Promoting cultural heritage through festivals, By Francis Onyeukwu

Most indigenes and visitors who attended the recent Ito Aro Cultural Festival of Ogidi, in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra, were of the view that age grade system if sustained, could help step up morality and reduce the current wave of anti-social conducts in Nigeria communities.

Ito Aro, is a retirement ceremony, usually celebrated every three years, during which members of an age grade that turn 80 years are exempted from participation in communal services.

They are also exempted from payment of taxes, dues, development levies and other sundry contributions.

Ito Aro is not peculiar to Ogidi, but celebrated across the states of the South-East, as well as Igbo communities in Rivers and Delta states, but with different names.

Before the retirement ceremony, those that turned 80 years participated in development and made contributions for security, road maintenance as well as good ambassadors of the community.

The constitutions of the age grades abhor criminality and other forms of anti-social conducts, and those found wanting were either sanctioned or expelled.

People of questionable character never performed the Ito Aro ceremony.

The combined effects of keeping to the stringent rules associated with the age grade system, in addition to longevity, which is a rare gift from God, make families and friends roll-out drums to celebrate their own that joined the `elite club.’

Before the 2019 edition, the celebration and other cultural festivals in Ogidi, like Nwafor Ogidi were in limbo for many years, but revived by the current leadership in Ogidi.

The 2019 Ito Aro, showcased different types of masquerades- Igba Akwuna-Echenyi Cultural Group, Agu Masquerade, Ugwumba, Oke Agu Masquerades, among others.

The traditional ruler of Ogidi, Igwe Alex Onyido, who spoke, said that age grade system was deeply rooted in Ogidi.

“Under the age grade system, clusters of young men and women, born within an age bracket of three to four years, form cluster with name in accordance with their ideals, aspirations, vision and circumstance of birth.

“That is how we have such age grades like: Ije Ego, Obioma, Oganiru, Udoka, Igwebuike, Inwelle, among others.

“Age grades in Ogidi have been very influential and impacted positively on communal discipline, community development and had engineered healthy competitive spirit among the youths because members grow together, encourage themselves to aspire to greatness in both business and public service,’’ he said.

Onyido says by re-enacting the Ito Aro Festival, the community wants to encourage the people to grow together, inspire and assist each other and impact more positively on Ogidi community.

The royal father who described revived 2019 edition of Ito Aro Ogidi as a `maiden edition’, adds that like the popular Nwafor Ogidi Cultural Festival equally revived in 2018, the Ito Aro is an age-long traditional observance, which is a token of appreciation for the rigours of community service by the celebrators.

“We cannot exhaustively thank all Ogidi sons and daughters who over the years have added values to the common good of our community, 2019 Ito Aro is just a token of appreciation to formally mark their disengagement from the rigours of community services,’’ he said.

He said to further appreciate the octogenarians for their contributions; a number of decisions were reached by the community to ensure the octogenarians have more blissful longevity.

Mr Boniface Udoh Uyanwa, aged 108 years from Ndiagu village, and 98 year-old Mrs Ann Ezinma Anoliefo, from Umueze Inwelle village, cut the ceremonial cake.

The traditional ruler said that Ogidi Union Nigeria, High Chiefs, Council of Chiefs and Ndichie Ogidi, will henceforth organise Ito Aro Festival every three years.

Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra, who was special guest at the event, called on Igbo people to encourage and sustain their rich cultural heritage, especially those that celebrate people in their life time.

The governor who praised Igwe Alex Onyido, who became traditional ruler in 2018, for reviving  Ito Aro, said he was impressed by the role of the royal father in re-engineering community activities, especially culture since two years of his reign.

Obiano said that Igbo people have cultures capable of boosting the economy of not only Igbo communities, but the entire nation.

On his part, Dr Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman, The Dome Hospitality Centre, Abuja, said that Ito Aro afforded the community the opportunity to tell their elders, we love you, we celebrate you and appreciate the contributions you made for the peace and progress of the community and that we are ready to go all the way with you.

“For me I am very happy with this culture because as a promoter of culture, I have been at the forefront of supporting the elderly because in Nigeria there is so much talk on youth empowerment without attention to the elderly, without them we wouldn’t have been and abandoning them in their helplessness is not inspirational.

“If you look at the smiles on the faces of the celebrators during this ceremony, you will notice that they were very happy, that the community appreciated all the love, support and contributions made for the growth of the community during the active years.

“When I look back at our past, I recollect sweet memories of our days growing up as members of age grades, we did a lot of things together for the good of our villages, we inspired each other, encouraged each other, corrected each other and we grew up as youngsters, competing to have the cleanest village and market square.

“These problems of youths indulging in drugs addiction, rising anti-social life style, the age grade system when resuscitated could help return the society on track,’’ he said.

President-General of Ogidi Union, Chief Chuka Onubogu, said that 508 persons, drawn from seven age grades in the four quarters of Uru, Ezinkwo, Ikenga and Akanano, that make up Ogidi community took part in the 2019 event.

For 77-year old Obi Anoliefo, whose   98-year old mother participated in the event, said that longevity is a divine gift, for which we must give glory to God.

“I am glad to see my mother alive at 98 years, I will be among the age grade to join the league of octogenarians next three years, when the community will have the next round of the Ito Aro.

“But for this event, all the members of our family came to thank God and celebrate our mother,’’ he said.

Chief Eric Nwankwo-Onwurah, a member of Obioma Age Grade, one of the octogenarians honoured during the 2019 Ito Aro, said the culture was not borrowed.

He said all that happened was that previous administrations abandoned the culture until Igwe Alex Onyido ascended the throne and began to revive Ogidi culture

Traditional ruler of Umueri, Igwe Benneth Emeka, who attended the event, described Ito Aro culture, as a welcome development which must be observed in every Igbo community.

“I equally marked a similar event during my 2018 iri ji (new yam festival) when I celebrated octogenarians in Umueri and I   borrowed the culture from Obosi community,’’ he said.

The testimonies from 2019 Ogidi Ito Aro underscored the need for various ethnic groups to promote their cultural heritage, through celebration of important festivals in their cultural history. (NANFEATURES)