Drawing its inspiration from the bible passage above, the Umatu festival is one of the six main festivals celebrated annually in Onitsha Ado N’Idu. The others being, Ajachi, Owuwaji, Ofala, Osisi- Ite and the Ife-Jioku.
The Umatu is celebrated after the cultivation of the first corn. The people gather together with the King ( Obi ) and his red cap chiefs ( Ndiche ) to celebrate in thanksgiving for the success of the corn harvest.
As stated earlier, the Umatu has biblical derivations; hence, the King and his Red-Cap chiefs in celebration of the festival will dance around the Ime-Obi (King’s palace) to the tune of the egwu ota. This dance is usually in hierarchical form; that is, from the lowest to the highest. The highest ranked chief is the Onowu Iyasele ( Traditional Prime Minister ) who dances last before the Obi of Onitsha himself.
The principal feature of the Umatu is the nni oka ( corn meal) which is served with ofe Onino ( draw soup ) on top to the Obi and his cabinet after they retire to the Iba. The nni oka is usually served in a local bowl known as the ugbugba.
When the nni oka is presented to the Obi, he cuts and shares with everyone present cap in hand, starting with his Red-cap chiefs. Goats and fowls are also killed for the preparation of either the ofe onino or okwulu soup ( draw soup )
Then prayers are then said for good health and prosperity of individuals and the community as a whole.
Other snacks served during the Umatu at the Ime Obi include: ukwa, okpodudu, aku.
The umatu is very significant to the agrarian community of Onicha in those days, as contained in an old saying “ugbo eketalu okwulu olilijie elugonso” meaning the farm land you are able to pluck okro
shows that the harvest of yam is near; it means that the new yam is getting ready, signaling the commencement of the Owuwaji ( New yam festival )
The Umatu festival lasts for 16 days beginning with the exclusive celebration by the Obi of Onitsha for a period of four days. Thereafter, the populace join in the celebration in the following order for four days; Eze-idi, ikpala isi, umueze chima and ikpoko akwukwo ogili, being the last day characterized by the clearing of vegetable containers and packages.
The 2020 Umatu festival recently held in Onitsha was in compliance with the Covid-19 safety guidelines and protocols.