Tony John, Port Harcourt
The Egwu Ogba (Ogba festival) is an annual event of the people of the Egi clan in the Ogba Kingdom of present-day Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State.
The festival is used by the Egi to celebrate their rich cultural heritage from time immemorial, dating from the 15th Century. According to the reigning Egi monarch, King Anele Uzondu Nwokoma, Eze Egi III (Eze Ogba-Ukwu) of Ogbaland, “the Egwu Ogba signifies the harvesting of first fruits and tendering/submitting these first fruits to God in thanksgiving. That is, celebrating Egi Feast of Passover.”
The festival is celebrated in August every year during which all sons and daughters of Egi, at home and in the diaspora, return home to mark the epoch-making event with fanfare. The festival provides a unique opportunity for reunion, reconciliation and reintegration of kith and kin separated by time and space.
To add spice to the festival, visitors are welcome and treated to the warmth and age-long hospitality of the Egi people.
The main event that heralds the month-long festival is the carrying of fire across the various communities by elders of each kindred group as a sign of cleansing and purification of the towns and communities. This rite is used to chase evil out of the land.
This is preceded by the shooting of local cannons by both the old and young, immediately after the formal proclamation of the festival, eight native weeks to the commencement of the festival, by the Akoku kindred of Erema community, at the Anama Orji Square, Erema. This proclamation is done in July and attracts all sceptre holders from all the 16 communities of Egi, who, by custom, converge on the Anama Orji to perform the proclamation rites.
After the fire-carrying cleansing exercise, which is done two days after the Igwa Iji rites of the monarch, there is dancing, singing sharing of gifts, masquerades display, wrestling competitions, town hall meetings, reconciliation and many other activities.
Traditionally and culturally, the Egwu Ogba signals the beginning of the new yam of the Egi, in accordance with the people’s native calendar.
This practise has been on since antiquity. During this Egwu Ogba, all evil men and women in the Egi clan repent of their evil ways and turn a new leaf to avoid the wrath of God.
However, this year’s event attracted a galaxy of personalities from all walks of life. An array of traditional rulers, who were adorned in their chieftaincy regalia, added colour to the festival.
The celebration officially took place at the palace of King Nwokoma. In his welcome, the monarch admonished Egi sons and daughters, urging them to see the festival as a moment of forgiveness, love and reconciliation.
The royal father went down memory lane, recalling the slave trade, and apologised for the involvement of their ancestors in the business. He described the current dispensation in Egiland as a moment of positive change. He also attributed the successes recorded by their children to God’s favour.
King Nwokoma said: “This is a feast of passover to God. But, before we commence that, I would like to let Egi know that there is a new wave of change that is passing through Egi Kingdom.
“Several years ago, there were just a few persons that were Ph.D (holders). Today, Egi alone can count 30 Ph.Ds. While other people are suffering, Egi has remarkably had peace. This is the power of God, because we revere Him, we worship Him on a daily basis.
“Whatever we were denied before, God will release all of them to us, in Jesus name. But we must keep our hands clean to have it. Remember, where there are two persons, Abraham, there is also a Lot. As much as Abraham loved his brother, Lot prevented Abraham from tapping his own blessings.
“While Abraham feared God, Lot was a sinner. And Lot blocked Abraham’s blessings until Lot went away. So too, there are Lots in Egi, and Holy Spirit will overtake you and run you over like Philip and chariots of Ethiopia, so that the blessings of Egi can continue to pass.”
The monarch apologised for the atrocities perpetrated in the land in the past, which included murder, kidnapping and rape.
“We apologise to all people, all inheritance, tribes, families of Nigerians, who were sold in the slave trade. Today, because we say we are sorry, Egi is your new home. Wherever you are, we open Egi for you to come and invest.
“You may not know the significance of what I am saying. But those who were sold as slaves, they are crying because they want to have a home other than America and other countries where they now live. And I am issuing this statement that Egi is their home.
“Wherever you are, come to Egi, because Egi is peaceful and moving forward, so that you join us in moving Egi Kingdom forward. We are sorry for the slave trade; we are sorry for whatever way we maltreated you.
“This is a new dawn for Egi. This is the time for forgiveness. This is the time to move above what you can think or even imagine. Today, we know people were raped, people have been kidnapped in Egi. A pregnant woman was kidnapped, killed and the foetus removed to do charms. Out of fear and desperation, people ran away from their homes. Some of them did not come back to Egi Kingdom. Some of them died.
“There are also people who refused to repent, who picked up arms by themselves.
“Before, we called them cultists. Today, we don’t have cultists in Egi. What we have are our brothers and sisters who thought they could get rich overnight by bearing arms. Today, those arms are in the hands of security agencies.”
A moment of silence was observed in remembrance of those that lost their lives during the years of crisis in Egiland.
The royal father noted that, apart from blessing them with food, God has also developed Egiland in human capital development.
“And with human capital development, instead of planting one root or tuber of yam, we can plant thousands of it,” he said.
He commended Total E & P Nigeria Limited for being a good developmental partner. He said, like Oliver Twist, Egi people still want more from the company.
In his keynote address, chairman on the occasion, Chief Oris Onyiri, described the celebration as auspicious, when the Egi people gathered to “celebrate their unity of purpose, cultural heritage and collective vision.”
Onyiri said: “Moments like these come once in a year to enable us gather and partake in that cultural festival of Egwu-Ogba as members of one cultural community with a high sense of commonality, dignity and hardwork.”
He said that, to understand the Egi New Yam Festival, one must attune his mind to the agricultural potential of the people and their high regard for land as an economic heritage and source of power.
“Our people are first farmers. Farming defines our reality. Without food security, no household or community can organise itself in the daily pursuit of other issues of life,” he said.
He also described Total E & P Nigeria Limited as their major development partner, noting that: “Your regard for us as a people and respect for our cultural norms is a practical demonstration of our partnership.”
“In the history of oil prospecting and production, no community has remained peaceful with oil companies than Egi clan. Till date, Total remains a worthy and responsible development partner in Egiland,” Onyiri said.
In his remarks, the Total’s managing director, Mr. Mike Sangster, who was represented by the general manager, JV onshore, Herman Vossen, assured the host community of the company’s continued support.
Sangster said: “We are happy to come together to celebrate this new yam festival as friends and patterns. Again, I would like to assure you of the full support of Total for the community and this kind of cultural festival for the community.”