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The Trumpets: Okike, du-mkpal and Enenke as Ethnography in

Igbo Social Commitments

By Rev. Chris Ebighgbo
(MFA, M.Phil, Phd)

Okike, du-mkpal and Enenke are all horns or trumpets produced from bones
or horns of wild animals. Each horn is accorded its respect and utility
according to the values and norms attached to the animals from which it is
produced. These norms and values of the animals are further transferred to the
societal social commitments.
Hence, the Igbo people use these musical instruments to actualize their set
objectives in social commitments such as title taking (ichi z), marriages,
burial ceremonies and emergencies. Despite modernity and Christianity, the
impact and importance of these musical instruments are still felt in Igbo society
Under what circumstances and how these musical instruments are used as the
basic subject of this paper. Also, in the visual arts these trumpets have provided
several symbols used for monumental sculptures, paintings and graphic
Hopefully, certain symbolic idioms might be extracted from this paper for
educational visual representations. Attempts will be made to limit the paper to
the Igbo of Anambra State using some major townsOraifite, Umu-oji,
Nkwelle Ezunaka, Agu-Ukwu and Onitsha as my population. The methodology
is descriptive with participant observation using structured interviews.

In Africa, music plays important roles in the lives of the people. Its major
characteristic is that it has function. The various stages of the life-cycle of an
individual and the life-cycles of the society are all marked with music.
According to Okafor (2005), African folk music springs from the cultural
womb and can develop or grow through the years, mutating, enlarging and

shredding, but always maintaining its original gene. He stated that music as a
cultural product is also the product of man in his culture and environment.
Since it has to do with the cultural gene, it is easily understood and it can also
generate conflicts of traditional and modern music, such as those between the
conservatives and the progressives. Okafor, quoting Karpeles (1973:3), defined
folk music as the product of a musical tradition that has evolved through the
process of oral transmission. The refashioning and recreation of the music by
the community gives it its folk character.
Music therefore is a cultural expression, and every culture decides for itself
what is music and what is not (Merriam, 1964, Blacking, 1976). In this paper
we will discuss the Igbo trumpets and their relevance to social commitments.
This is important, since the present age is more inclined to pop music or art
music, which Okafor (2005) described as classical and neo-classical music that
came into the country through colonialism. According to him, Western
education has exalted its pop music in the minds of the elite and installed it as a
status symbol or an index to sophistication and musical literacy.
The traditional Africans, of whom the Igbo race is one of the major ethnic
groups in Nigeria, have philosophically created their own style of music which
serves their aesthetic values. The trumpets are created from animal horns or
bones and their sounds create status symbols in the Igbo tradition. There are
other traditional trumpets in Igbo music, such as the akpaele produced from the
vegetable kingdom (a species of the gourd family), but slim and long like a
small pipe, and used mostly by the west Igbo people. But I want to limit myself
for convenience sake to the three basic trumpets mentioned above and their
characteristics. They are the okike, du-mkpalo and enenke.
Okike is produced from elephant tusk as is du-mkpalo, while enenke is a horn
from a wild animal. There are other types of horn-trumpets like ntutu or
ogbo frommkpi-atu, buffalo, or bush goats, and even the horn of rams are used
for committal music, and these can be classified under enenke.
However, okike, du-mkpal and enenke are the most popularly used and are
still being used despite modernization attacks. Attempts shall now be made to
examine the various uses of these three Igbo trumpets as music in social
commitments. An examination of Igbo ethnography will also accompany
discussion of the values of these trumpets. This paper can be said to be
resisting, reclaiming and rewriting the African music workshop to re-align the
Igbo lost heritage into modern tourism and hospitality. It is limited to the Igbo
of Anambra State, Nigeria, using four major towns Oraifite, Umuoji, Agu-

Ukwu and Nkwelle-Ezunakaas my focused areas. The method is descriptive

with participant observation using structured interviews.
Igbo Ethnography

The Igbo ethnography was first visually documented in bronze and pottery
through Igbo-Ukwu archeological discoveries in 1958 at the Anozie and Josiah
compounds. Thurstan Shaw, from the Institute of African Studies Ibadan, was
entrusted with this excavation and published his findings in 1970. A number of
anthropologists and historians have contributed further investigations on the
discovery. In 1975, Onwuejeogwu M.A, published his first work on IgboUkwu and posited that the works were for Igbo aristocrats, the z titled men
and Nri titled men (Onwuejeogwu 1975). Further investigations showed that
the social stratifications in Igbomarriages, births and deathswere all
embedded in Igbo-Ukwu objects dated 900 A.D and, according to Ebighgbo
(2002), that was the epoch of the civilization. Visual art and music compliment
each other because the musical instruments are works of art as well. (Ebighgbo
Two small bronze pipes were purchased by the author in 1985, which were
rendered in Igbo-Ukwu style but not recorded by Thurstan Shaw or
Onwuejeogwu. They are deposited in the authors museum at Oraifite,
Anambra State, Nigeria. However, the mention of Igbo-Ukwu bronzes here is
to buttress the relation between art/music and Igbo aristocrats, for which the
trumpets are of much value. The Small bronze pipes purchased by the author
were mostly used by the herbal medicine men or Dibia aja (seers or oracles).
Okike and du-mkpal are carved out of elephant tusks and are valuable
machinery for recognition of social status. The Igbo man does not play with his
status symbol and his family affiliations. Hence these three trumpets are highly
dignified status symbols for social mobility. I shall attempt to demonstrate here
the uses of these trumpets and their social symbolisms.

du-okike or okike (plates1-4), as it is usually called, is a long hollowed

elephant tusk carried by the z titled men in Igbo communities mostly within
the areas of Agu-Ukwu, Nawfia, Umoji, Abagana, Onitsha, Nkwelle-Ezunaka
and so on. It is usually recognized as the highest symbol of social status.
According to Onwuejeogwu (1981:84) Ndi Nze members are given special
seats during the ceremony of Igu-Ar in Eze Nris palace. Some have their
elephant tusk with them.

In the work of Ekwensi (1963) on the Ezunaka and Iyi-Oji annual celebration,
which comes up in November every year, he described the function
of Okike thus
The kpalas from all quarters of Nkwelle-Ezunaka sit
next to the Priest. The Ogbuefi, the Ndiz, and all the
rest of the titled men of Nkwelle-Ezunaka mark the
occasion by blowing elephant tusk, trumpets. . . . dances
are exhibited (Cyprian Ekwensi 1963:183)

Plate 1

Okike Blower: Ogbuefi Ikelie blowing his elephant tusk in Ezunaka/Iyioji festival.
(Courtesy Cyprian Ekwensi 1983:176)

Plate 2

The procession of Eze Nri with Okike trumpeter in the background (courtesy
Onwuejeogwu M.A during Iguaro festival)
Again in Onitsha, according to Nzekwu (1983:169) an z title leads into the
next rung of importance on the Igbo social ladderchieftancy. In his words on
women of status
The women social status is immensely raised by
acquisition of ivory ornaments anklets and bangles.
This puts her on the same pedestal as z title holder
even though it is much less expensive to acquire. Her
official dress comprises her anklets and bangles, two
white loin cloths tied over the other, a white head tie, an
elephant-tusk trumpet, priceless coral-bead necklaces and
a horse-tail. The bangles, anklets and tusk apart from
being ornamental, serve as a distinguishing mark of the
achievement of their possessor (Onura Nzekwu

Plate 3

Onitsha Women of Status (Courtesy Onura Nzekwu 1983)

Onwuejeogwu (1981:85) stated that the z man is a significant political
personality both at the lineage and the state level, because his installation is
centered on his ability to speak the truth and maintain justice and peace among

his people. z titleship is achieved through hard work. The z man holds
the al of his lineage, which symbolizes power-Ike, which comes
from Chukwu (God), through Eze Nri. According to Onwuejeogwu, Chukwu as
creator of his lineage is symbolized in the mkpa al or okike (the short and long
elephant tusks) that were handed over to him with the al on the day of
installation. He was later given the f of the ancestor, also derived from Nri
Menri through Eze Nri.

Plate 4

Okike and Ndi Nze at Igu Ar Eze Nri (Photo Onwuejeogwu M.A.)
Okike is further associated with cosmological and religious beliefs in Igbo,
hence Chukwu okike means God the great creator. The elephant is the largest
and biggest animal in the bush, and its magnitude is associated with that of
God symbolically. It is a respected animal, and such respect and greatness are
transferred to the social status symbols which are manifest in the z titled
men. The elephant, enyi, is not a common animal and should not be regarded as
such. Acquisition of its tusk means an end to social achievement in Igbo,
meaning metaphorically that God-Chukwu, as elephant, is behind my success.
To an Igbo man, okike means creativeness, which includes pro-creation.
Therefore, an okike is not blown arbitrarily, but only on an occasion that
symbolizes wealth and power. It is used during installations
into z titleships, ofala and major festivals. Also it is used during the
performance of mortuary rites of titled men and women as well as traditional
wedding ceremonies of Igbo aristocrats. It can be blown in solo as well as in

group performance. The sound of okike denotes festivity and social

actualization. The Igba-eze dance most often is accompanied with the blowing
ofokike when the Igwe of a town is performing the ofala, kings festivals in

As has been discussed above, du-mkpala-al is a short form of okike which

must be held by the Igbo z titled man. Unlike the okike which is heavy and
long, odu-mkpa-al is held constantly on any occasion, be it marriage, death or
a town gathering. It is associated with the red cap and eagle feathers for
the z man and must be exhibited always for social recognition. Most of the
time the holders are not experts in blowing it, but they need to hold it as
occasion warrants. Oraifite, Nnewi and Amichi use it most often.
Notwithstanding, there are experts in blowing this short elephant tusk. My
father, Nze Ugbobuaku Ebighgbo-Obi, was renowned in my town Oraifite and
its environs for the blowing of this odu-mkpa-al. He used to blow it during
festivals, especially new yam festivals at the central shrine edo in Oraifite.
People commissioned him to perform solo in their mortuary rites, marriages
and chieftaincies. Like a solo singer, he used the tusk to talk as my people
commended him. He would praise, admonish and commend respected
individuals with his trumpet. When he passed an z titled mans house or a
village shrine or a priests house, he would give a brief but powerful salutation
to show that he was passing by or coming home. If he was returning late from
certain occasions, we used to keep our ears to the ground to hear his greetings
to an edo shrine or any other shrine. On his coming closer to his ama, he would
use it to herald his return by saying in trumpet sound mmadu nkw
bem, meaning are there people in my house? Then we started jubilating at his
return and what he brought.
I can still remember one of the greatest emotional performances of my father in
1963. It was the death by motor accident of Mrs. Chizube Udechukwu, a
Christian. When my father entered the parlor where she was lying in state, he
used his du to ask the late woman where she was going leaving them behind.
It sounded thus--misisi ebee ka inaaaeje?- meaning Mrs. where are you
going? This performance threw
everybody into wailing and mourning. This was not a time for pleasant
performance where money and gifts were given to him, but it was a social
commitment of grief and sorrow. In those days death, especially by motor

accident, was not rampant, and especially not the death of a relatively young
woman of importance.

Plate 5

Nze Ebighgbo-Obi with his du-Mkpa-al (Note the murals- aja z in the
On the whole, as much as du mkpa-al is used for social enhancement and the
paraphernalia of social status in Igbo culture, it also serves as a musical
instrument for both recreation and other social commitments. Today most Igbo
elites (though not titled z men but because of their position in government)
hold du mkpa-al as a status symbol, thus trying to reclaim the culture that is
dying. In my analysis, I shall discuss the continuity and change of trumpets.

Unlike the okike and du mkpalo-alo, enenke is a horn produced from the wild
animal called ene--deer. Its function is quite different from the other two. It is a
specialized trumpet like the akpele of Midwest Igbo or akpili of the Omambala
river zone, which includes the Oyi, Aguleri and Dunukofia local governments.
Theenenke is not owned by everybody and is not a status symbol as such, but is
for the specialized artist whose job it is to perform when called upon.
Furthermore, enenkedoes not fit into a musical composition and is not
performed in a group, unlike akpele, which gives life and enhances a musical
composition. Promoter, a trado-modern musician, used akpele extensively in
his folk music, which was a pointer to preservation of our cultural music.

Plate 6

Animal horns Enenke & Ogbo and ntutu (Photo by Author)

However, enenke is performed as the occasion warrants. It is popularly used in
Oraifite, Ichi, Ozubulu, Ihiala and the environs. The sound of enenke in
Oraifite and its environs signals a particular social commitment. The people
who are acculturated to its language will put ears to the ground to receive the
message. Hearing it at midnight signifies danger or death. Late evenings may
be for the heralding of mortuary rites. In the mornings, it may be for festivals,
marriage attendance or a call for emergency meetings at the village square. In
burials, great men and heroes go home to the sound of enenke. Also, in
bringing home the symbolic corpse of a deceased Nwada(daughter of the
community), the ceremony is heralded with the sound of enenke, songs and

Plate 7

The Author blowing Enenke/Ogbo in 2009 Ofobuike Seminar on Igbo lost values
Certain ancestral masquerades like tu-ube in Oraifite have enenke as their sole
musical instrument during performances. tu-ube is an ancestral mask that is
performed both in the day and in the night. It is dreaded in Oraifite and is used
as the police or soldier of the community in the spirit and physical worlds.
(Ebighgbo 1995). If anenenke sound is heard intermittently calling the name
of otu-eke masquerade, one does not need to be told that the host of spirit
soldiers are on the road for a particular social commitment.
In Ozubulu, Ihiala, Okija and environs, enenke are used as described above but
have other pleasant uses for their masquerade- mmu-z ebuni. This is a
mask that is accompanied with great applause from both men and women. Its
appearance in the community is punctuated with gladness. Everybody would
want to share the blessings from the land of the spirit. Enenke is mostly used as
a solo musical instrument which heralds its appearance and performance.
Recently at the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, a group of
intellectuals known as the fbuike Intellectual Union, comprising lecturers at
universities and research institutes, corporate bodies and so on, organized a
seminar on the 26th of September 2009 with the title Revival of Igbo Values.
Many dignitaries attended the seminar, which included Dr. Chris Nwabueze
Ngige (former Governor of Anambra State), Colonel Justine Ezeoke (Rtd),
Engr. I. Okoye, Chief Pete Edochie, Prof. Damian U. Opata (Dean of Arts,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka) and so many other Igbo elites. The occasion

was chaired by the former President of Ohaneze Ndigbo and first Chief Judge
of Enugu State, Igwe Eze zbu, the Agba of Umuagba. The royal father of
the day who also was in attendance was His Royal Highness, Eze Nri
Obidegwu Onyeso, Nrienwelani II, the custodian of Igbo Culture and Tradition
and Keeper of the ancestral homeland of Ndigbo. He is in the lineage of Eze
Nri. During the arrival of all these dignitaries, the author, who is versed in
blowing of the ja flute and eneke trumpets, used his art in heralding the arrival
of each of them. Plate 7 shows him in traditional regalia blowing the animal
horns-ogbo and eneke. The seminar presenters deliberated on the erosion of
Igbo values and recommended strongly that Igbo values, especially in music,
dance and language, be fully revived before they become extinct.
There are other animal horn trumpets, like the mkpi ogbo from okogbo, buffalo
used for youthful masks like ntuebi, mgbedike and kpka. The mkpi gb, like
theenenke, adds color to the total music and it moves people to
ecstasy. Enenke and ogbo trumpets are so mystically powerful they can move
people to joy or rage, stillness or motion, unity or segregation. They are
sensational, and can influence, intoxicate and brutalize when applied in certain
rites, enenke and ogbo are used to call out the youths for the igba-ota dance, a
war dance for the dead. The sound of enenke is like the sound of the brass
trumpet in modern army barracks.

Attempts have been made here to highlight the functions of the Igbo trumpets
okike, du mkpa-al and enenke. These trumpets are gradually disappearing in
Igbo social commitments due to modernization and Christian Pentecostalism.
Many converts are forced to throw away or burn these cultural artifacts and
denounce their practice. Yet they bring in foreign bands and trumpets whose
origins they never knew. Apart from du mkpa-al, which some elites are
holding on to for status symbolism, performance with such musical instruments
is dying out fast. What are trained musicians doing to elevate the status of these
musical instruments for social mobility, engineering and commitments?
According to Okafor (2005), quoting paragraph (4) of NERDC 2004 dealing
with Nigeria philosophy of education
In Nigerias philosophy of education, we believe that . . .
There is need for functional education for the promotion
of a progressive, united Nigeria, to this end, school
programmes need to be relevant, practical and

comprehensive..., accordingly, (f) efforts shall be made

to relate education to overall community needs.
(NERDC, 2004; 6, 7, 8 & 9).
The uses of Igbo trumpets must be revitalized and re-evaluated for modern
community needs. The Igbo trado-modern musicians will make efforts to
incorporate these musical instruments. Again, a yearly festival of the uses of
these trumpets can elevate the Igbo economy in the area of cultural tourism.
Attempts must be made to stop the destruction and burning of these rich
cultural values in the name of Christianity and modernity. We need to be proud
of our culture, for it is our way of life.
About the Author

Rev. Chris Ebighgbo (MFA, M.Phil, Phd) is at the Department of Fine Arts,
University of Benin. Email:, Tel: 08064484418,

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