By Chiedu Uche Okoye

Obosi, which is an ancient and important town in Nigeria, is well-known to millions of Nigerians. And stories and legends regarding the origin of Obosi have it that a peripatetic hunter called Adike founded Obosi town hundreds of years ago. While natives of Obosi live in Obosi inland town, settlers and non-natives of obosi live in Obosi urban town, where they had built their houses.

Obosi, which shares common boundaries with Oba, Nkpor, Umuoji, and Onitsha, has a burgeoning population. There is a steady influx of people into Obosi. Those people had relocated to Obosi for diverse reasons. While some people are attending schools located in Obosi, others had bought shops in Obosi motor spare parts markets for the sale of their goods.

However, the forebears of today’s Obosi people embraced western education and converted to christianity. Their proselytizing to the Christian religion and acquisition of western education did not cause them to stop participating in Obosi town’s cultural festivals. So Obosi people’s cultural festivals were not obliterated.

Now, Obosi people have hybridized cultural festivals, which are medleys of christian practices and Obosi people’s cultural beliefs and conventions. The illustrious sons and daughters of Obosi town are active participants in the cultural life of Obosi town. And they took traditional chieftaincy titles, which underscored their love of Obosi culture. For example, the international diplomat and former commonwealth secretary general, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, holds the traditional title of Adazie Obosi. And Chief Chimezie Ikeazor, a renowned legal luminary and founder of the free legal aid, held the traditional title of Oboli Obosi during his sojourn on earth.

The indisputable fact is that the ancient Obosi Kingdom is a land of culture. The people of Obosi celebrate such cultural festivals as Olisa, Agwu,  masquerade displays, Iwaji/ Ofala, Ito Ogbo, and others. The people of Obosi take pride in celebrating those cultural festivals.

Among all the cultural festivals, which are celebrated, periodically, in Obosi, the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival is the grandest and most popular. And over the years, custodians of Obosi cultural festivals did their best to sustain the celebration of the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival. So thankfully, till now, the festival has not gone into extinction.

But what is Ito Ogbo Obosi festival? The Ito Ogbo Obosi festival means the collective celebration of the birthdays of members of the Age Grade, who have recently become octogenarians. During the grand finale of the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival, the traditional ruler of Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iweka (Eze Iweka lll), will place red caps on the heads of the celebrants, which qualify them to be called “Ogbueshi”. When loosely translated, “ Ogbueshi” means an octogenarian, who had killed a cow.

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The Ito Ogbo Obosi festival, which is a triennial cultural event, has existed for over four hundred years. And over the years, the festival has been modernized to make it be in sync  with modern social cum cultural realities. And the next Ito Ogbo Obosi festival, which will take place on March 2, 2024, holds the promise to be a spectacular and colourful event.

The significances and importance of the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival are not unknown to millions of Nigerians. In Igboland, old people are held in high esteem and revered.So, here, old age is synonymous with wisdom. And a great number of Igbo people believe that a man’s wisdom is a function of his age. That is the reason why gerontocracy throve in Igboland during the pre-colonial and colonial eras. Even now, the umunna or kindred system of communal leadership is based on a conflation of gerontocracy and modern democratic tenets and principles.

So in Obosi, the provenance of the Ito Ogbo festival, most people want to live to good old age in order that they will be revered and accorded respect. We should, also, note that the people of Igbo ethnic group believe those who died in their prime to be accursed. They are called changeling or spirit child, the phenomenon of which is captured in Wole Soyinka’s and J P Clark’s poems titled “Abiku”. So Obosi people nurse the high hope of living to the age of eighty years, which qualifies them to participate in the collective Ito Ogbo Obosi festival as celebrants.

The Ito Ogbo Obosi festival is symbolic of a people’s strivings to live right so as to become octogenarians. In order not to die young, a great number of Obosi indigenes shun involvement in violent deeds, which may result in their untimely deaths. And they religiously abide by health rules, which will guarantee them robust health and longevity. Not a few Obosi people are living spartan and austere lifestyles so as to live up to the age of eighty years.

Today, the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival has gained global recognition and attention. During the period of the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival, Obosi people living in foreign countries,  together with their friends of caucasoid race, will return to Obosi for the celebration of the iconic Ito Ogbo Obosi festival.

And the processes for the inclusion of the Ito Ogbo Obosi festival in the National Calendar and UNESCO’s non-tangible cultural event has reached advance stage.

Ito Ogbo Obosi festival is the most popular and grandest cultural festival in the entire southeast of Nigeria. It is a people’s show of reverence to God for blessing their oldies with longevity. Ito Ogbo Obosi festival is a coterie of cultural and social activities, which are organized for oldies, who have recently become octogenarians.

Okoye, a poet, writes from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State