By HENRY AKUBUIRO
The swansong was probably the ultimate performance of the day. Five hours into the annual Obiora/Iwaji Festival, as the evening shadow began to creep from Onitsha, the Obosi monarch, Eze Chidubem Iweka III, suddenly disappeared from the Obosi arena. When he reappeared moments later, his majestic ensemble had given way to a traditional hunter’s ensemble, derived from animal skin and festooned with amulets.
Welding a staff-like arrow, with a bow shielding him, the Igwe Obosi’s face became taut as he charged at the crowd. Frightened women and children scampered for safety under pavilions. Those were the fainthearted. Cheered by an ecstatic crowd, he burst into pace, swaying this way and that way, and stopping abruptly like a dreaded being in a trance as he went round the arena. The frenzied dramatics was like a coup de theatre. It was enough to send every face at the Obosi Arena creased with smiles as they went home after a lively festival.
The 2017 Obiora/Iwaji Festival, which took place on Saturday, October 15, 2017, drew participants from far and wide. It is one festival in the cultural calendar of the Obosi Kingdom in Idemili South, Anambra State, in which the indigenes celebrate with pride. Obiora/Iwaji Festival is an annual celebration of yam and peace.
As Eze Iweka noted in his address, “This festivity commenced many centuries ago when the yam was paramount over all other food crops in Igbo land. The yam crop was so important in those days that stealing of yams was punishable by banishment from the land.” Still, the king of crops still commands respect till this day.
The easiest way of knowing it was the preeminent cultural fiesta in Obosi was by the sheer magnitude of the participants and the finesse put into the organisation. When Eze Iweka arrived at the arena by 12. 30 pm, the Traditional Prime Minister, the Iyasere Obosi, led the Ndichie (the most revered titled men in the traditional echelon) to pay homage to the king. The wives of Ndichie (the Lolos) followed in the wake to present kola nuts to the king.
It was just the beginning of a long procession of groups paying homage to Eze Iweka III, among whom were Ada Obiora (the Most Beautiful Queen of Obiora), Ndi Agbalanze Obosi, the palace maidens, and the G 32 Group supporting the UPP governorship candidate (Osita Chidoka). Other groups who presented kola nuts included Igwe’s wives, Inyom Ndi Eze Obodo, Umuada Eze Obodo, Obosi Development Union, (Women Wing), Obosi Urban, to mention a few.
In his address, Deacon Ikenna Madubosa, the Chairman of the Obiora/Iwaji Obosi Festival Planning Committee, described Obosi as a kingdom blessed with vibrant communities well recognised for their diverse physical and cultural traits, artistic creations, religious festivities and philosophies of life. The sixth in the series since the installation of Eze Iweka III, Maduobosa said it was an event that usually attracts many prominent personalities from within and outside Anambra State.
“The festival signals the commencement of the eating of the new yam in Obosi community and is a day symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers,” he said, calling on the youth to be extremely careful during the forthcoming governorship election to avoid being used as tugs by anybody or political parties.
Eze Iweka, who commended Chief Osita Chidoka for being the first Obosi indigene to run for a governorship election in the state, described the former Aviation Minister as “a big son of Obosi”. Saddened by the security challenges of Obosi, he said, “It gives me sleepless nights to know that people are, daily and rightly, subjected to all sorts of assault, rape and dispossession of their hard-earned cash and property while my palace remains secure.” He blamed rising unemployment for the high level of criminality in Obosi, while calling on the law enforcement agents to buckle up.
He was also worried by a new dimension of crime recently perpetrated by masquerades, leading to the banning of masquerading in the community as a result of the activities of two masquerades, Mmuo Agwoh and Odogwu Anyammee, indicted for robbery, rape and wanton destruction, leading to their arrests and prosecution.
“Inasmuch as we accord rights and privileges to non-indigenes,” he said, “for obvious cultural reasons, masquerading is restricted to indigenes alone”, even as he reached out to parents, guardians and teachers to pay more attention to the social lives of their children, for peer pressure “is a scourge that is daily luring our children into cultism, drug addiction, robbery and a host of other crimes.”
The literary works of the Obosi monarch –The Ancient Curse (a novel), So Bright a Darkness (a novel) and August Visitors (a play) –staged a return to the festival, as participants scrambled for copies of the writer-king. Again, the presentation of newly harvested yams to the king was done with style this year.
Two bare-chested young men dressed in wrappers (ancient hunters’ attire) trailed by a couple of maidens, presented the yams to the king, who blessed them in turn. Thereafter, Eze Iweka III recalled the exploits of the founder of Obosi Kingdom, Adike the hunter. He declared that the size of the yams presented to him was a reflection of that this year’s harvest was bountiful.
Another innovation introduced this year was a drama sketch by a group of Obosi homegrown thespians. It depicted a group of quarrelsome women who brought a case to Ndichie to adjudicate. It was more of a backward glancing to the Obosi administrative past with its imperfections and perfections.
Like he did last year, Mr Chude Emeka Emmanuel, the Chairman, Planning Committee, set the crowd agog when he rode on a bicycle dressed in the ensemble of a palm wine tapper, to present a calabash of palm wine to the monarch, who took a sip and blessed the work of his hands before he started sharing to those interested in having a drink.
One of the highpoints of the day was the breaking of roast yam (ikpo munu) by the king into bits and sharing among excited children, who crowded the podium from different corners to partake in the joy. He reaffirmed that the harvest was bountiful and prayed next year’s to be better.
Two governorship candidates in the November 18 governorship election in the state, Tony Nwoye of the APC and Osita Chidoka of the UPP, took turns to address the crowd, imploring them to stand by them. Also, a famous Nollywood actor, Amaechi Muanagor, an indigene of Obosi, greeted the king as he saluted his Obosi brethren, enjoining them to be of good behaviour.
Together with Ndichie, the Obosi monarch added spectacle to the festival when he paraded the arena, acknowledging cheers from the crowd. Obiora/Iwaji Festival is incomplete without the Igba Ekwe dance in which Ndichie took turns to dance to the ekwe musical instrument, exuding energy and pride. They were at their dazzling best, indeed.
Speaking to Saturday Sun in his palace soon after the event, Eze Iweka said the festival witnessed a remarkable high: “Despite the economic recession, we are growing from strength to strength. This year witnessed a remarkable improvement in the substance of the festival,” he said, though acknowledging that the economic downturn affected the spending power of some participants.
He was satisfied with the large turnout of Obosi people for the festival mostly locals. Though many people came from overseas, it fell short of the usual crowd from the diaspora.
Asked why he didn’t confer chieftaincy titles on some people this year, he said: “We are very selective. I have more than 15 people lines up for chieftaincy titles for two years, we don’t want those who will tarnish the image of the town. We ask questions and screen potential title recipients well. Most of the titles we give are on merit; we don’t collect money for them, unlike how it is done in some other places.”
Eze Iweka III isn’t your garden-variety traditional ruler. He also goes after criminals himself. He declared: “I personally go out with my vigilantes to chase criminals. I have gone out with them and arrested drug dealers, chased after 419ners and robbers. I only did it last month, storming a 419 den and sending him on the run. We are out this time to face them squarely.”
Cultural immersion at its best, fervour and tales of valour: these are what you get when you attend the Obiora/Iwaji Festival. Give it to the Obosi Ukwala Kingdom!