By Itty Okopide
What is that city you always wanted to visit in Nigeria, a city with a thousand and more traditional and cultural experiences rather than a monotonous trip filled with clubbing and lounging by the pool? Still, you haven’t found the time to visit due to other engagements.
For me, that city is Onitsha, of course, it would particularly be to enjoy the just concluded Umatu Festival which took place on August 12. If you have never heard of Onitsha, Onitsha is a city on the east bank of the Niger River in Anambra State, Nigeria. A metropolis famous for its river ports and economic centres of commerce, industry, and education.
According to the geographic area and quantity of commodities, Onitsha has the largest market in Africa known as the Onitsha Main Market.
The Umatu Festival is one of the two important festivities marked ahead of the Ofala Onitsha, which comes after the New Yam Festival. The Umatu Festival is said to take place during the harvesting of maize, vegetables, and fruits. The festival which lasts for sixteen days begins with the exclusive celebration of the Obi of Onitsha. This celebration of the Obi of Onitsha lasts four days after which his subordinates will celebrate in the following order for four days respectively,
I. Eze- Idi
II. Ikpala Isi
III. Umueze Chima
To mark the end of the festival with his subordinates, the Obi of Onitsha places a pea-sized portion of food in each of their palms, this act is symbolic as it portrays, they have overcome famine.
According to Ajie Ukadiugwu of Onitsha, Chief Benedict Peter Osita Adibuah, a retired Commissioner of Police, “The Obi of Onitsha is the first to celebrate the harvest of corn in a year.”
“He does that by inviting his subjects to his place as his guests to celebrate with them.’’
The Nni-Oka (pap or corn food) has been recognized as the primary trait of the Umatu Festival. On the preparation of Ogbono or Okwulu Soups, goats and chickens are slaughtered after offerings have been made first to God, followed by ancestors. Prayers for the good health and prosperity of individuals in the community are said afterwards.
According to Ede Gbogbogaga of Onitsha, Chief, Dr Mike Areh, “The Umatu festival is celebrated to mark the first harvest after plantation as well as look forward to other crops like the yam, corn, etc. that are coming up for harvest.”
During this period, people are found all over the place making merry
“The Onitsha people are purely agrarian in nature and farming is our major source of survival” he added.
The Umatu is celebrated with a special Onitsha delicacy — Nni-Oka (cornmeal) served with Ofe Onino. The Nni Oka is placed on top of the list of local menus during the period of the festival.
After the festival, the food is eaten on special days like Sundays. The food is usually eaten in the mornings but sometimes it can be taken at noon or evening.
“The Umatu is significant because it declares that the land is free from famine which is a good omen for the people. It is also a way to announce the coming of the New yam Festival”