Eziagulu Aguleri revives age-long festival
… Marks Olili Onwa Isaa
THE sleepy community of Eziagulu, in Aguleri, Anambra East Local Government Area in Anambra State was brought to the fore as the traditional rulers, titled chiefs and the people unite to celebrate Olili Onwa Isaa.
It was a colourful event targeted at reviving the age-long cultural festival which is a further boost to culture and tourism in the state.
The month of October is slated in the Igbo calendar, Onwa Isaa to mark the annual Eziagulu Aguleri celebration. It is also a period to showcase the rich Aguleri ancient culture and historic sites.
The five-day event, which was held at the Ama Umuala Eziagulu Aguleri began on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, with the Kpanyoyo Carnival and climaxed with a thanksgiving Mass on Sunday at St Mary’s Catholic Church, in the community.
Olili Onwa Isaa etched primarily on development of the community, focused on the intrinsic and extrinsic values that make the festival rivet in the lives of every son and daughter of Aguleri.
Aguleri, a simple but yet, a complex town is an ancient kingdom made of three quarters known in the local parlance as Aguleri Akwukwo n’ato. The three quarters are Ivite, Igboezunu and Ugwunadegbe, also known as Ezi.
Aguleri communities are bound by blood and Mmuo (spirit) to their ancestral brothers and sisters in what in some cases is called Aguleri Igbo, hence the common reference to Aguleri as Aguleri Otu n’Igbo. Eziagulu is made up of seven communities known as Ama.
In Olili Onwa Isaa, culture and art resonated in the lifting of the Ikenga. It was the most spectacular feature of the festival as the mammoth crowd was held spell bound expecting the virility of a mortal man equating with the sacredness of the Ikenga.
Literally, Ikenga means might (Ike) and motion (nga). It was one of the most powerful symbols of the Igbo people and the most common cultural artifact.
In Eziagulu, Ikenga is a long-standing collective totem and is widely believed to be a bringer of wealth and children. Generally, Eziagulu people revered the Ikenga as a symbol of strength.
It was indeed a colourful celebration for all Eziagulu indigenes, both home and abroad as the organisers of the event captured the ancient festival in the modern era as though they were back into time. It was indeed a period of fun and happiness for everyone. For the indigenes, the icing on the cake is that the essence of reviving the age long festival is geared towards the development of the Eziagulu community.
Basil Manafa, Chairman of Ikenga Eziagulu Forum, offered that, “We have decided to join in the development of our people and one of the things it shows is that development can come through playfulness; good things can come through playfulness. Hence, the need to revive our culture. Olili Onwa Isaa is a culture that binds us together as Eziagulu people and we decided to revive it as it is primarily a festival that unites us everywhere we are.
“The festival has been there from the time of old. We were basically an agrarian society in the past. Back then, our ancestors knew the periods of the year to farm, then during the harvest time, they harvest their products but then, they considered yam as the king of the crops that they produce.
” During Alommuo, which is the thanksgiving, other parts of Igboland call it Iwaji but our people do not do Iwaji, we don’t celebrate it the way other people celebrate it. We celebrate ours as a communion with our ancestors and Chukwu Okike Abiama.
“We see our ancestors as people that are interceding for us in the house of Chukwu Okike Abiama. It is similar to Christians who call on their saints for intercession. We believe that our ancestors, having led good lives are rewarded with sainthood in the house of God.
“During Alommuo, which is like our communion with God, the ancestors also celebrate with us. So, we believe that our ancestors are with us during the period of Alommuo; that they come from the land of the spirits and they are there with us to celebrate and be joyful in thanksgiving.
“This happens around August and it continues till about this time when we now celebrate Olili Onwa Isaa. After the celebration, this is when our ancestors now go back to the land of their ancestors. This is the spiritual context of it.
“During Olili Onwa Isaa, we lift our Ikenga. Ordinarily in Igboland in those days, every Igbo man has his own Ikenga, which is a symbol of his strength, of his communion with God. It’s like if you wake up in the morning, you have your chaplet or you have your bible, you kneel down and pray to God.
“In those days, what our people do is that when they wake up in the morning, they go to their Ikenga and do affirmative prayers; showing gratitude to God for being alive, the life of his family and then, what he does is that he uses kolanuts to make his affirmative prayer that is the tradition of an Igbo person”.
Continuing, Manafa said, ” a revelation came to one diviner in those days of old requesting that Eziagulu as a community should be celebrating the Olili Onwa Isaa. Meanwhile, other communities in Aguleri celebrate Olili Onwa Asato. The revelation now came to him that Eziagulu people should go with the diviner’s Ikenga to pray round all the community.
“The seven Amas in Eziagulu are to pray that God should bless them with more children and more wealth that is the essence of the Kpanyoyo carnival that took place on Wednesday and Thursday, which is Eke and Oye.
There were little children chanting behind a man that is drumming and chanting kpanyoyo! Kpanyoyo! Chukwu Okike nye anyi nwa! Kpanyoyo! kpanyoyo ! Chukwu Okike nye anyi akunuba! which loosely translates to kpanyoyo kpanyoyo, God give us more children, kpanyoyo kpanyoyo God gives us more wealth.
“The man that got the revelation was using his own personal Ikenga. Thereafter, a revelation came to him that Eziagulu should prepare their own Ikenga. Eziagulu is the only community that owns a general Ikenga in Aguleri.
“A human sized Ikenga was now produced. Normally it stands in the Ama overtime, because it was very heavy, being carved out of wood. People tried to lift it but couldn’t until someone was able to lift it in 1948, as a sign of strength. Since then, the totem is being lifted anytime we celebrate the festival.
“In this year’s celebration, it was lifted by one Okechukwu Oloo, that has continued to lift it and which happens to be his last time to lift because he has lifted it like four times now. He is in his 60s. He lifted it on Friday and his age mates were all happy. The thing is, it is a pride for whatever age grade that is able to lift it. It is a rare privilege for the lifter”, he enthused.
Corroborating with Manafa, the oldest man in the community said to be in his late 90s, Mazi Ulu Ezuo, said the festival was for jokes and merriment.
On his part, SSA to Governor Obiano on Radio/TV/Creative economy and a Board member of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) and Anambra Newspapers Printing Corporation (ANPC), Marcel Manafa said, “Olili ọnwa isaa is a trado-cultural festival that will ensure that the flame of the beacon of our tradition and culture will always be kept alight by coming generations.
It is an event to keep thanking our ancestors for their entreaties to Chukwu Okike Abiama, who has given our community so much in terms of virility, wealth, industry and protection; so we need to be renewing our traditional thanksgiving to them and the Almighty Creator every year so that more will be done”.
In Olili Onwa Isaa, art and culture intricately intertwined as the cultural dancers and various masquerades display presented were embedded with a good dose of entertainment.
dignitaries that graced the event include; Aguleri monarch, Mike Idigo amongst other traditional rulers; Commissioner for Diaspora, Indigenous Arts, Culture and Tourism, Christian Madubuko; local government chairmen, presidents general and media personality couple, Isaac and Nneka of Goge Africa fame.