Wrestling Contest Between Villages
Organized wrestling is a dominant form of relaxation in Afikpo.Though seasonal, it is widely celebrated. It captures the interest of everybody, men and women, young and old. It is one aspect of Afikpo culture that modernity has not eroded. It draws out people from all walks of life to watch. People leave their businesses or close their shops to be at the wrestling arena or “OGO” (village square). Young women in large numbers dance excitedly to cheer the winners. Drummers add color to the event, dishing out martial and pulsating beats. Old men are not left out of the show. Though wrestling is equally recreational for them, the old folks have a role to play in decision making. They have the final say as to when a wrestling match ends.
Wrestling contests are organized and staged at the peak of the rainy season, biannually. Rainy season, known as “udu mini,” is a time to rest as the farming season draws to a close and the new yam festival (harvest season) approaches in August. Farming is a major occupation in Afikpo. During the rainy season, farm work is light and most people stay at home to rest. The wrestling contests, therefore, complement the relaxation spirit of the period. In fact, it is a dominant social event while the season lasts.
Young men engage in wrestling to showcase their physical prowess. Every young man before attaining a certain age grouping is eligible to participate in wrestling contests featuring members of his age grade (people born within a few years of each other are grouped into the same age grade).
Age grade system is an established time-honored practice in Afikpo, as it is in most Igbo communities. Wrestling contests are open to age grades from as little as age five (5) through about age forty five (45).
Three major age grades have been known to feature prominently in wrestling contests in Afikpo. They are “Ibuzo mgba,” “Isi ogu” and “Ikpo.” Ibuzo mgba group are children starters who set the stage for the next age grade. Coming next is Isi ogu, the age set that is between Ibuzo mgba and Ikpo. They engage in wresting bouts before the main show involving the Ikpos. The star wrestlers from the outgoing age grade, Ikpo, are the major attraction. They wrestle last. After a wrestling season, the Ikpo age group members graduate to the next stage of seniority in age-grade ranking. They become umpires, known as “Atamaja.”
In the course of a wrestling bout, Atamajas perform their duty with the assistance of drummers. A certain drumbeat, kpo-ti-kpo, is interpreted as a signal to the Atamajas that two wrestling opponents must be separated, especially when neither can throw the other. Additionally, elders act as moderators and final arbiters. An onikara, elderly man of more than seventy years, throws up sand to put an end to a wrestling contest. He also does this to prevent disorderliness, which can arise from an ensuing controversy.
A wrestling match does not last long. A winner emerges when a wrestler throws his opponent on the ground and this can happen within two minutes of action! The celebration of that feat is more exciting than the bout itself. Spectators go haywire with jubilation. The winner is carried shoulder-high round the arena while people throw money at him. Girls dance for him. If he is married, his wife and other family members join the celebration. The drum beats become more vigorous, spirited and heart-pounding. The hero is dressed in a special way and dances round the OGO while the spraying continues. Post-winning celebration is a thing of delight to watch.