Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The Okolode yam festival celebration of the Ekpetiama people clan of the Ijaw ethnic group is a celebration of many colours. Across the seven settlements of Agudama, Akaibiri, Bumoundi- Gbene, Gbarantoru, Ikibiri and Tombia, the Okolode as part of the culture of the people celebrates its triumphs, its resolve in the face of challenges, the virtues of the Ekpetiama women, the energetic innovative spirit of the Ekpetiama youths and the true essence of the Ekpetiama spirit. The 2019 edition of Okolode festival held at Tombia community had all the trappings of the Ekpetiama spirit which represents “unity as a priceless jewel” emphasised by the Ibenanowei in his new yam festival speech.
“Okolede has remained the single largest recurring, joyous gathering of the Ekpetiama people for a long time now – It has a way of making the weak strong, the old young, and the young younger. It brings together friends and families who may have been for long separated, because of the exigencies of life. With our auditorium filled beyond capacity, it is obvious that today’s is not an exception. I salute our forebears for it. I salute those who bequeathed to us this priceless cultural jewel. This is the much-talked about jewel of inestimable value. It creates the strongest of human bonds. I believe culture is by far the strongest adhesive for human co-existence, when practised right,” he said.
The Ekpetiama clan located along the banks of the River Nun is blessed with a fertile land, which is “annually, naturally, fortified with alluvium for the planting of the symbolism of Okolede – the dioscorea alata (water yam)” King Dakolo explained.
“It’s highly medicinal and nourishing specie of yam. As you may soon know, we do not just eat the water yam. There is a process. We shoot the canons. We drum, and sing and dance. And then we eat, together. We show gratitude for a bountiful harvest. This is part of the Ekpetiama cultural heritage. It is thanksgiving,” he added.
Aside being a yam festival, the Okolode as widely known celebrates the virtues and resilience of the Ekpetiama women.
“Okolede is also a subtle way of celebrating the strength and beauty of the Ekpetiama woman. We will always applaud your invaluable contributions to the preservation, growth, development and peace in Ekpetiama Kingdom. I do not want to imagine how boring life would have been without the Ekpetiama woman,” the monarch eulogised.
Not left out of the celebration are the youths. Using the example of Timi Dakolo, the West African Idol winner, Flying Officer Gbassa, the exploits of America-trained NAF officer and the brilliance of Young Eradiri, the first Class law graduate, the Okolode 2019 message was that the sky is willing to accommodate their success.
Ekpetiama clan is blessed beyond measure. It has rich deposits of oil and gas couple with fertile land. But these are not all that is needed to grow a people. Unity of purpose is essential and Ekpetiama needs this in abundance considering where it is and where it is going.
The 2019 Okolode celebration opens a vista into how Ekpetiama people can work in unity by the analogy of the Olulu (soldier ants) as they join forces to accomplish a task. This united front forged by the Soldier Ants is what King Dakolo advocated for the Ekpetiama clan.
“Determined to accomplish their objective, they dug tunnels and even climbed as high as the ceiling of that tall building. Though they lost a few soldiers in the process, the soldier ants’ colony demonstrated that with a clear objective, focus, unity of purpose, and working together as a group, there could be no insurmountable obstacle. This tells me something! And perhaps you too.
“Historically speaking, despite our low population ratio, the Ekpetiama people were well respected and sometimes feared by our neighbours. And that was because like the soldier ants, we were able to deploy our resources properly. We were united. We were forgiving. We did not hold grudges for eternity. Unlike the ants, the situation seems so different these days, but if those little ants could do it, why not the Ekpetiama people? Why not the Ekpetiama youths, women and men and all? Why won’t human beings do better? Let’s learn from the soldier ants today and forever.”
King Dakolo said the unity being preached is an essential aspect of a culture which defines the people and offers a mirror into the way of life of the people.
“As we all know, our culture is our identity. It is what makes us tick. It is what others know us by. It includes our language, religion (how and what we worship), food (what we eat, how we eat it and how it is prepared), music and arts, and our social habits. Yes, social habits. How we play and quarrel and fight and settle. How we forgive or pardon those who offend us. Our culture prescribes how we do what we do. How we settle our differences with others.
“So, let us now reason together for a while. If Ekpetiama people give gifts to themselves and to their visitors at every opportunity, we will soon be said to have a culture of giving. Likewise, if Ekpetiama people forgive easily when offended, we will be said to have a culture of forgiveness.
“If we bear a grudge and do not forgive those who offend us for two, four, ten years and more, we will invariably be known as a people with a culture of unforgiveness. Persons with such culture will be unfriendly, unhappy, unhealthy, and outrightly wicked. It will be difficult for such people to achieve so much as a group. They will be rancorous, unable to work together. They will be invariably working for their inevitable fatal doom. Such should not be the bane of any human society. And certainly not ours. The maxim, united we stand, divided we fall, is time tested. Let us choose to unite and stand. There is so much promise in and around the kingdom. Being here voluntarily in our numbers in response to our culture of giving, of brotherly and sisterly love and friendship means that we should leave here when done, remembering forever, that united we stand.”
Scanning the Tombia auditorium one cannot but appreciate the interest shown by the hosts and visitors “to cherish the cultural values of Ekpetiama Kingdom and celebrate the picturesque delights of the Okolede festival. This annual festival is undoubtedly a unifying force for the Ekpetiama people and its neighbouring clans,” Senator Douye Diri, who represents Bayelsa Central in the National Assembly and the chairman of the occasion said.
He added; “Being an annual event that attracts people from near and wide, it is being suggested that the Okolode festival should become a money spinner as a tourists’ hub. However, beyond just seeing the festival as an annual ritual, I wish to enjoin the organizers to recognize and begin to explore the mammoth potential in the cultural festival to boost tourism and become a great money-spinner, thereby raising the socio-economic standards of the people.
“As nations around the world generates revenue from other sources with Nigerian earning less than $50 billion in 2018 while the global tourism industry attracts $1.5 trillion, it is clear that with its plethora of tourist attractions, it has the capacity to take a significant bite of the world tourism pie, if the proper attention is given to that industry.
“It is apposite to note that beyond our oil resources, Bayelsa State is further blessed with an abundance of rich culture and many historical/tourist attractions. That is why a lot of effort is been made by this administration to expose all these potential, bearing in mind that culture has universal appeal.”
The hope is that in years to come the Okolode yam festival would not only attract world tourists to Bayelsa, it would also be a money spinner.