Girls to Women: Responses to Social & Ecological Challenges in Okrika

A review of Judith Gleason's “Becoming a Woman in Okrika” Presented Wednesday, February 17, 2010 3:20pm-4:40pm at RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, Beck Hall Room 219 Livingston Campus.

Abstract

This paper reviews “Coming of Age in Okrika” by Judy Gleason by situating the rites within an ecological context that considers the geography, history, culture and practices of the Okrika people; the politics of petroleum exploitation and revenue allocation; ecological and social issues associated with petroleum exploitation in the Niger Delta. It proceeds from the position that oral and corporeal language could both conceal and reveal meaning. Thus, it argues for a deep contextual reading of the rites of passage featured in the film.

Introduction

The film, “Coming of Age in Okrika” by Judy Gleason cannot be properly reviewed without an understanding of the physical context within which Okrika exists—The Niger Delta of Nigeria, a region that is now well known in the popular media, particularly to people concerned with environmental integrity and petroleum exploitation. The rites of passage documented by Gleason thus take place in the midst of an area where there are contestations for power over the production of petrochemical resources; considerable environmental degradation caused by the production of the resources; disruption of the lives of the peoples of the area and considerable damage to the well being of communities living in the area. Regardless, or possibly, as a result of these disruptions, rites of passage have become more important for symbolic as well as cultural reasons—as a demonstration of dedication to the values, practices and philosophies of life of the communities.
The Niger Delta

Good historians of West Africa also know that the Niger Delta has been very important in Nigerian and West African history. At 75,000 square miles, the Delta is the largest in Africa (Derefaka & Anozie). Archeological evidence shows that the area was inhabited as early as 940 CE, and that the food consumed today continues the old traditions of the early inhabitants (Derefaka & Anozie). The oft remarked upon violence that has dogged the heels of the people of the Niger Delta in contemporary history is characteristic of the growing pains and tensions associated with nation building.

Ejobowah contends that the conflict in the Niger Delta is caused by differing and oppositional conceptualizations of citizenship and contestations over the consequent entitlements between subnational and national communities. Until the conflicts in the Niger Delta are resolved in a manner that legitimizes and validates the claims of the subnationalities to control over the natural resources in their region, there is likely to be violence (2000). Dibua agrees, arguing that the marginalization of the peoples of the Niger Delta in their struggle for citizenship rights is in large part responsible for the conflict. Until Nigerian federalism operates such that there is devolution of power that gives a measure of meaningful autonomy to the communities of the Niger Delta, particularly in revenue allocation, there is likely to be no peace (2005). Eweje optimistically argues that multinational petroleum producers are being influenced by emergent norms of social responsibility, sustainability and socially responsible investment to care more about the environment. They would be more likely to be progressive if there are also good laws that require sustainability. This is lacking in Nigeria (2006). Idemudia and Ite note the geopolitical importance of the Niger Delta to national and international politics, particularly after the discovery of petroleum. They attribute the instability, conflicts and environmental problems of the area to interrelated social, economic and political factors that call for combined social, economic and environmentally sustainable solutions that contribute to the region’s development (2006).

Lubeck’s earlier study of Nigerian political Economy (1977), shows that the discovery and production of petroleum in commercial quantities was not only accompanied by a change in revenue allocation formulae, but that this change was due to the determination by the Federal Government of Nigeria to take over the commanding heights of the economy, (for the petrochemical sector, this meant that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) purchased 55% of multinational oil corporations), leading to a centralization of power that benefitted the Federal government at the expense of state and local governments. At the same time, petroleum producing multinationals have a great deal of power in the Nigerian economy. By 1977, their product was responsible for 93% of Nigeria’s export earnings, 75% of the foreign exchange earnings, 87% of total government revenues, 45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), BUT it employed only 1.3% of the modern sector labor force. Agriculture on the other hand employed 85% of the population, and contributed 80% of the country’s export earnings before 1967, when the Nigerian Civil War began (Lubeck 1977).

The dominance of the oil sector in Nigeria’s economy and FGN capture of the power of state and local government entities in Nigeria also signaled the intensification of contestation and disputation over the control of the Niger Delta, understandably because the entire country was now dependent on the exploitation of this resource, and the area from which it was acquired and produced remained the least developed in the country. The FGN chose to embrace a coalition with the multinational petroleum producing companies to ensure steady, uninterrupted production of petroleum. This coalition has not been averse from the naked use of force to achieve its objectives. Attempts to demonstrate responsiveness to the demands of the peoples for environmental integrity have been top-down, being the use of payoffs to local strongmen, the politics of divide and conquer, the funding of Institutions that have operated more as sources of patronage than as sources of meaningful development for the peoples of the area.

Based on conventional understandings of the meaning of the state as the entity within a geographical area with the monopoly over the use of force, a possible source of peace in the Niger Delta is FGN ability to establish and maintain its hegemony over the area. The state has attempted to do this through negotiation, the use of force by state security forces, creation of states, manipulation of revenue allocation formulas, and infusion funds in a top-down fashion. Thus far, none of the mechanisms used has been successful. Coming of age in the circumstances created by the conjuncture of history and ecology has profound effects on the people living in the area. The rites that accompany the coming of age process reveal elements of continuity and change. The songs of the initiates speak to these elements but also express hopes of survival, thriving, and living to pass on indigenous knowledge and practices to succeeding generations.

The Delta: Geography and peoples

According to contemporary Nigerian Government records, the Niger Delta region covers approximately 70,000 km², which is about 7.5% of the landmass in Nigeria. Historically, the region was composed of today’s Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States. In 2000, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Imo and Ondo States were added to the region by the Obasanjo administration. With 31 million people in over 40 ethnic groups including the Efik, Ibibio Annang, Oron, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Igbo, Urhobo, Yoruba, and Kalabari, speaking approximately 250 dialects, the area is rich in ethnic nationalities. It is composed of the South-South, Central, Eastern and Western/ Northern Niger Delta regions.

• The South-South Niger Delta is now part of Nigeria’s South-South geopolitical zone. Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers are its constituent states.

• Western (or Northern) Niger Delta is in the western section of the South-South geopolitical zone, and includes Delta, Edo, and Ondo States. The ethnic groups include Urhobo, Ezon, Igbo, Isoko, Itsekiri, and Ukwuani groups in Delta State; the Yoruba in Ondo State and the Ijaw, who are in all three states, are the majority. The British government had to sign separate "Treaties of Protection" with the Chiefs of the Itsekiri, Isoko, Ukwuani, Ijaw and Urhobo before the formation of the "Protectorates" that later became southern Nigeria. Most of the people of the Western Niger Delta are fishermen and women as well as farmers.

• Central Niger Delta is located in the central section of the South-South zone, and includes Bayelsa and Rivers States. The ethnic groups of the area include the Ijaw (including the Nembe-Brass, Ogbia, Kalabari, Ibanis (Opobo, Bonny, etc), Okrika, and Andoni clans, the Ogoni and other groups (among whom are the Ekpeye, Ndoni, Etche, Ikwerre, Ndoki) in Rivers State.

• Eastern Niger Delta is in the Atlantic section of the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria and includes Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. The ethnic groups include the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron, and the Ogoja including Ekoi and Bekwara people, of old Calabar Kingdom.


The Niger Delta and the shadow of the past


The constituent parts of the Niger Delta were part of the Colony and Southern Protectorate of the Niger until the 1914 amalgamation of the Colony, Southern and Northern Protectorates by the British colonizers of Nigeria. A further administrative division that created three regions was made in 1951, and later, the three regions were increased to four by the post-colonial government. After these later administrative delimitations, most of the Niger Delta was part of the Eastern Region and later, the Midwest and Eastern Regions. The creation of the Eastern region put together the minority peoples of the Niger Delta with the Igbo people, who are one of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups.

Nationalist resistance to colonial rule in the Eastern region was dominated by the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), which became the post-independent ruling party in the region. Further re-positioning came when Western Cameroon decided to become part of Cameroon rather than stay within Nigeria, and the NCNC changed its name to the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens. In 1953, Professor Eyo Ita was asked to step down for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Leader of Government Business. He refused, and withdrew instead. The resulting furor caused a rift between the Igbo and Efik (Eyo Ita’s ethnic group). Arguing that they were being marginalized by the majority Igbo ethnic group, together with the Efik, the Ijaw and Ogoja of old Calabar began a campaign for the creation of their own state or region, the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) state. This campaign was one of the burning issues during the negotiations for Nigeria’s independence, and it continued well into the post-colonial era, propelling the creation of more states in the region.

After the 1966 coups and the consolidation of a military regime-administered Nigeria under General Aguiyi Ironsi, Isaac Adaka Boro led the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, an armed militia group of Ijaw youth that spoke out against the exploitation of the oil wealth of the Niger Delta without any benefits to the people of the area. They declared the independence of the Niger Delta as a Republic on February 23 1966. A 12-day conflict ensued, but ended with the Federal Government of Nigeria’s forces triumph. Boro and the members of the militia were sentenced to prison for treason. The Gowon regime released Boro and the militia members just before the Nigerian Civil War, and Boro joined the Nigerian side in the civil war but was killed under yet to be resolved circumstances (The Adaka Boro Centre n.d.).

The Southeastern State, East Central State, and Rivers State were created during the Nigerian Civil War. Southeastern State included the colonial Calabar Division (old Calabar Kingdom), and colonial Ogoja Division. Southeastern state and Rivers State had the minorities of the old Eastern region, and the Igbo, East Central State. Later, Southeastern State was renamed Cross River State, out of which Akwa Ibom State was created. As for Rivers State, Bayelsa State was carved out of it.

Isaac Boro’s struggle for equitable access to the proceeds of the resources in the Niger Delta was carried forward by the struggle spearheaded by Ken Saro Wiwa, who as the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), called for an end to the environmental degradation, lack of development and economic marginalization of the Niger Delta. Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were jailed, tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging by the Federal Government of Nigeria during the Sani Abacha regime (RememberSaroWiwa.com n.d.). Subsequently, several ethnic militia have emerged in the area, some, of their leaders, like Dokubo Asari, claiming to be inspired by Boro’s vision and to be dedicated to securing economic justice for the Niger Delta. The groups have become infamous for their kidnappings, and for confrontations with the Nigerian government, all of which has substantially reduced the prospects for personal and community security in the area. The matter of revenue allocation is also yet to be conclusively addressed. The Niger Delta peoples’ concerns over the damage inflicted on their communities as a result of oil prospecting and production have not been effectively addressed by the Nigerian state. In 1998, the Ijaw people proclaimed the Kaiama Declaration, asserting a right to self-determination and to control the activities of the multinational oil corporations in their communities. The Nigerian government responded by dispatching troops to Bayelsa and Delta states, who used deadly force against demonstrators. Three people were killed, and twenty-five arrested.

The Niger Delta has experienced increased incidences of militant uprisings, action against commercial oil refineries and pipelines militancy. Foreign employees of oil producing companies are taken hostage, as have wealthy indigenes, particularly those with connections to the state. The Nigerian government has increased its militarized presence in the area, and there are numerous complaints of their brutality and human rights abuses. Further escalation came with a bomb explosion near an oil refinery in Port Harcourt in April, 2006, accompanied with a warning from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) against Chinese involvement in the Niger Delta. Decrying continued neglect of the Niger Delta, MEND in September 2008, proclaimed that it had begun an "oil war" against petroleum pipelines, oil production facilities, and Nigerian security forces. The Yar Adua administration entered into peace negotiations with the militias and introduced an amnesty program. It is yet to be determined if the amnesty is a success.


Okrika and its People


The Okrika people are indigenous to the South-Eastern region of Rivers State in Nigeria. Approximately 335,000 people speak the language. The Okrika region is on the north bank of the Bonny River, on Okrika Island, 35 miles (56 km) upstream from the Bight of Benin. Previously a small fishing village of the Ijo (Ijaw) people in the mangrove swamps of the eastern part of the Niger Delta, Okrika was made the capital of the Okrika kingdom in the early 17th century. It participated in the slave trade and after the slave trade was abolished in the 1830s, became involved in the palm oil trade as a export port, an enterprise in which it was overshadowed by both Bonny (18 miles [46 km] south) and Opobo (32 miles [81 km] east-southeast). By 1912 Port Harcourt had become the most important entreport in the region and Okrika dwindled into obscurity. After the discovery of petroleum in commercial quantities, and the Alesa-Eleme oil refinery was completed and pipelines were constructed to a jetty on Okrika Island, Okrika once again became a commercial port in 1965. Today, refined petroleum products are Okrika's only significant exports. The local trade goods include fish, oil palm produce, locally processed salt, cassava (manioc), taro, plantains, and yams (Kirike-Se 2020 n.d.).

The Contemporary official/Government History of Okrika Local Government Area
On May 3, 1989, Okrika Local Government Area (WALGA) was created out of the old Okrika- Oyigbo -Tai-Eleme Local Government Area (Otelga) by a decree of the Federal Military Government. It was made up of eight of the earliest nine ancestral homelands of Wakirike ethnic nationality, including the Bolo, Ele, Ibaka, Isaka, Kirike, Ogbogbo, Ogoloma, and Ogu and several associated towns and villages. On October 1, 1996, the Federal Military Government passed a decree that excised Ogu/Bolo Local Government Area from Okrika Local Government Area. The new Local Government Area was composed of Ogu, Bolo, Ele and some smaller towns and villages.

Okrika Local Government Area is located at the apex of the Bonny River and covers an area of more than six hundred and thirteen square kilometers in the tidal zone of the Eastern Niger Delta, in an area with numerous rivers and creeks. To the South of the Okrika people are the Ibani, to their North, the Ikwerre; to their West, the Kalabari; to their East, the Eleme and Ogoni, and to their South-East, the Andoni. According to the 2006 census, Okrika Local Government Area has a population of 222,026, most of whom are fishermen and women. There are also subsistence farmers. This LGA is in the heart of Nigeria’s petroleum oil and gas production, including twenty-three oil wells in the Alakiri oil field and eleven wells in the Orubiri oil field. It is also the location of the Port Harcourt Refinery and the site of Nigeria’s first jetty for crude oil shipment and export. The area has an intricate network of large oil and gas pipelines that also interfere profoundly with people’s day-to-day lives, because they have many of these pipelines literally at their doorsteps.

Oil spills, gas flares, damaged ecosystem, pollution of waters, burnt out vegetation, unbearable heat, lack of darkness are all parts of the everyday lives of the people. An uncaring state that allies with multinational petroleum producing companies and has a very colonial relationship with the people in the Okrika communities makes things much worse, particularly since those connected with it are filthy rich and everyone else is so desperately poor. The Okrika girls are coming of age in a place marked by all these experiences and the traditions that they are able to hold on to become even more dear for it, even as these traditions cannot be kept pristine because of the endemic change that is an inevitable fact of life.


Petroleum and Revenue Allocation in Nigerian Politics

Revenue allocation has proven to be an intractable problem in Nigerian politics. The genesis of the problem predated Nigerian independence (Ejobowah, John Boye “Who Owns the Oil? The Politics of Ethnicity in the Niger Delta of Nigeria” Africa Today, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Winter, 2000), pp. 29-30). In the country’s post independence budgeting, revenue allocation initially privileged place of origin, particularly when Nigeria had a unitary system of government when 100% of the income derived from a region accrued to it (Recommendation of the Louis Chick Commission, see Ejobowah, 32). From this high percentage, there was a precipitous decline to a low of 10% under the military.

The disputation and contestation over control of petroleum earnings and the deleterious effects of petroleum exploitation on the environment and peoples of the Niger Delta have had profound effects. Oil spills, gross underdevelopment and conflict between a coalition of state, multinational oil companies on one hand and local communities organized as militias, or as environmental activists on the other, have made the area highly insecure for the people. Livelihoods have suffered, as has health and human well being. Nigeria also manifests considerable concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority who have used access and connection to the state to amass prodigious amounts of wealth.


Ecological Issues


• Burning/flaring of natural gas
• Consequent local pollution and climate change and environmental devastation
• Food insecurity
Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer of petroleum. Approximately 93.1 metric tons of petroleum is produced annually, amounting to about two million barrels a day and 2.9% of worldwide production. The petroleum is predominantly extracted in the Niger Delta, and in the offshore region abutting it. There are also considerable natural gas reserves, and much of it that is a by-product of oil production is flared, (approximately 70 million m³ per day), a quantity that is approximately 41% of the natural gas consumed in Africa, and the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions on earth. The petroleum producing multinationals in Nigeria are in order of the size of their control: Anglo Dutch Shell Petroleum, Mobil (US), Agip (Italy), Elf, Texaco Overseas Petroleum (US). After the nationalization of Nigeria’s resources, each oil company is required to partner with the National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state owned corporation, which holds 55-60% of shares in their operations (Ejobowah, 34).

The Niger Delta is an ecosystem that has a delicate but resilient balance of human, marine, riverine, lagoon and swamp life coexisting for centuries. The area’s involvement in international trade dates back to the days of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when it was a slave port, a factor that must have disturbed this delicate balance and brought profit to a minority and grief to the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the area. From the trade in human flesh, international demand switched to a demand for commodities, principal of which was palm oil, and the area supplied this in commercial quantities for the factories during the Industrial Revolution. Once again, ecological balance must have been affected. The Iria ceremony, symbolizing the transition from girlhood to adulthood could be seen as a constant phenomenon that symbolized for the peoples, an essential rite of passage transcending the here and now, a symbolic marker of the significance of the female principle to life. Girls on the threshold of womanhood bore the potential of fecundity, fertility, fullness, wellbeing, productivity, and in brief, all good things.

Women are conceptualized as both connected to, and indicative of nature’s bounty. The Iriapu--girls going from the potential of girlhood to the reality of womanhood must be pampered, schooled, groomed and otherwise prepared to undertake this new, important role in society. Key parts of the ritual include painting attractive, elaborate, abstract designs on the girls’ bodies; careful public examination of their bodies by the women elders; feeding and pampering them and deliberately keeping them inactive until they are plump; instructing them in the tasks, duties and entitlements of womanhood; celebration of the momentous occasion; including their pursuit by young men led by a mythical figure, all carrying sticks.
Part of what it means to be an adult woman is to leave childish things behind, to stop engaging in flights of the imagination and become more grounded and prepare for informed decisionmaking, heavy responsibilities, one of the most important of which is childbearing. The fattening rooms, the rituals and processes of the Iria are all indicative of this determination by society to make sure that things will be as they are meant to be if human beings do their part in doing what they ought to do—the girls on the threshold of womanhood are central actors in the drama of maintaining continuity under constantly changing circumstances.

Change is intricately connected with international trade and its demand on the area, its communities and its peoples. With each new demand, the communities must mobilize appropriate economic responses. Neither at the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, nor during the era of Legitimate Trade, when palm oil was the commodity in demand, did the people of Okrika have any meaningful choice in determining what they would bring to the table. With the “discovery” and production of petroleum and later, natural gas in commercial quantities, there were even more constraints. Coupled with the mining of petroleum and gas from the land and waters of Okrika were the deleterious by-products: oil spills, flared gas, over-exploitation and under-remuneration. The peoples of the area were soon to be pitted against the coalition of oil companies and federal government; they also became involved in internecine conflicts that pitted one community against the other and destroyed the peace, property, lives, and ecosystem.


Social issues


The social issues include Stability, safety, security of life, livelihood, and property. Stability has become even more important since the emergence of ethnic militias. Safety and security could no longer be taken for granted. Livelihood and property were also challenged, made more precarious by the success of Nigeria’s NEW role in the international division of labor, the production and sale of petroleum on the world market. Fishing and farming could not be as productive and profitable as could be, given the damaging effects of petroleum production in the Niger Delta. The precarious local economic conditions were juxtaposed against the roaring success of the petroleum economy and the influx of predominantly foreign, white petroleum industry employees with lots of money to burn. It was inevitable that both transactional sex and sex work for profit would increase. The people with the most disposable cash were oil company employees, and their presence distorted the “natural order” of things. At the same time, rites of passage continued, with Iria a declining but constant presence.


Girls to Women: Rites of Passage


The article by Gleason and Ibubuya is a good accompaniment to the film. In it, the Iriapu songs are transcribed and translated into English (Gleason and Ibubuya 1991). From singing at dawn to the waning moon and rising sun, using their body adornments to good percussionist effect, to entering the fattening huts for their transformation to womanhood, the Iriapu began their transition with call and songs that had been sung ad infinitum through the ages. Prescribed bathing and seclusion followed. The songs draw using highly parsimonious and spare lines, graphic tales that detail what life is like for the Iriapu and their society—denoting a world inhabited both by water spirits and temporal beings, where the water spirits could inhabit temporal bodies and deny men of women’s love, bodies, fertility and care.

In these songs, some of the men are fickle, and should be avoided. Some are well known but only the spirits can reveal the intentionality of others and prevent unhappy unions. The male-female union is both inevitable, if procreation is to occur, it is also the source of potential pain and exploitation. Compared with the weight and responsibility of women, the girl’s life is relatively idyllic. Women have the day-to-day responsibility of going through the pain of gathering oysters and periwinkles (important constituents of the staple food), fishing and farming, in general, working so that their families are well-fed. Doing this well earns them the approval of society—the cloth that only older women can wear around their shoulders, and which must be accessed in order for their spirits to depart to the proper domain after leaving their bodies. Girls must learn how to bear these responsibilities with dignity from the elders. Painting the bodies with camwood and indigo connects new and older generations of women, passing down some of the messages corporeally while also infusing the girls on the threshold of adulthood with the spiritual qualities needed to prevail under increasingly harsh conditions.

The spirits also influence existential non-romantic conditions, being responsible for stocking the waters with fish and other seafood and ensuring that the community is well fed. From the Iriapus’ songs, all within hearing distance of their voices hear of their contextualized reading of past, present and future as they see it. They hear within the songs, a melodious rendering of how the visible and invisible interact, how material conditions and the privations experienced show the hand of the water spirits as well as limit the possibilities of fattening, when the spirits keep the best catch (mullets), to themselves, leaving the skimpy perch for human consumption.

Funnily enough, the 800 pound gorilla in the environs is left out of the picture—the oil economy (Blakely and Blakely 1992) and its blissful ignorance as well as willful destruction of the ecosystem, the way of life, the livelihood and socio-economic milieu of the communities that pre-existed it. This is while the greedy chiefs receive attention for attempting to disrupt the ceremonies by asking for money from the research team and refusing to share the largesse with the older boys/youth, who must be offered drinks in order to play the prescribed role of running during the rites. It is ironical and sad that the leviathan is left at peace while minor players are being harassed. But these are girls. Perhaps when they become old women with the cloth on their shoulders, they would also become far-seeing enough to identify the oil companies as the enemy. Perhaps they would be brave enough to fight this formidable force, which is also supported by the government of Nigeria. Perhaps they would be wise enough to devise the right strategies and deploy them to fight smart, and also transfer, both corporeally and spiritually, this fighting spirit, to the girls that they have the responsibility of shepherding into womanhood. This remains to be seen. In the meantime, ecological destruction continues unabated.


The connection between rites of passage & the ecology


“Becoming a Woman in Okrika” documents the Iria ceremony of the Okrika, an Ijo community in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The current group of Iriapu are five adolescent girls who must undertake this rite of passage in preparation for womanhood and marriage. While the film is often seen as questioning “the value and continuation of the Irio ceremony in modern society,” its relevance could be seen as even more far-reaching.

As outsiders seeing the film, people cannot help seeing “a visually aesthetic presentation of the Iria rite of passage…an intriguing introduction to a particular practice in the Rivers State.” However, there is much more to the film than even the absences identified by sensitive and respectful critics, who observe that it is devoid of “a full description/ interpretation of the significance of the event depicted. By neglecting to interview any of the girls participating in the ritual, the film leaves viewers questioning the girls' feelings about the rite. The emphasis on aesthetics leaves too many questions unanswered and exoticizes the event” (Kornbluh, et al. n.d.).

The rites of passage from girlhood to womanhood are not only meant to be seen in physical and symbolic terms, they also denote the spiritual connectedness of the Okrika people with their environment, such that if things are done the way they ought to be done, the spirits would ensure that expected gains would be yielded. There is thus, communication on many fronts, and at many levels. The elderly women must pass down knowledge of fundamental cultural values and how the community has interpreted them in socially relevant ways; they must also teach the girls that social expectations are important. As part of a community, initiation means that social behavior must be learned, social expectations deciphered, social practices contextualized and made relevant to present and hopefully, future generations. Important also is the departure from one social status, and the attainment of another, as well as preparedness to assume new responsibilities, including the willingness to work for social harmony; provide for the family, study the natural environment and interpret the cues that it gives to the community on how to live the good life within the constraints of structural social, economic and political constraints. Seen this way, it is obvious that all human societies have rites of passage, but deal with the process of travelling from one phase to the other in the cycle of life differently. In Western societies, these rites and processes are sometimes well-removed from the confines of family and community relations, with considerable commercialization, formal institutions for schooling, mentoring and guidance that one may not see in Okrika.

The fact though, is that rites of passage exist and they play key roles in social relations of production and reproduction. Dating, coupling and uncoupling in all societies are so routinized that transgressors attract considerable attention. Deviation from social norms are covered by newspapers and tabloids. They appear in television news and online blogs. They are satirized in all kinds of media. Seen this way, one can marvel at the creativity and remarkable ability of the Iriapu who see, feel, think, and can comment on the norms, transgressions and happenings of their society, and do so in song and sound, with joy, trepidation, expectation and in socially prescribed ways that further bond the community together. These practices among the people of Okrika transmit information to the initiates about past, present and future, on what their society values, what it needs from them, what is required to be a well-functioning adult within their society, how to comport oneself in all known situations, how to decipher and rationalize the unknown, and in general, how to be successful.


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