Written by David Ugbabe
The Ofala Festival 2021 was was held in observance of the covid-19 protocol. Therefore, this necessitated a low-key celebration of the festival requiring very few people, not more than 50 people at event.
The festival, which would normally attract thousands of Igbo indigenes, politicians, top dignitaries and visitors from around the world, was limited to just a few, also the insecurity issues in the South-East also contributed to the the decision to have low-key celebration this year. Some activities that were customary to the celebration were not observed due to covid-19, however, every rite of the Ofala Festival 2021 was observed.
Since the people only have the rare opportunity to see the Obi of Onitsha once a year, the Ofala Festival is the only avenue they have to do this. This makes the Ofala Festival very significant to the people.
Brief History of the Ofala Festival
Many years ago, the Obi of Onitsha was only seen once a year, there the Ofala Festival was the only avenue which the people could use to see the Obi of Onitsha. But the advent of social media has made it easy for people both in Nigeria and in diaspora to participate in the event even without being present physically.
Years ago, before the Ofala Festival commenced, the yam was assumed to be poisonous; therefore, to ensure it does not wipe out the whole people, it was decided that the smallest village would eat the yam; if they died the rest of the people will be safe. However, they ate the yam and survived hence the rest of the villagers began to eat yam. Hence during this season, the Obi of Onitsha goes into seclusion where he goes dreaming for so many days communing in prayers with the gods for the subjects, community. There is a lot of supplication.
SECLUSION OF THE OBI OF ONITSHA
Seclusion is integral to the Ofala Festival and it is required of the Obi of Onitsha to go into seclusion. This seclusion in Igbo is “Inyeukwunanlo”, which means “stepping into dream”. Before he goes for the Inyeukwunanlo, the “Umuikem” who are known as the diviners, dressed in white attire, go round the town drumming and chanting to announce that the king is about to go into seclusion.
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END OF THE SECLUSION PERIOD
Once the seclusion period is over, the Obi of Onitsha steps out of the dream for some days, “inyepokwunanlo”; immediately the Ofala festival commences. It is called the traditional rites where the Obi is able to perform his duties, he steps out of the inner Iba with his red cap chiefs. Each step he makes is very significant. He uses his sword to always indicate this. The Onitsha people are very traditional and believe that their dead relatives are around. People from all walks of life often come to bow before the Obi of Onitsha; he touches their palms with his sword. There was a little change to this in this years’ edition due to the covid-19. The Obi of Onitsha greets his people, and breaks kolanut.
DANCING AT THE OFALA FESTIVAL
The next level and the height of the Ofala Festival comes when the “Ndi Ichie” also known as the red cap chiefs graded in A, B, and C, take turns to dance starting from the eldest. They do this to the cheers of the crowd. After the red cap chiefs have taken turns to dance, the Obi of Onitsha is often the last to dance. While doing this, he touches the soil around and blesses the people.