The Nwafor Festival is a major cultural celebration in Ogidi and Ogbunike
communities of Anambra State. Within the same weekend, other neigbouring towns such as Umunya celebrate Isigwu, while Umudioka people celebrate Nkpukpa.
The festival is usually performed after the cultivation of yam to mark the beginning of a resting period; it’s also a time to pray for a productive farming season. The festival, which takes a period of 11 days, starts from the first Friday (Afor) in the month of July and for the next 10 days.
Speaking on the significance of the festival, which unites people of the communities, Chief Barr Obiwenite Obimuanye, the Legal Adviser of Ndi Ichie, Ogidi (council of traditional chiefs), described Nwafor Festival as the highest cultural festival for Ogidi Community.
“It brings our people home for celebration; it is also economically beneficial to the community as there is increase in trade. Outside Christmas, only Nwafor brings Ogidi men and women together; it cuts across religious divide because everybody enjoys it.”
Meanwhile, there’s a popular saying in the local parlance that, ‘an Ogidi man should not be outside when Nwafor is being celebrated.’ This is also a pointer to the essence of the cultural feast, which is usually celebrated with masquerades.
“Whoever is from Ogidi, during Nwafor, they send word home; maybe by way of money or materials to support those who are at home to celebrate. It’s about making merry; it marks the end of the planting season. It’s kind of a transitional period after the planting, by August and September; we will start talking of harvesting our yam,” he said.
Unlike other festival dates, which could be altered, Nwafor has a static date that is well know to everybody, therefore giving enough room for preparation; nobody is taken unawares. No matter the year, Nwafor is always celebrated on the first Friday in the month of July that fall on Afor market day.
Usually, the Thursday before the commencement of the feats is for the induction of new initiates into the masquerade group.
“That’s for young boys of around 10 years of age. And when he gets initiated, it’s assumed that he has come of age; when there’s a meeting in the family, you don’t send him away because it’s assumed that he has become responsible,” Obimuanya hinted.
As part of the celebration, there are no funerals and wedding ceremonies in those communities; it’s just celebration. While Ogidi and Ogbunike celebrate Nwafor Festival, Umudioka community dubbed theirs Nkpukpa, while Umunya celebrates Isigwu and it all falls at the same time. But because Ogidi lives mainly on the road, the town remains the centre of attraction for all other communities.
“It has assumed a carnival atmosphere; each joint you go to, you see a live band entertaining people. It brings us together,” the legal practitioner said.
However, no minding the level of popularity and acceptance the festival has enjoyed over the years, Nwafor Festival has come under severe attacks by so Christina groups, especially the Born Again group, who dubbed it a fetish celebration.
This has resulted in some of such groups organising crusades and youth camp for the youths of their churches, as a way of taking them off the traditional feast.
“If you should take things from the angle these born again Christians are coming from, then you are missing the point. As far as we are concerned, Nwafor is a period of celebration, just like when you celebrate Christmas. An average Muslim man or woman won’t appreciate Christmas because he/she has been tutored that as Christians, we are people who don’t like Islam. So, whatever you do to convince him/her, the person won’t understand it,” Obimuanya said.
Citing instance with other festivals and carnival across the globe, Obimuanya, who seems versed in the tradition of Ogidi community, explained that, “the world is now a global village; it’s easy to access Brazilian carnivals. In their carnivals, you see masquerade with people wearing masks and costumes; they are all forms of celebration. It’s the same thing here; there’s no fetish thing about it; it’s just pure celebration.”
To the lawyer popularly known as Odogwu Ogidi said it’s high time Africans rose to protect their culture and tradition from going into extinction.
“This is my 26th year as a lawyer, but I assure that I’m traditional man to the core. I still break kola nut and offer libation to my ancestors; I commune with them. Do you sometimes wonder why the Whiteman has to come back to this place and try to buy off our artifacts and oracles from the shrines? Why do they take them away? It’s because they’ve discovered there’s some potency about these oracles. So, they now go there and spiritually harness the powers; people are turning back.”
He also accused some Christina leader of deceiving the people to turn against their culture and tradition.
“The problem we have here is, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ The Christian clerics… they will not tell you the truth; everything you do, they will try to censor you and say you are being unchristian like. But then, at your back, those things they criticize, they all do it; I assure you,” he said.
To Obimuanya, the culture and tradition of a people is paramount and must be guarded jealously.
“It’s very, very important, because you can never lose your values. Go to the Whiteman’s country, they never lose their values; they still cherish them. Even when you go to places like South America; all those blacks, those traditions and cultures from where they came thousands of years ago, they still remember them; you can never do away with them. What of witchcraft? Christianity has never wished it away, because it’s still there; whether you agree or not. When they pray, they try to wish it away, but it doesn’t go away like that. If it’s that easy, maybe they would have wished Nwafor Festival away, but they cannot,” he noted.
He continued: “There’s nothing wrong about this festival; we are born into it. This year, I turned 50 (August 20); at least, I should be able to tell my children how I met the festival. Look at my compound, go round; there’s nothing fetish about here. This is purely a celebration,” he said.
While thanking God for his blessings and protections over the years, Odogwu Ogidi said, “it’s not my own making. The only regret is that when I look back, I miss my father and my mother; my father died at 64 and my mother died at 62. I pray God I could live up to 70; at least I’m being ambitious a little. By then, I hope I would have done so much for my wife and children.”
To the lawyer, attaining 50 is a turnaround year.
“There’s a title Ndi Ichie had wanted me to take all along, but I said I won’t take it until I get to 50, because I’m not in a hurry. When a man fulfills his ambition at once, the next thing is to die. All the things I said I would do for my wife and my children, I will still do it for them. By 70, if I bow out, I will say, ‘God thank you. You have done so much for me.’ I’m not greedy; I’m a very moderate and modest man.”
Asked what life has taught him, the said, “life has taught me that for every good thing, you have God to thank. I’ve never claimed achievement on my own; I always attribute them to the grace and mercy of God. God has been so graceful to me and very merciful in my life.”
Though his father, who wanted a lawyer in the family to protect his investments, initiated his being a lawyer, young Obiwetelu had no option but to key into the dream, thereby letting go his ambition of becoming a medical doctor.
“In my elementary six, my father impressed on me and said that, ‘if it were in Yoruba land, after acquiring money and properties, they train a lawyer to defend those properties.’ that was the stepping-stone for me. So, from elementary six, he was already indoctrinating me. But I thank God I didn’t end up as a medical doctor, because I’m so extroverted; I couldn’t have been a good medical doctor.”
A man of the people, Odogwu Ogidi is a complete socialite, who has the interested of his community at heart.
“I like people coming around me. At a time, I would have aspired to be a judge, but then how could I do it? My community needs me; everybody needs me. I help the poor; I reach out to the people. As a judge, I cannot do that because when people come around, they will say they’ve come to offer you bribe, so I cannot function; I’m a man of the people,” he said.
As far as Obimunaya is concerned, education and religion should not be a barrier to practicing ones tradition and culture.
“Many people prefer to think of what people will say about them; I prefer to think of what God will think about me. I don’t make an exhibition of my believing in God; it’s those people that advertise their believe in God that make a mockery of it. When challenges come, you see that they don’t even believe in the God they claim to know. It’s God that knows who believes in him,” he said.