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The Obinkita

Obinkita, Arochukwu. Circa 1998. Two children, the youngest initiates of Ekpe Aro Okigbo, pose with their sponsors and other members of the society after successfully completing their induction rites. Along their bellies, chests, legs, feet and eyes are drawn nzu (chalk) markings, which have a significance known only to members, and draped around their waists are Indian madras wrappers commonly known as ‘George’ amongst the Igbo of this region. The black and white hats on their head, which are called ‘okpu mboko’, can only be worn by members of Ekpe and are strictly protected and regulated by stiff fines, penalties and laws.

The monochrome color pattern of these hats make them easily differentiable from the red, white and black ‘okpu agu’ (leopard hats), which unlike ‘okpu mboko’, do not belong to any society or political organization and can be worn freely. The various triangular shapes and patterns on these hats, in addition to representing secret symbols of the society, mirror the camouflage pattern of the wild leopard, the society’s totem animal.

As members of a multi-ethnic socio-political society with branches throughout eastern Nigeria, western Cameroon and the Caribbean, these children would be educated in politics and law administration, business, art, and writing, and would be moulded into capable community leaders. To this day, Ekpe is still a major component of village life throughout eastern Nigeria.



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