By Stellamaries Amuwa, Abuja
Umunede is a town in Delta State, rich in culture with a history that links it with Benin Kingdom. It is strategically located along Benin-Asaba expressway, which facilitates mobility to any part of Nigeria, and the welcoming nature of Umunede indigenes is quite commendable. Travellers from the South Western part of Nigeria and some parts of the North to the South East and South South confirmed that the busy town, Umunede is a one-stop hub for quality food and agricultural produce.
The Umunede Progressive Union (UPU) showcased its rich culture when sons and daughters of Umunede rolled out drums to celebrate the 2017 New Yam Festival in Abuja recently.
The ceremony, which held at the tourism village of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), attracted dignitaries from the town, including Honourable Tony Elekeokwuri, honourable member representing Ika North East Constituency, Pastor Destiny Ikem, Chairman UPU Abuja Branch, Patrick Okoh, member based in Asaba and Boniface Eboka, director administration, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation.
Speaking to journalists at the occasion, Honourable Elekeokwuri stated that the celebration of New Yam has been an age long practice, where people show appreciation to God for survival and increase in the land. The festival symbolises unity and an avenue to showcase our tradition and culture. The old and young come together and in the process, the tradition and culture are transmitted to the younger generations, it is a time when we celebrate our harvest and show people that our land is fertile. Umunede Kingdom is one of the oldest kingdoms east of the Benin Empire. “Umunede is at the forefront of promoting culture, the Iwaji festival (New yam Festival) is what we grew up knowing and promoting, it’s laudable. Our culture is unique, having originated from Benin City which is known for rich cultural heritage. Our dance is supported with local musical instrument. An average Umunede person is a good dancer. Once we hear musical rhythm, we dance to it. To ensure the younger generations are not left out in the practice, we have tried to carry them along in the propagation of our culture. We are trying to get our children to speak our language since most of them are not based at home, we are doing are best to make sure that the children learn our language, traditions and culture because if we get these things right at the foundation, we get it all right in future. Though, we are not where we want to be, we are no longer where we use to be”.
Also speaking, the Chairman, UP Abuja, Destiny Ikem said, “We have done well so far, you can see the massive turn out we have at this year’s celebration, this shows we are progressing. We are reaching out to our entire members, both home and in diaspora, to come together and support our culture. Here, we value our culture as you can see we have been communicating in Ika dialect and this year, the theme for this celebration is peace. In Umunede Progressive Union, we have the youth wing, where the younger generations are involved in the affairs of the town. We come with our children to learn about community development. Children of 18 years and above are expected to join the Union or face sanctions. Aside learning our culture, there are benefits derived from such associations. We are preaching peace to our youth and we want them to shun all malevolent practices like cultism, kidnapping, any form of violence and work towards the sole benefits of the progress of the Umunede people and the country at large”.
Patrick Okoh, a civil servant and an indigene of Umunede, based in Asaba, said he is passionate about his culture and community as he cannot be without his community but his community can be without him. “ Umunede is a dialect of Ika language, Ika is a language of its own, when I did my youth service, the NYSC brochure then had Igbo language as number 143 while Ika was 144, so Ika dialect is recognised as a language. We must make sure we sustain our dialect, I am passionate about my culture, monarchy and dialect”.
Earlier, Eboka stated that Umunede is the only town that does the Igwe festival like the Benin kingdom, which shows the closeness to the kingdom. He said, “What we are doing here is multifaceted celebration, we are launching our 2018 calendar and commemorating what the Obi has already done by eating the new yam and most importantly, we are looking forward to a situation where we can do something as a landmark for others to emulate, Umunede has a unique culture”. Eboka also used the forum to appeal to Nigerian youths to have confidence in the country and stop migrating abroad where they serve as slaves.
Celebrants, who adorned themselves in local fabrics produced by the people of the area, entertained their guests with cultural performances and traditional cuisine. The highlight of the day was the award given to deserving sons of the Umunede kingdom including honourable Tony Elekeokwuri.