Akhue is a skilful game of spinning seeds, almost completely lost from Nigeria, but still played during each Oba king's coronation to the Edo throne.
You can read more about Akhue below, or watch the video, Voice Of Akhue, where the people of Edo retell the history of the mute boy who freed his voice by playing the game of Akhue to become Oba of the Edo kingdom.
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
a place of no peace.
Lagos has since superseded Benin City to become that pandemonium of Nigeria.
Akhue itself appears to be a game only found and played by people in Edo, which I'm 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 places with my cultural colleague, Brown Atiemwen, from the Cultural Center in Benin City, but in all the villages we visited, 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, circa 1200AD, introduces the game to Oba ceremonial culture. Eweka I spoke his first word in the Yoruba language when playing the game,
meaning, "I succeeded" and in Edo becomes "Eweka".
Hence, from that day on, all Oba to be coroneted to the Edo throne, commemorate this moment by playing Akhue, as a ceremony whereby the Oba will learn is new name where 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. There is a loose connection here, between the wildcard trajectory of the spinning seeds and the type of chaos one witnesses in daily life around Nigeria where nothing seems 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, as well as a propensity for learning the lye of the land over which 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 opponent player's seeds as possible. Each seed that is hit is removed 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 of an opponents set of seeds, 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 seeds in one throw. I witnessed 2 such spinning methods that players employ from a crouching position:
One handed spin
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.
Two handed spin
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.