Jude Chinedu, Enugu
What happened in Enugu, Enugu State, few days to Christmas was indeed splendid and dazzling. Masquerades of various shapes, sizes and colours stormed the Coal City for the revived and repackaged Mmanwu festival. It was no doubt a festival of friendly spirits and Enugu residents were just thrilled as evidenced by their large turnout at the Okpara Square, venue of the programme.
Before now, masquerades referred to as mmanwu in Igbo language are not merely for entertainment or artistic pleasure; many of them represented spirits of ancestors and gods of the land. In the days of yore, each masquerade in a community represented a particular deity or spirit, which the people recognised.
This explains the depth of interest invested in the celebration of mmanwu festivals throughout Igboland. However, the advent of Christianity and adoption of western culture had reduced the spiritual effectiveness and traditional roles of these masquerades, though Mmanwu festivals still hold sway in many Igbo communities.
The forgoing made this year’s Enugu cultural fiesta, a week-long event, rounded off on Saturday, December 21, 2019, with a well-attended mmanwu festival, unique and of high essence to the Igbo within and outside the state. It started with procession of over 100 masquerades from 17 local government areas of the state and Ajo Ofia masquerade from Anambra State. Some of the masquerades on parade included Ijele, Akatakpa, Agwo, Akpi, Ugo, Udene, Agbeji, Omaba, Odogwu and Mgbadike.
People, especially, children and adults who had never witnessed such a gathering were held spellbound. Beyond the displays, the event also featured lectures by academics on the rich Igbo culture and the great tourism potential that could be harnessed by the entire South East.
President, Pan African Cultural Congress Bureau (PACCB), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dr Ferdinand Ani, said aside other functions of masquerades in Igboland, it could be turned into a massive tourism opportunity for the entire region owing to the rich history and creative ingenuity of the people.
He told Daily Sun: “We know the functions of masquerades in the executive, administrative and judicial setting of the Igbo society. It dated back to pre-colonial times. Today, development has wrestled all the powers from masquerades except entertainment.
“So, we are saying that we should maximize the entertainment functions of the masquerades and make our place a cultural tourism destination. We want all the people in government in the South East to begin to support this drive to make it a yearly exercise.
“Creative economy is where we belong in Africa and with this we can drag the entire world. South East governors must return to our culture. They have seen how well our boys have done in Nollywood. Let us come home to our cultural revival. The governors can make this part of the world a haven for tourists from all over the world. Let them draw example from what is happening in Enugu State.”
A lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Prof Damian Opata, said: “The significance of this event is the underlining fact that despite so many years of westernization, our culture is still very much alive. It is a force that brings people together for peace and unity.
“Yes, Christianity has come and is here forever, but there was a culture before Christianity and this culture in many respects is morally superior to Christianity. I can say that without any fear of contradiction. They should allow us be.”
Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Chief Ugonna Ibe, said the Mmanwu festival showcased the ultimate heritage where the Igbo philosophy was anchored; the culture with the highest competitive advantage: “The regular celebration of this event will definitely add much to our GDP with the ripple effect down the lines, all the business communities, especially the hospitality industry, petty traders and artisans who will smile home with gains in their pockets. We want to use this event to encourage the advancement of our local technology and arts and such equipped creative industry will replace the reliance on oil.”
Traders, commercial tricycle and taxi operators; food and drinks vendors as well as sachet water hawkers made brisk businesses. In fact, many of the people who thronged the venue from the rural communities used the opportunity to buy items for the yuletide for their families at the precinct of Okpara Square.