Pericoma: When an ancestor travels

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 27 February 2017 | 5,765 times

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•Late Ichie Pericoma Nwokoye Mezue.

February 16, 2017 would remain a black Thursday for millions of lovers of African cultural music and, indeed, all lovers of African tradition, because of the news that broke of the transition to the great beyond of one of Africa’s most respected music icons: Ichie Pericoma Nwokoye Mezue, the Traditional Prime Minister of Arondizuogu in Imo State.

As an indigene of Arondizuogu, I have come across several non-Igbo speaking Africans who often identify or associate Arondizuogu with this departed icon of cultural songs.

In my early days at primary school in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, my non-Igbo speaking teachers often asked me about Pericoma, each time they are informed that yours faithfully hails from that great town found in Ideato-North, Okigwe and Onu-Imo local government areas of Imo State. The popularity and fame of this great cultural ambassador far transcended his immediate Igbo-speaking South-eastern Nigeria; just as his over 200 songs are happily played by millions of people from all over the world.

This iconic figure was also instrumental to the global fame that the yearly cultural Ikeji Arondizuogu achieved, because both Africans and persons from Europe and America often attend the cultural festivals to watch the brilliant and out-of-this world performances of Pericoma and his delightful team of musical experts, who are adept at playing Africa’s cultural musical equipment like the gongs, flutes amongst many others.

For me, I believe firmly that this musician whilst alive represented the clearest evidence of a living ancestor, because of the fact that he epitomised the best of the culture and tradition of the people of Arondizuogu and, indeed, Igbo nation.

Ichie Mezuo, as he was usually called, used the instrumentality of music to drum up support for an ethically responsible society; and it remains a delight to listen to his songs because of the inherently deep spiritual inspirations and meanings that they contain.

His many songs were all about promotion of the time-tested and time-honored African traditional and cultural values of respect for elders, hospitality, sacredness of life, transparency and honesty. He used his music to project the value system that emphasises hard work and discourages fast money.

For the 40 years that this genius consistently released his albums of several songs, the millions of his audiences are usually thrilled at the deep philosophical messages that this great man often apply in the delivery of his melodic songs.

Most people from outside the shores of Nigeria who thronged the beautiful town of Arondizuogu every April to witness the yearly Ikejifestival often leaves with the beautiful memory of the high quality entertainment that they receive from this prodigious and highly resourceful musician Ichie Pericoma Okoye.

As kids in school then we were told of an encounter this great man had with some state-sponsored thugs in the present day Onitsha who molested and harassed him over some taxation issues. As soon as one of the thugs carried him up, it became an impossible task for him to be brought down, until some rituals like presentation of white fowl was made to appease this oracle, before he could be brought down.

On many occasions, we were regaled with stories of the great feats that he performed such as invocation of heavy rains to fall even in the driest of seasons.

So in the morning of Thursday, February 16, 2017, when the news broke of his departure, my mind went straight to the arena of doubts, given that this was a man who can at best be described as a mystery.

His earthly departure is symbolically a collision of two mysteries. He was resilient, hardworking, deeply talented, deeply creative and spiritual. Some persons regarded him as a mere dibia or medicine-man. But I have it on good authority that he abhorred all evils and valued life so much. Pericoma preached and lived a life of purity, peace and the love of his community. He was one of the most successful traditional singers of our time who would inevitably remain the greatest Ambassador of African culture and tradition for eternity.

His death is, indeed, a phenomenon that should remind us that eternity belongs only to the Creator, who is the uncaused cause. Pericoma believed in God and the sanctity of life. Although in the eyes of the uninitiated, the physical disappearance of this iconic traditional musician represents a spectacle of mournfulness but, philosophically, this legend has played his part. Pericoma came, he saw and he conquered.

He deployed his enormous wealth of talents to conquer despair and hatred. He deployed the instrumentality of music to preach respect of the human rights of all and sundry. He was an epitome of all that is good of man created by God.

Death, you are cruel. But, in this instance, you have been put to shame because our living ancestor, Chief Okoye, has only proceeded to the choicest of places in God’s kingdom.

Ichie Pericoma, your departure has compelled me to write on the topic of death, which philosophers and theologians believe is the necessary end to man’s existence on the planet Earth, while other scholars see death as a taboo which man hardly remembers to reflect on. Benedict Spinoza, one of the best-known philosophers in our modern period, saw death as a topic which mankind does not cherish to reflect on. In a celebrated proposition of etica (ethics), Spinoza affirmed:

“Of no other thing does man have less thought of than of death; his wisdom remains not in the meditation of death, but of life. (Home liber nulla reminus quam de morte cogitate. Et eius sapienta non mortis, sed vitae meditation est).

Battista Mondin, in his book, Philosophical Anthropology, stated that the above suggestion by Spinoza, who is one of the fathers of philosophy and modern Western culture, has become the law for the adult ‘mature’, ‘free’ ‘secularised’ man of all times.”

The argument or discussion of death has become ‘taboo’ not only for convivial conversations, but also for the serious meditations of philosophers and men of letters of all clime and times.

The French anthropologist, L.V. Thomas, observed: “Between the society of today and intellectuals, there exist a tacit understanding: I count on you ‘say the readers’, as long as you furnish me with instruments with which to forget, disguise and negate death. If you do not perform the task I have given you then you will be dismissed. That is, I will no longer read you.”

Ironically, death has become not only the most immanent characteristic of human existence, it is also an actual event, an absolute potentiality. And death is the fate of all human existence. For according to some philosophers, the moment we are born, we are already candidates for death, and condemned to die.

Blaise Pascal, one of the best known French philosophers presented the above fact of death in a very beautiful way when he wrote: “What we are speaking of ourselves and our all. The immortality of soul is something, which regards us so strongly, which touches us so profoundly that we need to completely lose our good sense to be indifferent to the knowledge of how things stand. All of our actions and thoughts must take very diverse directions, according to whether there is (or not) an eternal life to hope for so that it is impossible to make a sensible and prudent choice without working from the solution of this problem, which refers to our final end.”

Battista Mondin said: “Man cannot escape from the research of the existential truth that is the truth that ensures a sense for the present and future life. This great African philosopher had remained a subject of many philosophical researches. Some notable writers of African music wrote about him, thus: "We choose to start this with the legendary Pericoma Okoye. Pericoma needs no introduction for most Igbophilias. Born in Arondizuogu, Imo State Nigeria. Pericoma is a walking library of Igbo history, ideas and culture. His music is best described as oral rendition of rarefied Igbo history. And as typical with the Igbo tradition of storytelling through songs; there is plenty for the curious to learn. Every sentence is layered with meanings that befuddles the ofeke, but intended as beacons for the intelligent. We have deliberately selected lyrics based on their themes in particular track, rather than translating the whole song, for our purpose."

For instance, during the Ikeji '86, he released an album where he spoke about different traditions cohabiting on planet Earth.

In the first track titled in Igbo: Omenana ne eso okwu; Omenana na eso ekwu/2ce

Anyi amaghi ihe ndi jiri biri be ha.

The above means: Traditions clashes with one another; because we are ignorant of others' way of life.

He sang about the meaning of wealth: Gini ka ana ebu uzo aju e? / Ihe ana ebu uzo aju bu nwa. Translated in English, it means: 'What is the first question people ask? The first question is about your child. (Source:

Indeed, a Living Ancestor has travelled to be with God.

Rest in peace, sir!

Onwubiko is Head of HUMAN Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @;

Source: News Express

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