What do you know about Otukpa? Sometimes I wonder if Otukpa is a village or a town, well for convenience’s sake, let us just call it a district made up of small villages. Aside from being the headquarters of Ogbadibo Local Government Area, it is one of the well-known places in Benue State and it has made a name for itself with what many consider to be the best palm wine in Nigeria.
Aside from the descendant of Oono, Oodo and Ameh Ochagbaha who are the true natives of Otukpa, there are also people from diverse ethnic groups living in Otukpa; this is not surprising because Otukpa has been blessed by nature.
Life in Otukpa
Life in Otukpa is remarkably interesting and dynamic. Yes, very dynamic. It is not a fairyland where everything is rosy. Depending on who you ask about life in Otukpa, you will get varied answers, ranging from the good, the bad and luckily not the ugly. A man described living in Otukpa to be a football game; according to him it requires strength, determination, and luck. The “luck” part took me by surprise, what do you need luck for? According to him, “the harvest is small, but the labourers are many”.
But others will tell you Otukpa is the best place for them, a little chat with these people will make you want to live in Otukpa. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and whenever you tell them of a downside, they go all out to convince you otherwise. When I asked why there are diverse notions about Otukpa, I was told by a young schoolteacher that, we are all blind though with open eyes, hence it is only what we feel that we can say, as everyone is limited by their personal experiences.
On the average, the youths of Otukpa are a hardworking bunch even in the face of limited financial resources for them to pursue higher education or scare job opportunities for those who are graduates. These limitations notwithstanding, the determination of the young men and women to succeed in life is evident with making taking up apprenticeship in skilled trades or setting up small-scaled businesses, and for some, this is with a view to continuing their educational pursuit when they become financially buoyant.
As for the elderly in Otukpa, they are mostly farmers, although few of them are good entrepreneurs while others are pensioners. They spend most of their time enjoying their old age and they seem to be the happiest set of people in the village. The men are mainly found singing choruses in palm wine joints and bars, where they reminisce the good old days of their youth, while the women are mostly petty traders preparing for the next Ukwo market day, which comes up every four days.
A trip round the different villages that make up Otukpa district is a revelation, the solace the people derive from their environment is great. I have never seen a people so at peace with their surroundings despite the lack of modern social amenities such as good healthcare facilities, electricity, pipe borne water etc. People in these villages are predominantly farmers though some of the young men operate motorcycles (okada), transporting goods and people to Ukwo on market days or around the districts.
Speaking to a villager, he explained that living in these small villages is so peaceful as there is a great sense of community. While on social medias like Facebook, there is a 5 degree of separation, everyone is connected to one another in these villages such that visitors or strangers are easily spotted. He also averred that being farming communities, there is organic food in abundance and their vast knowledge of herbal medicine helps to keep them in good health.
One thing Otukpa is notorious for is having the most expensive marriage rites in Idoma Land and some argue this is the reason for the high number of young men and women who are still single in the district. There is also a high number of single parents as it seems young ladies are getting pregnant as a way of circumventing the high pride dilemma stopping them from getting married. Most parents upon discovering that their daughter is pregnant lower their demands so that heir daughter can getting married to avoid having a child out of wedlock, which still comes with a bit of stigma within the district.
Another interesting thing about Otukpa is their tradition, one of which is the practice of alekwu (god of justice). Alekwu is believed to be a god in Idoma land and although it has lost its potency in many regions of Idoma, the practice of alekwu is still very evident among the Otukpa people. Alekwu means spirits of the ancestors which serves as a watchdog and according to tradition; it has the power to punish anyone who goes contrary to the laid down morals and customs of the land. Alekwu oversees and checkmates the activities of an entire household, from the husband to the wife and children but it has nothing to do with non-indigenes of Otukpa.
Alekwu oversees and checkmates the activities of an entire household, from the husband to the wife and children but it has nothing to do with non-indigenes of Otukpa.
Alekwu is commonly used to keep tabs on women, chastising unfaithful wives by causing unexplained circumstances to work against them. It does not cause immediate death, rather it gives signs and several opportunities for confessions. It is only when a wife refuses to confess and ask for forgiveness, that she is likely to die from an alekwu spell. Men are not beyond the tentacles of Alekwu. While it recognises that Otukpa men are polygamous, it punishes men who maltreat their wives or defy the matrimonial homes of other men.
In Otukpa, abortion is forbidden and men who pay abortion bills are punished by alekwu. It is not surprising that most youths in Otukpa are against the continued use and belief in alekwu, whereas the elder sees it as the only way to control vices in the land; hence they defend the practice of alekwu.
Everyone is welcomed
Putting aside the alekwu stuff, Otukpa is undoubtably one of the most hospitable places in Idoma land. The district has numerous hotels and bars, making it a good place for travellers to have a stopover on their journey. A plate of bush meat delicacies with pint of the world famous Otukpa palm wine is a common sight in almost all bars and restaurants in Otukpa Branch, a town in the district which has become a confluence for travellers from Eastern and Northern Nigeria.
Many people have a lot of misgivings about Otukpa, due to the nature of some of the customs and traditions (alekwu), but the people are very welcoming, always willing to share a cup of palm wine. When next you drive through Otukpa, apply your brakes, take your time, and enjoy all the goodies it has to offer.