FUNCTIONS AND RELEVANCE OF COSTUME IN NGWAS EKPE FESTIVAL
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
This chapter is the introduction to the research. It highlights the background to the study, statement of the problem, objectives of the study, research questions to be answered, and importance of the study. Festival is an event usually set by a local community. It centers on and some unique aspects of that community. It is a set of activities and practice designed to entertain the people of that particular community.
Festival of many types serves to meet specific needs as well as to provide entertainment. These types of celebration offer a belonging to Religious, social or geographical groups. Festivals also remind people of their traditions and in resents times also helps in unity among family. The words costume and dress both refer to and imply the use of clothing to cover and adorn the body. To wear clothes, a uniquely human behavior, is an act that possesses great symbolic meaning in a culture and is closely connected to social interaction (Risa, 2010). Costume served as a means of communication in social interactions. Individuals, through the wearing of costume, have historically revealed their personal identity along with other socially pertinent information.
Costume was not only a form of communication, but was also viewed as a symbolic behavior. Humans are unique in that they wear clothes and can adorn themselves with expensive objects. Through this act, they created meaning and passed it on to others. Since symbols were given arbitrary meanings, costume became symbolic when meaning was assigned to it. Individuals were not usually isolated from others; as a consequence, costume and appearance became a means that influenced all members of society. Symbols on costumes were a silent but powerful way to quickly communicate multiple facts. People in a society first had to define their costume in cultural terms before they prescribed it with symbolic meaning. Without social interaction, symbolic meaning cannot be impaired. Howan individual desired to be perceived was defined by the values that his or her culture upheld.
Costume, as perceived symbols, acted to define social groups and provided visual Reference information to others. This information helped individuals tell insiders from outsiders. Individuals in similar positions wore equivalent costumes and thus were seen as belonging to a certain group. As a society grew more complex, symbols became increasingly important in maintaining its structure. It was very important for individuals to know and understand the meaning imparted in their culture’s costume, for symbols could transmit a variety of messages from the easily discernible to the ambiguous. A challenge in studying costume is figuring out the meaning behind the symbols which members of that society would have understood at a glance, but which are now long forgotten or can only be faintly Comprehended.
Costume assigned symbolic meanings were powerful tools which historically provided much information about an individual. In hierarchical societies, costume exhibited many subtle meanings and denoted where an individual belonged. This rigid social structure was visually reinforced by the costumes people wore, because symbols of status on clothing were a guide to who possessed the most power.
Costume also served to distinguish gender and reflected the different roles the two genders played in their society. Men and women historically were separated by clothing styles that belonged exclusively to their gender. Typically, women in the past have not physically toiled as hard as men and would subsequently wear garments of longer length. Women generally would also wear more jewelry than men. Wearing a costume designated for the opposite gender marked an individual out for criticism and showed an overstepping of one’s traditional roles.
Throughout history, art and culture have remained two inseparable words (Appiah, 1991). They are interdependent; in which every culture has its own art forms peculiar to the traditions of the society. The society’s culture can be identified through the traditional art forms which form the cultural identity of the people within that community. There are however, non-material elements of culture such as conventional norms and established traditional ways through which ideas are articulated. These may include costumes, literature, songs, drumming and dancing as well as other forms of customary ideas about man and his society. The material aspects of culture include art forms such as basketry, leatherwear, textiles, pottery and sculpture among others.
Asihene (1978) was emphatic that, there is not a single cultural performance that ends without the use of a costume. Indeed, costume in a great sense, gives us absolute ideas about both past and present cultures; playing an important role in the socio-religious and political structure in the life of the traditional African. It has thus remained a vital component in appreciating the culture of Africans. Festivals are a composition of non materials and material (or visual) aspects of culture that articulate the embodiment of cultural systems. It is against this background that the art and roles of costumes in the Ngwa-Ekpe festival has become the focus of this research.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The Ngwa-Ekpe festival which is celebrated by the people of Umuahia and Owerri provinces has art components inadequately documented. The festival is celebrated annually in the first two weeks of the month of January, in remembrance of the God of Njoku (yam God). It is to commemorate the culmination of the year’s rites. As a festival, a number of arts and costumes both material and nonmaterial are paramount in the celebrations. Each of these costumes embodies the beliefs of the Njokus and divinities prevalent in the success of their everyday struggle and thus, have a lot of educational values that need to be harnessed to promote art education and cultural heritage.
Some of the costumes similarly, have specific beliefs attached to their usage in the festival apart from ordinary use. These costumes, due to the fact that they have not been adequately documented, have also not been fully comprehended by the people themselves; taking into consideration their role in the celebrations, why those specific costumes are used
The costumes used in the festival have educational values, that need comprehension, hence the purpose of the research is therefore, to identify the artistic roles and functions of the costumes used in Ngwa-Ekpe festival as an element of cultural sustenance for educational implications
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH
- To identify and describe the various costumes associated with the Ngwa-Ekpe Festival.
- To find out the roles specific costumes play in the celebration of the festival.
- To establish the educational values of the Ngwa-Ekpe festival and its art Elements.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
- What costumes of art are used in the celebration of the Ngwa-Ekpe festival?
- What role and functions do the costumes play in the Ngwa-Ekpe festival?
- What educational values or elements are there to be learnt from the usage of the costumes and the festival as a cultural celebration?
1.5 Research Hypothesis
H0: Costume does not play a significant role in Ngwa Ekpe festival.
H1: Costume plays a significant role in Ngwa Ekpe festival.
1.6 GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION OF THE NGWAS
The Area covering the old Aba division Ngwa, is situated in the tropical rain forest of southern Igbo plain in the present Abia State of Nigeria. It has a population of about one million people and an area of little over nine hundred square miles (2,300 km2). The area is bounded on the north by the present Umuahia zone, on the west by Owerri and Mbaise, on the east by Ikot-Ekene and Abak and on the south by Ukwa.
The people are largely farmers, producing yams, cassava, cocoyam, maize and other tropical farm products. Major rural industries include garri and palm produce in addition to Akwete cloth weaving in which most women from the area were engaged. The old divisional headquarters was Aba, a very important commercial and industrial center. Centers of major population concentration include Aba, Mgboko, Osisioma, Umooba, Owerinta, Nbawsi and Okpu-Alangwaomoba.
1.7 IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDY
- The study would serve as reference material for students and researchers for further studies
- The findings of the study would promote cultural education among the youth in the Ngwa area while creating cultural awareness about African cultural values.
- The study would also serve as a source of information for policy makers towards national cultural festival development.
- The study would enhance the cultural education of art, particularly the performing and visual arts.