Ezza Ezekuna and Ikwo clans of Ebonyi State have continued to use Okeaku and Nnesweoha new yam festivals as a unifying force to promote their cultures and traditions, writes UCHENNA INYA
A Dubai-based businessman and son of the clan, Paschal Oluchukwu Omaka, explained that Okeaku brings together all members of every family in Ezza land annually. He said: “I am pleased to felicitate with our good people of Ezekuna, at home and in the Diaspora as we celebrate this year’s Okeaku festival. Okeaku is one of the celebrations which bring together all the members of every family in Ezza land and by extension the entire larger Ezekuna family annually.
“It is in that spirit that I wish to join my voice with yours in reminding our people that no matter where any Ezza man or woman may be, and no matter what shade of social opinion, religious inclination, political philosophy or socio-economic class they may find themselves, Ezekuna blood can never be diluted or otherwise corrupted. “It is an established fact that we occupy the position of elders in our socio-political bloc in Ebonyi State. This places on us great responsibility to exercise care and exhibit wisdom in our utterances and actions.
“I wish to use this medium to appreciate all the sons and daughters of Ezekuna who have been able to use the opportunities at their disposal to make Ezekuna proud by excelling in their various callings. They are legions and we pray for God’s strength and protection for them. May this year’s Okeaku bring unity, peace and progress to Ezza land, Ebonyi and Nigeria. Amen.”
Nnesweoha Ikwo’s significance
Nnesweoha is an annual event that is cherished and celebrated by sons and daughters of Ikwo, wherever they are. The festival, which was inherited from their ancestors, is the ‘Passover Feast’ of Ikwo people from the long period of famine for the year, into the New Year known as Ekenwanekwa (the new yam festival), in the next four days being eke. Having survived without dying of hunger, the day is heralded with joy, celebration and thanks-giving to God and the spirit of their forefathers and mothers, who lived a good life. Nnesweoha in Ikwo Noyo clan, according to history, is an event marking the end of yam in the ban and the time sacrifice is offered to the god of yam, appreciating it for a good harvest and as well request for a better harvest the following year.
The eating and drinking associated with the sacrifices gradually graduated into festivals and celebrations of survival of the famine period. Anyone who harvests his yam before the feast is believed to have committed an abomination. To escape the riot by people on the tradition of yam, such people usually run away from Ikwo to any other place.
He is also banished from the land, and could be welcomed back if he seeks for cleansing by approaching the custodian of Ikwo culture in Ekpelu on provision of items to be used to appease the god of yam. After that, some sacrifices are offered to cleanse such person. Failure to do that amounts to such a person being rejected (outcast) and exiled for life in lkwo land.
The event preceding Nnesweoha is known as Ekpeli-llufu-igboji. It is a tradition of initiation of men and women into adulthood through what is known as “Ikpu Ishi Ubvu” usually on Nkwo Igboji Market Day. On Nkwo Igboji Market Day, the newly initiated men and women rub camwood on their bodies on scrapped bar heads and move to the market to announce to the public that they have been initiated into adulthood. This act is usually called “Ekpeli Lufuru Igboji or Ishiocha lufuru le Igboji in Ikwo dialect.
The conclusion of the ritual is called Isa ishi Ubvu, also in their local dialect. Ojinji is another special event preparatory to the Ikwo new yam festival. Folklore has it that it is usually after Ojinji that the date for Nneswoha and Ekenwanekwa is publicly announced.
The day of Ojinji lkwo is usually marked as a public holiday, especially in Ekpeli community. Those who perform the Ojinji come out very early in the morning and nobody is expected to see them, no matter the status of the person. The villagers, men and women and children, stay indoors throughout the whole day until they conclude it in the forest and go back home in the evening. Then yam barns with gates will be opened that day to welcome the spirit of yam returning after leaving the home for the farm, where it is planted. Those that perform Ojinji go into the forest for ritual, sacrifices and invoke the spirit of yam.
Generally, Nnesweoha festival in lkwo clan remains one of the majors cultural activities which are marked by Ikwo sons and daughters, irrespective of religious and political affiliations as well as location. It is a season that married men usually pay visitations to their in-laws, prescribed during pride negotiation.
It is a duty of a man to visit his in-laws with some items such as white yam, dry fish, palm wine, tobacco (enwuru), kolanut and other things he can afford. Food items are usually packaged in portions by uncles and cousins and shared among in-laws and visitors. It is usually a season of expectation and feasting for parents, especially those who have many daughters-in-law. On lgboji Market Day known as lgboji Nnesweoha Market is the last visit while the next day is Nnesweoha Day proper.
In the evening of that day, dry corn is grounded, wrapped and cooked overnight for breakfast in the morning. A public affairs analyst and an indigene of Ikwo, Comrade Israel Ekene Mbam, told our correspondent that Nnesweoha festival is not only meant to celebrate survival from famine season, it is also very significant for other social, political and economic values for which Ikwo people are known, such as respect for elders, visits and exchange of gifts with fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, relations and friends, obedience to the rules that bind the society together and assessment of one’s performance for the outgoing year, with a view to improving for better, come new year. He said: “Mostly exchanged during the period of Nnesweoha festival are tubers of old yam, dry fish, bush meat, palm wine, a bunch/leaves of tobacco with potash to mix, etc.
“Nneswoha season is also special to the newly married couples because it is a time for them to visit, fathers/mothers-in-law, to take dates for initiation into womanhood (Ugvuegirima/Ugvuoguruenya) of young wives, come the subsequent year. “On a yearly basis, married women cook the best of dishes and visit their parents, brothers and uncles. Young men and girls fetch firewood for grandmothers, grandfathers and other aged relations. Fathers, brothers and uncles also use the opportunity to shower gifts on their visiting daughters and grandchildren, with assorted items such as tubers of yam, dry meat, coconut, money and abundant blessings.”
The following items are used to mark Nnesweoha; Ngvuakpa in the morning, Oji with Ose Ukpara, Akpaka-ebebe/Akpaka atsutsu, Emma Okponku/Anuokponku in the mid-morning; Inne akahu nji in the afternoon and Utara with Ophe-Akpuruta, Ophe-Ukpa, Ophe Onunji etc, with akpuruiphe amumu as may be preferred, in the evening. Mme mini (palm wine) and Karama (hot drink) are also used to wash the delicacies down the throat with traditional music and dances of various types, such as Okpuruegede, Edege, Odabara, Ode, Okowe Ogbodogu Ayita, Ekwemgba, Egvumme Ikpobina, Igbiri, Nwogbaego, some visiting compound and others displayed for people’s admiration in the village squares, throughout Nwanoyo settlements.
A stakeholder in Ikwo clan, Chief Oliver Eze, said it is the duty of those traditionally assigned in Ekpeli, the ancestral home of Ikwo, to keep, read the calendar of Ikwo and direct when Nneswoha and the new yam festival (Ekenwanekwa) are to take placed, on annual basis. Usually, the appearance of Ekpeli in Igboji, known as Ekpeli afua le Igboji, announces and marks the counting of Nneswaoha Day, for the year. He said: “Between Nnesweoha Day and Ekenwanekwa (New yam festival) day, are two days, Ukatafa and Unuafa, marked as transitional days between the old year and new year.
These two days neither belong to the old nor the New Year, that any event, including death is not counted as belonging to the outgoing year, but shifted to the New Year. “This is why the corpse of anyone who dies within these two days must be preserved for burial after Ekenwanekwa, the new yam festival and recorded as having died in the New Year. “Ukata-afa is used to visit the yam farm, inspect the yam and do some weeding of grasses and thanks-giving to God, in preparation for harvest of new yam on Ekenwanekwa Day.
The third day from Nnesweoha, Unu-afa, is a day of rest and opening of yam ban, to welcome the spirit of new yam that would be harvested and eaten the following day, Ekenwanekwa. “Harvesting and eating of new yam by anybody, before this Ekenwanekwa Day in Ikwo, is an abomination and attracts banishment from the land, for anybody caught, until he performs the cleansing rituals, as usually prescribed by the custodians of Ikwo culture of Ekpeli. “It may be pertinent to appreciate God for having been so faithful to us by sustaining our existence and for His blessings.
It may also please the Almighty God and our forefathers that we use the opportunity to reflect on our past, with a view to improving on areas of shortcomings, for a better future. “Most important of the areas of the identity of Ikwo, are peace loving, hardworking, love for one another and our neighbours, fear of God, respect for elders and constituted authority, mentoring and assisting the young to grow by the elders, brothers and sisters, mutual aides to each other and above all portraying cherishable exemplary life, for the imitation of our counterparts everywhere in the world.
“This, if done, will go a long way to pushing Ikwo forward to its leadership position, in the society of the human.” This year’s Nnesweoha was celebrated on August 7 with pomp. The people of Ikwo rolled out the drums at the Ekpeli ancestral home and celebrated the new yam festival in grand style. Catholic priests and other clerics from the clan attended the festival while prominent stakeholders from the clan and outside Ikwo came to the festival with various gifts including cows, tubers of yam, tobaccos, soft drinks and beer, among others. In his goodwill message, a prominent son of the clan and member representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Chinedu Ogah, said this year’s festival was special because all the priests serving in Ikwo were at the celebration proper to celebrate with their people. He said: “I pray that this festival will restore total peace in Ikwo and our hearts henceforth. I am seeing creation of job opportunities, empowerment and human capacity building as strong tools for developing our land, our people and to reduce insecurity challenges.
“I am doing what I am doing today because I have the opportunity and everyone here gathered can even do better than me if they have similar opportunities. “It is my priority as a person, not just as a leader, to provide as many economic opportunities as possible for our youths, women, men and children to be self-developed and economically independent.
I have a vision that one day, this particular venue will no longer be enough for us to be celebrating Nneswoha festival because our illustrious sons whom we are building today will have the economic capacity to be promoting our culture which is our heritage by supporting hugely and building modern infrastructure for our communal well-being.” Ogah promised to continue assisting the people through his empowerment and job creation because, according to him, his work is anchored on the grace of God and not by his political powers.
The lawmaker admonished the people to remain peaceful, abide by government laws, policies and orders and continue to support those in authority to accomplish their good agenda for the people. No conflict between church, tradition -Clerics Addressing the people during the celebration, one of the Catholic priests from Ikwo clan, Rev. Fr. Charles Nweke, said all the priests in Ikwo were at the festival to show the world that there is no discrimination between Christianity and tradition. He pointed out that the church is only against any tradition that is harmful to the progress and well-being of mankind.
“It is a thing of joy for me to be here today for the first time in my life. If it was possible, all the Ikwo-serving priests would have been here. “We are here on behalf of all the priests serving in Ikwo and praying for the good of Ikwo and in the name of all Christian believers. We are here to let the whole world know that there is no discrimination between the church and the tradition because any community without customs and tradition is not worth existing. “The church also has tradition and that makes it real.
The church is only against any tradition that is harmful to the progress and well-being of man. So, we thank God for this gathering and pray for unity and peace in our land,” Nweke said. A former Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Chief Steve Orogwu, told New Telegraph that those who introduced Christianity have attempted to take the people away from their culture. Orogwu pointed out that cultures and traditions of the Ikwo clan are suffering a setback because the custodians of the cultures are not many, the way they ought to be.
He said: “Those that introduced Christianity have tried to take us away from our culture. Yes, the ideal thing really is that as Christians, we should not worship idols. Anything that affects our faith as Christians, we should not acknowledge that but that does not rule out the fact that our culture and our tradition should be epitomised and maintained. Therefore, the greatest challenge is the issue of Christianity. “Again, those who are actually the custodians of this culture and tradition are the traditional rulers, the town union executives and the ‘Ozos’.
Most communities in Ikwo today don’t have traditional rulers. We don’t have more than five traditional rulers and out of these five, only two are active, the remaining three are almost inactive and so the issue of promotion of culture and tradition is being hampered because the custodians are not there. We should rather understand ourselves and marry Christianity and tradition, not idol worship.” Orogwu, who is the immediate past chairman, Caretaker Committee of Ikwo Local Government and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming local government elections in the state, described the celebration as very symbolic culturally. He added: “It is a celebration of the young and the old; it is a celebration of men and women; it is a celebration of girls and boys.
Everybody is always in a festive mood and we look forward to this very day. “Nnesweoha is a celebration where the head of the family wakes up in the morning and calls on the gods, invoking the spirits in appreciation of the protection. After that, he does his sacrifices to the gods but for us who are Christians, we are not involved in that. Thereafter, the head of the family brings out yam and shares the yam among the members of his family.
They will use the yam to prepare porridge. “There is corn porridge, we call it Mbvuakpe, prepared in special ways. In the morning, the porridge is brought out and eaten. There is this ‘akpaka’ that is pounded and prepared, and is eaten. Throughout the day, there is a lot of food to be eaten and garnished with palm wine. These and more are the features.”