Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Awka, the capital city of Anambra State, was known for its prowess in blacksmithing, though the people’s artistry had diminished tremendously. But today, aside being the state capital, one thing that the place is easily remembered for is its Egwu Imoka festival, an annual cultural event usually held in the month of April and sometimes in May depending on the Awka lunar calendar.
The comes agog at the period as sons and daughters of Awka all over the world engage in a mass return for the week-long celebration.
Egwu Imoka festival, the people said, is celebrated to thank the Imoka god, for her favours and to solicit for better years ahead. It is marked with masquerades carrying canes proceeding to the shrine, where they pay obeisance and observe various displays.
Traditional Prime Minister of Awka, Chief Benjamin Okoye, said the festival affords Awka people the opportunity to look inwards and pray for peace and prosperity of the town.
Describing it as an ancient annual celebration of Awka people to thank Imoka god for protecting them from external invasion, Okoye said: “In times past, myth has it that Imoka used monkeys to save Awka people from their enemies. So, those who worship the god saw the need to thank their god for protecting them in the past, hence the festival.’’
He, however, stressed the need for the youths to shun cultism and drug abuse in order to make the Imoka festival crime-free, as cases were in the past when deaths, injuries and destruction of property were recorded during the festival.
At the last festival held in May this year, which featured the usual masquerade displays at the Imoka shrine and the ‘Opu Eke’ dance at the shrine, it was observed that many masquerades that never featured in previous Imoka were there and added glamour to the festival.
With all the trappings including its carnival nature; some indigenes of Awka said that it was unfortunate that the festival, which has lasted for decades was yet to attract tourists’ flow that would make it a tourism destination.
This among other things bothered the organising committee Chairman for the 2019 edition of the festival, Mr. Ejike Nwude, and he wasted no time in calling on the state government to turn the Imoka site into a tourism village.
Nwude who spoke during the grand finale of the festival expressed the need for government’s presence to be felt through structural development of the Imoka arena.
“Egwu Imoka site is still in archaic form and needs befitting structures to conform to the status of Awka as the capital city.”
He explained that the festival could be made money-spinner for the state government when fully developed, as tourism site, where tourists would be trouping in during the festivity, would be provided. He added that the site could also have hotel and other forms of accommodation for visitors.
He noted that the Egwu Imoka festival could not be associated with demonic practices, because every society has its culture, which ought to be respected.
Nwude said his committee did a lot to ensure that this year’s festival was hitchfree and that activities of touts and hooligans that always caused problems were checkmated.
Further on the festival, he said: “Egwu Imoka is held in honour of the propitious goddess of Awka, a glorious and gorgeous festival which is celebrated by Awka sons and daughters. The first day of Egwu Imoka must be on Afor market day for the females to pay homage to Imoka, dancing the Opu Eke dance. The second day which is Nkwo is the grand finale.”
On the need to make the festival a tourist delight, a culture enthusiast, Mr. Obuorah Ezumeze enjoined Awka people to synergise with the state government to transform Egwu Imoka festival into cultural carnival as obtained in some other cities in Nigeria.
He described Imoka as a protective medicine made by Akpoto people from Benue State in the olden days, to fight their enemies in communal clashes, adding that monkey was dedicated to Imoka deity, because when the Ada people attacked Awka, it was monkeys that spread in numbers to the village.
“On seeing the monkeys, the indigenes sensed danger, repelled the attack and defeated their enemies in the process and Imoka season reminds Awka people that farming season is at the corner so that they can go and farm.”