It was yet another annual Irewha Hunting Festival of the Shaba Abakpa community of Nasarawa State on the 28th December 2013. Chika Mefor who witnessed it writes that the event not only showcased the various culture of the community but also served as a platform to forge togetherness and unity for the people in the community.
The youth of various ages in the community were all in black attire and looking fierce. Each pulled out and hung his locally made gun to complete his dressing for a hunter goes nowhere without his gun. Then, chanting war songs, the youth moved to the playground to commemorate yet again, the Irewha hunting festival of the Shaba Abakpa community of Nasarawa State.
The hunting festival is observed yearly by the people of the community. It has its origin in Ikaka, one of the founding fathers of the community. Ikaka was said to be a great hunter who was nicknamed Ada-Ugbe, meaning father of hunting for his bravery and expertise in hunting.
The story has it that Ikaka who was also a great warrior had instructed his son Onda to stage a hunting festival at his death, which should be accompanied with merriment. He, according to the story, had warned that there would be no peace and animals would not be caught during hunting if the hunting festival was not organised to appease his spirit. At his father’s death, Onda did as was instructed and that was how the festival came into being.
Today, the community has taken the festival to a new level. The festival is the major thing that attracts indigenes of the community home every year. At this year’s festival, the national president of the Shafa Abakpa Community Association (SACA), Barr. Muhammed Zubairu, in his welcome address, stated that the festival had helped encourage the people to come home every end of year which in turn afford them the opportunity to attend the annual general meeting of the association and public lectures which precede the festival.
He said “SACA has provided forum for unity, peace and progress since its inception. Through this forum, there have been amicable achievements on issues of our common interest and a lot has also been achieved in the areas of developmental projects and socio/cultural developments,” he said.
He also hinted that the festival had become a link for the community with the past ancestral leaders of the land who used the event to maintain and sustain discipline, promote respect, hard work and love for humanity. Speaking on the importance of community association in the country, Zubairu proposed to the National Assembly and the federal government to consider community associations as the 4th tier of government, pointing out that it would help enhance democracy in the country.
Also speaking during the event, the FCT chairman of the defunct ANPP and a son of the soil, Abdulmalik Usman stated that the festival had become a symbol of unity for not just the people of the community but other tribes in the country. Saying he brings his friends and political associates every year to witness the festival, he called on the Nasarawa government to upgrade the festival as it would not only serve as a tourist attraction, but also a source of revenue for the state.
“This always happens every year. The festival is turning to be a Nigerian thing. You can see the Igbo, the Gbagyi, the Hausa and other tribes who are here to display their cultures. It is a symbol of unity amongst residents in this community. I really commend the organisers.
“I am calling on the politicians in Nasarawa to make it as a tourist place like what is happening in Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Nothing stops Nasarawa government from upgrading this festival to see that it will be a sort of tourist attraction to generate revenue for the state, local government and the community,’’ he said.
Also speaking on the importance of turning the hunting festival into an attraction for tourists, the Ohimegye Igu of Koton- Karfe and chairman Kogi/ Lokoja Area Traditional Council, Alhaji Abdurazaq Isakoto said the event was an avenue for the people to promote their culture and emphasised the need for government’s intervention.
“This has turned into tourist attraction because this is the only place you can see the Ibira culture being exhibited. If you look at the event, it gets us to remember where we come from. Individuals and government should come and help so that this activity can be sustained,’’ he said.
Another traditional ruler, the Ohimege of Opanda, Alhaji Usman Abdullahi hinted that the festival which he described as a unifying factor had granted the royal fathers the opportunity to see themselves and celebrate with one another.
“I am the paramount chief of this area. This festival has become a unifying factor. HRM, Alh. Abdurazaq Isakoto came all the way from Kogi for this festival. We have the same grandfather. The festival has brought us together. It is also good for the community,’’ he said.
One of the visitors who came to witness the event Ibrahim Abdullahi said he was at the festival in order to rejoice with the sons and daughters of Shafa Abakpa community, adding that what he had witnessed symbolised peace, unity and understanding of different ethnic groups in the community.
Abdullahi who is the special assistant on media and publicity to the chairman of Gwagwalada Area Council, FCT revealed that they had made a presentation to the Nasarawa State government for the event to be organised and sponsored by the state in collaboration with the federal government.
‘’We are always calling for peace. This event apart from showcasing the cultural value of the community, is a symbol of peace. So we are calling on the state government to sponsor it because it showcases the cultural value of this community,’’ he said.
The festival which was celebrated with lots of gunshots and a show of strength and valour also marked the 10th anniversary of the enthronement of the chief of the community, the Ohiemani of Emani, Alh. Hussaini Kyafi who is the 17th Ohiemani of Emani-Shafa Abakpa-Sofiyo.