Here in Nigeria, I found Akhue, a skilful game of spinning seeds found in Edo State. Although almost completely lost, it's still played by each Oba during coronation to the Edo throne. Here I discovered a story of how the game of Akhue freed the voice of a boy who could not speak, allowing him to become Oba, king of the Edo kingdom, bringing a better future to his people. In the film I made here the people of Edo retell the history of the mute boy and how he freed his voice by playing the game of Akhue.
Unlike many West African countries Nigeria is actually doing a lot more to preserve its culture, certainly not as much as one would like. There are many museums in Nigeria, often founded by individuals and later recognised as a worthwhile cause by local and federal authorities. However it is plain to see that many of these museums are suffering from lack of funds and general enthusiasm from the public who are far more interested in watching films from Nollywood, the worlds 3rd largest film industry. I could complain to my hearts content about Nigerian soap, especially when you see the quality of productions from poorer countries like Burkina Faso, but at least there is an industry here, which is growing and ever looking forward. Unfortunately Nollywood's representation of Nigerian culture is very poor show indeed. Yes there are films involving "Ju Ju, costume dramas with people running around in ancient style village clothes to recant the occasional lost African story, but on the whole Nollywood is about something else. Modern culture in Nigeria is depicted through Nollywood film in the grand and ostentatious concrete palaces that all Nigerians are perceived to aspire to. One gaudy living room after another, filled with big boss characters blurting orders to subordinates, plotting coups, wives conniving against their piers, gangsters raping and pillaging, university girls having their unwanted boyfriends murdered and all in the name of big bucks. Standing on a mountain of the mighty Naira is the fiscal dream that pervades almost all Nollywood's shows. The sound quality is terrible, composition is dull, the acting wooden, but the stories as derivative as they might be, are what everyone in West Africa wants to watch. Strangely I found myself propositioned to appear in one such series, "I need white guys driving big bikes he said. I have to admit I really wanted to do it, I had often dreamt of shouting out those classic lines found in almost every Nollywood movie; "Get out of my house, I told you I want you out of my house, now! It was not to be, but even better would have been to make my own Nollywood film, produce and distribute it. You can do it for around $1000 dollars and make as many copies as you can in the first run to beat the pirates to the post. Well I didn't manage to get my act together but looking at Voice Of Akhue, I have certainly included some elements that Nollywood is so famous for. It was shot in a day, some actors were not actors, costumes were cheap, people were paid less than I would have liked, but hey it got made and that's what counts most in Nollywood.
Lagos appears to be the epitome of chaos to me, it's hard to imagine how anyone could want to live there, but of course they do, in their countless millions. Benin City got its name from Oba Orimiyan who found it such a disturbing place that he named it "elebinu (a place of no peace). Lagos has since superseded Benin City to become that hellhole of Nigeria. When I arrived in Lagos as dusk was turning to night and rush hour was in full swing, I struggled to filter through traffic in the same manic way everyone else was lurching forward, I ended up falling in a water sunken ditch at some point, and thought to myself, "this place really is a kind of hell. To be fair I was immediately assisted by a face of no name that came from out of the darkness to save me without thought for reward, disappearing as quickly as he had arrived.
Akhue itself appears to be a game only found and played by people in Edo, which Im rather surprised by since most games tend to travel and migrate. However Akhue is seriously on the decline. In all honesty I didn't find one person who could really play the game well. I visited a lot of place with my cultural college Brown Atiemwen from the Cultural Center in Benin City, but in all the villages almost none of the children knew the game. Some adults could remember the game but couldn't say or show with authority that they could truly play the game. Yet the game is still played by one very important group, the Oba's of Edo. The story of Eweka I, 1200AD, introduces the game to Oba ceremonial culture. Eweka I spoke his first word in Yuroba language when playing the game, "owomika, meaning, "I succeeded and in Edo becomes "Eweka. Hence from that day on all Oba to be coronate to the Edo throne commemorate this moment by playing Akhue as a ceremony whereby the Oba will learn is new name as a name is written under each seed to be hit. Matching the game of Akhue to an aspect of Edo culture is difficult, but what I love about the game is how an equal amount of skill and chance are tied to its fabric. A skilful player can make an Akhue seed spin in such a way that increases the chances of hitting multiple seeds by rebounding off other seeds due to relative spin and trajectory. It's a kind of ordered chaos. Nigeria as a whole, not only Edo state, seems to be rife with ordered chaos. Nothing is certain yet all is somehow possible under ever changing rules.
Akhue is a great game for hand to eye coordination with additional motor skill in the spinning action of the game, as well as a propensity for learning the lye of the land over wich the seeds pass.
The game is most often played between 2 people.
A playing field is drawn in a long rectangle of about 10m long split into 2 halves. In each half are placed the player's Akhue seeds.
Each player has placed in front of them 9 seeds evenly spaced in a series of 3-3-3 and a 10th seed, the crown seed, placed at the back closest to the player.
One more seed is introduced to start the game off. Each player takes turns to spin this seed toward opponent seeds. The objective is to hit as many of the player's seeds as possible. Each seed hit is taken from the play field and is also used by both players to throw in subsequent turns. The objective is to hit all opponent seeds. If a player manages to hit the elusive "Crown seed at the very back, the player wins the game in that one strike.
There are basically no rules about how the seed is thrown, but it is evident that the spinning motion of the Akhue seed was found to be the most advantageous to hitting as many opponent seed in one throw. I witnessed 2 such spinning methods that players employ from a crouching position.
1. The first whereby the player uses only one hand, throwing an arm forward and arcing the hand, palm facing the ground, with an outside circular snap to release the seed into a low spin along the ground. It's a bit like skipping flat stones across waves in a lake or sea, but instead of the palm facing up, it faces down.
2. The second is where the player uses both hands to hold the seed between index fingers and thumbs, throwing both arms forward, palms down, one hand pushes against one side of the seed and is released simultaneously to produce a low spin along the ground.
Players who master these methods are able to hit more than one seed in one throw, not an easy task, I didn't see a single player in Edo manage to do this, but I was told that it is possible and the sign of a veteran player.
I would love to have seen this Akhue played as it once was, if only to see the amazing skill and precision that players must have commanded to derive order from the chaos of the Akhue seed's spin and unpredictability of the playing field. To make order from chaos is indeed a skill worth attaining in Nigeria, especially Lagos.