George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
The people of Uratta in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo were in their best traditional attires as they celebrated their annual Onwa Oru cultural festival, recently. Known as a celebration of peace and unity, this year’s edition was held on February 19, 2019.
Uratta clan is made up of ten villages namely: Akwakwuma, Amakohia, Okwu, Orji, Owalla, Owellu, Umualum, Umuobaa and Umuorii. In order of seniority, Umualum is regarded as the first son of Uratta and thus serves as the spiritual headquarters of the clan.
As a result special recognition is accorded Umualum in spite of its relative population during religious and socio-cultural ceremonies in the area.
Daily Sun gathered that Onwa Oru is the foremost cultural festival there which spans 21days in the month of February, commencing when the traditional “Omu” (fresh palm frond) is enmeshed in the water. The three-week long programme would come to an end at the grand ceremony usually held at the Orie Uratta.
With the traditional entry of the “Omu” inside the water, the town criers would spread the message throughout the 10 villages that make up Uratta clan. Thereafter, the Nde Oha Uratta would tour round all the villages to collect the traditional “Opi” money; they would also fix the date for the grand finale of the festival which must be on Orie market day.
The festival is also called Onwa Iriri; meaning ‘month of merriment’, and during the period, indigenes including non-indigenes living within the villages of Uratta are expected to observe the traditional ordinance that outlaws fighting and quarrelling. Defaulters are heavily fined for breaching the peace of the period. Even burial ceremonies are conducted without fanfare during this period.
Singing and dancing are some of the social and cultural activities performed at the Orie Uratta central market. One of the highlights of the annual ritual is the presentation of the first daughters (Ada) of Uratta at the Obu Ozuzu, the gigantic tree at the centre of Orie Uratta market.
This ancient ceremony is called Mgboto Uratta Ibi Ukwu Obu, which symbolises the conferment of special honour, status and dignity to Nwa Mgboto Uratta (Uratta daughters). The first daughters who are gorgeously attired in the George wrappers and traditional beads are usually led to the Orie Uratta market by the eldest Uratta woman from that family.
According Chief Charles Onyeagbako, the Onwa Oru festival is the most important cultural festival in the whole of Uratta clan as it is the time when the people come together to celebrate .
He said: “It is a time of peace, no quarrels; no fights and during this time you are not even supposed to demand any debt from your debtor, this is how important the Onwa Oru is to the entire people of Uratta. During this period, families who lost their loved ones and want to bury them within this period must do it quietly without noise”.
Similarly, Nze Ralph Obi Njoku amplified the essence of the event, noting that “It is the very unique cultural festival that binds the people of Uratta together because within this period; until the grand finale at Orie Uratta market, everybody maintains the peace and merry with his kinsmen.”
Also, the traditional ruler; Eze Oha II of Ihitaoha Uratta, Dr. Emmanuel Okoro explained that Onwa Oru marks the end of the harvest season and hence the period of plenty which often falls around February, pointing out that it also ushers in the new planting season for the people.
“This ancient culture was passed unto us by our ancestors and it is a festival of peace, unity and progress among the people of Uratta and as you can see; the high and mighty is here to celebrate with us,” the monarch said.