Yaa gives you a class with attendant social responsibility. You are a warrior. You cut plantain round the community with a crowd of people singing and praising you. In situations of supernatural needs, you can intercede and the ancestors will listen. It is positive initiation into manhood.
One socio-cultural practice that has resisted the neutralising power of modernisation in Ogoni land, Rivers State, is the Yaage tradition which requires participants to dance completely nude round the community during initiation. Yaage tradition is generally acclaimed by the people to be a vehicle of social transformation of youngmen into adulthood.
Yaage which is also called Yaawii means “rite of son” performed by youngmen to attain the title Kabari (Chief), a leader or commander of fighting force for his community. It is a general belief that the process of Yawii is the preparation of youngmen as warriors who will posses good leadership qualities and unblemished character,
During the process of initiation, youngmen are placed under the tutelage of a te-yaa (yaa father) who takes them through a three months pilgrimage to perform certain rites in all the ancestral shrines of the community.
The first step in the performance of this rite is called Sibu Zim te (pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of the patrilineage ancestors. During the process, all the chiefs, elders and the principal men of the district are invited to the occasion, and many sacrifices and rituals performed and libations poured to the ancestors. As a requirement for their participation, each yaa man is required to pay a prescribed fee towards the cost of the rituals and the activities.
The second homage is called sib u zim ka, (homage to matriarchal shrine) made to the yaa matriarchal house (bua), where similar rites, rituals and libations are performed amidst reunion of kindreds. Next, the yaa man visits all the important places in Ogoni land to perform the traditional rites and to pay the prescribed fees.
Among such places are the houses of the founders of the component towns, the war shrines and the matriarchal house of Gbenebeka at Ka-Gwaara, the last of the early female ancestresses and the universal rulers of Ogoniland. And finally the participant goes to his ancient matrilineage or the house of his great, great grandmother to perform rites.
Fifty years old son of Chief Benson Deekae nwiyor, the Mene Buen of Kalaoko Community, Chief Akpobari Benson Nwiyor (Mene Dedum 1 of Ogoni) who performed the yaa rites from July to October 2008, described the climax of the process as holy baptism which is performed on the yaa by the priestess of the ancient matriarchal house.
Chief Akpobari Nwiyor told The Tide On Sunday that the purpose of the baptism was to give the yaa his greatest spiritual fortification and insulation against external negative forces and to endow him with wisdom, intelligence and a sense of direction in the spirit world, which the elders believe, is the basis of proper conduct, success, and right actions in the natural world.
The evening before the baptismal ritual, each yaa man slept alone in the house of his senior patron (te-be), until about 4.30am the following morning when each yaa father takes his yaa man to the nearest running stream for the baptism.
“Led by the house father, the yaa man dipped his feet into the water and ran away as fast as he could towards the village. As soon as he caught a glimpse of the village, he ran back to dip his feet in the stream again. This, he repeats for seven times and at the seventh time he threw himself into the water and took a smart quick bath and ran out of the water back to the house of the yaa father. The whole process must be completed before twilight, and no fly must perch on his body during the ritual, “ Chief Nwiyor explained.
The yaa man must be completely nude while performing this ritual. At the seventh time when the dam yaa throws himself into the water, the house father runs home with the dam yaa cloth. In that way, the dam yaa had no choice but to run home nude and remains nude until 8 pm the next night when he begins a separation dance called Yep pee ment for only virgins.
According to Chief Nwiyor, who is also a lecturer with the Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori, men who have had sex with a mother of twin or a strange woman are not qualified to participate in the yaa ceremony.
“The consequence is that if you concealed the truth and danced the holy pee and touched the sacred instrument, you will drop dead instantly. For those of us who were no longer virgins’ we dare not touch the yaa tree when we go into the forest during the process. If you touch the yaa free you disappear.”
“The young men go naked but the old and mature ones do not. They tie a small piece of cloth around their waste region. For the period of three months we stay without having carnal knowledge of a woman. We only sit with somebody who had performed the rituals and such a person can only sit on the left hand of the participant. The initiation process used to be one year but now reduced to three months because of the dynamics of society,” he narrated.
Chief Nwiyor insists that in Ogoni land there are certain gathering a man can not be admitted into if he had not undergone the yaa process.
“In some communities, if you do not perform the yaa ceremony, you are not buried at home when you die.
“Yaa gives you a class with attendant social responsibility. You are a warrior. You cut plantain round the community with a crowd of people singing and praising you. In situations of supernatural needs, you can intercede and the ancestors will listen. It is positive initiation into manhood.”
When a yaa man rules a line on the ground, a non-yaa person does not dare cross the line. As the yaa men perform the ceremony, they are libating for the peace, health and wealth of the community. They appease the gods and when they come out of it they are richer in traditional knowledge. During the period, the yaa man prays fervently to the gods that nobody dies in his family else he be disqualified. It has no negative social impact but all depends on the perception of the people,” he argued.
The Ogoni prince who has gone beyond yaa to perform the Yikabaar, contended that the yaa ceremony was meant to prepare a young man for leadership and for life. “By its teaching and discipline, it inculcates the attitude of hardwork, self discipline integrity, credibility, sound morality and respect for service of human life and the human world,” he concluded.