It was a day of colours, glamour and extravagant display of cultural fiesta. It was a cultural festival like no other, a festival of dancing, a festival of traditional songs, festival of local delicacies and strong local liquors, festival of cultural attires, festival of masquerades and ultimately a festival of the people, for the people and by the people of Efik in Calabar, Cross River state.
United by culture, said to be more powerful than religion, hundreds of Efik sons and daughters from far and wide and across all walks of lives, had held residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) spellbound when they gathered at River plate garden in Abuja, recently to celebrate the 2019 Usen Efik also called Efik day.
Efiks, really blessed with rich cultural heritage, capitalised on the opportunity to proudly showcase the identity they have never hidden wherever they find themselves. To them, it was a day of reunion and cultural showpiece, as the Efiks display different colourful attires and beautifully decorated masquerades to entertain the gathered crowd.
The audience could not hide their joyous feelings as they danced and sang to usher different masquerades and dance troops to the stage. The event is also a precursor to the annually month-long Yuletide festivities held in Cross River State every December.
Welcoming the crowd, the chairman of the cultural showpiece, Charles Okon, had reminded them that the event was in commemoration of the day set aside to celebrate and reawaken Calabar culture of the Efik indigenes in the Diasporas. He also emphasised that celebration of Usen Efik is necessitated by the conscious efforts geared towards promoting Efik culture which is gradually and regrettably going into extinction due to the threat of westernization.
“We the Efiks have very rich and beautiful heritage. The essence of this event is to grant those who will not be disposed to travel home this Christmas the opportunity to enjoy a little of what we have back there in Calabar. I am using this medium to call on those who have not witnessed it before to try and create out time, as it will make them feel like becoming a member,” he noted.
Some of the indigenes who spoke with Daily Sun confessed that they really had fun, confessing that the festival was full of nostalgia while still in Abuja just as others admitted that they have learned new things about their culture.
Mariam Udoh, who confessed having fun-filled day with the cultural festival, told our correspondent that: “I cannot remember when last I heard people speak my language like I did today. It was like I travelled home.
“The event reminded me of what I used to do back then in the village. I joined almost all the dancing troops to usher their masquerades to the stage. It was real fun, and I shall always make out time every last Saturday of November as long as I am in Abuja to celebrate with my people.
An Efik teenager, Uwem Abasiakamaum, said that although he is from Calabar and never travelled home, with what he had witnessed in the festival, he is going to plead with his parents to take him home this Christmas.
“I have only watched masquerades on the television. I never knew they are this beautiful and friendly. I enjoyed myself watching them dance to the music. The only regret I had was that I could not speak my language fluently. So, when some people were talking to me I could not respond. I just smiled back, which was not good.
“I have learned that it is not enough to only understand your language but to also be good when you speak it. I will plead with my parents to take me home because I want to have more of what I have seen here,” he said.
For Augusta Achibong, it was a filling day as the masquerades rolled out in different shades just as it also provided a reunion platform as she met many old friends from back home whom she never knew are residing in Abuja.
She also confessed learning new thing about the king of the masquerades, adding: “Although I grew up in Calabar, I didn’t know that festival like this is brought to an end by the dance of the king of the masquerades, which when he is performing nobody is allowed to move around or cross the field, or be flogged. We enjoyed ourselves because most of us that will not be opportune to travel home for this Christmas, had ours here in Abuja today.”
Utibe Uyai confessed that she enjoyed herself but wished the organisers could make it a two-day cultural celebration, stressing: “I am very grateful to those who put this together because they have taken me to Calabar while I am still here in Abuja. But I wish the next edition could be more than a day.”
Meanwhile, chairman main organising committee, John Offiong, said that the idea was to make Efik people living in Abuja feel the touch of home, explaining that the festival which started in 2016 is a day set aside for thanksgivings and promotion of Efik culture which is gradually fading away due to westernization.
“Usen Efik also known as Efik day, is a day where we, the Efik people from the southern part of Nigeria come out to celebrate and display our very rich culture. We try to use this day to promote and showcase our rich cultural heritage to the world, which we normally observe every last Saturday of November. Usen Efik is like a day for thanksgiving for every Efik person outside Calabar, so we come together to enjoy ourselves.
“We brought all the beautifully decorated colourful masquerades of different shades, which are the centre of entertainment from Calabar to make it real fun for our people. It is like a mini carnival, it attracted people from all over the world and also creates platform for reunion as we get to meet people that we have not met for long and also get to meet our brothers and sisters that are residing here in Abuja but were not aware.
“A lot of our cultural values are fading away gradually, so we are trying to use this event to revive them. Most importantly, our languages are not spoken in many homes, so, in a day like this, we speak only our languages,” he said.