From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
For the Wurkun people of Karim Lamido in Taraba State, November is usually an eventful month. It is when the people gather in their numbers to celebrate the Phebe cultural festival.
On November 26, 2016, sons and daughters of the state as well as lovers of culture trooped to Amancce community for the festival. It was a colourful display of culture by various dance troupes.
The festival, it was gathered, dates back to the origins of the Wurkun people, the dominant ethnic group in Karim and one of the major tribes in Taraba State.
Alhaji Abubarkar Haruna Kirim Lamido, Chief of Wurkun and Garkuwan Muri, told Daily Sun that the festival is celebrated annually to mark the beginning of harvest.
“This festival has always been part of our people. You cannot trace our history without talking about the Phebe cultural festival. Our fathers usually celebrate the feast to mark the beginning of harvest, usually towards the end of the year, to thank the gods for good harvest and favourable weather conditions and by so doing prepare for a better year.
“Over the years, the festival has become a platform for bringing home all the sons and daughters of the land in the Diaspora. This way, we are able to foster unity among our people and to resolve disputes peacefully.
“It also helps to preserve our culture and uphold high moral standards such as decency, hard work, honesty and integrity, respect for elders and love for home,” he said.
Dr. Inusa Wiza, Chief Medical Director of the Federal Medical Centre, Jalingo, who is an indigene and one of the organisers of the 2016 Phebe festival, agreed.
HE explained that: “Phebe is the unifying force of the Wurkum people and a time to take a rest from work to enjoy the produce and renew old bonds that time and distance may have severed or threatened.”
For Alhaji Garba Umar, former Acting Governor of Taraba State, he couldn’t afford to miss the festival for any reason. “Even if I am out of the country, I make sure that I return home for this event because it is what defines us as a people and the only reason we still have a culture to call ours,” he said.
Celebrated in the remote village of Amancce, about 50 kilometres from Jalingo, this year’s event witnessed a scintillating display of cultural dance by various groups. This was followed by celebrations all over the village.
Musa Yuri, one of the residents, said: “This is one day of the year that we all look forward to. It is the most important day of the year for Wurkun people and we make the best of it by enjoying ourselves as best as we can. We forget all grudges. Previous wrongs are forgiven and broken relationships are mended for fresh beginnings. Some people even meet their future spouses this day because it is a day of great joy.”
Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, John Musa, who was at the event, said the festival could generate huge revenues for the government, attract foreign investors to the state and promote goodwill for the state, if properly managed.
But accessing the venue of the festival was a painful experience. The journey that ought not to take more than two hours from Jalingo, took the reporter over eight hours due to the excessively bad road.
Most people had to travel from Jalingo to Adamawa State and then Gombe State before reaching the village.
According to Musa, “the situation of the road is pathetic. Imagine that to access one part of the state, you have to travel through two other states just because the road is bad. If the road were good, visitors could get here from Jalingo under three hours at most. Now you end up spending a whole day on the road and you cannot use a small car.”
The road from Jalingo requires crossing a section of the River Benue, and traversing the Muri Mountains through a precarious, nerve-racking road that offers panoramic views of the surrounding villages and forest reserves.
If the less than 50-kilometre road were constructed, the journey would be made a lot shorter, less dangerous and fun to travel, adding to the excitement of the festival.
Another major challenge threatening the survival and vibrancy of the festival is lack of publicity.
Few people outside the state are aware of this uniquely beautiful and rich festival as it is mostly people with direct links to the place that know about it. Residents told the reporter that, if adequate publicity is made in time, the festival could turn out twice the number of current visitors.
At the moment, the entire community only boasts of a 25-room accommodation for visitors. Some of the guests at the festival complained about the lack of adequate accommodation.
“Although there is hardly need for one to sleep at night as the celebrations continue through the night, and going to sleep would mean missing out on most of the fun, the need for more hotels in the area is overwhelming. This is where private investors can come in. This again depends on the vibrancy of the festival and how many tourists it attracts,” Musa further told the reporter.
Besides the festival, the Amancce village is strategically positioned on the commercial route between Karim Lamido in Taraba and Gombe. Traders would also patronise any hotels built in the area even outside festival season, another resident suggested to the reporter.
Considering the significance and potential of the festival to the state and the country, stakeholders in the area have called on government to commence the construction of the road between Jalingo and Lau and from Karim Lamido to Amancce village for ease of access.
They also stressed the need for adequate publicity through newspaper advertisements and jingles on electronic and social media platforms.
The Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. James Gani, said that the state government would subsequently collaborate with the organisers to ensure timely and adequate publicity. He said government would ensure that the festival becomes one of the most popular feistas in the country and on the African continent.