Umuoke village in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria.

Umuoke village in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria.

Article on one cultural aspect of the Umuoke village in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria.

The annual Iwa Akwa festival

I am an indigene of Umuoke village in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State. There are three notable cultural practices in my village. They are the Iwa Akwa festival, the Mbom Uzo festival and the New Yam festival. The Iwa Akwa festival can be called the Coming- of -Age festival, to launch youths into adulthood. This is done especially for men. The Mbom Uzo festival is significant because it is during the festival that roads, including pathways leading to farms and streams are cleared and cleaned. The streams themselves are also cleared and cleaned. This was especially important in the past,, when we used streams for water source. The festival is still held, to preserve the streams. Boreholes and wells are water sources nowadays The New Yam festival is done soon after the farming season, when new yam is harvested, it gives the green light for us to start eating the new yam. There are spiritual implications in these festivals, more or less. I will now turn to the Iwa Akwa festival in more details.

The Iwa Akwa festival is a ceremonial rite for coming -of -age, as it is termed. By it, one graduates from childhood to adulthood. It is a ceremony done to assert that one has reached the age of recognition, respectability and maturity, and can attain to what a man can do. Before then, a man-child could not attend village meetings nor contribute his opinion or views in village cooperate and corporate discussions , nor be considered for positions and things meant for me. It's like you couldn't vote nor be voted for. Officially, you can't even get married and your voice can not be heard nor considered. The Iwa Akwa festival therefore gives the man the full package of entitlements and rights in my village.

Now, how is it done? What is the program of activities? My village operates the age-grade system. The age bracket is officially 18 to 20 years in each age grade. However, depending on one's circumstances, one can do his own later. This may happen due to travel overseas or financial reasons.

It is usually a great day, markets and shops close down and no farming that day. Usually, there are preparatory stages few days before the D-day. The final day is a great day. Your family members far and near return home. All kinds of foods are cooked and prepared. Friends and well-wishers and other guests come visiting. Everybody and everyone is welcome . Business associates, apprentices, customers, neighbors, and all will visit that day. You, the celebrant, are the center of attraction. It is your day. For the girls, it is the time to show that you are ready to get married, suitors will now show their interest in various ways, including showering money on the girl and dancing around her. This is after contributing to her Iwa Akwa expenses. Girls who are interested in the male celebrants will also show their desire in like manners.

The celebrant is decked in the costliest, newest and most beautiful attire. The attire is often the George or Hollandais wrapper. Some will be more than 10 meters long and approaching 20 meters in length. The more expensive and the longer in length and the more beautiful the wrapper is, the better. You dress at home, with the wrapper trailing behind you and your people behind you. The train of handlers may hold the long wrapper behind you. You strap your brand new matchet in its sheath by your side. This signifying that you can now go to war and battles for your village. To show this, you are expected to brandish this matchet while dancing a war dance from time to time. The village provides traditional music makers, who will make man-music, probably war music, for celebrants to dance.

The music-makers will accompany the celebrant, singing and dancing, to the village square. At the village square, it is a carnival, with as many music groups as possible. The celebrants gather at the centre of the village square, all dancing and blowing the whistle in their mouth. This is for them to announce their advent into manhood. As time goes on, the elders present will pour libations, pray for the celebrants and sing their praises. Finally, the elders will congratulate the celebrants and welcome them to adulthood, manhood. Kolanuts, garden eggs and groundnut pastes are shared, together with palmwine, as tradition and custom demand.

After that, the celebrants are carried on shoulders, shoulder high,  accompanied by music, singing and dancing. They return home this way. The celebrant ceaselessly blowing his whistle and sometimes brandishing his matchet. The rite is fullfilled, and the lad is now a man, with full rights and entitlements. The same thing goes for the girls who have come of age, but the more attention is on the men.

All dance home. Then the second part of celebration begins. People distribute themselves under canopies prepared to sit people for full refreshment, while music and singing and dancing continue. The celebrant, now probably tired, settles down for his own refreshment. This full refreshment includes all types of solid food possible, all types of drinks possible, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. Palmwine must be served. Our 'local salad', called ugba, usually served with stock fish, must be served. Just sit down and eat and drink. Anybody and everybody under the canopy is served, according to his request. Satisfaction is guaranteed and always, there are leftovers. The leftovers are shared to relatives and whoever may ask for them, to take home.

Some celebrants, after all is done, will still hold a night party with their friends. Some will take this opportunity to introduce their wife-to-be to whoever may care to know. This is especially so if there are many contestants for the hand of the girl.

The Iwa Akwa festival can be said to be capital intensive. The celebrant and his family must plan to mass as much as two million Naira and more for the program and associated festivities. The assortment of foods, drinks and meats, the photograph and video, the traditional music and dance, the MC, the DJ and his music and public address services, the canopies and chairs, the assorted drinks, the special delicacies like ugba, and the cost of fuelling the generator for electricity (light and power). This is not all. The cost is actually the reason some people can not do it when they should.

The Age Grade system, initiated into through the Iwa Akwa festival, is one of the leadership, ruling group in Igboland. Each Age Grade gives themselves a special name by which the group is identified. Such names as Umuoma, Ugwueze, etc, will identity the Age Grade, the year of initiation, your age mates and such like. The Eze may give any age grade a task or assignment for the village.

This write-up is a fair detail about the Iwa Akwa festival in my village. It does not contain all the information about the subject matter. Neither does it answer all the questions about the Iwa Akwa festival in my village. However, it does contain most of the salient points and information about the Iwa Akwa festival in Umuoke village in Obowu Local Government Area of Imo State of Nigeria.

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