Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The popular Nwafor festival; the flagship cultural activity of Ogidi community in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, held recently without fanfare. This year’s ‘mass return event’ which the people of the area see as their “traditional Christmas” which marks the end of planting season was devoid of the usual pomp and glitz.
Aside the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of a youth leader in the community, Mr. Chike Okoye, who died on the eve of the festival, further dampened the spirit of celebration. Okoye had allegedly jumped to death while evading police arrest over a pending issue he had.
Daily Sun learnt that the festival which lasted the four Igbo market days from Thursday, July 23rd to Sunday, July 26th, was mainly for the menfolk, a period also used to initiate young boys of the community into manhood of masquerade society.
Only Ogidi people resident at home participated in the activities while those in various town and cities as well as in diaspora celebrated theirs in their places of abode.
Just few masquerades; big and small, displayed along the streets, village squares and ended at the palace of the traditional ruler, at the last day of the event to drop their canes for the next festival.
Traditional ruler of Ogidi Kingdom, Igwe Alex Onyido (Ezechuamagha); said this year’s ceremony would have been suspended if not that the customs and traditions handed over to them by their ancestors must be observed.
He noted that they observed all the COVID-19 protocols as participants in the masquerade event and others wore facemasks and adhered to physical distancing as well as use of hand sanitiser: “This year’s Nwafor festival is celebrated with mixed feelings because there is no rainfall unlike before and again, we lost one of my subjects who died on Thursday, Nwafor eve. As a father; it is not good omen for us but we had to go on with the festival- it is an annual event Ogidi celebrates all over the whole world.
“Also Coronavirus pandemic affected this year’s Nwafor but we had to celebrate it because we couldn’t afford to suspend our culture and tradition which is paramount in Ogidi Kingdom. Most of my people abroad, Lagos and Abuja and other far places could not come due to the pandemic.
“Though, despite all these, Nwafor still held and remained what it is, all the normal traditional processes during Nwafor were carried out and those who participated in masquerade observed all the COVID-19 protocols; wearing of facemask, sanitizing their hands, observing social distancing”.
He disclosed that a delegation of Ogidi cabinet members, Council of Chiefs and the Ogidi Union led by its President General, Chief Chuka Onubogu, paid condolence visit to the family of the deceased youth leader before the closing ceremony of the festival.
The President-General of Ogidi Union, Onubogu who spoke on the significance of the festival said that it signifies the end of every planting activity, appeasing of the gods and glorifying God for a good planting season, adding that it was a time of merriment and jubilation mainly for indigenes: “The boys aged nine to 11 were initiated into the masquerade on the eve of 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 who have the traditional rites to conduct the initiation, it is not just anybody does that but those the shrines permitted to do the initiation.
“Those that were initiated brought their fowls, wine drinks, 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 and their fathers also were around with two gallons of palm wine, two cartons of beer, kola and pepper as well as little money for the initiation. It is a yearly event and they must do it as an Ogidi indigene, it is compulsory”.
Onubogu further explained that the initiation usually takes place at ‘Uno Muo’; and officiated by the oldest man in the community.
Traditional Prime Minster of Ogidi (Onowu), High Chief Ifeanyi Udokwu (Ekwueme Ogidi); and Sir Chima Onwuzuluike (Akuchukwu Ogidi) in separate interviews said the Nwafor festival was a period of rest after farming season for their people.
Still on import of the festival to Ogidi community, Udokwu said: “This annual event is as important as Christmas to Ogidi people as no indigene of Ogidi stays outside, they all return home during Nwafor festival. So, it is the period our ancestors celebrate their victory after farming season, then they wait until time of harvest which is done in September.
“It is a period of joy, merriment and we invite our friends across the whole world to come and celebrate with us. In the olden days our fathers made a hip of pounded yam that was taller than the people eating it, in the sense that you can’t see the other person eating from the other end until the food reduced to little before they see themselves. It shows oneness, love and joy to eat in one plate as a family”.