BY CHUKS NWANNE
THOUGH Ofala Festival is not new to the people of Ogbunike in Oyi local council of Anambra State and its neighbouring communities, the last edition of the cultural fiesta that held on December 26, 2016, remains talk of the town; it was class personified.
From a rigorous one-year planning period that resulted in an alluring celebration, with eye-catching decorations that got the entire Round Palace glittering, the beautiful balloon work at the foyer, masquerades’ displays, colourful exhibition of dances, culture and tradition of Ogbunike people, the last Ofala Festival will definitely go down in history as one of the best.
Generally in Igboland, Ofala Festival occupies a unique place in the annual calendar. Usually celebrated in Ogbunike on December 26, aside from being a day of celebration and merrymaking, it is also a day when sons, daughters and friends of the community would gather to thank God for keeping them alive.
Derived from two Igbo words ofo (authority) and ala (land), the ceremony also serves as rites of renewal of the Igwe, a time for the royal father to give account of his stewardship in the outgoing year in preparation for the New Year. On the other hand, it is also a day when deserving members of the community and their friends, who have contributed to the development of the community, are specially rewarded with awards and chieftaincy titles.
Though Ogbunike belongs to Umu-Iguedo clan, the geographical location of the town has made it susceptible to influences of other cultures, some of which have made a lasting impact on the people. However, there still exist close ties among the Umu Iguedo clan (Ogbunike, Akwuzu, Umueri and Nando), with Ogbunike as okpala Iguedo (first son of Iguedo).
In Ogbunike, Ofala celebration is the sole responsibility of the traditional ruler as the custodian of custom, culture and tradition of the people. It epitomises the conceptualisation of generational values, lifestyle history and anthropological origin. The ceremony brings people together and re-unites His Majesty with his subjects and well-wishers, and the peace, love and harmony that radiate during the festival rejuvenates the willingness for development, progress and unity.
But unlike previous editions, the 2016 Ofala Festival in Ogbunke was special in the sense that it marked the 75th birthday of the traditional ruler of Ogbunike, HRM Igwe John Ositadimma Umenyiora (Ezedioramma 1) and it also coincided with his 40 years on the throne. In other words, it was a triple celebration for Ogbunike Kingdom. Being one of the longest serving traditional rulers in the state, a bumper package was expected. Indeed, it was a gathering of who is who in Igboland.
From the Chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe (Obi of Onitsha), who led other traditional rulers, to former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, business mogul Chief Arthur Eze, Minister for Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche; Senator Ben Obi, Bishop Mike Okonwo of TREM; Chief Ifeanyi Uba, Chief ABC Orjiakor of SEPLAT… it was an impressive gathering of guests.
Meanwhile, the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, who was to be the Special Guest of Honour at the festival, couldn’t make it. Secretary to State Government (SSG), Mr. Solo Chukwulobelu, represented him. Obiano, who is an in-law of ndi Ogbunike, was said to be attending a traditional marriage elsewhere.
As early as 9am, all roads led to the Round Palace, with guests trickling into the Ofala ground in their beautiful outfits and uniforms, while traditional dance troupes and ceremonial masquerades entertained guests at different locations. However, the arena came alive when Igwe Umenyiora, dressed in his full ceremonial regalia, rolled into the arena in his black Lincoln Limousine car, with the traditional Igba Eze providing beats. That was after he conferred chieftaincy titles on some deserving members of the community and friends. Also on the procession were members of the igwe’s inner cabinet and traditional chiefs dressed in colourful regalia.
CLUTCHING the Ofo (the sacred symbol of truth, justice, law and authority) in his left hand, chanting of ‘Igweeeeeeee’ rented the air, as the flamboyant king and business mogul made his way into the arena for his first outing. In fact, the security men had their hands full, as they battled to control the paparazzi and the obviously excited crowd that struggled to catch a glimpse of the philanthropist, who has played a vital role in the growth and development of the community. As soon as the procession got to the ufie stand, His Majesty spent a few minutes dancing to the ufie music as tradition demands, before returning back to the throne.
When he returned for his second outing, he was clad in a different robe and crown to match, as he acknowledged cheers from his subjects and visitors. But by the time he retuned to the arena for the third outing, the atmosphere became fully charged. His third outing usually marks the beginning of Ofala proper in the arena.
After the breaking of kola nuts, which was presented by the Iguedo (Queen of Ogbunike), traditional music rented the air, as different dance troupes, women groups and age grades took to the arena to pay homage to the king and entertain guests; masquerade groups also got slots to display to the admiration of visitors.
Nollywood was represented by the likes of Chiwetalu Agu, a traditional chief in Ogbunike, and Ngozi Ezenonu, an indigene of the community. But the highpoint of the event was the releasing of thousands of helium-inflated balloons in celebration of His Majesty’s 75th birthday and 40 years on the throne.
“I can’t really explain it,” Igwe Umenyiora said excitedly. “It’s something I never expected to happen the way it’s happening today. I think I’m very happy with it; I’m very proud about it.”
On his 40-year journey on the throne of Ogbunike, the royal father said, “You see, it’s not an easy thing. When we were in school, we used to say, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.’ But I didn’t understand the meaning until the crown came on my head; that was the time I realised the meaning of that statement. I went through a lot of things and I believe I’ve learnt a lot in the past 40 years.”
Igwe Umenyiora also used the opportunity of his celebration to call on government at all levels to come up with policies that would alleviation the economic hardship being experienced by ordinary Nigerians. He also decried the state of roads across the country, particularly the South-East, and urged government to live up to its responsibilities.
“Roads in some parts of the country are more than deplorable,” he said, “the conditions have been epileptic. In about September-October 2016, some roads became impassable and there had to be emergency palliative measures to ease the sufferings of the citizens. Government should device means of tackling the network of roads, which will facilitate the transportation of people, goods and services from the rural areas to the urban centres.”
Though ofala has different names in different communities, no matter the nomenclature, the festival has come to define a way of life of a people. It has become a platform for tourism and community development in Igboland.
Ogbunike is located on longitude 6.40°E and the latitude 6.20°N, and lies between kilometres 11.3 and 14.5 along old Onitsha-Enugu Road. The new Onitsha-Enugu expressway cuts through the northern border. Ogbunike is made up of six villages: Ukalor, Osile, Amawa, Ifite, Umueri and Azu. With an uneven landscape, sufficient rainfall and fertile soil, the community, as an agrarian one, produces food all year round.
Bounded on the East by Umudioka in Idemili Local Government Area, on the north-east by Umunya in Oyi Local Government Area and on the North by Nkwelle-Ezunaka also in Oyi Local Government Area, Ogbunike shares her boundary on the west and south with Ogidi in Idemili Local Government Area.