Leading social and political figures in the country will Wednesday converge in Igbo Ukwu, Anambra State, to celebrate the birth anniversary of centenarian, Nze George Umeokonkwo Umennadi, who has clocked 100 years of age.
Nze Umennadi is the last surviving ichi-titled Nze n’ Ozo member in Igbo-Ukwu community, and his birthday brings both memory and rebirth of the fading tradition of age long ‘igbu ichi’ culture of the historical town.
The Executive Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, the Director General of National Museums and Monuments, Professor Abba Isah Tijani and a host of other dignitaries are expected at Igbo-Ukwu for the event scheduled to hold in the week at Shaw Institute for Cultural Art (SICA), Anambra State Museum, Igbo-Ukwu..
The community, according to organizers of the event, focuses on Nze Umennadi’s birthday to be the special celebration to revive ‘igbu ichi’ and other cultural practices that have been associated with the historical community for more than a thousand years.
Part of the elaborate programme of events for the centenary celebration include a lecture on “State of Igbo History” and a centenary marathon, organized by Run for Life Campaign and sponsored by Andrew Chiugo Okonkwo Memorial Foundation (ACOMEF).
According to the Chairman of the Planning Committee, Chief (Engr.) Bart Nwibe, the celebration is unique and symbolic because the celebrant was initiated into the Nze n’Ozo Institution, over 90 years ago, and he recently clocked 100 years in a country where life expectancy hovers around 55 years.
He said that “He is also the only person with Ichi Mark in Igbo-Ukwu and arguably the last surviving person with it in the whole of South East. Our town is celebrating that aspect of our culture which he represents. Our people had their way of life before the white men came in and changed a lot of this.
“If you look at some of the archeological artifacts that were excavated in Igbo-Ukwu, you will notice the ichi marks, which is a sign of nobility in those days, which shows that “ Igbu ichi” is culture that has being with our people until Christianity came to challenge the practice, and changed it. So it is important to preserve that aspect of our culture so generations unborn will know that we had a culture like that. That why we need to document it and show the world that this practice is real and indigenous to Ndi Igbo-Ukwu.”
One of the conveners, Mr. Humphrey Obikwelu explained that “the lecture is intended to get the people aware about Igbo-Ukwu history and to sensitize them about the forthcoming workshop in August this year.”
Speaking on the marathon, Mr. Chukwudi Ike Okoye said “the essence is to get the younger generation involved, and make them identify with the centenary celebration, while promoting the need to keep fit. He however revealed that there are prizes to be won, and the prizes will be presented at the centenary birthday celebration.
The first executive governor of Anambra State, Chief Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Okwadike Igbo-Ukwu will serve as the Chief Host of the centenary birthday celebration, while a business mogul and founder of Ogamco Group of Companies, Chief Christopher Okonkwo will function as the chairman of the occasion.
Similarly, Chief Mike Nduka, the Regent of Igbo-Ukwu and Arc. Christian Ike, the President General of Igbo-Ukwu Development Union, will be the the Royal father of the day and father of the day respectively.
Ichi was facial ritual scarification worn by mainly men of the Igbo people of Nigeria. The scarification indicated that the wearer had passed through initial initiation into the aristocratic Nze na Ozo society, thus marking the wearer as nobility. Echoes of this tradition are found in the contemporary derivative word Ichie, which denotes a member of a class of titled chieftains amongst the Igbo. The celebration is poised to give insight into the history and culture of this town in Anambra State.
Due to its broad social, political, and economic signification, ichi was the most common of these markings. In the case of families of high social and economic status, ichi marks could be obtained for their children at a relatively early age. In adulthood one can also do it as an expression of one’s wealth and prestige.
Ichi is seen as a sign of class stratification, not only by virtue of receiving the marks, but by the Nwa Ichi’s ability to ‘hire’ the costly implements used to make the marks.
In the mid-twentieth century, the ichi marking tradition was disrupted by the expansion of Christianity, which held that it was a fetishistic practice. Ichi is celebrated as an important part of Igbo cultural heritage.