Ogene Igbo - The Ogene Story

illustration of african man playing ogene instrument

Ogene igbo - The Ogene Story

Chidozie Okonkwo 
Young and upcoming creative writer and poet, based in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. 

This was the day Ojiako came back from London for the Christmas holidays. The time in the course of events in the year, when he must draw back to the land of his origins. 

It was the only time when things were allowed to happen in London without him. Being a well-known man, a football star and a public figure, the city itself felt his presence. London was dear to him. The place of his birth and grooming. But at Christmas, London with all its splendor would always take on the quality of a guest house. A place to be deserted for home.

Although his father had died many years ago, the tradition of going back to one's roots after a long while, was one of the chief interests of his paternal ministry. So he grew to take after his father in like manner. As a kid, he resented this act. He had always wanted to stay back whenever his family was to embark on a trip to his hometown in Africa. There were things he would love to do with his friends at the cinema on Christmas Eve. And to lose sight of Santa Claus on the main day, was a misery deeply felt at the sharing of experiences in the new year classroom.

That was many years ago. Some twenty-eight years or so, when his whole world was built on ideologies informed by his immediate environment. He had always gotten into trouble with his father, who would compromise anything for the family Christmas trip to Africa. But this afternoon, fully grown, he called in with a different feeling.

There was in his bearing and carriage, elements of deep pride derived from ostentatious Africanness. In coming and going over the years, he had bonded with both the physical and spiritual presences of his people, and had made out of their distinct air, a sense of belonging.

He always looked forward to this time of the year. To feel and breathe the ruralness of the world. To commune with a nature so raw and true. There was a longing to experience the vast customs of his people. He loved the way they slaughtered cows and shared drinks in their homesteads for Christmas celebrations. He loved the gayness of their atmosphere and the good fellowship. Attended ward meetings representing his late father, ate kolanut, garden egg and alligator pepper.

If there was a delight that left an indelible mark on his soul, it was definitely found in the delicacies he craved. The pounded fufu and onugbu soup always took him on a ride to space. His grandfather never ran out of palm wine and bush meat. It was in fact, the pounded yam and nsala soup he ate at his mother's place, on one of their visits when he was seventeen, that spurred his desire to come home every Christmas. So while his mother and siblings had missed this trip severally after their father's demise, Ojiako's consistency took another dimension. It ventured into something relative of the flair of the gods.

Although his mother and siblings were home for Christmas, they were much earlier than him. He had a football match the day they travelled. But he had been in Lagos since four days ago. He kept the knowledge of coming down to his hometown in the East discreet. This was shot at their sense of feel. He wanted to test and stretch their level of accommodating surprises. The unbelievable shock and recreation on their faces would be priceless. It simply played out in his favor.

That afternoon, nobody heard the humming sounds of the car engine, when the taxi carrying him pulled up. Ojiako heard their voices caught up in mirth and lofty talks. In the distance, he made out where the whole family had gathered—in their grandfather's sitting room—cracking jokes and having a good family time. As he swept the curtain and moved its rails to peep into the room, a mammoth noise ensued.

The kind that looked like an uproar often associated with frenzied turmoil. Everyone that was seated in the room, save for the elderly, moved towards him in accustomed painted smiles. There were laughters, greetings, kisses and embraces that spoke of deep filial connection. They held his hand and felt his bones, as though he was some distant figure they had admired, but now belonged to all of them. He enjoyed every bit of the moment. The warmth, the love and the genuine concerns brought rays of affection that seated on his face in sheer delight as they made him welcome. This was also part of his reasons for being there, for being consistent in going home every year's end. To sometimes taste the joys of homecoming.

illustration of african family homecoming nigeria

Dinner was gracious. A treat of well roasted yam and palm oil, prepared with the black African spice called "ogiri", and uziza leaves, giving the whole meal a unique indigenous taste. They had eaten with a relish, and Ojiako was at the frontage of the house, drinking palm wine with his grandfather Ezeoba. Harmattan nights are usually cozy, so they were seated near little logs of fire that produced warmth. Everywhere was dead silent except for the occasional little noises coming from crickets in a nearby bush.

It was not long till the town crier's gong pierced the gloomy silence of the night. He beat his gong thrice in successive beats and announced an upcoming event the next day at sundown. A meeting where the welfare of the whole Umuokpu town will be discussed. He sounded authoritative and seemed fearless as he stamped his way through the night. His voice grew dimmer and dimmer in the distance, till both men could no longer make it out from their homestead. Ojiako was fascinated and soon enough, their conversations were weaved down around that development.

"I think I like his voice Papa"

"You mean the town crier's?"

"Yeah. I do. It's bold and commanding"

"Uzoma is a brave man"

"What is the name of that instrument he used?"

"It's called Ogene. A metal gong produced only by good blacksmiths"

"I've heard it in traditional music too"

"Of course. The gong is a master instrument in a bell orchestra especially in Igbo land. It is an instrument of the struck idiophone class just like the wooden gong called Ekwe. It has a flattish conical shape, and is hollow on the inside. The sound itself comes from the vibrations of the iron body when struck, which is made to resound by the hollow inside of the gong. The iron body is usually struck with a soft wooden stick. Have you seen the elder brother of Ogene called Alo?"

"No Papa".

illustration of african father and son talking under a tree

He immediately dashed inside his room, and came out with two metallic instruments and a wooden stick.

"This is Ogene. The metal gong. Conical, metallic and short. No one could say when it was first used and by whom. We learn the usage as kids, seeing our elders use them, both to produce good melodies, make public announcements and in religious rites. That way, it is handed over from one generation to the next and so, every age gets to see and use it. Nothing can ever take its place. Not even the brother Alo".

At the mention of "Alo", a little smile escaped from the corners of his mouth. He stole a glance at his grandson who was somehow astonished by the little but detailed narrative. It was as though he was held spellbound. He looked glued to the spot, but with glints of excitement. Ezeoba liked the fact that he had sustained his interest. So he quickly added: "The alo is also a gong used in musical performances, but unlike the Ogene is not handy. It is rather long. The main difference is in their sizes and sounds. But both belong to the same struck idiophone class of musical instruments.

Ojiako struck them himself, differently, in an attempt to have an empirical knowledge of the instruments firsthand. "The Ogene music has always been one of my favorites Papa. It gives a piece of music, a very distinct and unique sound that traverses the globe and produces such a feeling. Everyone seems to like it".

His grandfather smiled with a quiet sense of fulfillment and kept to himself. As he took those instruments back from where he brought them, Ojiako stared at him with profound admiration. He was ninety-four and healthy. But that was not enough. He appeared to be abreast with every knowledge and story of both their ancestry, traditions and customs. He had been a true griot in his day. His favorite storyteller amongst the many at his choosing. His love for him grew a layer that night. One need not try so hard to see it. When the flames from the log fire flickered across his face, the watery presence of love in his eyes for his grandfather had added a pint of increase.

Somewhere between the thrill in his aging voice and the myth of his story, he was caught amidst both beauties, and was lost in his old moonshine.


At Akuko, we aspire to tell stories of our cultures, legacies and values. We are on a mission to explore how our identities are forged over time by our journeys and experiences - the afro diasporan perspective. 

With the help of the Ogene we call you all to our various platforms to have these conversations just as the town crier calls for gatherings in our ancestral home.

Our people shall gather at the sound of the Ogene!