by Agimo, Emenike Benson
Barely 10 hours to the Ogwu Ekpeye date declaration ceremony, the atmosphere was lucidly cold, lurid, uneasy calm pervades nooks and crannies of Ekpeye Land, everyone seemed tongue-tied as the news of the slain Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Superintendent of Police, (SP) Bako Angbashim spreads like a harmattan fire that fateful Friday 8th September, 2023.
Even the Sceptre (Owor) holders of Ubie who were saddled with the responsibility of performing the ceremony at Odiereke Ubie Community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State were not left out in the shock, hence the late commencement of the all important traditional occasion.
The circumstantial death of the messianic DPO has resonated absolute apprehension in Ekpeye Land, and has nearly mar the celebration of Ogwu Ekpeye this year.
Ogwu Ekpeye – Ekpeye Festival is an age-long cultural celebration of the people. It is a period of feasting characterized by jubilations, visitations, exchange of pleasantries and dances.
Ekpeye Kingdom as the third largest ethnic nation in Rivers State had other cultural practices such as traditional wrestling, Egbukele, Masquerade dances among others, but the Ekpeyeans held the Ogwu Ekpeye at high esteem.
Traditionally, two de-similar festivals exist in the land: Okpukpu-mini and Ogwu Ekpeye.
According to the people, while the first denotes victory festival celebrated on the instance of first born male children; it is exclusively observed by Ubie clan of Ekpeye, who enjoys the first son birth right among the descents of Ekpeye, progenitor of the kingdom.
The early inhabitants of Ubie clan fought a bloody war with strange weird beings whom (they) Ubies referred to as “Ikpachor.” Their forebears who were advancing to the bank of Orashi river has a fortuitous encounter with the Ikpachors, who already pitched tent on the coastal area. The Ubie men, however, primed for the warfare fight to finish; they dislodged the Ikpachors.
Some of the war relics are still preserved till date. The victory of the war over the Ikpachors was reminiscent in the Okpukpu-mini festival or Ogwu Akpanunwo which is celebrated annually in April.
The later called Ogwu Ekpeye, belongs to the generality of Ekpeye people; the filial festival is synonymous with “Ogwu Ugbede” – festival for the female folks.
However, the Ogwu Ekpeye which many regarded as Ekpeye new yam festival, according to history is a misnomer, kick started with dating ceremony performed by the sceptre (Owor) holders of Ubie on the 9th September.
This year’s festival is billed to hit the ground running on the 18th September, chiefly among the people of Ubie Clan as proclaimed by His Imperial Majesty Eze Sir (Amb.) Kelvin Ngozi Anugwo Ph.D, DSSRS, FNIM, MNIMN, AP, JP, Eze Ekpeye Logbo III of Ekpeye Land who is also the Akalaka XII with a folklore night observation climaxed with the exorcision of evil spirits or call it cleansing ceremony at the wee hours of 19th to whet the appetite of the celebrants against the 24th.
The cleansing ceremony is performed by the community youths. They hobbled flames of fire around, chanting songs against wizardry acts and the likes, drumming to the destination where the fire would be tossed out. This initial and colourful aspect of the Ogwu Ekpeye is the male festival – Ogwu Ugboji.
On the D-day, it is really a festive day as families gathered in their different halls to wine and dine; children of different households moved from one uncle’s house to another to eat food together.
This is the peak of the event as nearly all the female folks would be aesthetically dressed in their costumes, paints indigo or cam wood, hair-well plaited or styled, and they would move in grooves within the community singing cultural songs.
Most times, they visit nearby communities making new friends, exchanging pleasantries. In fact, it is a fantabulous fanfare to behold. In a more interesting note, it is apparently difficulty to spot an ugly girl during this stint of festivity.
Little wonder, an Ekpeye adage says “Utobhe Ununwe Li Ogwu” – You can’t select a girl for marriage during festival.
Meanwhile, there are spectacular properties of the Ogwu Ekpeye; it is a period to demonstrate love among family members. A time for re-enactment of family bond and pardonness as depicted when family men converged to feast, eat, hob nob and drink.
No marriage contraction, town hall meeting, fighting, returning late from farm or cooking late during this “week of peace,” to use Chinua Achebe’s words.
These and many more other reasons perhaps amount to the dubbing of Ogwu Ekpeye as “Ogwu Ugbede” – festival of the daughters.
The Ekpeye festival mirth is topped with masquerade dances ranging from juvenile to adult stages. The convivial adult masquerade signaled the end of the Ekpeye festival.
Ekpeye people started to share farm land, cultivate, burn and till the ground for planting from February to April and harvest the crops in September/October used for the festival.
But, unfortunately, quite unfortunately, Ekpeye people run cold to celebrate 2023 Ogwu Ekpeye occasioned by the preposterous clubbing to death of the famous Police combatant SP Bako Angbashim by dire devils in Ekpeye Land.
Lamenting the ugly incident, Eze Ekpeye Logbo III, when he appeared at the Ogwu Ekpeye date announcement ceremony, recently remarked that Ekpeye is in grief due to the heart wrenching murder of SP Bako. “I, as the Eze Ekpeye Logbo III, I condemn in its entirety the gruesome killing of Bako who was posted to salvage the land”. He retorted.
Adding with sadness that Ekpeye was not noted for wielding guns neither for the government nor for themselves; why some group of boys would sprang up to destabilize the kingdom, praying the Almighty God to bring the perpetrators to Justice.
The Ekpeye Festival this year is celebrated just in order to fulfill the tradition. Many people who had earlier returned home because of the relative peace enjoyed since the redeployment of the DPO to Ahoada has again fled their homes for fear of the dreaded boys and flags flown at half mast at Ekpeye house in Ahoada.