Igwa Nshi Eke Traditional Festival In Udi LGA Of Enugu State, A Most Unique Sociocultural Annual Events In Igboland
By Retired Deputy Corps Commander
Collins Onuzulike Okolochukwu Obodo
As Ogui-Agu Eke Nshi Festival, which is slated for 15th July 2022, draws inch by inch, the illustrious sons and daughters of the Community, both at home and elsewhere in Nigeria, including,
of course, those in the diaspora, may have by now started catching the fever of the great annual event. The relishing of the sweet memories of this festival usually evoke some strong feelings of nostalgia in the minds of the people. Nshi traditional festival, no doubt, remains one of the biggest and the most entertaining sociocultural annual festivals of Ndi Igbo, Eke people and Ogui-Agu in particular.
Great efforts were made in the recent past to rebaptize or alter the ancestral name of the festival from ‘Nshi’ to New Yam Festival or ‘Egwu Abia’ Festival. So far none of the above had succeeded in receiving the general acceptance and approval of the entire people. However, the moves to change the name of the above and its nomenclatures stemmed from some negative connotations and misconceptions attached to it mostly by Christian adherents, who felt that the exercise was embellished in fetishisms of the ancestral deities and might harbour some colourations of paganisms.
As a matter of fact, there were certain things connected with the event which tended to lend credence to the above claims, such as ‘Nshi’ which connotes charms, amulets ((ogwu). ‘Inyi Agu-Ogwu’ which connotes climbing up a fetishistic hill from where the village gallant men must obtain specific shrubs to be held in their hands while running round the Obodo Ogui-Agu Village Square.
The items from the Ugwu Nshi hill were believed to possess some potent magical powers capable of dispelling diabolic attacks and also shielding the celebrants from any harm from the evil spirits and their enemies. In addition, there were some local war chants by the men during the celebration, such as ‘Ngwo-ngwo Ogwu’, which also bore aforementioned connotations.
To add to the above, the men making the runs were adorned in awesome outfits, with all sorts decorations from local paints: black colours from Uli, yellow from Odo, red from Oballa, white from Nzu. Some men carried skulls of animals on their heads or old baskets (oda and nkata). All these were fastened by shiny palm fronds (Omu nkwu). From all indications the festival wore the garb of ancestral affinities. Many admirers, however, viewed the above as positive efforts of the people to make the events culturally colourful and spectacular.
Today, however, the festival has been blended with a lot of modernisation and has virtually been transformed in all ramifications, in line with the doctrines of Christianity, devoid of colourations of paganisms or fetishisms.
Nowadays even the Reverend Priests, Pastors, Imams and other Clergies do grace this annual event to their greatest admirations. The festival now culminates and solemnizes with the Sunday Thanksgivings and Holy Mass in the Catholic Church and various activities in other religious denominations in the community. It has been quite seamlessly harmonized to work in tandem with the religious institutions and the Town Union by pulling together many prominent people from different parts of the country and beyond who could involve in funds raising for the churches and for various community development projects.
The nitty gritty of the festival is the entertaining and intoxicating songs, dancing and the beating of the drums, referred to as ‘Egwu Abia Nshi’. Though the beating of Abia Nshi was not regarded as a taboo for females, the menfolk usually dominate the activity because of the enormity of physical energies involved in the exercise.
On the other hand, the womenfolk play greater roles in dancing and singing as this enables them to do what they know how to do best – to showcase their sweet singing tones, to dance skillfully to the admiration of the men, in perfect synchrony to the tunes and the rhythms of the drumbeats. In the process, they are availed the rare opportunity to display their God given feminisms.
During this very spectacular occasion, the elegant, pretty and adorable daughters of Eke, and they are always many, use to appear in their utmost possible best, wearing their most cherished gorgeous dresses, jewelries and all kinds of ornamental outfits to outshine others. However, the aspect of the traditional egwu abia that used to appeal to me most was the verbal wars between the bachelors (known as Ochoko or Ndi Oko-Okpolo) and the spinsters also known as Umu Okpokwu.
The male singles would mock their female counterparts for appearing extremely attractive during festivities only to fall back to their usual selves immediately a festival was over. You can trust the women. No man has ever beaten them when it comes to the war of mouth.
The ladies would immediately fight back, taunting, tormenting and torturing the bachelors literally for being unable to provide food enough for their own stomachs, let alone capable of marrying wives. In any case, no one takes offence. It was all done in the spirit and atmospheric aura and ecstatic mood of festive conviviality.
As the maidens happily dance to the intoxicating music of the drumbeats, they simultaneously try their best to capture the attention of the most eligible male counterparts of their choice whom they could hook for possible serious relationships or actual marriage intimacies and consummations. Most of the eligible bachelors, you can trust our men, anxiously look forward to utilizing the unique opportunities offered by Nshi festivals to resume their search for the so called Miss Right.
While appreciating the able leadership of Ogui-Agu Eke Development Union for instituting a formidable Nshi Festival Coordinating Committee ahead of the event, I feel there is great need for us, particularly those in charge of security services, to exercise absolute sense of sober mindedness, restraints, emotional intelligence and maturity when accosting strangers; and also to be mindful not to provoke avoidable crisis, violence or pandemonium. In carrying out security duties, acts of incivility and excessive use of physical force have been found not to be the best options to yield best results. There are moments one has to deliberately allow a sleeping dog to lie in order to forestall greater catastrophes.
The possibility of disruptive invasion may not be ruled out during a festival of this magnitude which attracts mammoth crowds. Having said so,
preventive approach is necessary in view of the new waves of insecurity threats within and outside the neighborhoods. The Vigilante and other security outfits should keep eagle watch and closely monitor both the inflows and the outflows of traffics (people on foot, vehicles and the herdsmen), particularly through the 3 major entry/exit routes of our community, namely:
1. Ogui-Agu-Ugwu Etiti route
2. Ogui-Agu- Otite Amansiodo route
3. Ogui-Agu-Ihuonyia route
With effective use of Intelligence Gathering machineries, Crowd Control and Crisis Management measures properly put in place, there will be no sad stories to tell at the end of our forthcoming great annual event, by the special grace of God. Amen.
I wish my good people of Ogui-Agu Eke community most successful, blissful and peaceful 2022 Igwa Nshi Festival.