By Y.J. Itopa.
Being a Paper delivered by YJ Itopa on the occasion of the Scholarship Foundation and 30th Anniversary of the late Pa Damisa Ejivade on the 2nd January, 2022 at the Damisa Ejivade’s Compound, Ikuehi in Ihima, Okehi Local Government of Kogi State.
Arijenu Ihima song: Matamayi Idamisa Adayoo Adayi Ejivade 2x Osi ireha me ti ini Ebira doni revahurehe 2x Izi okata netu ogeri Ozueyi dokuo izokata netu ore Ozoku idokuoo Ireyoye….Ireyoye osi momuhanino ireyoye…. Ozeivehu Idamisa ete ooo Ireyoye…
Damisa Ejivade, called variously and fondly as Vava( Father of the strongest and the one who is the most revered and feared among his peers), Anigeregu( the nemesis or the foil of Igeregu people and their dreaded hunters), Oguruma ( the fearsomely huge, tall and strong), Ejivade Aroku (Ejivade the never worn out even in twilights), Ovoro ( the mysthical warrior in the mould of Boro of Ogori/Magongo) Ijagajaga ( the labyrinth or the unraveled puzzle) because of his amazing, and tensile strength, died thirty years ago.
Ejivade was not the only cultural and traditional devotee in Ebira land of his time.
But while most of his peers who died before, during and after his death are hardly remembered today or remembered only from the sidelines of history, Ejivade’s name has continued to ring daily and reverberating around the nooks and crannies of the land and its shores like a new gong beaten to swiftly summon the people to meet their king at a town hall meeting. Such is the importance of Damisa Ejivade’s incomparable contributions to the cultural and traditional heritage of Ebira people.
Telling his amazing story today to especially those that were not born when Ejivade reigned, he will look to them like a mythical figure in a fictional work. It is true that when a reality is old, its existence will look like an imagination to the new generation. But our Ejivade was never a folklore in the literal sense of the word. His unrivaled works made him a folklore especially to the modern generation. He actually existed as one of us. He was a father, husband, brother, uncle and friend. His activities was legendary which is why he now qualifies as one of the Greek Mythical characters; it just happens that every existence is often softened into a myth with time.
EJIVADE AS THE FACE OF EBIRA CULTURE
To describe Ejivade as the Portrait of Ebira cultural firmament is no exaggeration. Culture as it is often defined is the totality of a people’s life. Some of its key elements include farming, hunting, wrestling and masquerading. In his early days, Ejivade was a great farmer. In yam ridge-making competitions as it was the practice in the past, he, according to witnesses and friends, was the one would win the first prices.
Also, he was a renowned hunter. There were and still are great hunters in the land. Yet, his name is a symbol of Ebira hunting decades after his demise. Let an issue crop up about hunting in Ebira today, it will meander across the name and the hunting prowess of Damisa Ejivade. No other hunter enjoys such fame and idolisation more than Ejivade. He was and will, even after decades of his death, simply the face of Ebira hunting. I stand to be corrected.
In fact, the history of hunting in Ebira is incomplete without the elaborate mentioning of his name. He was known in modern history of Ebira hunting to have been the first who can be shot with live bullets without being harmed. Live bullets shot at the skin of Damisa Ejivade are like hollow rituals lying prostrate at the shrine of unappeasable god.
The pulling of the trigger at Ejivade or his great Masquerade Akoko was a frequent event. And throughout his life, bullets never penetrated his iron-made skin. Shooting the gun at him was like a sport to him. He entertained the people with it just like the game of football. He turned the fear of the gun to entertainment. And in all his life, he never shot a gun at anybody.
He only did it to promote his spectacular masquerade, hunting and mystical powers over and above his peers in both hunting and masquerade custodianship
With his collaborator hunters, Ejivade was invited to many states and places to display Ebira culture in competitions with hunters from other tribe of which he always capped with guns being shot at him by other hunters. In such events, other hunters were no match for Ebira hunters. He won first prices for Ebira Nation.
Clearly, the biggest prize the Ebira hunters won, with Ejivade as the lead hunter came in 1977 at FESTAC 77. Other Nigerian hunters put up splendid performances, yet non of them dared to stand in the way of the gun as Ebira hunters did with Damisa Ejivade, receiving cannonades of bullets without effects. With their novel performance with the gun, Ebira hunters became the cynosure of all eyes and won the first prize.
Ejivade with his hunter colleagues like Pa Sule Odeh, Salami Onukoko, Ohiare Ozozonya, Ali of Isunwen and many others made Ebira proud by putting Ebira hunting on the world map. Ejivade’s time was the golden age of Ebira hunting vocation.
Hunting was bright and blissful. It was just at its best with hunters such as Ejivade. He had since inspired hundreds of hunters and masquerade custodians with the magic of how live bullet could lose their potency on hitting the soft skin of man. Many of them learnt the bullets-repelling esoterism from Ejivade.
As a most reputable hunter, Ejivade’s Igeregu hunting exploit needs no exhaustive discussion. Almost all of us know the story. Most Ebira men and women believe that was the climax of his hunting and wrestling careers. The hunters of Igeregu, under the cover of night had shot their charmed gun at Ejivade. As natural with him, the bullet became hollow on reaching his rocky skin. But some of the bullets got pumped into the body of a man on his entourage.
As I said, the story is well told and well known. Ejivade found the very hunter that pulled the trigger. Dreaded, strong and prepared as the wicked Igeregu hunter was, he was no match for Ejivade. Ejivade beat him black and blue. He tied his hands and his legs like a woman would her bunch of fire woods before taking the savage straight to the Police Station.
Most Ebira singers, both the night and day singers found the Igeregu episode worthy as the central theme of their songs that year. Okevere Osisi, a night singer masquerade said it most succinctly when he sang:
” Anebira enyi Ozube ana kata 2x Idamisa vi Ozube ani Ihima 2x Ejivade me ni Igeregu oo idi on a wu uye 2x Ozube Anigeregu oo vonoza be Ehi 2x Idamisa meza do oyaruhwe 2x owu onokuku ana waawu 2x Idamisa huremuvo Chorus: Ooo oo Anigeregu,
Solo: Ejivade huremuvo
Chorus: Ooo Anigeregu
Solo: Ihimori huremuvo
Chorus: Ooo oo Anigeregu
Solo: Anebira huremuvo
Chorus: Ooo oo Anigeregu o ooo oo Anigeregu.
The above song was in acknowledgment of the liberation of the Igeregu forest by Damisa Ejivade. Before the event, Igeregu forest, full of animals of value and pride, were avoided by other hunters apart from the Igeregu hunters. Other hunters saw it as the forest of death.
But Ejivade went and came back. For him, since Igeregu is in Ebira land, its forest and animals are also Ebira forest and animals. “The forest is for all of us” his mind must have told him
Another element of Ebira way of life for which Damisa Ejivade was also in a lasting limelight was wrestling. Wrestling like gun shooting was also a sport to him.
What first gave him fame was wrestling. Ejivade had the unblemished record of the wrestler that was never defeated in a wrestling contest. He was a regular face at the wrestling arena. He was the unimpeachable king of the ring till that aspect of Ebira culture sadly came to a close.
Till today, thirty years after his death, when a matter of physical power is being discussed Ejivade is always the point of reference. When anyone, especially masquerade owners of today try to show off undue physical strength, one will often hear people ask rhetorically and jestingly too: ” If you have power, can you be as strong as Ejivade. Yet he left people alone when he lived.”
Ohiare, the late Obeiba folk singer sang this jest in a song. It goes thus: ” Ovurevu eweyi weyi enehi ini Okokoro enavomi he 2x Ehu uvi ami enasi japa hi beeee 2x Ejivade mesihu Omuha Onigeregu naza Ozube. Eya vu irevu inehi ooo… eya vu irevu inehi ooo eee…
On the custodianship of Akoko, he was as excellent in masquerade custodianship as he was in his other chosen vocations.
His masquerade at a time was the strongest and the most spectacular in the whole of Ebira land. Even now, there are those who think that Akoko still does.
That Ura (Ozuda), Evako and Anogidi Kuroko were respected for their ancestries was a different thing. The most awesome Ura for instance is like a kind of spirit-masquerade, given its compounding spiritual powers.
But in terms of colourfulness, footworks and physical strength, when especially guided by Ejivade himself, no masquerade really came really close to Akoko.
Yes, there was Adokita of Okene, the powerful masquerade of Ejivade’s bosom friend, Adayi Musa Obanyi.
There was this pleasant rivalry between the two friends and their masquerades. But when Musa renounced masquerade custodianship and went to Mecca, the friendly rivalry and the debate on shared throne especially in the area of masquerade custodianship ended and the crown clearly belonged to Ejivade alone.
In a song, Adayi Maliki Ajavara captured the matter in a song. And I sing it:
” Andayi Anokene ana ve Okene odahi 2x hinnn…odahiee ahe ka Amusa on a si enyi hueee Izeiza wayo 2x Ohomorihi Osere Amusa ati Ejivade 2x avi aka Amusa onasi Ireba juruuu yi Odumegwu okuku va si Ireba juruuu yi Odumegwu eee….
In those days and even now, for a man to believe that he had satisfactorily performed the funeral ceremony of his dead father or any other ceremony like the installation of kings, Akoko must be the masquerade to perform for him. For many times Akoko was the preferred choice of Okene people in this regard. Akoko even traveled to Umaga in Edo State for performances.
His aesthetic and footworks could not be ccompared to other masquerades. The Ireba of Akoko, not to talk of Adayi Maliki’s incomparable Ogugwu music for Akoko made Ejivade’s masquerade simply the best in Ebira. While the great man lived, Akoko, in spite of his its power was more of an entertainment masquerade rather than the one that would choose to deadly inflict injuries on the votaries or fans to proof his strength. There was art in his movement, there was art in his handling of the cane and there was finesse in his display of his God given physical strength. Ejivade’s Akoko was like no other masquerade.
EJIVADE, THE STRONG AND THE HUMBLE
….Our need calls for hybrids of habits
Proclaims the forest sage
A little bit of lion
A little bit of lamb
Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe
Transparent like a river, mysterious like a like a lake
The above lines by Niyi Osundare, a foremost Nigerian poet aptly captures the essence of Damisa Ejivade. The bard wrote the stanza in a poem he titled “The leader and the led” as if he had Ejivade in his mind.
To say that Damisa Ejivade was a truly strong man is to say the obvious. But he was a lesson in exemplary humility. His tensile strength never intoxicated him.
He combined strength with compassion which truly made and still makes him a great man.
He was a lion but he could be as gentle as a lamb, the quality that wormed him into the heart of his numerous admirers which is why he is being celebrated to today.
That his name has fondly continued to stick to the tongue of men and women because of his emulated activities and does not taper into the fog of history is an attestation to his greatness.
Admirably giant in size, and armoured like the biblical Goliath, he never haunted the people as Goliath did the Israelites and fell to the sling of the little David.
He knew his armour is from the Almighty God and guarded it carefully with the fear of God. He never revealed the secret of his powers as the biblical Samson did reveal his source of of power to his Delilah. If Ejivade had “seven locks” on his head like Samson, no one was able to shave them. He kept the secret; and he never boasted about it.
Srong beyong human comprehension, Ejivade never abused his power.
He could kill the lion with his bare hands like Samson. But he did not because Lion, according to him with this writer many years ago, was the totem of his mother’s clan, Ezioha. “It is a taboo for the child to kill its mother,” he once told yours sincerely in an interview .
He understood the norms of his society and he observed all its taboos which was why he never faltered like many of his peers. Let us note that it is the observance of taboos and the norms that has made many of our “Things to Fall Apart today ( Apologies to Achebe).
One of the tigers he killed was by bare hand.
The tiger pounced on him and he wrestled it down before he slaughtered. It was the same with the Buffalo that once charged at him in the forest. Ejivade held it and slaughtered it. Such was Damisa Ejivade’s rare strength. Some of these hunting feats were used in praise song for him by Ebira singers like Adayi Enevene, the Echori singer.
Ayede of Okenwen in one of his song told us of how Ejivade used to kill pythons with bare hands without his gun. Ayede was very correct. Mysterious as lake was the great man as Osundare said in the poem.
Gentle as he was, nobody could take Ejivade for granted without seeing the lion in him.
In all his fights, it is difficult to put a finger to which one of them for which he could take blames. We still remember the time that a small masquerade fell Akoko his masquerade. Ejivade had left his masquerade to be guided by one of his assistants called Alao on the evening of the last day of that Echeane festival
He hurriedly rushed from Ohueta where he was entertaining his guests. He held the masquerade with his left hand, raised his enormous hand which he had formed into a fatal fist above the head of the masquerade and said:”
Ayi awu ovio. mava wuwu anino ( Ah! you are daring. But I will kill you now.) Ejivade droped the fist, heavy like the thud of an elephant released from high height on the skull of the ill fated masquerade. His skull broken with just a knock, the masquerade fell like a pack of cards, writhing in his pool of blood.
The accident ended like a climax in an anticlimax for the great Damisa as his famed strength soared higbest with his beaten of the masquerade with just a knock on the head. The masquerade and its owner had ever since gone into obscurity, a kind of none existence. Unless he was pushed to the wall, Ejivade never showed the stuff of which he was made.
Just too strong. Let us hear how the late Salawu Ofelele appreciated Ejivade’s power in a song:
Oricha idi Odoba Ijimoh Onipe Adinoyi oo 2x Iji ana azeneni amomuha masheyi zaa… Ejivade Ihima.. 2x Onoru onoo esi Omuha ani pame rete ezi Anihima Idamisa Ezi Anihima…
His power was really hidden somewhere on the topmost part of the rack as Ofelele said. It was beyond the reach of other humans. But he never forgot to be humble. Even the Igeregu episode was because the hunters wanted to kill him and his team. He was just doing his normal hunting when he was forced to protect his team. He did not just beat and tie the Igeregu hunter to show that he had strength.
There was this old Akoko song that talked about when and why Ejivade or his masquerade could take up a challenge by his opponents: Ivava aasu nini ireyi oo isonuwere usienwu do 2x eeemi ireyi onimano va na va nyi irivo 2x Ijonuko anoreku oma te vi oje ga inozi vi Onukoko je ga inozi.
Yes! He was never the aggressor.
History had it that Ejivade once beat seven known strong men in a fight. They made jest of him, calling him Akoko in a dinar party. But we all know that human beings do not carry masquerades in the real sense. Only spirit man does.
Yet those Muslims called Damisa Ejivade Akoko. He thought them the lesson of their life. And no one blamed him for showing the toughness of his tiger he carried in his muscles and bones . Ejivade as the song said really had reason for that particular fight. Masquerade is masquerade and man is man. Two different beings. One is physical, one is spiritual.
Ejivade’s wrestling bouts are just too many to mention. And he won all of them, physical and spiritual. This feat is rare anywhere. At times, one wondered if Ejivade even slept with his back touching the ground. The back of this Amalinze the cat never touched the ground. No Okonkwo that ever threw him. In fact, he was the replica of Achebe’s Okonkwo in his timeless book, Things Fall Apart. Or even more. Ejivade had thrown all the Amalinzes of the world before he left the world. And the world is proud of him
As widely known, strong as he was, Ejivade yet exhibited uncommon friendliness with the weak and the strong in the society. He was never known to have discriminated against any one.
His popular saying Aza enyi evi Onura yi Osa ( No one should take the other for a fool or it is good for two hands to wash each other), guided his behavior through out his life. He hated cheating. Very helpful, accommodating and forgiving. Ejivade could easily turne his challengers and foes to friends and allies.
If he was a flood, his flooding would replenish the ridge with manure to yield big yam tubers rather than to wash away the farm and cause sorrows and tears for the farmers.
He carried great spark but he made great fire from it to make great feasts for house holds, compounds and towns. He never burnt the earth of other men just because he fire was at his beck and call. He was never the Goliath that would treat his Israelites with disdain and prejudice which was why his Goliath never fell like the Philistine Goliath.
Very principled. Ejivade never deviated from his chosen path. Rolling stone, for him, gathered no Moss, he knew it and remained dogged despite the pressures from his Muslim and Christian friends to renounce the old ways of his ancestors, the way he knew best and for which he had become a god of sort. Today, he has become a veritable reference point as to how best to practise the ways of his ancestors in order to uphold the norms that held tha society from falling apart.
Ejivade had become the face of Ebira culture and tradition in my reckoning because he was the only markedly known man who excelled in many aspects of Ebira culture.
For instance, the Ebira traditional Prophet and philosopher, Momoh Ajagu of Achewuru Obanyi fame is renowned for his custodianship of his singer night masquerade. Obege and Osime came first with traditional medicine and witchcraft respectively. Pa Ichimiri is renowned for his mysticism in his custodianship of Ogugureba masquerade.
Many examples of them are abound. We heard of Sumonu Idejo of Ura masquerade fame. Ijamboro was synonymous with Anogidi, Musa of Obanyi and his Adokita made great history. We remember the Ogere the great custordian of Omape/ Odumi. Arigi is fondly remembered as the strong custodian of Evako. There were Sadiku Oguna and Sadiku Ichegudo of Ihima. We remember Irani Enehe the wrestler.
Enyuse of Obehira was so strong that he was nicknamed Iron man. We can not forget the respected Adukwu kuroko. Ejivade’s disciple, Ohiare Ozozonya, Itopa Uye the custodian of Omawu masquerade and the towering Enesi Gambari of Oboroke eminently qualified as three of the strongest Ebira men. So many of them.
But while we can talk of Ejivade the great hunter, Ejivade the great wrestler and Ejivade the great Akoko masquerade custodian, only one GREATNESS can truly and justifiably be accorded most of his mentioned Ebira kindred culture votaries or practitioners.
Recognition must always be given to whom recognition is due. We celebrate Damisa Ejivade today not principally because of his tensile strength but became of his exemplary humility in his kind of leadership that had won and still winning admirers for him even in death.
His show of nobility, loftiness and love despite his powers are the qualities that made and still make people to be beholden to him. Ejivade is in fact the classical example of how power that stems from the heart of gold can remain golden even centuries after the owner of the heart had exited the earth.
Ah! Ejivade died just like every other mortal. What can we do? Only good name can tame and taunt death as Ejivade’s name does today as we remember him with fond memories. Please, sing this song with me:
“Oovorooo Ovorooo 2x Anukwu kekere ve ge irevu ni Oovoroooo…. Oovoroooo. Eyi vi isu vi ya zu zaa ni Oza vi Ijagajaga as evi isu vi ya zu za ni. It is true. Only death came to wrestle with Damisa Ejivade; no mortal could. He was the puzzle that men never resolved.