Festivals remain some of the most exciting pastimes of both ancient and modern cultures, showcasing the rich ways of a people through dance, colourful attire and traditional foods among others. It is no wonder that the Ofala Festival triggered exciting tourist attractions, drawing people from all walks of life to Akpoga-Mbu, one of the autonomous communities in Isi-uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State. RUTH TENE NATSA writes.
The ofala festival, is a rich cultural fiesta used in many parts of Igboland by traditional monarchs, to celebrate their reigns, display their royalty, and appreciate their subjects.
The festival, which may not be indigenous to the people of Enugu State, as much as it is with Anambra people, however, has its traditional values and relevance transcending ethnic boundaries among the sunrise region of Nigeria.
Said to be the first in Akpoga-Mbu, the Ofala festival was a delectable show of royalty, capturing not just the glamour and glory of the Igweship stool, but the people’s connection to culture and tradition.
Members of the community ostensibly demonstrated accentuated aspirations for the Ofala festival, as an avenue to express their love and loyalty to their revered monarch, who ascended the throne since 2002.
To the indigenous people of the community, it was light at the end of the tunnel as their land of nativity gained global attention by the number of searches conducted in the Google Map by people who sought for direction to the community, even as roads leading to most parts of the ancient kingdom received major facelift.
A motorcyclist (Okada rider) who claimed to have made great fortune by conveying passengers from different locations to the Igwe’s pala, confirmed the joy of the people when he said, “Igwe tried oo, this road was not passable before, we were suffering plying the roads”.
Undoubtedly, visitors and tourists who traced the hinterland, had a first-hand experience savouring the rich cultural heritage that was colourfully displayed by several groups.
Even the ‘August meeting’ mandatory home coming for most ethnic groups in Southeast region, and the end of the year festivities could not compete in impact with the Ofala frenzy.
The community robustly took advantage of the opportunity to unveil their hospitality and unique culture to the admiration of tourists and visitors who came from far and wide to celebrate the maiden Ofala festival of His Royal Highness, Igwe Princewill Okete Ugwu.
His Royal Highness, Igwe Princewill Okete Ugwu was said to have been unanimously elected to the stool and also crowned the “Ochiagha 1” of Akpoga-Mbu kingdom, as a necessity that came to exist, after the community acquired an autonomous status.
It was gathered that the festival being first of its kind in history of the community, generated huge expectation which spurred both the monarch’s immediate and extended family and even friends into an extensive planning to ensure that it leaves a long lasting tourism impression.
The celebrant, Igwe Princewill Okete Ugwu, said, “the festival was an opportunity for me to appreciate God and my people for a royal journey that began 16 years ago.”
He noted that when he accepted to serve his people as the Igwe, his resolve was to pursue people-oriented developmental projects, peaceful co-existence both in the community and their neighbours. All these, he noted had been seamlessly achieved.
Explaining why the Ofala festival in Akpoga-Mbu became a new vista of tourism in Enugu State, Prince Nnaemeka Ugwu, noted that though the Ofala was being celebrated in the hinterland of Nsukka senatorial zone of the state, it attracted both small and great from all parts of the country.
According to him, those who didn’t know about the community have the opportunity of knowing it and also getting acquainted with its traditions and other ways of life that are peculiar and unique.
Ugwu, also stated that the large crowd that thronged the community for the festival, was a demonstration of friendship and commitment of the people to the Igweship stool, which HRH Igwe Princewill Okete Ugwu was unanimously elected to occupy since 2002, after the government of Enugu State recognised Akpoga-Mbu as an autonomous community.
To him, the Ofala was also a unifying factor and a bridge for friendship, connecting diverse cultures and interest. He further pointed out that the Igweship stool has been instrumental to several developmental projects in the community, including scholarships for indigent children.
He said, “This festival is not just a tourism attraction in Enugu, but a celebration of committed leadership of the Igwe, who has made several sacrifices for his people.
“The Ofala is an opportunity for the Igwe to show gratitude to God for preserving his life and sustaining him on the throne for these years. Igwe has also decided to show his people appreciation for their support.
“People from all parts of the country are here today, they are also deserving individuals that shall be honoured with traditional titles, these include a Northerner from Zamfara State.
Some of the leaders of the community asserted that Ofala festival might not be very popular in Nsukka, et al Enugu State, as it has been in some parts of Igboland, but has traditional values that relate to all Igbo ethnic groups.
One of the leaders who pled anonymity, noted that the two important annual Igbo traditional festivals, which are more native to Enugu people were the New Yam festival and the Mmanwu (masquerade) festival. He, however, admitted that the value of Ofala festival was being appreciated across the length and breadth of the southeast region.
Meanwhile, the cultural displays that usually herald other traditional festivals were in rich display at the Akpoga-Mbu Ofala.
Tourists had the opportunity of seeing different types of masquerades and dancers who appeared and entertained guests in various glamourous costumes.
Some of the major highlights of the festival were the award of chieftaincy titles to both deserving indigenes and non-indigenes of the community by the Igwe.
Igwe Princewill said, “this festival also affords us the opportunity of recognising and thanking all Akpoga indigenes, friends and well-wishers that have contributed in One way or the other in building the New Akpoga. The chieftaincy title awards to few deserving individuals are ‘Mark of honour and recognition.’
One of the newly conferred titles of ” Ugodinamba 1″ of Akpoga-Mbu, went to Alhaji Sani Haliru, who hails from Gusau in Zamfara State.
Another colourful aspect of the festival that visitors will talk about for so long, was the sacred royal drums and dancers that followed both the Igwe’s children, family members and other traditional rulers in procession to pay a special Ofala homage to the monarch.
This festival is not just a tourism attraction in Enugu, but a celebration of committed leadership of the Igwe, who has made several sacrifices for his people