬁndings; it shows how such landscape–human
entanglements express indigeneity and confer rights to heritage control.
While the majority of village arenas are vibrant and active spaces, some examples are physically
abandoned. Yet even in these abandoned arenas prayers continue to be made at the shrines
within them. Equally, the hosting of major festivals will often lead to re-activation of many of the
monuments within the arenas. These are therefore ﬂuid places, transitioning between states of
abandonment and active use over time, but always characterized by uses that are transitory and
ephemeral. They are in a sense therefore ambiguous spaces, the meanings and signiﬁcance of
which depend on the various perspectives of participants and observers, of the time of day, month
or year. Such spaces likely transcend time and space, from prehistoric Europe to the contemporary
city. But here, in rural West Africa, their uses and signiﬁcance are highlighted through the
persistence of ritual behaviours and ceremony, where materiality and memory are central compo-
nents. We can learn much from these spaces, about ancestors, others and ourselves. And a helpful
framework for that understanding is one that recognizes patterns of behaviours and the rhythms
of daily life. This temporal perspective can give shape and clarity to complex patterns of behaviour.
By this means, the village arena comes into sharper focus.
We would like to thank all those that participated in this research especially in Umu-obira Nkporogu and
Amokpu Uhunowerre in Enugu state, Nigeria.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by the Overseas Research Scholarship, University of York; Gilchrist Educational Trust;
Tweedie Exploration Fellowship, University of Edinburgh.
Notes on contributors
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi teaches in the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of Nigeria. He is
currently a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. His thesis
explores the negotiation between the global heritage discourse and the existing beliefs and value systems
in the context of the village arena (or ‘square’) among the Igbo of Nigeria. The work hopes to bridge the gap
between the authorized heritage institutions and local communities to discourage public exclusion and
encourage democratic inclusion in heritage management in post-contact societies. John is a Certiﬁed Project
Manager (C.P.M.) and has a diploma in tourism and museum studies, as well as a B.A. and M.A. (both cum
20 J. K. UGWUANYI AND J. SCHOFIELD
laude) in archaeology and tourism from the University of Nigeria. His research interest is heritage, museum,
tourism, postcolonial archaeology, indigenous knowledge systems and indigenous methodologies.
John Schoﬁeld is Head of Archaeology at the University of York where he teaches and conducts research in
cultural heritage and the contemporary past. He is also Docent in Archaeology at the University of Turku
(Finland), Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia), Member of the Chartered
Institute for Archaeologists and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
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