From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
In Obosi community in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, longevity is celebrated. The culture of celebrating elderly people while still alive dates as far back as 1450 when the kingdom of Obosi was established.
They instituted a ceremony where men and women from 80 years and above were honoured and celebrated, which later turned out to be a big festival. It is known as Ito Ogbo and it holds every three years in the community.
It is usually a big festival where indigenes return home en masse. It could be said that the festival is more popular in the area than Christmas, Easter or New Year celebrations.
During this year’s Ito Ogbo festival, over 131 octogenarians participated and it attracted people from all walks of life, including a delegation from the Federal Mnistry of Information, Culture and Tourism. At the event, the culture and tradition of Obosi kingdom were displayed with fanfare.
The Igwebuike age grade was the group that participated in this year’s Ito Ogbo festival at the Obosi cultural ground. The men adorned red caps while women wore specially designed caps. They were given the highest title, Ogbueshi for men, while women got the title of Ogbueshi Nwanyi.
According to the tradition of the community, all the men and women who participated in the festival, were from that day exempted from community service, taxes and contributions, unless they voluntarily decide to do those services or pay levies.
There were various masquerades, including Ijere and Ugo, and other smaller ones. Troupes from different villages added colour to the event.
At the festival, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that the ministry would upgrade the longevity celebration to a national festival.
Mohammed said the ministry would also initiate the process of getting the festival enlisted in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The minister, who was represented at the festival by the permanent secretary of the ministry, Dr. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, said government was determined to diversify the nation’s economy, and, more importantly, make culture and tourism an alternative to oil as a source of revenue to the country.
The minister said: “Over the years, Ito Ogbo Obosi festival has been used to facilitate, develop and harness the cultural and tourism potential of not only Obosi Kingdom and Anambra State but Nigeria in general. I thank Eze Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iweka, and others for putting in place structures that have led to the sustenance and development of the age-long festival. There is no doubt that this festival has impacted hugely on the health and quality of life of people of Obosi and its environs.
“Ito Ogbo Obosi is a unique and uncommon festival that celebrates and encourages longevity whereby our indigenous Obosi senior citizens both male and female who are 80 years old and above are inducted, capped and officially received into the prestigious octogenarians’ age grade.
“This festival is peculiar to Obosi Kingdom and it dates back to over 400 years. We are aware that some neighbouring communities have started to emulate this noble festival. We are encouraging other communities to emulate and copy this festival.
“Over the years, the Ministry of Information and Culture has conducted researchers, identified, documented, developed and upgraded several local and state festivals to national and international festivals and has also facilitated the enlistment of some of these festivals into the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.
“Hopefully, the ministry and the Obosi Kingdom will partner and collaborate to ensure that this all-important cultural festival does not go into extinction. We will work hard to ensure that it is upgraded to a national festival.”
In his speech, the traditional ruler of Obosi Kingdom, Igwe Chidubem Iweka (Eze Iweka III), described the festival as an age-long ceremony by his forefathers many centuries ago to celebrate longevity.
The monarch said: “Three years ago, we gathered here to celebrate Ito Ogbo festival of Irugo age grade, who handed over the baton of longevity to the latest octogenarians in town, which is the Igwebuike age grade. We are proud to celebrate this exceptional unique festival with you.
“We thank God for keeping you alive to witness this one in life festivity of your God-given long life. This event is coming at a time coronavirus pandemic is ravaging the world but God kept you people alive and strong; it’s Gods doing.
Ito Ogbo is a festival that has prevailed for hundreds of years when members of age grades who collectively attain the age of 80 years celebrate their octogenarian status jointly in a super celebration like Christmas, New Year and Easter all joined in one in Obosi.
“It’s a mark of great respect, and tradition dictates that from today, all members of Igwebuike age grade are exempted from all forms of levies and assignments of community service. However, these octogenarians, who voluntarily wish to participate in any community service are free to do so.
“The title of Ogbueshi has been bestowed to the male Igwebuike age grade, while Ogbueshi Nwanyi for the women. The men were capped with red cap that is specially preserved for Eze and Ndichie, while the women of Igwebuike age grade were capped with specially designed cap for Ogbueshi Nwanyi.
“It is very vital to note that this title of Ogbueshi and Ogbueshi Nwanyi is exclusively reserved for bona fide members of the celebrated age grade. Any man or woman who has attained the age of 80 and is not a member of Igwebuike age grade is not entitled to bear the title of Ogbueshi or Ogbueshi Nwanyi. Non-members are not eligible to wear the red cap even if you attain the age of 80 years but are not member of Igwebuike age grade.
“Any 80-year-old man or woman who violates the rules does so in greater disregard of the customs of our land. Obosi community shall frown at violation of our revered tradition.
“I want to use this opportunity to debunk the regrettable misconception of some members of our community, who assumed that the enrolment of age grade and participation of Ito Ogbo are pagan practices and must be shunned. There are some people who did not enrol in age grade for the fear of violating their Christian faith. We wish to state categorically that there is nothing spiritual, fetish or diabolical in joining an age grade or participation in Ito Ogbo.
“I want to make it clear that, if there is anything fetish and diabolical in Ito Ogbo festival, the likes of Bishop Chuka Agwuegbo, Anglican Bishops, Catholic priests and reverend sisters won’t be here. So, please, this is a very terrible misconception and we should stop spreading the rumour.
“On Sunday, after the event, the Christian celebrants are expected go to church for thanksgiving for longevity, while the traditionalists among them visit Eke market square to do the same through their own spiritual medium. We pray for the lives of the celebrants and all their age mates, members and non members that God shall continue to bless you and your families with good health.
“It is worthy to note that the effort to make the Obosi Ito Ogbo festival a world festival is beginning to manifest by the presence of the minister for information, culture and tourism represented by the permanent secretary of the ministry. For the ministry to be here gives me joy because the festival will be recognized nationally and internationally.”
In her remarks, the Minister of State for Environment, Chief (Mrs.) Sharon Ikeazor, who is an indigene of the community, commended Eze Obosi and chairman of the organizing committee, Chief Chinedu Nwogem, for the colourful event.
She said Obosi community has been known for celebrating and honouring the elderly in the community, which she said has been the reason God has been keeping the aged alive to be celebrated in their life time.
The Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, Dr. Kenneth Anierobi, said the state recognizes the value of culture in the growth of the society.
“Our intention is to make Anambra State a third destination for investment and one of the mechanisms to this is promotion of culture and tourism in the state. Now the state government recognizes the Ito Ogbo festival of Obosi Kingdom as one of the flagship cultural festivals in the country. And so, the government is willing through the ministry of culture and tourism of the state to partner with Obosi community to continue to develop this festival to a world class level.
“We, therefore, congratulate the Royal Majesty and all the celebrants and indeed all the sons and daughters of Obosi Kingdom on this occasion of Ito Ogbo festival and we wish all a joyous celebration,” Aneriobi said.
President-general of Obosi Development Union (ODU), Chief Ikechukwu Okolo, said the community deemed it fit to continue with the festival due to its unique nature of celebrating their fathers and mothers while alive than celebrating them in the grave.
Okolo said: “This is an epoch making event, it is symbiotic celebrating the octogenarians for attaining the age of 80 years old. The aim of this festival is to celebrate longevity and encourage the youths to live and be honoured on attainment of 80 years of age. Obosi kingdom is honoured for you to be in this year’s Ito Ogbo festival.”