Chief Obiora Okonkwo’s Iwa ji Festival, held recently in Ogidi, Anambra state highlights the tourist attractions inherent in Igbo traditional festivities writes Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
For several hours on Saturday and, October 6, 2018, the Ogidi country home of Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman of The Dome Entertainment and Hospitality Center Abuja, was a center for cultural exhibition as traditional dances, masquerades and traditional flutists reignited passion in Igbo culture with displays as Okonkwo took centerstage to observe his Iwa ji (New Yam Festival) in style.
Gates to Okonkwo’s expansive country home were flung open as early as 8am. It welcomed guests from different parts of Anambra state including the state’s deputy governor, Dr. Afam Okeke who stood for Governor Willie Obiano. Igwe Alex Onyido, the Ezechuamagha of Ogidi kingdom led other traditional rulers. But the festival was not just about the big dignitaries.
Okonkwo, more popularly known as Dikeora Idemili, did not restrict participation at the Iwa ji. Hundreds of people from Ogidi and other communities around joined in the celebration. They all shared the moment, partook in the celebration of the new yam, had a bite of the roasted yam, ate, drank and went home with tubers of yam.
Okonkwo, a philanthropist of repute, spent the day attending to guest, rich and poor, big and small. He did not discriminate but gave himself to his people and made them celebrate the new yam with him.
The day started effectively with a concelebrated mass at his private chapel with more than ten priests of the Catholic Church, led by his sibling, Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Izunna Okonkwo. The homily at the mass centered on a better understanding of the fusion between culture and religion. Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Obi Oguejiofor elucidated on the place of culture in religion bringing out a better understanding of the traditional celebration of New yam and religious practice.
The Mass ended with thanksgiving to God for a bountiful harvest. It also offered prayers to God for another planting season with expectations for better harvest.
Chief Okonkwo, who was accompanied from the chapel to his residence by the Igba Eze traditional dance group, danced joyfully in thanksgiving.
Prepared for the festival proper, Okonkwo was also ushered into the arena with dances. He danced round the expansive compound to acknowledge the crowd that had gathered and awaiting the cutting of the roasted yam.
He also acknowledged cheers from the audience, many of who pushed forwards to have a handshake with him.
Cutting the new yam, Okonkwo prayed to God for longevity for the people of Ogidi and their King, Igwe Ezechuamagha. He also prayed for God’s guidance and support for the political leadership of the state and the country. He used the occasion to also pray for the good of the southeast region and for greater appreciation of the cultural values of the people.
A Knight of the Order of King Leopold, awarded to him by the Kingdom of Belgium, Okonkwo also prayed for the well-being of Ogidi people while expressing hope for a more economically prosperous 2019.
He declared the ceremony officially open when he cut the yam, dipped a slice into the tastefully prepared palm oil sauce, laced with Ugba and Utazi, had a bite and then, invited the audience to do same.
Roasted yam flowed freely afterwards. Following that, different shaded of masquerades entered the arena. They were heralded by Ijele Inwelle which was formally launched last June for Ogidiland by Okonkwo, who is also the Inwelle Ogidi.
The masquerades came from different parts of Anambra state in different shapes, sizes and colours. They entertained in a formation that turned out to become a cultural carnival that highlighted the inherent tourist attractions in culture.
For the rest of the day, beginning from about 2pm, masquerades and different dance groups entertained to the rhythmic sound of drums, ogene, flutes and wooden gongs. For many of the revelers, High Chief Okonkwo brings out the best in the people and makes them happy by, annually, hosting the Iwa Ji festival which attracts friends and relations.
The festival, according to some of the visitors, was a great reminder of the inherent values in Igbo cultural festivals which can be tapped for tourist advantages.