Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Ogidi community in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State where the late African literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe hailed from and got most of his inspiration has sounded it clear, that they want to be the cultural capital of the state.
The array of cultural activities hosted in the area in recent years points to their determination to actualise that aspiration. Recently, the community showcased the best of Igbo culture with Nwafor Ogidi Festival; an annual feast marking the end of planting season.
The festival, which lasted for four Igbo market days was mainly for the men; it was also used to initiate young boys from the community into manhood. To an Ogidi indigene, the Nwafor is only comparable to Christmas a period of mass return when no true born of the community is expected to miss.
During the festival, various masquerades display along the streets, village squares and would end up at the palace on the last day to drop their canes for the next festival.
President-General of Ogidi Union, Chief Jideofor Onubuogu, said Nwafor festival signifies the end of every year’s farming activities, appeasing the gods and glorifying God for a good planting season He added that it is a time of merriment and jubilation mainly for indigenes:
“It is the time the young boys between nine and 11 are initiated into the masquerade clan (Ikpoani). The boys were initiated on the eve of the 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 that have the traditional right to conduct the initiation; it is not just anybody that does that but those the shrines permitted to do the initiation.
“Those initiated brought their fowls, drinks and little money. They were led by their own brothers who had already been initiated to the arena. They slept over at the initiation ground until the following morning before they left. Their fathers also were around with two gallons of palm wine, two cartons of beer, kolanuts and pepper as well as little money for the initiation. It is a yearly event and they must do it as Ogidi indigenes, it is compulsory.
«The grand finale is normally at the Igwe›s palace. But this year›s own ended up at the Onowu›s house because Igwe was out of the country. All the boys and masquerades hit the Onowu’s house, where he then brought out food and drinks for the boys.
“They carried the canes of Nwafor and handed over at the palace to keep for the next year’s festival. All the masquerades in every part of Ogidi this year gathered at the Onowu’s house; and once the masquerades surrendered their canes, that ended the ceremony.
“The women are there to cook for us and then stay in doors to watch the show. Though traditionally we have ‘Nne Muo’; we have old women who are already men traditionally, those ones are exempted from all those level of womanhood. They have attained to be masquerades because they have passed through the initiation process the young boys pass through, they are special strong women in our community.”
Traditional Prime Minster of Ogidi (Onowu), Chief Ifeanyi Udokwu (Ekwueme), said the festival was a period of rest after farming season: “In the olden days, our fathers made heap of pounded yam that was taller than the people eating it. In the sense that you could not see the other person eating from the other end until the food reduced to little before they could see themselves. It was practiced by the late literary legend, Prof Chinua Achebe. It shows oneness, love and joy to eat in one plate as a family and loved ones.”
The Onowu stated that the Nwafor festival was one heritage of Ogidi people that must be preserved. He added that effort was on going to bring it in tune with modernity.
Chief Emeka Nwabueze, recognised traditionally as Ogidi’s first son (Ajie Okpala Ogidi), celebrated the event in his compound with notable guests from within and outside the country. He was an adviser to former US President, George W. Bush. He harped on the need to preserve and promote Igbo culture:
“Our culture will not go into extinction because there was God before the missionaries came, we called ‘Chukwu no n’ Igwe, Chukwu onye Okike’. All they came was to show us a different way of worshiping God, then, we should go back to our roots. It is only the African man that missionaries came to change their religion. They couldn’t do it with the Chinese, they couldn’t do it with India, so Hindu is still there, Buddhism is still there.
“We must understand that our forefathers are not in hell fire, our forefathers that died before the missionaries came are in heaven. Those who lived good and righteous lives, all those things existed before they came. So, today that is Nwafor, it is us saying thank you to our heavenly father, God Almighty and his angles, which is our forefathers.”