Interview with Dr H.C.Ngumah and Celestine, the Reverend, Amara and myself – a bit chaotic! We asked Dr Ngumah similar questions as before.
According to Dr Ngumah Cole spent 3 years full time researching Mbari and he was initiated into a cult (like other anthropologists here it seems). He is against secret cults. Mbari means sacrifice – offered to Ala who is the central figure. Mbari is the highest form of sacrifice and once built they just leave it (that is why it is a sacrifice). The High Priest (stands for the god), who chooses what goes into the shrine. The High Priest is the go between the god and the people. Ala is accompanied by the god of thunder who can wage war. The family principle is just an ‘interpretation’ by Evans not necessarily true.
Irrespective of the name of the god, Ala is essentially the goddess referred to in incantation – every god is standing on the earth and every god has to relate to the earth. There must be an act to start the Mbari or something wrong eg. crops fail, people die, incest, etc – then have to go to the diviner who tells them how to appease the gods and this may involve the highest sacrifice which is to build an Mbari.
Mbari can be a verb or noun, therefore effects interpretation by the things people tell you. The community owns the children of the Mbari after the Mbari is opened – at this time the community took care of them as they were children of god – BUT now since Christianity the child can no longer be looked after by the community.
Osu = outcast. Sacrificial human beings to the goddess, which can often be an outcast made by the community – with Christianity this is less common. Osu feared because they became untouchable. Now they are intermarrying so this is better, whereas before they could make-love together in hotels but not get married to anyone else. The outcast is labelled this often for little reason and may stem from something someone did wrong in their family ages ago but they are still reprimanded for it.
When asking about binary oppositions he says that Mbari activities are performed at night and the daytime is kept clear. Night-time refers to secrets as it avoids unnecessary exposure from the community. Building in the day time would attract too much curiosity, and the mystery would be taken away from it if seen. People would waste your time by asking too many questions and the workers have to execute the Mbari within a certain period of time.
Part of the initiation process is understanding what is going on with the celebration which an outsider will not know.
Red earth is the major medium but has now shifted to cement because of its durability. Red mud and cement mixed together is often used now but still natural colour of red. Houses can be made of earth but have a smear of cement on the outside for practical reasons. Bullets do not penetrate mud but do go through cement! For the roof corrugated iron is used but also use thatch on top to keep some traditional aspects.
It has to reflect modernism in the materials as well as the subject matter. Obama would be put into this now as it would reflect current affairs. Now it is considered historically as an historical artefact.
He says he takes Coka Cola from the shrine (left there by people as an offering) and people think the god has drunk it!!!
Dr Ngumah wrote an article called ‘Mbari as an Aesthetic Cultural Phenomenon’ in ‘Contemporary Issues in African Art, Culture and Technology’, edited by G.Ogbu Uka (2000). Enugu, Nigeria: Creative Print Publisher ISBN 978-32997-1-9 [Rather a poor academic article as uses no analysis or relativity].
Also ‘The Effects of Psuedo-Born Again Christian Mentality on Art and Culture: Imo State Experience: ‘Ikenga’ and Mbari Art Centre Eke Nguru Mbaise’ as Experience’ by Dr H.C.Ngumah and G.N.Osnagwu. January 2006 ECOJOTE Vol 2, 1 January 2001 p.15-25. ECOJOTE = Eastern Coeasu Journal of Teacher Education. An official publication of the College of Education Academic Staff Union.
‘Styles in Modern Nigerian Art: The Mbaise School Experience’ in ‘Perspectives on Creative Arts Education in Nigeria’ edited by M.Segun Adejemilua with assistance of Babatope K.Oyewole – unpublished PhD thesis. [Descriptive with little analysis].