During the Ofala festival
Emeka Osondu examines the recent Ofala Festival as a means of social mobilisation in Igboland
Different folks, different strokes, says the ancient axiom. People in different places across the globe evolve different attitudes and lifestyles to enable them co-habit within their defined environment.
Indeed, several scholars have at one time or the other raised issues on how different civilisations threw up diverse cultures with which the people use as a means of fostering unity and cohesion among themselves, to promote and save the identity of their race.
For instance, among the Igbo-speaking people of Nigeria, the New Yam and Ofala festivals are two of the major aspects of the culture with which the people make loud statements about the identity of their race.
However, while the New Yam is celebrated throughout the entire Igboland as a major feature of the race, the observation of the Ofala festival is limited to distinct kingdoms within Anambra state, as well as adjoining places across the River Niger in Delta state.
The Ofala is an annual sacrificial ceremony by the traditional rulers of the affected areas in Igboland to commemorate their enthronement by their subjects.
Usually, Ofala is a lavish ceremony which the subjects contribute financially and materially to empower their royal fathers to perform the traditional rites of supplications through established rituals and libations for growth, unity and protection.
Also, it is an annual royal ceremony by a natural ruler to commemorate his ascendance to the throne. Often than not, his subjects are entertained to cultural displays, food, drinks and gifts, in demonstration of African hospitality.
The Eze or Igwe as it may relate to the peculiarity of his community stands in for pomp and pageantry.
But the mode and manner of celebrating the ofala differs from kingdom to kingdom. In Nri kingdom, which is widely believed to be the cradle of Igbo civilisation, the Royal father, instead celebrates ‘Igu Aro’ (counting of seasons) festival.
The practice in the Nri kingdom is so because the King, Eze Nri, is believed to be a spirit, and therefore in his spirit state does not need to worship deities or idols. Rather than celebrate his own ascendance to the throne of his ancestors, he is more involved in counting the year for his subjects.
Before his coronation as king, each Eze-Nri is celebrated alive as a living dead to succeed a departed king. In that time, all the funeral rites that ought to have been accorded him whenever he dies would be accorded him as part of his coronation.
In fact, soon as he is identified as the chosen replacement to the departed king by the gods of the land, he will be subjected to this ritual of severance with mere mortals as part of his coronation ceremony.
During this ceremony, he will be automatically estranged from his immediate family, starting from his wife, who is made by order of the chief priest to commence mourning while he is still alive.
In the same vein, his own children will now have limited access to him since he is now a ‘living dead’.
Soon after he is enthroned, the new Eze-Nri is made to start up a new life by marrying a new wife, who will in turn give birth to the heir-apparent.
So, while other natural rulers celebrate how many years they had been enthroned as kings in their respective kingdoms, the Eze-Nri celebrates his throne by counting the years ever since the existence of the Nri kingdom.
And during this period, each leader of the Nri dynasty in Diaspora is expected to be in attendance, to pay homage as well as receive the traditional symbol of authority and justice (Ofo Nri) for the new year from Eze-nri.
When the reigning Eze-Nri, His Royal majesty, Obidegwu Onyesoh, celebrated the 1011th Igu Aro festival recently in his palace, Nri in Anaocha Council Area of Anambra state, he called on those in public offices to see their callings as opportunities;
“to serve a people who are devastated by destitution, poverty and misery forced upon them by misgovernance of the past leaderships. Let us remember that life per se is not important but what one puts into it”.
Onyesoh equally urged every Igbo leader to imbibe the enduring culture of democracy and initiate a discourse that should articulate an Igbo world-view of the present process of constitutional review in the country.
United we stand, divided we lose. We have a voice in the government of Nigeria if democracy is sustained. We must therefore be the vehicle for true sustenance of democracy in Nigeria,” he stressed.
Ofala festival by kings in Igboland, particularly in Anambra State is the climax of all traditional festivals in any community. And it is a carnival that brings together the people of the community both at home and in Diaspora irrespective of social status.
It is a time the reigning monarch appears to his subject during the year. And the people are expected to pay homage to their king.
In the last Ofala in Onitsha, this homage was not lacking as different groups, age-grades, individuals in Onitsha were at the Ofala in fall force to pay homage to the reigning Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe.
Also present were the wife of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State; Mrs. Margaret Obi, Igwe Peter Ezenwa; Okpoko I of Oba, the Obi of Nnewi; Igwe Kenneth Orizu, Igwe of Ndikerionwu; Eze Chukwuemeka Ike, the representative of Oni of Ife among other personalities.
A cross section of participants during the Ofala festival
As usual the Ofala Festival offered Obi Achebe the opportunity to speak on current burning issues in his home state Anambra and at the national level. Obi Achebe said that the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, from Bayelsa State generally believed to be free was a major step to our democratic journey, showing that there is no ethnic group specially anointed to govern Nigeria.
“It has opened the door for a level playing ground, for such that only hard-work and merit should be bases for preferment in public office in Nigeria. It brought new hope for the minorities and underprivileged in our country” said Igwe Achebe.
He condemned the activities of Boko Haram and urged Nigerians to support the Federal Government’s efforts to eliminate the threat to national security by the sect. Igwe Achebe equally appealed to Boko Haram and all other dissident groups to shun violence and follow the path of dialogue in pursing their demands.
Nigerians, said Igwe Achebe “expect rapid transformation of the economy to create more opportunities for them”, stating that there is compelling need for peace and security, power supply and agriculture to transform Nigeria.
He equally appealled to President Jonathan to fulfill his electoral promises that the second Niger Bridge would be constructed during his tenure, stressing “the project is very critical to the economy and security of the entire country since the current bridge is now very old, unsafe and may soon collapse”.
To the National Assembly, he urged them to amend the constitution to allow for the creation of additional states and local governments to redress the imbalance in South East geo-political zone that has suffered unfair distribution and allocation of resources in the last 40 years.
In recent times, the ofala festivals have become a window for various service providers and business interests to showcase their products through sponsorship of some aspects of the ceremony. Such include: Globacom and MTN, among others.