After the last Ocho Festival held in 1954 in Igala Kingdom in Kogi State, the ceremony ceased to exist for 64 years after the British Colonialists banned it. With the recent lift of the ban by Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, Ocho Festival is back to life as many see the governor as a hero of Kogi cultural heritage. SAM EGWU (Lokoja) reports.
The Igala traditional council came alive again, recently with the festival, which usually, being the symbol of the unity of the people of the ancient kingdom, tagged ‘hunting festival and also known as Ocho’, was last held in November 1954 during the reign of Attah Ameh Oboni 1, the man often referred to as ‘Ugbakolo etotolo’ meaning mystery tree among other trees.
The appearance of Ocho hunting festival and culture of the Igalas on the map in 2018, which has once again demonstrated the zeal, confidence and attention for people’s culture demonstrated by the governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who lifted the ban, has further enhanced the position of Igala in Nigeria confirming that the governor understands what can bring people of the same culture together. The Igalas are known for very rich culture.
During the Ocho festival, some made it from London to Nigeria, Kogi State and Idah headquarters of Idah local government, to reenact the famous most unifying festival, Ocho festival.
Senator Ahmadu Alih, one of the custodians of Igala culture, who knows the habits, likes and dislikes, dos and don’ts, said at the hunting expedition in the forest called, Oko Efa, that, “the return of Ocho, one of Igala’s traditional festival, is a welcome development, it has shown further the coherent nature of the people brought by language, culture, love and interest.”
Alih further reiterated that Ocho hunting festival is an epoch making festival, as many who had thronged the forest to see the rich culture of the people have not witnessed it.
“This is the beginning of an era which the Igala kingdom has come together to know as one big family, known for hard work, peace and determination. Ocho is a festival that shows the Igalas as great hunters with mark of dedication even at the time of difficulty to get what they want. As a mark of demonstrations, Attah shot at a life antelope tied to a tree at a designated spot to climax the two-day long hunting festival. The highlight of the hunting festival is if Attah shoots on target, the Ocho had succeeded, but if he misses, it meant that Ocho had failed and it spelt bad omen for the land.”
As a mark of celebration, a chairman would be recognised for the hunting expedition, this is where Prof Stephen Ocheni, minister of State for Labour and Employment, was appointed as chairman of the great unity hunting festival.
At the forest in Oko efa, there was the possibility of meeting with several persons whose presence there, however, was not out of place because the festival attracts Igala sons and daughters, both at home and in diaspora and other foreigners who wanted to have a glimpse of the historical festival, after learning about the event through history, which led to petitioning of the then Attah Igala, His Royal Majesty Ameh Oboni 1, who was alleged of committing offence against the people and their culture.
The forest was filled with chiefs, different tribes, guests from within and outside Nigeria for purposes of antecedents of history who had come down to see the festival, in reality to debunk the early insinuation that human beings were being sacrificed at the festival.
At this point, the waiting game for Attah who had gone on hunting for the symbolic Efa began, among those waiting for the return of Attah from hunting expedition, were Iye Oja, Attah’s wife; the Iye Gbagamaye-symbolised by a young virgin girl carrying a load wrapped in red cloth and Attah’s priest, symbolised by a young boy painted white with face covered with red cloth and carrying a mock idol.
The Attah’s drummers were on ground to entertain and maintain the custom, beating the traditional rhythm while the abode of Attah in the forest was securely guarded by Chief James Ogwu Onoja (SAN), who is a title holder in Attah’s palace, referred to as Agenyi Atta of Igala, dressed in hunting regalia, a costume of power with magnificent bow and arrows to defend the palace in case of eventualities as Attah was away on hunting expedition.
The wait for Attah was not too long as he suddenly emerged from an unexpected direction, the opposite direction of Oko Efa and shot at the symbol of an animal he had killed from the forest, after which he made triumphant entry into his supposed “house” through the backside. And that was the climax of the Oko -Efa episode of the festival.
After a while, Attah came out of his house in his full paraphernalia of office, official regalia that portrays Igala kingdom, among the revered kingdoms in the world.
When Atta entered his packed jeep, the official vehicle of Attah Igala, HRM, Idakwo Michael Ameh Oboni 11, all other waiters followed him to Erane in Idah town. That was the point Attah visitors came out in their numbers to welcome him.
It was at this point that all Attah’s masquerades came out to meet the chief custodian of Igala culture and tradition, all the nine royal masquerades; Ekwe, Agbanabo, Ikelekwu-Afuma, Epe, Ichaula, Ocho-chono, Inelekpe, Odomado, and Elekwuche. The most revered of all the masquerades is the Ekwe, which signifies the power of authority of Attah and does not go out any how like others, unless Attah was around.
The memory of Ocho cultural festival is seen from the purifying potency it avails Igalaland with. During the period of Ocho rites, farmers are advised to stay away from the farm as general cleansing of the land was expected for greater farm yields and general protection of the citizens.
Issues like these have made Ocho festival very unique. This is the period Attah uses the power of the ancestors to prevail on the land, he curses mischief makers in the land, banishes armed bandits, kidnapping and all other things that are inimical to the development of the land including thuggery and those who defile the land with ulterior motives, have themselves to blame.
From Erane on the journey home to the palace, the seat of authority of Igala Kingdom, dancers of all shapes and shades, chiefs and well wishers lined both sides of the road to the palace.
The convoy was epochal and nostalgic of memory of the day of days when men were known by the prowess they exhibit. Attah informed his audience that Igala Kingdom is a formidable ethnic group that loves peaceful coexistence and a force to be reckon with among the comity of kingdoms and has contributed immensely to the development of the nation.
He prayed for the peace of the nation, Kogi State and Igala land. He prayed for development of the land that the land should witness peace and development warning however that anyone who plans calamity for the people shall be consumed in the calamity.
The chairman of the occasion, Senator Ahmadu Alih, who was full of joy for the revival of Ocho festival and the massive turn out of people to witness the lost part of the tradition of Igala race in the last 64 years thanked all, noting that history has been made during the reign of His Royal Majesty, Chief Michael Idakwo Ameh Oboni 11, as Ocho, which was banned by colonial administration, was brought back during his time.
The occasion was witnessed by multitude of observers from within and outside the country. The reality that many people thronged to the scene, apart from history, has helped to debunk claims that there was human sacrifice, it was not real as being insinuated in some quarters including some sons and daughters of Igala Kingdom.
The Ocho festival has come to stay, according to the chairman of the occasion, Senator Amadu Alih, and its importance is rooted in the cleaning of Igala Kingdom of dirty habit of kidnapping, armed robbery and other criminality in the land and as it stands, those who engage in criminality in the area will have their fingers burnt in the process.
Ocho is a festival that shows the Igalas as great hunters with mark of dedication even at the time of difficulty to get what they want.
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