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SURU, Cyrus Damisa: Nollywood and Cultural Re-Orientation: The Inclusion of Ososo Itakpo Maturation Tradition

Nollywood and Cultural Re-Orientation: The Inclusion of Ososo Itakpo Maturation Tradition

Cyrus Damisa SURU, PhD

Department of Theatre and Cultural Studies

Nasarawa State University

P.M.B.1022, Keffi, Nigeria


Phone: +234-803-504-2011; +234-807-450-5896


Nollywood has, in an immeasurable manner, commoditized the Nigerian culture, intra and inter, for consumption by the entire world as a form of cultural re-orientation and unification. At inception, the Nigeria traditional society’s cultural wellbeing and worldview were aptly projected in the movies. But, the current reflection of Nollywood movies is a conundrum. It is neither here (traditional) nor there (modern). Have we grasped our culture enough to embrace others? This paper seeks to draw attention of Nollywood, scholars and the world to the interesting and didactic Itakpo traditional mood of maturation adopted by the Ososo people of Nigeria for inclusion into movies as a form of cultural re-orientation. The Socio-spatial Action Code System (SACS) theory of research was adopted and has helped us to find out that; the tradition is rich in edifying politics, moral lessons, and social unity and can be adopted through the movies as a tool for cultural re-orientation in this democratic period.


Nollywood was established as an indigenous movie industry to, not only put the Nigerian socio-cultural reality in the world map but, facilitate an even distribution of the nation’s wealth of creativity; to expose her traditional mode of life and world view and; in addition, cultural re-orientation. The industry has kept faith with these vision and mission until recently when capitalisation and the quest to maximise profit came on board to eclipse that aspiration. It is most probable that even the pioneers of the industry never envisaged the ignoble infiltration of the Hollywood conception of entertainment – Extreme Romance (ER), ‘cowboy films’- killings by the guns and other prevalence, drug peddling and the likes. The list is endless from the fourth-wall consumer positive (or negative) reception.

            Our interest in this paper is that Nollywood should look in-ward, exhaust our i.e. Nigerian traditional theatrics and theatricals before delving into other Eurocentric pattern of entertainment even though the movie and filmic genre were adopted from them. In this wise, this paper, as a matter of paramount interest, and in line with one of the Nollywood functions, that of cultural orientation, calls on Nollywood practitioners, film makers, producers and all stakeholders in the movie industry in general to look into other unexploited and untapped Nigerian traditions like the Ososo male maturation rite – Itakpo as a source for movie concept and production. We therefore take us on an academic sojourn to explore the rich Itakpo tradition of the Ososo people of Akoko-Edo (LGA), Edo state, Nigeria as a recommendation for inclusion into movie to the Nollywood practitioners.        

The Itakpo can better be appreciated through the various separations of dance activities known as Ishimi in the Ososo parlance:

Ishimi-Itakpo: This is a type of dance in Itakpo done by women for their husbands in which “ekpari” (pounded yam) melon soup with adeekha (monkey meat) is served as the only meal for the occasion. According to Ayeni:

On the third day of the festival, all candidates for initiation fete Ososo inhabitants with food. The prepared food is carried from the town to Egbovie shrine. Before this is done, the women and the young girls of the town dance Ishimi Itakpo dance round the pounded yams and soup at the premises of every celebrant…. Both the celebrants and the elders dance round the food before it is shared among those present according to age groups and families in Ososo clan (17).

Itakpo dance is significant to the socio-political unity and development of every male citizen of Ososo society. It serves to put the men in-check from social vices and bad moral attitude. The women dance it to celebrate their husbands for successfully comply with the laws of the society. The Itakpo dance group, as observed in the Itakpo festival, 1994 video tape supplied by Mr. Ayede (an Itakpo graduand and staff of the University of Ilorin) has women group dancing to support their men. They dance around the town with pestles in their hands, swinging it upwards and downward, throwing it up at intervals while singing repeatedly the song Enegbunu:

           Call                             Translation


Call: Enegbunu o       Call: This is unbelievable      

           Resp: Egbunu o         Resp: Unbelievable

           Call: Atogbo aate        Call: Where no one can reach

           Resp: Wa yese            Resp: They have gone and returned

Meaning: ‘The size of this pounded yam is ‘alarming’ and ‘our husbands’ abstinence is disturbing.’

Thus, the use of the pestle and the song tells one that pounded yam is the meal and women provide the energy for the success of the festival. Symbolically, the pestle dance by the women is a call on the initiated men to come home and perform their marital duties having abstained from sex for about seven days that the festival lasted. While the pounded yam connotes energy, the pestle then represents the phallus and the mortar the female genitalia. In symbolic terms, the pestle and mortar are the signifiers and the signified, marital duties. This is an indexical sign that shares a relationship with sexual organs and their functions.


A graphic illustration of women dancing the Ishimi-Itakpo.

Ishimi-Itwetwe: (An elders’ dance, all male, age-grade initiation dance in Itakpo festival for the older men which takes place every seven years). It is a significant dance in the Itakpo graduation festival. The participating age-grade members dance to the rhythm of “Arigede” (spiritual drum) to signify their final return from the mountain and to mark the end of the festival.

In this dance, the Arigede drum is spiritual, symbolic and significant. King Obaitan Anslem Adeloro affirmed that it is only played on special occasions such as the installation or the demise of a king or chief, the return of Itakpo graduands and warning in case of a war. The playing of the spiritual drum registers some indexical musical codes to the members and the society at large. However, an initiate understands the sound of the music better than an ordinary and uninitiated citizen. Depending on the musical sound that emanates from the drum, it helps to communicate vital coded information. Among the Yoruba, the Gbedu drum is similar to the Ososo Arigede drum. It is big and more or less immobile. The drum is used by only the Ogboni secret society members. Thus, the dance is codified and the intricate step patterns can only be learned by others only upon initiation into the cult. Gbedu is also the name of the dance that is usually performed in the royal courts, temples and shrines. When performed in the open, it is to pay a final respect to a deceased member and also to symbolically clear the way for his easy passage or transition to the world beyond (www.yorubadances.com).

Ishimi-Ekha (A monkey dance): It is another Itakpo age-grade dance that involves holding the arm or part of an “Ekha” (monkey) by each participating dancer. Those who belong to this age-grade are next to the graduating Itakpo. In an Itakpo festival video, John Olode, the commentator stated that holding the monkey’s arm illustrates the skills and dexterity of a monkey on tree branches, when it holds a branch it is with firmness. He stated further that it is an advice to the incoming age-grade to hold firm their new status and a warning that he who fails does not graduate that year. The age-grade, graduates every seven years. The monkey arm is an iconic sign used to represent firmness and team-spirit. Monkeys move in groups, they are gregarious in nature; therefore, the age grade is encouraged by this sign to work together, dance together until they graduate.

Ishimi-Ishoko (Ishoko Dance): This is a hunter dance that requires agility and energy. Therefore the dance weight quality is heavy and strong, allowing for pressing, slashing and punching efforts; the movement is sudden with equanimity of action. It compares sharply with other Ososo dance forms. The Ijabi dance is an elder’s type of dance. The weight is light and flexible, with free quality of movements, 1 and 2, 1 and 2, 1, 2 bits on leg movements and the efforts are dabbing and floating of the torso in rhythmic succession. More vibrancy is experienced in the Ishimi Eghe (suitors dance)compared with Ijabi dance. Being a dance for suitors in youthful age-bracket, the weight quality applied is usually in and out of heavy and medium qualities. The strength is visible in its vacillation between wringing and flicking efforts, and wringing and punching efforts and it is cushioned by rhythmic pauses, the 1, 2, 3 and 4 movement beats. The effort movement which stands on 2, 2, and 1, 1, and also 1, 2.3,4 beats, are dabbing, slashing and pressing. These are movements generated to facilitate total cleansing of all the evil in the society. The motion factors and effort actions occurrence in these dances serve as compound of experiences in most of the Ososo dance patterns. In any case they aid in communicating social interaction and communality.

Ishoko Dance: The Ishoko dance is a funeral dance for a deceased male member of the Ososo society who has passed through the Itakpo rite. The dance is usually performed at the funeral ceremony for a deceased known as Akpodo. This dance sets out to spiritually re-unite the deceased with the living members, and also the family he left behind. Here, the pattern of movement efforts vacillates from simple pressing and dabbing to slashing dance pattern that is in line with Laban effort action. These are traceable to the migratory experiences in the early history of the people. From historical source, the Ososo people moved en masse with a leader (who was a hunter/warrior). This formation is regarded as a war tactics applied to keep their oppressors away. The Ishoko – hunters dance movement style is employed to keep this migratory experience in memory. Like the Yoruba Ijala dance, a type of hunter’s dance, Ishoko employs pulsating movements with disjointed but understandable rhythm from the Ulo, iron gong.

The Ishoko dance is directed and punctuated by two musical instruments, the Okanga drum and the Ulo (Iron gong). The hunters (dancers) stand in a circle with the Okanga drummer at the centre. The lead dancer plays the Ulo in agreement with the Okanga drummer to dictate movements in and out of the circle in centrifugal and centripetal traditional dance patterns. This form of non-verbal communication, Devito states as we found with dance generally “exists in a context and that context helps to determine to a large extent the meaning of any non verbal behaviour” (240). The Okanga provides a continuous rhythm that keeps the dancer’s movement within the circle while the Ulo contextually communicates by the action and the movements in and out of the circle, a message interpreted to mean “united we stand and divided we fall.” A floor pattern for an Ishoko dance is as presented below:


The Ishoko dance floor pattern.

In this diagram as identified by the key, the dancers are moving in a circular formation with the lead dancer leading as indicated by the arrow. His movement as orchestrated by the Okanga drummer, sitting at the centre of the circle, determines the movement-pace of the other dancers. The patterns are identified in the Laban efforts as pressing and dabbing efforts in slow movements for the introduction pattern (Ijuba in Yoruba parlance, or opening glee in theatre phraseology), Igwegwe (running) and Ishekina (shaking) with the tambourine playing by some youths occupying the middle patterned action and the end enjoys a combination of flicking and slashing efforts. Only the initiates perform these efforts. They are however, surrounded by a body of spectators/ audience whose duty among others is to acknowledge the skills and strict adherence to the traditional pattern usage.

Ijabi Dance: The Ijabi dance style belongs to the Itakpo funeral dance form. It is a kind of victory dance that is performed by the Itakpo elders to re-enact their past experiences during the Ijalomo wars, that is, during the Nupe kingdom slave raids era. It is today a kind of social and religious/ritual entertainment dance that takes place at the compound of a deceased male elder. The victory dance enactment begins with the slaughter, by slicing a dog into two equal parts in the first attempt. The slaying of the dog is not an expression of craftsmanship or of worship but a mockery, and symbolism of the killing of the Ijalomos (Nupe warriors). Afterwards, the Ogodo – a spear, (an instrument of war) decorated with cowry shell in some cases, is stuck into the earth at the centre of the dancers in a concentric formation. Each elder, dances around the Ogodo, removes it, dances around the circle with it stepping in and dabbing efforts action and returns it to where it was. These patterns are repeated by all the dancers until the last member of the group has completed the circle, the Ogodo is returned to the centre, piercing the mother earth again and again. While this is going on, the ughogoyo (tambourine) bearers run round the dancers shaking it.

Movement within the circle and around the Ogodo is zigzag with the left and right legs alternating at a slow movement. These are movements and tactics required in war to prevent an easy attack. Bakare and Kofoworola consider movements in circular pattern as significant to command communication. For instance, Bakare affirms that when dancers are in a circle formation, “this gives a feeling of communality… it means they have something in common. It suggests that some sort of affinity exist among them” (27). Usually, as it is typical of most ethnic dances, apart from the smaller circle of dancers, the spectators also form a larger one outside it. Kofoworola’s observation of circle or ring dancing suits the Ijabi dance formation. He comments that:

The ring or the circle is a common form. However, within the ‘Ring’ made-up of the audience may be developed a semi-circular ring of dancers…. The formation takes on the pattern of a smaller circle of group of dancers within a bigger circle of dancers who are themselves encircled by the larger spectators group (7).


The circle or “ring” formation in Ososo dances, apart from the communal engagement observed by Bakare and Kofoworola; comments on the issue of democracy and re-construction because the joint body movements communicate agreement. The perspective diagram below is an example of Ijabi dance formation:




Perspective Pattern of an Ijabi Dance

The diagram above illustrates the exchange of the Ogodo by the dancers even as they move around in a circle. The Okanga drummer sits also at the circle to supply the rhythmic musical beat needed for the dance. This dance situation comes before the slashing of the dog.

The exchange of the Ogodo suggests symbolically the participation by the individual and the unity of the group in the war. The sticking of the Ogodo into the earth signifies joint agreement and affirmation of hatred against tyranny. These positions and actions of movement in the Ososo circle dance pattern are socio-spatial and socio-cultural codes applied for communication among members who are initiates.


From the illustrations above on the play and practice of Itakpo among the Ososo people, it is evidence that Nollywood has a lot to tape from it as a form of cultural re-orientation and it can be commoditised for export to boost the nation’s economy apart from other benefits mentioned previously.

Works Cited

Ayeni, P. M. “Itakpo Dance.” In Peter, M. (Ed.), Festivals of Bendel State, Nigeria. Benin City: Ministry of Home Affairs and Information (Information Division), 1975.

Bakare, Ojo Rasaki. Rudiments of Choreography Part 1. Zaria: Space 2000 Pace Publishers Ltd, 1994.

DeVito, Joseph A. The Interpersonal Communication Book, 2ndEd. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers Inc., 1980.

“John Olode: The Commentator.” A Video Tape on Mr. Ayede A. John`s Participation in Itakpo Festival, 1994.

Kofoworola, Ziki O. “Dance as Reflection of Cultural Values and Practice: Case study of Nigerian Dance Forms.” A Paper Presented at 17th World Congress by International Dance Council (CID) at Naxos Island in Athens, Greece, 2004.

“Yoruba Dances.” Retrieved 20 June, 2015. www.yorubadances.com


Cyrus Damisa SURU, PhD, worked as a Performing Artiste for several years in the Niger and Kogi States Arts Councils and rose to become the Production Manager/ Choreographer before proceeding to the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OON), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria, as an Assistant Lecturer and was subsequently promoted to Lecturer II. He currently teaches at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Nigeria. He has attended several conferences and has written several articles on dance and theatre in local, national and international journals. He is a member of the International Dance Council (CID) UNESCO, Society of Nigerian Theatre Artist (SONTA, currently as the Financial Secretary) and Dance Scholars Society of Nigeria (DASSON).

E-mail: . Phone: +234-803-504-2011; +234-807-450-5896.