By ROMANNUS UGWU
It was a day of colours, glamour and extravagant display of cultural fiesta. It was a cultural festival like never before, a festival of dancing and traditional songs, festival to enjoy local delicacies and strong local liquors, festival of cultural attires, festival of masquerades and in fact, festival of the people, for the people and by the people of Anambra state.
Organised by the Anambra State Town Unions and Associations in Abuja, the Eagles Square venue of the event was certainly a place to be as Anambra communities and town unions, numbering over 100 held those in attendance spellbound especially with the effigy of all manners of wild animals to symbolise the cultural identity of each communities and towns.
From Elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and antelope to other attractive masquerades like Ijele, wonder and Izaga, from traditional music and dances to varieties of local diets/delicacies and assortment of liquors especially palm wines, there was no dull moment during the several hours the cultural festival lasted.
It was an assemblage of traditional rulers, businessmen and women and politicians of repute of Anambra extraction competing favourably for attention with the other traditionally dressed indigenes. It was really a day of glamour, fanfare and joy
From Akwaeze, Awka Etiti, Azia, Adazi-Enu, Adazi-Ani, Amanuke Kingdom, Aguleri, Enugu-Agidi, Igbo-Ukwu, Ifite Dunukofia, Enugu-Ukwu, Ogbaru, Osumenyi, Nteje, Ezinifite, Nnobi, Okija, Nise, Nibo, Nnobi, Umuleri, Anam, Nzam and Uga Okebo to Ukpo among tens of others, it was a roll call of Anambra communities and town unions resident in Abuja on parade.
While the Anam Peoples Assembly postured bull effigy which they said signifies strength, peace and patience of the indigenes of the community, the Enugu Agidi Brothers Union stole the show with the elephant masquerade.
“The Bull symbolises what Anam people are known for,” Elias Nwachukwu, an indigene of Anam said, adding: “The people of Anam will follow you with patience but if the situation degenerates to show of strength, we are not lacking in it.
“We are happy to see another biannual Anambra cultural festival in Abuja which showcases the culture of each Anambra towns and what they are known for. Anam people also paraded oke and okpo, the symbol of traditional chieftaincy of the people.
“We also displayed fishes and yams signifying that we are predominantly farmers and fishermen. Every town and village came here to display what they are known for. Our target is to take the festival to continental and international levels,” he added.
For Barr Michael Iwulo, the cultural day would not have been complete without the Izaga masquerade of Aguleri. According to him; “Every important ceremony involving the people of Aguleri is incomplete without the Izaga masquerade. It could only be a mystery for somebody to stand on a stick measuring over eight feet to perform the task every normal human being can do.. We have many masquerades in Aguleri but none can parallel Izaga.
“The origin of Izaga is dated far back to 18th century even before we started seeing them in cities like Lagos. There are even the ones we call Izaga ofu okpa which move on one leg. The height signifies the belief that since Aguleri is the origin of Igbos, we stand taller than others. It also means that height is our strength,” Barr Iwulo explained.
Like Aguleri with the Izaga masquerade, Umuleri paraded the Ijele masquerade. Ijele, according to them, is known for its massive body size, display of colours and aesthetics. For the people of Umuleri, Ijele is the supreme commander of the spirit world.
Explaining the significant of the masquerade, Nnamdi Okeke said: “Ijele is a masquerade for big events and significant festival. It comes out when an august visitor is in town. It is a masquerade to celebrate the death of a great man to ensure he transits to the great beyond. Ijele is a masquerade which symbolises peace, joy, unity, happiness and strength.
“It takes a lot to bring out Ijele because the whole community must agree. However, the good thing about Ijele is that it is an epitome of joy from the spirit world yet there is nothing fetish associated with it. Both Christians and pagans worshippers identify with the masquerade,” he said.
It was also a day to remember for the Igbo-Ukwu people that claimed to be very proud people. “That is why we mark our culture and tradition everywhere we go. We participated in this cultural day with the foodstuffs predominant in Nkwo Igbo-Ukwu, the biggest market in Igboland. We also came with our mysterious masquerade called wonder which comes from the ground,” a civil servant, Obinna Ezeobi said.
For the Ozumenyi people, Atu, called Buffalo masquerade, signifies their strength and domineering nature. “Atu is a very unique masquerade. This cultural day would have been incomplete without the appearance of the Atu masquerade,” businessman, Eric Ezike said.
It would have been out of place for politician to be absent in such a big stage, especially with the state governorship election at hand. The politicians did not disappoint as the candidates of almost all the political parties were either present or sent representatives.