Ikperikpe Ogu - Ohafia war dance

"The Flesh Melts"

"Kpah-kpah-kpa kpah-kpah-kpa kpah-kpah-kpa..." the sharp clicking of bamboo slats cuts through the din of the crowd gathered for the burial of an eminent chief. The hot midday air is heavy with red dust raised by hundreds of feet: dust mixed with the rich aroma of sweat and the fragrant vapor rising from large pots of palm wine. Several young, robust men in short, coarsely woven blue loincloths begin to move into the center of the large clearing in front of the village meetinghouse. Their muscular arms are draped with the long white hair of ram's manes, and on their heads are "leopard caps," each pierced with an eagle feather. They move with confidence and pride, but their leader seems even more imposing. Balanced on his head is a brightly painted board upon which human heads sculpted of wood are displayed. The heads also are flanked with ram's mane and wear leopard caps-okpu agụ. The commons is crowded with people of all ages, some talking, greeting, laughing, others maneuvering to find a good place from which to view the dancers. The dance leader, holding a small palm shoot in his mouth and a short flared cutlass in his right hand, stares fixedly ahead as he dances with short deliberate steps.
Three percussionists sit on a wooden bench defining one edge of the dance space. With casual concentration they tap out the heartbeat of the dance with bamboo slat instruments known as akwatankwa. A drummer begins to play an ikperikpe ọgụ (war drum). It is not a dance rhythm, but drum language that is echoed by the opu, the antelope horn played by one of the dancers. The voice of the drum calls:

"Everyone should come forth!
Those in the bush come out!
Those on the road come out!
The day is charged!"

An old man, dressed in a faded wrap-cloth of Indian madras, sits on a nearby stool and begins to shout: "Utugokoko kwe nụ!" and a response resounds from the crowd: "huh!" He shouts again, "Akanu kwenụ!! ... Ohafia kwe nụ!! ... Igbo kwe nụ!! ... Nigeria kwe nụ! ..." and each time the crowd responds with urgent approval. Then the old man begins to sing the legend of Elibe Aja, the story of a brave hunter who kills a leopardess that is terrorizing the neighboring Aro people only to eventually meet his own end trying to stop a wild boar from destroying farms in Amuru. The music is fast, driving, insistent. The dancers in the circle are joined by other men, some mature, some mere boys. Each moves his feet in a rapid sidestepping pattern. They roll their shoulders in tight circles flexing their chests. Gradually, deliberately, the tempo builds. As the pace of the music increases the pectoral flexing accelerates. The men's chests pulsate with rippling undulations. This phenomenon is called ọfụfụ. As Joseph Agara put it, "when the music takes fire, the flesh melts.""

– John C. McCall (2000). Dancing Histories: Heuristic Ethnography with the Ohafia Igbo. University of Michigan Press. pp. 53–54.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75dksZNvGJA 

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