Friday 15 March 2013

We must act fast to retain Akweya culture--Dr Ogiri

This week, we bring you the first part of the much-awaited interview with the immediate-past National President of the Akpa Community Development Association (ACDA), Dr Sam Ogiri. Dr Ogiri, a Program Officer of the World Health Organisation  in North-Central Nigeria spoke with Isu Media’s Odoh Diego Okenyodo and Iyonu Ann Jibrin. Read in this first part his discourse on Akweya history and origins:

Where did the Akweya originate from?
Dr Sam Ogiri
To the best of my knowledge, it’s a bit complex to talk about Akweya history. But oral history has it that the Akweya and Igumale have a historical relationship. The Akweya had their mother from the Ogoja axis, and as in the course of migration as a result of the Jihad, our people went towards their mother’s and then settled there.

Over time, they lost their original tongue, and what we are told is that we lost our Idoma-ness by about 90% and we acquired the Akweya language, the dialect we speak now. I’m sure you know that in Ogoja, we have the Yala, that speak the general Idoma, and then you have
the Yeche that speak what is akin to Akweya now. They live side by side.

So, we acquired our language from there, but over time it became clear that they had lost some rights. There were certain things they couldn’t aspire to, and so there was a need to go in search of their brothers. That was how they ended up in their present location.

But then the Uffia people came in from, I think, the Delta/Edo axis. They were war-like people, so they came in and pushed, and then they occupied their present site. There’s a lot of historical tension that has been between the Akweya people and the Uffia people. By and large, that is the way we acquired our language, in a very simplistic form. A lot of these things are not documented, so it’s a bit difficult. But all we know is that nothing has suggested otherwise that we do not have origins in Idoma.

Of course, you know, in the villages, people fan out in different directions. And like you’ll observe, there are certain clans that are dominant in certain communities and then you have some that moved in, maybe to settle in their mothers’ place or their in-laws’ place, so there’s a whole lot of mixing up. The settlement pattern is not so much along clannish lines like you would see in other parts of Idoma, where you would see a group of people—Like, if you go to Igumale today, they settle by clans and you go to a whole community and see that these people are of a particular clan. We mix up a lot.

I’m sure you know that there are other Idomas that came, they have their mothers from our place, and they have settled, and they have become clans of their own. That is the way it has been. What we have struggled to do in recent times, especially when I was ACDA President, because, we observed that early writers just wrote without an Akweya alphabet, and we realised that the Idoma alphabet, which is made of 30 letters, doesn’t satisfy some of our pronunciations.... So there was a need to try to come up with an Akweya alphabet.

In collaboration with the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), where the current ACDA President Barrister Aba Ejembi worked, we were able to access some funding from Minority Rights Group in the UK. That is the sort of thing they do, to protect the rights of minorities, their culture, their language.

With that, we were able to organise a workshop with local resource persons who are versed on language issues. We had a former President of ACDA, Mr Akpallah Okenyodo, who has retired from the Benue State civil service. He’s done a lot on Akpa culture and language; he came with his own idea. And then we had Akpa Ejembi, who came with his own idea. I think Akpa had about 40 letters.

We had Nathaniel. He and his family have been involved in missionary work and they have participated so much in translating the Bible into Agatu and Igala. He came with that background. So it was quite a rich discussion. At the end of it, we were able to come up with a 40-letter alphabet.

I’m sure you know that some words come in clusters, like okwyikwyi; originally, for instance, Otobi is Otogwyi; you won’t have the B, but it will be cluster of letters GWYI. The white man would not be able to say Otogwyi and then they say Otobi.

So, that much we have done. The next stage now is to move to writing, at least to be able to demonstrate what A stands for in several ways. I’m not a linguistic, but I think there are a lot of nitty-gritty things to be done. I think that this is important, particularly, because we know in the North-Central zone, a lot of languages and dialects are going extinct because of pressure from larger languages and the tendency to want to belong to the larger language. You know, some people are even shy; they think it’s modern not to speak Akweya, that we should be speaking English or speaking the general Idoma. That is to the detriment of the development and preservation of our own language.

We are aware of languages that have gone completely extinct, especially when, for instance, people from different backgrounds marry and they speak the central language, which, for instance, is Hausa. In East Africa, particularly in Tanzania and Kenya, a lot of languages have gone extinct because of Kiswahili. People of different tribes marry, and the tendency is that because the couple do not speak each other’s language, they speak Swahili, and that is what they speak to their children. They grow not understanding the language of either of the parents.

For me, I am very emotional about this and I can’t imagine it that Akweya will go extinct. But Professor Oga Abah thinks that if we don’t do anything urgent it could happen to us. That was the background to developing the alphabet. I really hope that the current leadership will take it up. I saw in their development agenda—because the one we did had to be revised, which, to me, is good—it’s one of the things they want to take up. At a personal level, I am very committed to that particular project.

Then, we had thought of an Akweya Day. But, somehow, along the line, it was not possible to organise it. We set up various committees and they came up with budgets and all that, which were far beyond our capacity. But, our idea was beyond masquerades, because there are several other things that constitute the culture of a people, like the way certain foods are prepared, the local cuisine and all that.

An Akweya woman teaches her daughter how to make imanji Akweya
For instance, they talk of imanji Akweya, the palm oil that our people produce. The aroma is amazing. It lingers and it spreads far. A lot of our children don’t know how this is done. One of the things we had envisaged was, in a schematic way, right from the primary produce, that is the palm nut itself, how it is cut into bits, the way it is boiled, it’s pounded, then you put it in water and squeeze out the oil, you boil it—You know, you put it in stages so that the final product is there, then you can take people who come for such shows, from one stage to the other.

There are other concepts like iweru, some local snack made from either sweet potato or cocoyam. You boil, you dry. These foods, they are typical for famine period when food is scarce. What they do is that once they have dried it they put it in a pot and seal it, and preserve it. Then during the period of scarcity, usually during the planting season, when you have to wait for the new farm produce to come out, that is when they bring those things out. We have lost all of that.

There is igyangada, the dry okro. My wife makes it for me a lot and there is this sense of nostalgia. I just flash back to when, as a boy in the village, I remember each time it rained heavily in the morning and my mum couldn’t go to farm, she’d just take those things, cut some quick okro or semi-dry one, make some quick soup. While it’s raining you’re eating and—it’s really fantastic! So, for me, okro any day, any time, I go for it.

There are a lot of things we need to put together to preserve for the future, because there are a lot of things that our children don’t know. We have a very rich culture.

Watch this page for Part 2 to learn about Akweya’s unique clan greetings as well as their masquerades.
Listen to the audio of the interview here:


  1. About the alphabetisation of local languages, it seem to me that to be able to read and make sense of the newly standardised local languages, advanced knowledge of English language and grammar is required. The key might be to ensure that speakers of your Akweya language are also very educated and versed in English. All the best.

  2. Professor Oga Abah:
    Fire on the mountainon the language matter! Akweya, Om'eka si omo!(The day of reckoning is approaching!). Thanks for this, Dr. Ogiri.

  3. Great work Diego, its on dreadlocks! Is it on its time to move Akweya forward?! Cheers

  4. Anonymous2:12 pm

    Dr. has captured the urgency with which we must act in a very dramatic manner. How many Akweya persons understand the need and the urgency with whch we must act? The challenge for Akweya leadership is immense but elite consensus is lacking.Building elite consensus is one of the projects that the ACDA leadership is working on. One of the blessings the current ACDA leadership enjoys is the commitment of great sons and daughters like Dr who are internationalists but committed to their communities! At the ACDA national conference, the leadership will unfold its programmes and one of them will certainly be IGAREGWA (does anyone here remember what it used to be like?). Thanks Diego and Iyonu.

  5. Please sir, am a student of linguistics department. My project topic is to work on Akpa language and i have never been to Benue State before. I need your help sir.

  6. Please sir, am a student of linguistics department. My project topic is to work on Akpa language and i have never been to Benue State before. I need your help sir.

  7. Please sir, am a student of linguistics department. My project topic is to work on Akpa language of which i will have to go to where it is spoken but i have never been to Benue before. I need your help sir.

  8. Pepetua, please, leave your email address and we can contact you.

    Thanks alot

  10. Pls sir can u snd d list for akweya traditional marriage to dis email address I will b greatfull sir.gud job u are doing

  11. appreciate your effort,praying for God wisdom for accomplishment of this vision sir


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