There are four cardinal institutions in Onitsha culture charged with the progress, development and peace of the local community.
One of these groups is the Òtù Ọdụ, which is the elite women’s socio-political and economic group that young Onitsha women often aspire to.
Often referred to as Ndị Ọdụ, Iyom or Òtù Enyi, these women either bought the rights to the title or had relatives who bought the rights to either wear ọdụ aka (ivory bracelets) or ọdụ ụkwụ (ivory anklets) or both.
Ọdụ means Elephant Tusk and in Onitsha custom, Igbu Ọdụ in plain terms means wearing of the tusk. It is a rite of honouring a woman for her excellent service in life.
It used to be conferred as a form of appreciation on a mother by her children at a certain age or a dutiful wife by her husband.
It was also limited to Onitsha women who are either indigenes, direct relations, or by marriage. These women are expected to have distinguished themselves in their respective capabilities and have been found worthy of the title.
The initiation system starts with a formal expression of intent by the woman who wishes to be initiated. This move allows the leaders of Ndi Otu Ọdụ to set up a process to find out more about the candidate and determine whether they’re eligible or not.
For this, questions into the character, personality, and integrity of the person are brought to the conversation.
When this is satisfactorily done, an intermediary who is a member of Ọdụ Society and knows the initiate so well to introduce her to the society is appointed as her mediator and the process continues leading to the initiation, which is known as Ikwo aka Ọdụ.
The ceremony is accompanied by the okike instrument or giant tusk. The women in this group are typically allowed to carry the Nza or horsetail, akupe or ceremonial fan, which are all signs of chieftaincy.
They also carried mkpo alo or small ivory, which usually only titled men in Igbo land carried. After the initiation is done, a special initiation name or title is conferred on the woman and she is addressed by that title before her surname.
One of the major visible processes from this ceremony is wearing the Ọdụ (elephant tusk) on the woman. The elephant tusk is a rare, precious, and expensive item and is one of the most sought ornaments on the continent.
It is a symbol of wealth, beauty, royalty, authority, and class. During the celebration, the woman has to wear it on both hands and legs as a mark of her newfound status in society.
Depending on an individual’s financial capability, there are different types of Ọdụ. The complete procedure is called Ọdụ Ukwu N’aka which means for both the legs and the hands. It could be undertaken for the hands alone and called Ọdụ Aka or for the legs alone known as Ọdụ Ukwu.
The Ọdụ today has changed a bit. At first, it used to be a private organisation of Onitsha women of character and affluence. Now, it has transformed into a prestigious society with modernised rules and functions.
Also, the classic white uniform of Ndi Ọdụ today was not always as it used to be, as there was no special uniform for the sect earlier in the days.
Except for the elephant tusk won gracefully, an Ọdụ title woman wears whatever she likes. It was only recently that the white uniform was later introduced to represent purity as Ọdụ is seen to symbolise.
Today, the Otu Odu remains this very ancient institution that provides a foundation for the elevation of womanhood. This institution has gone on to be adopted by various Igbo communities in Nigeria such as Anioma in Delta state, which the dignity of womanhood is elevated. It has also been adopted by various Igbo ceremonies in the Eastern part of the country.