{Benin City, Nigeria Local Time}
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Palm Fronds (Ome) In The Culture

By AMBROSE .0. EKHOSUEHI (Last Update July 12, 2020)

The palm fronds give strong belief that keeps tradition alive in ceremonies and festivals. The ceremonies and festivals have strong community binding and add real value to the people.

The leaf of a palm tree, palm frond-ome when carried, is a symbol of victory or triumph as a token of rejoicing in ceremonies and festivals.

The palm fronds in ceremonies and festivals are used to decorate streets, shrines and places to adorn sacred tress of divine worship. The palm fronds emit odours that repels evils, hence the foliage is used in masquerades. The wide spread masquerades and best known is the wooden face masks called Ekpo and Ewuwu. They protect people from spiritual disease. At an annual festival or whenever an epidemic threatens, men of middle age, the youths, don masks dressed in traditional palm fronds representing a wide range of characters and deities with beautiful faces.

Each dancer wore the palm frond costumes. Most outstanding were the huge grotesque, multi-coloured masks with horns, prominent eyes, and teeth, or with mirror faces. Each mask was attached to a long hood of palm frond.

Women do not put on mask. The main purpose of the myth explains the exclusion of women from many rites and the reservation to the men of the sacred lore and the language of the festival.

Within the congregation, there is; as might be expected from the myth, a major cleavage along the line separating the sexes. The women have a well defined role in the Ugie-Ekpo festival. They are debarred from seeing the person in the masquerade and are not allowed to visit the sacred glove.

There are certain ritual objects which they must see only under certain circumstances and a secret language and sacred legend which are the preserved of the men.

During this ceremony, the chief Masquerades dance through the streets, sometimes from door-to-door. Quite often the householders greet the dancing troupe with gifts while it prays to ward evils from the environs and from the community in general. In one hand a short-whip is held to control the people.

In the, arena, the drum players beat their drums and the dancing masquerades adorn with palm fronds follow the rhythm with the accelerated tempo of the maracas played vigorously by the women . Women ,dance, but not in the palm fronds costumes.

At the end of every dance, the masquerades raise their hands with the frond hanging from the hoods, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. Secrecy, one of the most important factors to be considered in the nature of palm fronds. The lore suits the audience because knowing too , much about folk ancestors gives another person power over the people . . To know the straight route; sit in the gathering of two persons for when more than two or three are gathered together the road starts winding.

The masks that dance with the ancestral relics are made bright and ,shinning because a bright, shining appearance gives the impression that the masks are far seeing. It is easy to see, that both the need for ‘secrecy and art whose power consists in its ability to make people reveal their secrets are essential characteristics of societies whose principle aims and intentions are the harmonious living together of a group.

Where aggressive envy is regarded as a menace to the society there must be ritualized occasions on which it can be legitimately released. At the same time, it is an ideal of the society to suppress it for the individuals to admit its inevitability in human relationships, but would not want to bring it into the open except under carefully prepared ritualized conditions. Therefore it is not allowed in the open unless it is masked and its mask takes on great power.

Duality can be seen on every side, clarity of vision and secrecy, people, elders and young people’s societies; static and dynamic forces, sky and earth, society and nature, are all evenly balanced so that the community may survive.

The costumed palm fronds spun round first in one direction and then in the other, and the projections around the face became a series of hoops or rotating satellites, and the features of the face were only discernible when they came to rest (0 ghi gbe obodo yo, 0 ghi gbe obodo rre, a ghi fin e erinmwi). The costume of the fronds figures, in expressing this concern demonstrated an accurate perception of the optical effects of camouflage. This attitude was the belief that human beings lived life in harmony with the seasons and the forces of nature and that the culture had a natural development.

The idea that a human being expressed in the art relationships to the particular configuration of forces in the environment was to be found in the emphasis placed on the rhyme of a person’s movements which were thought to express particular personality and his particular way of moving in the society, particularly existence in that society.

These constumed masqueraders of palm fronds are known as Erinmwi or ancestor an during the ceremonies or festival the men go into seclusion; build shelter in the grove. The grove represents sacred world as opposed to the profane World The men who are in seclusion are idehtified with their ancestors. The women are barred from entering the groves or even passing along the path from which the masqueraders entered. A special diversion had to be cut through the bush so that they could go into exclusion.

“At the road diversion a barrier is erected with palm frond across the road, beyond which women and foreigners are not allowed. It is the women’s duty to come out and sing from time to time when the masquerades came out into the street.

For each dance of victory, the erinmwi wore their costumes, regalia of fresh palm fronds. (Ome e erinmwi ya ku). They have to leave the groves backwards by a special entrance through which no unmasked person was allowed to pass. They came out to dance, first for the Edion - the elders, and there after all the dances were regarded as being for the community at large, unless an individual or group invited them to dance. Those who were honoured by the dances were expected to give generous rewards. Prayers of victory in life endeavour would be offered. The festival would end in procession by parading and rendering homage to prominent ancestors and the Monarch.

In some folks, ritual dances feature the portrayed of divine being triumph over evils and played and important part in every culture. The cultural usage of palm fronds ome in ceremonies, festivals and religious worships, both as decorations and in rituals proved to be an interesting experience for tourists and visitors. It promotes our cultural heritage and traditions and visitors. It promotes our cultural heritage and traditions.

The church, not only tolerates the use of palm fronds, but actually promote them and use them in church ceremonies and festivals as a token of rejoicing, triumph and victory thus enculture the culture of the people.

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