…as Obiora Festival melds cultural fiesta and book exhibition
By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Obosi indigenes and visitors, who came to participate in the annual Obiora Iwaji Festival had come to witness the usual variety of oral performances, traditional theatre, masquerade displays and traditional dances, but they couldn’t but marvel at the king’s literary prowess as his bookstand also became a cynosure of all eyes.
The Igwe of Obosi, Eze Chidubem Iweka III, had already published a novel, The Ancient Curse, before he became the Obosi king five years ago. Even as the exalted king of the Obosi Kingdom in Anambra State, he has continued to write, publishing a novel, So Bright a Darkness, and a play, August Inmates. His writings won more fans on the occasion.
An hour before the arrival of Eze Iweka, the traditional title holders, Ndichie, one after another, in their resplendent traditional white ensemble and feathered head gears, accompanied by a retinue of drummers, made their way into the Obosi Mini Stadium, venue for the Obiora Iwaji Festival, on Saturday, October 8, dancing and acknowledging cheers from the crowd. When the Obosi monarch settled down on his royal stool by 12 noon, the fifth Obiora Festival had got underway.
Led by the Iyasele Obosi (the Traditional Prime Minister), Chief Collins Anibuogwu, the Obosi Ndichie trooped en masse to pay homage to the frontline king as tradition demanded. Delegates from Asaba and Ibusa in neigbouring Delta State with strong historical links to Obosi were present.
It was a day of paying homage. Group after group danced their way to the Igwe’s majestic stool to pay homage soon after the opening prayers. The Obosi Mini Stadium was laden with colours as each group came forward.
The Umuada Ezeobodo were the first group to present kola nuts to the king to entertain his guests, followed by Ndiyom Ezeobodo, then the King’s wife, Ezenwanyi Kosiso Iweka; and ODU (Obosi Development Union). It was time for the king to bless the kola nuts as he thanked God for making it possible for him to celebrate his fifth Obiora Festival without rancour and fighting in the kingdom.
He also thanked the Lord for granting journey mercy on participants who had come from abroad and other parts of Nigeria, praying for long life for all, while announcing that the farms yielded bountiful harvests this year.
The dramatic entrance of Diochi (the palm wine taper), complete with a palm wine taper accoutrements and bicycle, caused quite a stir –it was the first of its kind in the Obiora Festival. He went straight to Eze Iweka to pay homage with a keg of palm wine, which he subsequently shared with the king and his visitors. The palm wine taper turned out to be the Chairman of the organising committee, Chude Emeka Emmanuel, in camouflage. Indeed, he played the ote nkwu role to perfection.
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. The same goes for the new yam. It was mandatory for the king to bless and eat the new yam in public. He did moments later, breaking the roast yam into pieces. A Group of kids were handy to savour the pieces of yam with red oil before the guests got a taste of the new yam.
Group after group sought to outshine one another in the Obiora Festival. The Ofu Obi Youth made a show of their cow gift, dancing as they paid homage to the king. The Speech from the Throne followed hence. Eze Iweka welcomed their brothers from Obosima in Imo State, Umuru Okija in Anambra, Umuaonaje kindred in Asaba and Umueke kindred in Ibusa both in Delta State, who migrated to those places from Obosi in the olden days.
He restated that the Obosi Festival “is synonymous with the celebration of new yam harvests, emphasising the yam crop as the most prominent in ancient Igboland and still prominent today.” He was overjoyed because this year’s Obiora Festival marked his fifth year of coronation.
The king reeled off a list of achievements by Obosi indigenes during the year, from politics to medicine. He commended the decision of Obosi sons and daughters in the US to hold their end-of-the year congregation in Obosi on December 30, 2016, hailing it as a “think-home posture that ensures better relations between our people at home and our children in America.”
The king, who promised more cultural revival in Obosi, said a recent cultural revival saw to the installation of his wife, Ezenwanyi Kosiso Iweka into the prestigious ancient Iyom society.
There were two subsequent speeches by Mr. Ikenna Madubosah, the new President of Obosi Development Union, and Chude Emeka Emanuel. While the former said Obosi was noted for its uncompromising position in maintaining and securing its culture, the latter said the Iwaji Festival was tagged Obiora by their forefathers because it was a period of spiritual cleansing, peace, love, unity and abstinence from violence.
The homage continued after the speeches with Ndiyom (the highest titled, decorated women in Obosi). Both the delegations from Asaba and Ibusa made their presence felt with traditional songs and homage to Eze Iweka.
Chieftaincy titles were subsequently conferred on some exceptional individuals who had touched lives in the locality and elsewhere. Dr. Ndi Onuekwusi was conferred the title of Ogwumba Ososi, while Venerable Oswald, Mr. Mike Uchenna Anyafuna and Mr. James Churah Ifekandu were equally conferred chieftaincy titles.
The ekwe dance was to take centre stage following another homage paid to the Obosi monarch by Ndichie, who, afterwards, gyrated to the thumping beats of ekwe one after another.
Midway into the festivities, the state governor, Willie Obiano, arrived with his entourage, and was welcomed with kola nuts. The king praised, among others, the governor’s restoration of security in Anambra State, his social and community development strides, and food exportation.
The governor, who said he had known the king for a long time, said his government was committed to empowering the disabled in the state by offering them employment. He urged the people to form co-operative societies to boost agricultural development in the state, even as he preached peace in Obosi and support for Eze Iweka, whom, he said, “is doing well”.
The masquerades were not left out of the cultural fiesta. They came in different shapes, sizes and colours. Accompanied by drummers, they danced to the king and the cheering crowd. Male clowns dressed as women made everybody laugh as they enacted pantomimes. Meanwhile, young girls selling the king’s fictional works were making brisk business.
It was an intriguing climax as the king momentarily disappeared from the arena, and reappeared in ancient wartime regalia. He dramatised the warrior in the Obosi king by turning this way and that way with exaggerated footsteps, breaking into runs and stopping abruptly to dare any intruder. The crowd went wild! Even the former APGA chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, couldn’t restrain himself as he joined the king to dance to the thumping ekwe sound.
With quick, energetic steps, Eze Iweka was gone in an instant as his convoy sped away from the Obosi Mini Stadium. But the day wasn’t spent yet. The Ogene sound made popular by late highlight maestro, Oliver de Coque, boomed across the Obosi Mini Stadium as his son strummed the guitar and crooned the nostalgic lyrics. Many feet stayed behind to shuffle till nightfall.
‘One of my readers thought I was a ghost’
The Sun Literary Review caught up with the literary monarch later in the evening in his palace to get a whiff of his literary predilection. “One of the affects of the Nigeria civil war on me that has refused to go is insomnia,” he began. “While others are sleeping, I am wide awake in the night. But this shouldn’t make you worry –it helps me to write. Most of my creative works are done at this particular point in time between midnight and early morning.”
The monarch has been trying to separate Chidubem Iweka the king and Chidubem Iweka the writer without luck. If he had his way, he wouldn’t have put his name on his books, but he couldn’t but do that on his book covers. Self-effacing is a given.
His first book, The Ancient Curse, won an ANA literary prize when it was released, and it has been on the reading list of many universities. So steeped in mystery is the work that some of his readers even think he could be a ghost.
He recalled: “A student in Anambra State University, after reading The Ancient Curse, was surprised when her lecturer told her she knew me. She screamed, ‘So, you know him?” And the lecturer said, ‘Yes.’ The student then said she thought the author was a ghost because of what I wrote.”
The same element of mystery can be found in his second novel, So Bright a Sky. But his latest work, August Inmates, a play, has a political undertone, as it explores corruption and repercussions. Eze Iweka describes it as a prophetic play, because it was written in the 1980s when Buhari was a military president but only published recently, and it strikes a deja vu with the incarceration of looters.