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In Awka, sacred primates are Lords



… Terrorise residents at will

UCHENWA Mba had visited her farm two weeks ago and to her shock, troop of monkeys had destroyed much of her crops which were almost at the harvest stage. Mrs. Mba, is a staff of Anambra Newspapers Publishing and Printing Corporation (ANPC), publishers of National Light newspapers.


Encouraged by the state government laudable initiative on agriculture, a cardinal pillar of Gov. Willie Obiano economic drive for the state growth and development, besides taking advantage of the rainy season, she borrowed money to cultivate the crops. She was short of words as she has to fulfill her obligation of the loan. Mrs. Mba is helpless in her situation as she could do nothing to the monkeys, even as they continue to damage her crops.


In a similar development, Mr. Uche who resides within High Tension area, close to Ifite Road, Amaenyi, Awka, and other residents of the area have continued to complain of how monkeys roam their premises, jumping from one building or the other, destroying zincs, fruits and other edibles, including household items mistakenly left outside.


A senior civil servant residing at GRA Awka had equally complained of how monkeys threw an object at his car and broke the windscreen, which he is yet to replace. In fact, there are still many others with same or different experiences as shared above.


Monkey is symbolic to the people of Awka that they revere the animal and as such, the animal enjoys immunity status from harm or even consumption.


Awka people’s reverence for monkeys is as old as the history of the city. History has it that Awka people had a dispute with a neighbouring town over a piece of land. The neighbour had planned to attack Awka. Unfortunately, the forest the enemy encamped was that which was dedicated to Awka deity.


So  the  deity  sent  his  emissaries,  the  monkeys  that live  in  the  forest  to  notify  the  people. The monkeys’ roaming in the village square were strange that a diviner was consulted who exposed the invasion plan of Awka’s enemy.


Another version had it that a planned invasion of Awka by some forces was thwarted by the monkeys making loud noises which alerted the people and they took up arms and defeated the enemies. Ever since, it became a taboo to either kill or eat meat of monkey in Awka.


The animal became a totem, hence Awka na aso enwe, meaning, Awka forbids any harm, killing or eating of monkey. Other versions of Awka affinity with monkey abounds, but one thread runs in all; monkeys saved Awka people from their enemies.


By tradition, supposing an Awka indigene saw a non-indigene kill a monkey and didn’t report it, it’s believed that Awka’s deity will visit its consequences on the indigene and when an Awka person intentionally kills a monkey, the person should be ready to face the wrath of the community’s deity.


When a non-indigene kills a monkey unintentionally, the person, according to tradition is expected to present himself or herself to the deity with a token, which could be in any amount to be cleansed from any consequence that might arise from the monkey’s death.


An Awka person who kills a monkey unintentionally is required to do the same to be absolved of any wrath of the gods. But when done intentionally, the person is expected to accord the animal a burial deemed fit for a human being.


Today, Awka people profess Christianity as its main religion, although some retain beliefs in their traditional religion. The Anglican Communion made inroad into Awka before its teacher’s training college was founded in 1904.


The Catholic Church was established in 1906, followed by the advent of Pentecostalism, which gives the city shade of Christianity. Given the religious configuration of the city, sacredness of the monkeys has provoked questions as monkeys destroy crops and constitute environmental challenge, among others.


A customs official and indigene of Awka, Charles Offodile argues that ‘Awka na-aso enwe’ is because the monkeys are not mere monkeys but human spirits in the animals which controls it. He stated that Christians have no business with monkeys.


“What people don’t understand is that the monkey is a cult in Awka. Imo Awka and monkey reverence shares no common history. If you look at Imo Awka, it’s a deity borrowed from Igala land, where a young virgin was used as a sacrifice, a Christian has no business with that. People who are deep in traditional worship in Awka uses monkey to deal with others.”


“Except you profess to be nominal Christian what association have you got with monkeys? As a Christian, monkeys are not supposed to come near your compound. The monkeys you see in the neighborhood are those with human spirit. That is why you see them in the neighbourhood looking for something to feed on.


Don’t you know that those monkeys with human spirit that have scores to settle with others are the ones destroying other people’s farms?  Anyone that reverence monkeys, it means that the spirit of monkey still lives in such a person and he or she is a candidate of the monkey’s cult. Not everyone knows that this monkey is a cult. They ask you not to kill it because once the animal is killed, the person whose spirit is in the monkey dies.”


A trader and Awka indigene, Mr. Anayo Nweke, said he feared no such, since he did not believe in it. “If I see someone killing a monkey, I would not report such, since I have no business with the animals. If I happen to kill one and don’t report it, I believe nothing will happen to me, because as a Christian, God’s power will subdue that of any animal or deity.


“Many people are confessing faith and are still running away from things that they feel will kill them forgetting we will still die someday. The way we practice our faith here is not commendable. You see monkeys destroying your crops or property, and because they said it mustn’t be killed, you leave it.


I will kill it. If that would take my life, I would see it as a good death. The moment more people take such steps, those that claim to reverence the monkey would do something about it, even the monkeys would understand that they are targets and will disappear.


Just look at some communities where they reverence python, the animal lives like humans with the inhabitants of such place. Some even sleep with you. Let the same reptile, mistakenly stray into unfamiliar terrain, you will see it flee.”


A businessman and Awka indigene, Ikechukwu Chukwuemeka, believes that the issue of monkey should not arise this time because he operates on a different platform. Whatever business with monkey is for those that profess their faith in the animal. “I’m an Awka indigene and don’t profess the same religion with those that want the monkeys reverenced for whatever reason. If as a human you want to eat an animal, go ahead, as long it doesn’t belong to anyone and not poisonous.


If intentionally, I kill an animal that belongs to no individual, why would I bother paying penalty or facing any repercussion in this modern time?   If monkeys constitute problems to you, device means to scare them away, if you can and where it happens that any gets killed, there is nothing to fear.


A clergy, Pastor Emeka Ezenwa, says Awka community no longer lives in Stone Age. No form of animal or beast should be allowed to roam around to destroy people’s crops or properties in whatever guise as reverence for the animals. Pastor Ezenwa wants the monkeys gathered into a zoo or in reserved area, since they are not supposed to be mingling with human beings. He stated that whatever the myth or history surrounding these animals were in the past when the whole community professed such thing as idol worship.


“In some instances, you see monkeys go to people’s house to eat their foods and mess up the place. In most of the farmlands around Agu-Awka, Ikenga and other places, you can’t harvest what you planted because they will mess it up.


“If they don’t want people to kill the animal, those that whose faith is tied to the monkey should gather the animals in one place. In modern time, have you seen where animals that destroy things are given such liberty in the name reverencing it, it’s improper. Those that believe it should be reverenced should gather them in their shrines or places they are comfortable for it not interfere with human activities,” he said.

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