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Author: Chris Ebighgbo
Title: The Trumpets: Okike, Odu-mkpalo, and Enenke as Ethnography in Igbo Social Commitments
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: The Trumpets: Okike, Odu-mkpalo, and Enenke as Ethnography in Igbo Social Commitments
Chris Ebighgbo

vol. 6, no. 1, 2009

The Trumpets: Okike, Ọdu-mkpalọ, and Enenke as Ethnography in Igbo Social Commitments.

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


Okike, Ọdu-mkpalọ 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 ọzọ), marriages, burial ceremonies and emergencies. Despite modernity and Christianity, the impact and importance of these musical instruments are still felt in Igbo society today.

Under what circumstances and how these musical instruments are used are the basic subject of this paper. Also, in the visual arts these trumpets have provided several symbols used for monumental sculptures, paintings and graphic designs.

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 towns—Oraifite, 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, Ọdu-mkpalo and enenke.

Okike is produced from elephant tusk as is ọdu-mkpalo, while enenke is a horn from a wild animal. There are other types of horn-trumpets like ntutu or ogbo from mkpi-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, ọdu-mkpalọ 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-Ezunaka—as 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 Igbo-Ukwu and posited that the works were for Igbo aristocrats, the ọzọ titled men and Nri titled men (Onwuejeogwu 1975). Further investigations showed that the social stratifications in Igbo—marriages, births and deaths—were 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 2005).

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 author’s 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 Ọdu-mkpalọ 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.


Ọdu-okike or okike (plates1-4), as it is usually called, is a long hollowed elephant tusk carried by the ọzọ 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-Arọ in Eze Nri’s 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 ọkpalas from all quarters of Nkwelle-Ezunaka sit next to the Priest. The Ogbuefi, the Ndiọzọ, 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 ọzọ title leads into the next rung of importance on the Igbo social ladder—chieftancy. 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 ọzọ 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 1983:174).

Plate 3

Onitsha Women of Status (Courtesy – Onura Nzekwu 1983)

Onwuejeogwu (1981:85) stated that the ọzọ 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. Ọzọ titleship is achieved through hard work. The ọzọ man holds the alọ 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 alọ or okike (the short and long elephant tusks) that were handed over to him with the alọ on the day of installation. He was later given the ọfọ of the ancestor, also derived from Nri Menri through Eze Nri.

Plate 4

Okike and Ndi Nze at Igu Arọ 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 ọzọ 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 ọzọ 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 of okike when the Igwe of a town is performing the ofala, kings’ festivals in Igbo.


As has been discussed above, ọdu-mkpala-alọ is a short form of okike which must be held by the Igbo ọzọ titled man. Unlike the okike which is heavy and long, odu-mkpa-alọ 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 ọzọ 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-alọ. 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 ọzọ titled man’s house or a village shrine or a priest’s 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 nọkwọ 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 ọdu 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 Ọdu-Mkpa-alọ (Note the murals- aja ọzọ in the background)

On the whole, as much as ọdu mkpa-alọ 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 ọzọ men but because of their position in government) hold ọdu mkpa-alọ 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 ọdu 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. The enenke 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, enenke does 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 dances.

Plate 7

The Author blowing Enenke/Ogbo in 2009
Ofobuike Seminar on Igbo lost values

Certain ancestral masquerades like ọtu-ube in Oraifite have enenke as their sole musical instrument during performances. Ọtu-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 an enenke 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-– mmuọ-ọzọ 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 Ọfọbuike 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 Ọzọbu, 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 ọja 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 ọkpka. The mkpigbọ, like the enenke, 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 social commitments. (Okafor 2005). During male mortuary 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, ọdu mkpa-alọ 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 ọdu mkpa-alọ, 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 Nigeria’s 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, 08055650204


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