By Chuks Ehirim
The advent of Christianity in Africa some centuries ago, dealt a sad blow on the customs and traditions of the black race. Evidence of this abound everywhere in Igbo land in contemporary times. Early missionaries in this part of the World, did everything humanly possible to denigrate the culture of the people, by portraying it in bad light.
Through the policy of cultural imperialism, those things that bound the people together and made them proud, were simply given derogatory tags in order to convince the indigenous people to jettison them. That was how such cultural festivals in Igbo land as traditional wrestling, Iwa ji [new yam festival], initiation into manhood[ mmawun or masquerades festival, Otuezenwanyi, Nze na Ozo title etc were blackmailed into near extinction, through being branded fetish in all its ramifications.
But some Igbo communities have refused, up till date, to throw away their water with the bathtub. One such community where the people still hold firmly to their cultural and traditional heritage, is Obosi Kingdom in Anambra State. In this community, the popular OFALA or Iwaji [New yam festival] are still celebrated with high level of fun fare.
Whenever these festival comes up, indigenes of the place empty themselves to their ancestral home land, irrespective of their status in the society. That was exactly what happened on Saturday,20th and Sunday 21st October when His Majesty, Igwe Chidubem Iweka, Iweka III who became Eze Obosi Kingdom in 2011,organized his first Ofala.
At the venue of the festival was a sea of heads made up of both young and old, royalty and the peasants, to give support to the amiable Igwe and his Lolo as well as Indichies, for a successful outing. There were verities of activities that thrilled, especially first time visitors such as this reporter. One of it was the appearance of the popular Nollywood actor, NKEM OWOH, alias OSUOFIA. The moment the man arrived the scene, the crowd became uncontrollable, as the young ones surged forward, struggling to catch a glimpse of him.
The high point of the occasion was however, during the traditional dance by Indichies-a highly revered class of citizens of the accent Kingdom of Obosi. It was at that moment that the Corps Mashall of the Federal Road Safety Commission[FRSC], Chief Osita Chidoka, distinguished himself as a man who is very much at home with the tradition of his people.
Dressed in a sparkling white robe, Chidoka who is unarguably the youngest among the Ndichie present, practically stole the show when he danced with some measure of perplexing dexterity, to the rhythmic drum beats played by men of the older generation in the kingdom. Those who are in the know, told this reporter that only men of means dance to such music where ever it is played in the Kingdom.
Chidoka’s performance at the occasion, won for him , the admiration of the crowd which followed him about thereafter, chanting “IKE OBOSI, IKE OBOSI, IKEOBOSI [meaning, the strength of Obosi Kingdom] which actually, is his praise name. Like the Okonkwo in Chinua Acvhebe’s Things Fall Apart, whose fame rose with his defeat of Amalinze the cat in a wrestling contest, the Corps Marshall became an instant celebrity at the Ofala. As he rose to leave the arena, the crowd cheering hilariously, followed him, even to the point of making it difficult for his convoy to move out of the open field.
But the festivities did not end there. Rather it continued the following day being a Sunday. At about 2pm, after church services, his friends and well wishers gathered at his country home where the traditional new yam was roasted and eaten with palm oil source. Again, Chidoka was at his best, displaying those qualities that portrayed him as one in full grips of the cultural values of Igbo land. When he cut the roasted yam, he did so with grace and elegance, by first offering the traditional prayers to his ancestors and blessing those around.
Again, when he stepped out to do the traditional dance, especially to the beautiful tunes rendered by the flutist, the crowd yielded in admiration, calling to mind, Achebe’s popular quote in the same Things Fall Apart, that “when the moon is shinning, the cripple becomes hungry for a work”.
The guests who included top shots of the FRSC such as Olabisi Kazim, were thrilled by different types of masquerades and other dance groups. There was of course, enough to eat and drink at this memorable occasion, which gave hope to believers in African tradition, that all hopes are not lost yet .