Since his ascension to the Obosi throne, His Majesty, Eze Chidubem Iweka III, has made the annual Obiora Festival one of the most revered cultural spectacles in Igboland, southeast of Nigeria, for eight years. This spectacular New Yam Festival usually draws Obosi indigines from far and wide to the ancient kingdom, as well as tourists.
No thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ninth Obiora Festival was deliberately low keyed as the venue was shifted from the regular Adike Stadium, Obosi, to the palace of the Obosi monarch. However, the pomp and flair associated with the Obiora Festival were partially done with only an integral and most vital part called Ikpo Onunu.
In keeping with the COVID-19 regulations, the Obosi monarch limited attendance to the fiesta. For the first time, there were no invitation cards sent out to eminent guests. The regular clubs, trade Unions, age grades and others, who attended past festivals with numerous members, were, on request, limited to a maximum of three to five per group.
But it was a sight of colourful masks at the Palace of Eze Iweka III as everybody wore masks and tried to observe social distancing as much as space would permit.
Ikpo Onunu, for our education, is the ceremonious cutting of the new yam by the king to usher in the latest yam harvests; to make a symbolic and cultural proclamation that the new yam is fit for consumption.
In his remarks at the Palace Grounds, the monarch said, despite the outbreak of Coronavirus, “our crops still did well at the farms” and, “despite the shortages of food and the distancing between each other during the lockdown, this most trying period also made us share the little or much that we had with one another, ironically conditioning us to strive for one of the golden rules of our Lord Jesus Christ, to love thy neighbour as thyself.
“As schools and international borders are reopening yet the deadly virus is still at large and wreaking havoc across the world, this is a time for our people to exercise fresh caution in the observance of all anti-COVID-19 precautions,” he added, even as he reached out in condolences to families of the bereaved, Obosi families and beyond, whose loved ones lost their lives to the pandemic.
He thanked the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, for stationing a branch of anti-cult operations in Obosi, effectively reducing the threat of cultism in the town. He also thanked the local law-enforcement agents and the vigilance group in Obosi for their diligence in responding to emergencies so far this year, in spite of grave challenges.
The monarch looked forward to hosting the kingdom’s renowned, triennial Ito Ogbo Festival, in March 2021. Ito Ogbo, he reiterates, “is a unique festival that celebrates Old Age. Every three years, members of the age grade that attain 80 years are celebrated throughout the entire town.
“It is a great festival that carries more festivity and merrymaking in Obosi Kingdom than Christmas and Easter celebrations lumped together. It is a thing of pride for Obosi people at home and in diaspora, that the Ito Ogbo Festival, a celebration of longevity practiced in Obosi Kingdom for a couple of hundred years, is now spreading into other towns in Igboland.”
At this year’s Ikpo Onunu, the rituals associated with the tradition came alive when, with knife in hand, the Obosi monarch blessed God for a bountiful harvest and prayed for more good fortunes in future. Then, he cut the roasted yam and dipped pieces of it in spiced palm oil, and shared among a procession of children already gathered before him.
As he handed the pieces to the children, he blessed them all, and prayed, ever so briefly, for some, when the spirit moved him to do so. A man gifted with telepathy, the monarch’s prayers were either directed to children with impending danger looming on them or those whose good fortunes were being challenged by dark vibes.
After feeding the excited children, participants ate roasted yams in spiced palm oil served in carved wooden platters, while drinking palm wine (Ife di na Oba). The brief Ikpo Onunu ended with the monarch, his cabinet members, chiefs and Obosi indigines retiring to attend to their limited number of visitors from afar.
The 2020 Obiora Festival might not have pulled the biggest crowd ever, but the fact that it was not canceled till next year was a major plus for Obosi and Igbo culture. As Eze Iweka III told Daily Sun, “Next year, promises to be better, hoping that COVID-19 wouldn’t pose a major problem by then. Our cultural heritage is much alive. It’s a legacy we must observe and celebrate annually.”