THESE days, it is common sight to see groups of women, both married and unmarried organise themselves into clubs claiming to be Ezenwanyi. This modern day phenomenon is trending in the South East of Nigeria and some parts of Delta or South South region.
They are usually seen in villages, communities, local governments and even at state levels where they attend functions. When they are not in public functions, some of them are seen in their business premises where they practice traditional healings, with some heading to the river or streams to offer sacrifices. They are also seen in markets, buying one spiritual material or the other. They are also found in restaurants and drinking places, popularly known as ‘beer parlors’.
These groups of women dress in very beautiful dresses and most times, put on traditional attires with beads and cowries which can pass as their identity. They mostly appear in red, blue, yellow or white robes or a combination of these sharp colours.
When they put on white garments, the only difference between them and widows is that the bereaved wear white beads on their necks and wrists as part of their mourning attires.
These classes of women often wear dread locks or dada which they hold sacred as the source of their powers. When anyone of them is called Ezenwanyi, she brags and makes moves that suggest she is filled with spiritual power and takes pride in being associated to that name.
The Igbo word, Ezenwanyi, means queen in English. Just as we have Ezenwanyi, there is also Ezenwoke, which when converted to English, means king. Just as the Ezenwoke rules the male world, Ezenwanyi remains in charge of the feminine world, although in this sense, it connotes prophetess.
One may have wondered why churches during prayers say “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”, mentioning the father and the son, without mentioning the mother of that son.
Some cultures believe that Ezenwanyi resides in heaven but ndi Igbo believe that Ezenwanyi resides in the water. That is why some people associate the name mermaid to her or what some regard as ‘mummy water’. This believe that she lives in the sea can be said to be supported by the fact that she has no place in Christian church and other world religions who only refer to the the names of the father and son.
The Ezenwanyi , believed to be living in the sea, requires certain obligations from the female folk. It was gathered that women, particularly maidens were required to go to their respective village streams to clean the streams for Ezenwanyi. This, they are expected to do once annually. While observing this rite, they are expected to pay homage and sacrifice to the Ezenwanyi living in the stream. It was claimed that when they do the sacrifice, bountiful blessings must surely follow them.
In Nimo, in Njikoka LGA, Anambra State, the rite of cleaning the stream is known as Ilu Iyi.’ The parents of these female children made sure that their wards participate in this process of Ilu Iyi in order to attract the blessings of the Ezenwanyi. Women cease to participate in this very rite once they get married. This is followed by another rite called, ‘Itobe Iyi, which means breaking of the covenant.
These days, the practice has been relegated to the background and none of the maidens participate in the process anymore.
This, according to an elder of the town, Chief Felix Agualusi, is the bane of the claims and practice of Ezenwanyi by women these days. “These young women you see parading themselves as Ezenwanyi are deceiving themselves. Ab initio, there was nothing like Ezenwanyi. All those you see claiming to be Ezenwanyi are those who failed to do the manual labour and cleaning of streams known as ‘Ilu Iyi’.
Ilu Iyi is like a feast which starts in February, and each village chooses when to celebrate theirs. It is tradition that girls should keep the various streams found in their areas clean. They use implements such as hoes, machetes, to do the cleaning.
Mothers cook food and send them down to their wards at the streams because they leave their homes very early in the morning. This Ilu Iyi lasts for five days. After cleaning the stream, the girls bath and keep themselves clean”.
Chief Agualusi pointed out that Ezenwanyi is an aqua spirit that lives in the river and cannot be seen with naked eyes. He asserted that it is only a native doctor that can see the Ezenwanyi in his dream.
“Women who claim to be Ezenwanyi are those who as a result of not participating in cleaning the streams begin to experience problems associated with it and as a result, decided to adore the water spirit, thereby claiming to be native doctors. The purpose of Ilu Iyi is for the girls to worship and serve the Ezenwanyi in their maiden lives and those who failed to observe the rights are bound to have complexity of problems which might have dragged those who claim to be Ezenwanyi down. Women who claim to be Ezenwanyi are misconstrued and are not native doctors. This is because they cannot sacrifice directly to the spirit. For example, if any of them wants to sacrifice a fowl to Ezenwanyi or any other spirit, she has to look for a man or her husband to slaughter the animal to the spirit”.
The 80 year old chief advised those who are claiming to be Ezenwanyi to go back to Igbo tradition and practice it the way it should be and avoid deceit.
He posited that once Igbo girls go back to observe the rite of Ilu Iyi, they will stop experiencing the problems that led them into believing that they are Ezenwanyi and therefore, be of greater value to their various families and communities as well.
Nze Kwuluneziokwu, a wine tapper, recalled experiences of how he used to see people bathing in the river by 4am while on his tapping mission. Kwuluneziokwu equally narrated how he used to hear children crying inside the river, adding that he suspects that there is another world existing in the sea. He opined that it is the Ezenwanyi in the river that is reincarnating into those who claim to be Ezenwanyi. This, he said, was taking place because they failed to participate in the observation of Ilu Iyi and paying homage to the goddess through the river sacrifice.
Okwuchukwu Udokwu, a practicing Ezenwanyi has this to say, “ Ezenwanyi is like a prophetess who gives spiritual healings, visions and messages to bring peace to the troubled persons. Some of us originated from rivers while some are said to spring from the land, precisely from what is referred to as Mkpu or Ant hill .Those that came from there are very hard hearted. Before one becomes Ezenwanyi, she must perform the rites of ikwu Ikpukpala and Ikwu Mgba so as to establish spiritual contact with the spirit.”
She described the people practicing Ezenwanyi as very beautiful and fashionable, hinting that those who incarnate from the sea are very beautiful species.
A woman, Mrs Onya,stated, “ I don’t know any Ezenwayi other than Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ in heaven.”