From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Ogidi Community in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State is poised to take its annual Nwafor cultural festival to the highest point. It called on the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and other relevant agencies to list the event on the calendar of national and international festivals.
Dr Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman, United Nigeria Airline, is a son of Ogidi and promoter of Igbo culture. He said the call became necessary as the community celebrated this year’s feast marking the end of planting season. He insisted that Ogidi “forms one of the huge opportunities in culture”, a non-oil sector of the economy.
The monarch of Ogidi Kingdom, Igwe Alex Onyido, appealed to the federal and state governments to upgrade the festival as in other parts of the country: “It will promote Nigeria’s culture across borders and attract foreign visitors from different parts of the world.
“It will also create jobs for the youth and increase the revenue base of the state and federal governments. The festival has survived many challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have stopped last year’s edition but for the importance of the festival to Ogidi people.
“This year’s festival is special because it coincided with my fifth year on the throne. At the end of farming season we always have time to rest, celebrate and thank our God for bumper harvest.
“This Nwafor festival is a period whereby after the planting of our crops, we have to rest small before our farm harvest which is in September.
“Nwafor is celebrated in every July at the end of every planting season.
“It is a situation where every Ogidi man is obliged to be in Ogidi. It’s mad return in Ogidi community. It is a period we return from different parts of the world to see ourselves, have a town hall meeting for development.
“During this period, those who are blessed, the rich ones among us will touch lives in Ogidi with one empowerment or the other. It is a time of coming together in Ogidi to resolve our problems.
“As I promised when I was crowned Igwe that all the bad culture we have, we are going to discard them and uphold our good customs and traditions in Ogidi kingdom. Nwafor festival is one of the good culture which we have and continued to sustain.”
The festival lasted for four market days of Igbo calendar. It was mainly for the men folks and during the period young boys of the community were initiated into manhood of masquerade.
The event could pass for a festival of masquerades. They came in various shapes and sizes parading the streets, village squares. They ended at the palace of the Igwe at the last day of the event to drop their canes for the next festival.
This year’s festival was special in the sense that, there was town hall meeting with the youths where they charted way forward for the community. President-General of Ogidi Union, Chief Jideofor Onubogu, said: “Nwafor festival signifies the end of every farm activity, when they appease the gods and glorifying God for a good planting season.
“It is a period of merriment and jubilation. It is a four market-day programme. The final day, small masquerade always called (Umumuo) will take over the villages.
“But before then, the programme started with appeasing the gods, through the traditional handlers. They go to our shrines and do the normal sacrifices we do to them.
“It is done by those who worship the gods to thank them for successful Nwafor and to stop rain for the period. Then those who worship God will go to churches for thanksgiving for good planting season.
“The youths will do their initiation. It is the time the young boys between nine and 11 are initiated into the masquerade clan (Ikpoani). The boys are initiated at the eve of Nwafor festival day. For you to be a full-fledged Ogidi man you must pass through the initiation process.
“We have the heads of shrines who have the traditional rights to conduct the initiation. It is not just anybody does that but those the shrines permitted to do the initiation.
“It is a yearly event and they must do it as an Ogidi indigene, it is compulsory. There is a place we call ‘Uno Muo’ where the initiation normally takes place. It is officiated by the oldest man in the community.
“The dropping of the canes of the Nwafor at the palace of the Igwe by all the boys and masquerades, and offering of blessings to them by the monarch, mark the end of the ceremony.”
For some prominent sons of the community including the governorship candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Okonkwo, popularly called Dikeora Idemili and the traditional first son of Ogidi, Chief Emeka Nwabueze (Ajie Okpala Ogidi), it was an opportunity for them to celebrate the festival in their homes too.
The youths, guests and well wishers were treated to sumptuous meals and exotic drinks just as masquerades paraded to their excitement. The masquerades visited Okonkwo’s residence. They insisted on passing their messages they got from the spiritual realm to him before returning to base.
This year, Okonkwo’s residence was the venue for the display of Ajofia, a powerful masquerade from Nnewi.