The epicentre of the celebrations was the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogidi, Igwe Alex Onyido (Ezechuamagha).
Magnus Eze, Enugu, Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
This year’s annual Nwafor festival of Ogidi community in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State has provoked an unbridled spirit of cultural renaissance across the length and breadth of the area.
For four days, the community was agog, bubbling with large number of natives who had returned from far and near to mark their traditional end of planting season. The old Awka-Onitsha road was totally locked down by the unprecedented human and vehicular traffic.
The epicentre of the celebrations was the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogidi, Igwe Alex Onyido (Ezechuamagha). On the eve of the D-Day, sons and daughters of the community trooped into the palace as early as 8pm, to pay homage to their monarch, who is barely two years old on the throne. Many of them came with assorted gifts including cows and drinks.
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At exactly 11 p.m., a certain cultural troupe of mainly young men stormed the palace and played to the admiration of all, signalling that the festival proper shall be highly entertaining.
As anticipated, it was a carnival of some sort as all manners of masquerades and in different shapes, sizes and colours took over the community. From the various villages, they filed out as if they came from the fabled ant holes.
But the highpoint was the emergence of Ijele Inwelle at exactly 5pm on the Nwafor Day proper. Since Ijele is the biggest masquerade in Igbo land, its coming on the scene saw the disappearance of other masquerades like Agadi Nwanyi Idemili, Ementa Emeimo, Arusi, Agaba Ire, and others.
Daily Sun observed that the Ijele did not last more than three minutes on the scene but it eventually reappeared about 45 minutes later. The coming in and going back of the Ijele Inwelle was greeted with gunshots, apparently to forewarn smaller masquerades to vacate the scene.
Electrifying royal display
Leader of Olu Ogidi (Ogidi workers), the group behind the new reawakening in the community, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo had earlier made a glorious entry into the arcade accompanied by some titled chiefs, mainly members of their group before they ushered in the traditional ruler.
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Igwe Onyido’s appearance was every inch captivating as he paused at intervals as if to communicate with the gods through rhythmic gesticulations. Midway, he was joined by the traditional ruler of Ukwulu community in Dunukofia Local Government Area, Igwe Peter Uyanwa. Their royal entry received a thunderous ovation indicating the Igwe’s popularity amongst his people.
In his brief remarks, Okonkwo thanked everybody that contributed in making festival a huge success while assuring that from next year, the event will hold at a cultural arena to be developed in the community.
Notwithstanding that the community did not have a traditional ruler for about two decades, he declared that there is now a new dawn in Ogidi. He boasted that in a very short while, Ogidi will be home for the best of Igbo culture.
Okonkwo also said the Olu Ogidi organisation with the Ijele Inwelle Cultural Group had used the occasion to raise funds from natives and their friends, which would be deployed for community development.
President-General of Ogidi Union, Chief Jideofor Onubuogu took time to explain what the Nwafor festival is all about.
According to him, it signifies the end of farming activities, appeasing the gods and glorifying God for a good planting season, adding that it is a time of merriment and jubilation mainly for indigenes. It lasts for four Igbo calendar days of Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo.
During this period, traditionalists perform sacrifices for successful Nwafor and to stop rain for the period, while Christians go to church to thank God for good planting season.
His words: “It is the time young boys between nine and 11 are initiated into the masquerade clan (Ikpoani). The boys are initiated at 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 that have the traditional rights to conduct the initiation; it is not just anybody that does that but those the shrines permitted to do the initiation.
“There is a place we call ‘Uno Muo’ where the initiation is performed by the oldest man in the community. The Nwafor and initiation of youths into masquerade clan is done by only Ogidi indigenes.
“On the grand finale all the boys and masquerades will hit the palace, then Igwe will do his own, he will bring out food and drinks for the boys, they carry the canes of Nwafor and hand it over to Igwe at the palace to keep for the next year’s festival. So, all the masquerades in every part of Ogidi gather at the Igwe’s palace and once the masquerades surrender their canes to the Igwe, that ends the ceremony.”
Although it is entirely a male affair, Unubogu said there have been old women who are like men traditionally. Those ones, according to him, are exempted from “all those of levels of womanhood, they have attained to be masquerade because they passed through the initiation process the young boys passed through, they are special strong women in our community.”
Igwe Onyido said the annual event is as important as Christmas to Ogidi people.
“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. My advice is that we should keep Nwafor festival as our heritage, we should improve on it in a modern way and that is why we want to build a cultural centre in Ogidi”, he said.
Many expressed elation over the successful festival. Chief Ikem Nwabueze (Eze Ugo Ogidi) wants it to be packaged in a way that it can attract tourists.
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Similarly, Osun state Commissioner for Special Duties, Mudashiru Toogun, who came all the way from Osogbo described the event as highly unique and interesting. He said the advent of foreign religions of Islam and Christianity had taken serious toll on Nigeria’s culture but commended the current cultural renaissance in Ogidi.
Chief Obum Osakwe (Ezeudo of Ogidi) gave insight into how the idea of Ijele Inwelle was conceived about a year ago. According to him, members of Olu Ogidi with Chief Victor Ikwuemesi as chairman had hired an Ijele masquerader from Onitsha for a funeral at Nnewi. It was at the occasion that Okonkwo mooted the idea that it was better for Ogidi to have its own Ijele masquerader than hiring.
It was gathered that over N1 million went into the assemblage of the colourful costume adorned by the Ijele Inwelle alone.
Former Presidential Adviser on Inter-Party Relations, Senator Ben Obi was among dignitaries at the event which attracted people from all walks of life including foreigners.