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Akpata Instrument Of Edo Culture

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By Ambrose Ekhosuehi (11-07-2016)

“AKPATA (Akpata-mamwe) is an Edo harp, guitar, bow lutes instruments with separate string carriers fixed to a resonator. Two or more strings run parallel lie at oblique angles to the sound table. Akpata is sounded by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum, occasionally by bowing and are played with open strings.

It consists of pieces of wood sewn together with roots fibres to form a triangular box resonator (ekpetin). The wood is taken from local trees such as the Ayon-funtumia elastical, Ancient Benin black robber tree or from the ukhuu-Alsotonia congensis. The sound table is called Ugue akpata-lid cover. The instrument has 6-8 flexible string carriers-erhan akpata taken from the akpata plant microdemis zenkeri. These string carriers are laced with root fibres to the botton of the resonator extend upwards. The metal or fibre strings are attached to the string carriers at one end and at the other to holes bored in the lower end of the sound table, passing above a small horizontal iron or wooden bridge fastened to the sound table at the top of each string carrier. There are several gingles-isevbere made from split seeds or small metal pieces.

The Akpata is held on the lap and played by plucking the strings. It is tuned by bending the string carriers and passing the strings one or more times round them until the desired pitch is secured. There is no fixed tuning but generally the range is about one octave, from the first octave below middle to the first octave above middle. The fourth, or fifth strings having the lowest pitch, and the sixth, seventh or eighth strings being the most high-pitched ones.
The strings have names partly reflecting the tuning system such as ayere-memory, akugbe-Unity, Ozi-ogbegbe- strong wind, etc for each of the seven strings.

Akpata is used for entertainment, folklore, story telling and solemnity. It is played only by men. It is usually played solo to accompany story telling or folk dances.
Akpata nowadays is rare and is rather found mainly in rural surroundings. Just in the case of the Asologun, certain spiritual beings, are supposed to be attracted to the music of the instruments.

Akpata, the native harp and Asologun, the native xylophone, were played by Oba Ewuakpe in the eighteenth century during the distress history of his life. There was rebellion and complete rejection of the people. They would not attend meetings in his palace. They did not send him the regular tributes and taxes.

Akpata, the harp became his companion. He played the akpata and certain divine being appeared. Who advised him to make a human sacrifice. He could not secure other person for the altar, his only faithfully wife-Iden offered herself as the victim.
The performance of this sacrifice was a turning point in Ewuakpe’s relationship with his subjects who now returned to pay him royal respect.
To relieve his grief during the time of misery, Oba Ewuakpe used to play the akpata and sing the following song:
lyase rrie Ugigho gunmwe momo
Esogban rrie ugigho gunmwe momo
Eson rrie ugigho gunmwe momo
Ne I ya de atete, ne I ya de ebo
Ne I ya gha do ekioba kerbe Agbado
Rie ugigho gunmwe momo
That is “lyase lend me twenty cowries
Esogban lend me twenty cowries
Eson lend me twenty cowries
To buy a tray and a bag for marketing at Ekioba and Agbado.

Arhuanran was the son of Oba Ozolua who reigned in the late fifteenth century. He was the Chief of Udo and many battles were fought between him and his brother Oba Esigie. At last Arhuanran was defeated and while playing the akpata he moved to the Lake Odighi at Udo. Since then the akpata is banned in Udo and its surroundings.
The attraction of the akpata music is an important theme in Edo tales, such as the one about Elonmon. Elonmon was a youngman whose mother had been told by a diviner called Obiro never to allow her son Elonmon to play the akpata.

One day Elonmon expressed a wish to possess and to play the forbidden akpata. His mother refused to give him one and Elonmon took the refusal very badly. His behaviour became unbearable and for the sake of peace in the house and elsewhere his mother was persuaded to let him have an Akpata.

As soon as the Akpata was placed in his hands, Elonmon began to play it with the skill of an efficient artist. The following day Elonmon went to play at the Oba palace walls.
As he walked along the road running behind the palace, the wonderful music Elonmon played reached the ears of the Oba’s wives. One of the wives was magnified by the music and managed to persuade Elonmon to climb over the wall and hide in the apartment, however, Elonmon played the Akpata-harp to entertain the king’s wives.
The attraction of Akpata-harp music is an important theme in Edo culture, many Benin bronze plagues that record Great Benin events represent musicians playing the akpata harps.

The Akpata is mentioned by early Europeans who called it “Harp strung with six or seven extended reeds”.

The Spanish Missionaries who visited Benin in the middle of the seventeeth century called the Akpata-“small guitar” just as the eight string guitar-efa is used by ivbiosakon in Edo.
On the Bronze plagues and in the report by the Spanish Missionaries, Akpata is however used in ceremonial context and in praise songs.

It should however be noted that olden days Oba as well as several Chiefs know how to play Akpata instruments. In spite of this fact, there is an opposition between the royal and rural harp-Akpata players. They represent two distinct symbolic historical lines of development that reflect a change in the use of Akpata musical instrument.

Akpata is a sacred instrument from sacred woods, with strings of elasticity drawing essence to divine worship. While the memory-Ayere, the Unity Akugbe and the Gale wind-Ozi Ogbegbe are all solace, comfort of the entertainments provided by Akpata instrument of Edo Culture.

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