It has become an annual ritual. And it occurs between mid-December and early January of every year. Ndigbo find in it a veritable platform to relax, mingle and commune with both the living and the dead. Some call it mass return. I call it return of fun.
During this period, Ndigbo troop to their ancestral homes from different parts of the country and beyond. They come back to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Some wish to be part of the ofala festival of their traditional rulers. Some want to consummate their marriages; or to witness such consummation by close relatives. For some others, it is house warming or raising of funds for community projects. Momentarily, they forget the stress called life in the cities.
This year, the conviviality was particularly infectious at Isuofia community in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. At the general convention of the town on January 3, 2019, a few indigenes raised millions of naira within a few minutes. It was the launch of the new unity constitution of the town. A prominent son of the community and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, initiated the move.
The excitement at Isuofia is understandable. For over 20 years, the community was in crisis. The head village, Umueze, sought in vain to have an autonomous community status. But later last year, the six villages that make up the town threw away their differences and reconciled with one another. They decided to chart a new course and the town is happier for it.
For the first time for over 20 years, the traditional ruler of Isuofia, Igwe (Col.) C.A.O. Muoghalu (Retd), inaugurated the new members of the Igwe-in-Council also known as Ndi Ichie selected from the six villages of the town. The ceremony, which took place on January 4, 2019, showcased Igbo culture at its best.
Igwe Muoghalu explains it better: “Ndi Ichie occupy a very high place in Igbo cosmology. They are esteemed individuals held in high regard. Without any doubt, the catalogue of responsibilities attached to Ichie title stands the title holder out as a stellar performer. He owes the obligations of protecting/promoting the culture and traditions of the people from abuse and extinction, especially now that the culture and tradition of Igbo are threatened by renewed religious incursions with westernisation – all of which confront the pride of Igbo culture.”
These Ichies distinguish themselves with traditional red caps which symbolise prominence, authority and power in Igbo culture. They are to assist the monarch in serving the community in the area of making and enforcing customary laws.
Across Igbo land, there appears to be a burning desire to revive dying Igbo culture and tradition. Take masquerade performances for instance. In time past, and in many Igbo communities, people feared masqueraders. Nobody dared contravene their rules or touch any economic tree dedicated to them. They were a good source of entertainment at social functions and burial ceremonies. But because of some fetish and illegal practices associated with them, some communities banned them.
Today, many people no more fear masqueraders. Unlike before, women and children now stay close to the arena where they perform without qualms. These city women and children have failed to realise that it is a taboo for non-initiates to see or watch these ‘spirit beings’.
Nevertheless, people now initiate creative ways of using these masked ones for business. For instance, pub operators in such Anambra communities as Isuofia, Umuona, and Nanka invite Achikwu masqueraders to perform within their business premises during festive seasons. They make huge sales from the crowd such performances attract.
Some other communities engender bonding in different other ways. Aguleri and Umueri, for instance, tried to further cement their common bond broken during their past communal warfare. The traditional ruler of Umueri, Igwe Izuchukwu Emeka Okebo II performed his 2nd Ovala festival on December 29, 2018. It attracted the cream of the two Anambra communities who now see one another as brothers.
There was also the maiden edition of Oyi Cultural Day celebration. Cultural groups from Ogbunike, Nteje, Umunya, Awkuzu and Nkwele, all in Anambra, showcased their unique dance steps and traditional folk songs. Anambra State Ministry of Culture, Tourism, Diaspora Affairs and Indigenous Artworks also organised a food and art exhibition in Awka. There was plenty of palm wine as the ministry promised to help the palm wine tappers move to the next level (not Buhari’s version) in their business.
One interesting aspect of this Igbo reunion is that you get a lot of entertaining news about Biafra. My kinsman, Romanus Nduka, argued vehemently that the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu was back in the country. His major evidence was that he heard Kanu’s interview on radio. For another kinsman, Chijioke Orabuche, Kanu is indestructible. Israel, he said, gave him two aircraft and solid security and would never allow any harm to come his way.
The festive mood turns to another level from the second week of January with burial ceremonies. As it is now, any Igbo man who is still in the village is most likely attending one burial or the other. And no matter what, most Igbo will never allow the corpse of their loved ones to be buried outside Igbo land. One Ogbonnaya Ejefobi (43) from Akulu-Isuofia died late last year in South America. His relatives had no money. But they were able to raise over N3million from friends and well wishers to bring back the corpse. The young man was buried last Friday in his ancestral home.
In all, life is a mixture of happiness and sadness; illusion and reality. As such, payment of school fees adds some spoiler to the full enjoyment of the season. Some parents who over-enjoyed themselves later realise that the effect of a vigorous dance is felt mostly around the waist.
Similarly, the effect of selling your conscience to politicians for just N10,000 is felt all over the body. In February, we will go to the polls to choose between the status quo and change; between hunger and prosperity; and between security and mass killings perpetrated in some parts of the country. My prayer is that Nigerians, in Igbo mass return style, should move to the polling booths on the Election Day to vote. The future of the country is at stake. And we must all join hands to make the country better for our children.
Re: Xenophobia is worse in Nigeria
Dear Casmir, God bless you for all your good write-ups. Xenophobia is worse in Nigeria than in South Africa. It’s well pronounced here and in different dimensions. Listen, out of the 15 service chiefs, only two from the south. Check the number of police commissioners, over 80% from the north. Check the statistics of military and paramilitary organization personnel, over 80% of them are from the north. Enslaving and depriving other regions is xenophobic. Southerners should wake up from slumber and resist xenophobia in Nigeria with bravery in words and in action. We need fair and just nation that belongs to all.
Hofnar Okon, +2348084195516
Your article, “Xenophobia is worse in Nigeria”, is historical. Igbo nation has suffered xenophobia in the hands of their fellow Southern Nigeria more than they suffered from northerners. Zik suffered it personally when Yoruba people in his party, NCNC, crossed-carpeted to Action Group in order to deny him Premiership of Western Region. Igbo house owners in Rivers State suffered xenophobia soon after the civil war when their houses were seized in the name of abandoned property. Igbo are very accommodating because the 1st Mayor of Enugu was Hausa man and a Moslem for that matter.
Mr. Chinedu Ekwuno, 08063730644
Really, what is happening in South Africa over the killings of Nigerians is very unfortunate and painful but why not our govt call the govt of South Africa to order to stop killings of Nigerians over there against the ugly killings and looting of Nigerian businesses. But still there in Nigeria, people are being killed every day because of one thing or the other, yet we are unable to find constant solution of the killings. Our security agencies must be up and doing to end the killings so that the country can move forward.
Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535
Nigerian soldiers are grumbling and unwilling to fight because their senior officers due to retire are not allowed to retire. The same may apply in other paramilitary organizations if the senior officers are not retired.
ACP Chukwu Ibo (Retd.) 08080484851