From Geoffrey Anyanwu, Enugu
Tackling food security in this era of people abandoning farming for various reasons especially the murderous activities of Fulani herdsmen, has become a big concern to many communities in the South East.
For the Awgu Egbeleli community in Awgu Local Government of Enugu State, their biggest festival, Ikeji Awgu (New Yam Festival), has been remodelled to make farming attractive to the people. This year’s festival was adjudged the best in recent times.
It was spiced with awards to different categories of participants, particularly, yam farmers, as a way of incentives. Prizes were given to the best farmer of the year, best-behaved masquerade and the best cultural troupe.
The event coincided with the inauguration of the executives of the newly formed Awgu Egbeleli Development Union (AEDU). It has three autonomous communities, Ugwuleshi Awgu, Adogbalato Kingdom and Ogboli/Ohaja.
Ikeji Awgu is conducted every July. The people of Awgu wherever they reside including those in the Diaspora usually return home for the celebration.
It affords some young men (natives) who wish to marry from their community opportunity to explore as spinsters ready for marriage also find it an avenue to “sell” themselves.
The festival held at the Olie Awgu Market Park, witnessed the outing and performances by cultural troupes and masquerades, which made the festival a semi-carnival. In fact, the most spectacular aspect of Ikeji festival is the masquerade display.
Ikeji Awgu is held for two market days, Eke and Olie and always on Friday and Saturday. On the Saturday, Olie Market day, which is the Awgu market day, the celebration is taken to the market; that is “Ipu ahia,” which is Ikeji outing. That is where the masquerade and other cultural displays are held.
This year’s event witnessed the presence of the first son of Awgu to become a bishop; Rt. Rev. Johnson Ekwe, Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Niger West, Anambra State. The cleric addressed his people with the word of God, danced with them. He conducted the swearing-in of the executives of AEDU headed by Prof Reko Okoye of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka.
Traditional ruler of Ugwuleshi Autonomous community Awgu, Igwe Godwin Nwobi, (Ugwundu II), said: “We call it Ikeji because it is the time of harvest of farm produce. If Ikeji festival takes place, it means that farm products can be harvested. You know after planting there used to be a kind of famine. When Ikeji approaches, you know that food has started to be in place. And it is a yearly event and when it is celebrated, people will jubilate that hunger has gone and harvest of crops has started.
“On the day of the festival or before that day, parents buy new clothes and shoes for their children. On the day of the festival, all will come out to the market square where there will be cultural displays, masquerades and people will merry to show we have entered a new year like our people do it.
“The traditional ruler leads in the ceremony and he will perform the new yam rituals by cutting the yam and people will eat the yam in the market square there. The monarch will eat the yam first before others and he will cut the yam before other people will start cutting.
“The gain of the festival is that it is when our people do mass return, both those within and outside Nigeria, to discuss and take decisions on the development of the community. It affords our people opportunity to know themselves and interact as people of the same linage and culture.
“It also affords us the opportunity to showcase our culture and be proud of it. This festival started from our forefathers and got to us and we will handover to our children.
“During the celebration, we hold competition for the farmers to select the one that harvests the biggest yam. We give awards and gifts to the winners to encourage our people to farm. They are given fertilizer and farm implements to motivate them. By so doing we make farming to be competitive, so that the people will show much interest in it.”
President General, AEDU, said: “We shall cause positive change to come in Awgu in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. We shall no more await the time now is the time, only if we can collectively and cohesively work together without sentiment, nepotism or fear.
“In this regard, appointments into committees will be based on who knows what best or the people who can perform creditably well in a proposed project. Capability and meritocracy will be our factor guides without favour.
“Appointments shall never border on Ugweleshi or Agbada Awgu. Neither shall it border on village from which one comes. People who possess the qualities and are capably imbued to give Awgu Egbeleli selfless and prompt service will be delegated to duties.”
The PG said the festival affords them opportunity to plan the development of the community and the strategies for accomplishing those milestones: “The Christmas or Easter or any of those feasts that are instituted by the white man are about their own tradition too. Our own tradition, we shall not forget and we shall never neglect. Therefore, we now institute a year or a time when we shall also gather together to discuss what we should do for the betterment of our people.”
He noted that a festival like the Ikeji has continued to bind the different autonomous communities of Awgu together: “These communities being made autonomous, now co-head together as it has been because we are one and indivisible entity governed by the former Eze V.E.D. Orji, Egbeleli I of Awgu Egbeleli.
“Now you may think about the symbol of Awgu Egbeleli. Initially, Awgu was made up of 10 villages. For event of development and to bring government nearer to us that is why we now have 12 villages. But the symbol for which Awgu had been known is retained, Awgu Egbeleli, that comes about the name.”
Other members of the AEDU executive are: Felix Okolie, First Vice President General; Chief Raymond Egbo, Second Vice President General; Michael Oko, Third Vice President General; Dennis Obasi, Secretary General; Joseph Udefi, Assistant Secretary; Clement Chukwunta, Treasurer; Mrs Rita Ikpo, Financial Secretary; Nichodemus Nwankwo, Publicity Secretary; Ugochukwu Udeorsu, Director of Socials and Titus Udefi, Chief Provost.