Thursday, May 31, 2012

Come to Igbo Ukwu Festival 2012, see 200 masquerades and taste 76 yam varieties

Igbo Ukwu promises 200 masquerades, over 76 yam species at 2012 yam fest

Ever seen over 200 masquerades, perceieved spirits of departed ones, performing at a go? Would you believe that masquerades could be likened to insects or the Yoruba kokoro? Well, some masquerades alias ojuju Calabar or Mmanwu in Igbo are diurnal, while some are nocturnal?
Pic 1. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyrights reserved.

But, this is just one of the many semblances between mmanwu and the Igbo ahuhun (insects). Insects come in sundry shapes and sizes, and so do masquerades.

Also, Insecta family members throw up numerous colours just like masquerades’ costumes; and, while some species of insects crawl, others fly; just like masquerades.

During their visit to the world of the mortal, some spirits shriek, some gyrate, they dance and invoke excitement among the living.

Now, if one masquerade throws up so much thrill, then the delectations derivable from some 200 spirits is best left to a conjecture.
Pic 2.

Want to see hundreds of mmanwu in action at a go or in one setting? The Anambra State town of Igbo Ukwu promises that rare opportunity during this year’s Iwa ji ndi Igbo or National New Yam Festival.

Interestingly, the 2012 edition of Iwa ji ndi Igbo does not only promise the thrill of 200 spirits in action, this year’s National Yam Festival will also feature a parade of yams: All 76 species!

Who would believe there were so many varieties of this root crop! Now, this aspect is one of the benefits of a collaboration between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and Mbido Igbo Association (MIA), organisers of Iwa ji ndi Igbo, on one hand; and, the National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike in Abia State, on the other.
Pic 3.

Other bodies involved in this collaboration include the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation; International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Oyo State; Anambra State Government, Ohaneze ndi Igbo Worldwide and Igbo communities at home and in the Diaspora, we gathered.
This year’s National Yam Festival will take place from August 20 to the 25th, according to HRH Igwe Martin Ezeh, traditional ruler of Igbo Ukwu and Chairman Board of Trustee of Mbido Igbo Association.

For the six days that the fiesta, which aims at showcasing the best of Igbo Culture and Hospitality, is billed to run; activities will begin from 10am daily, and; as usual, the 2012 National Yam Festival will revolve around the National Yam House in Igbo Ukwu, Aguata Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State, added the monarch, who is also fondly addressed as Idu II.
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Welcome to Igbo Ukwu. Among archaeologists, Igbo Ukwu is one of Nigeria’s most famous settlements because, like the Cross River State town of Alok, home of Bakor monoliths, and the southern Kaduna State settlement of Nok, famed for its priceless terra cotta, Igbo Ukwu was launched on the world map by antiquities excavated in this area since 1937 by Professor Thurstan Shaw CBE and Fellow, Society of Archaeologists (FSA).

For helping to bring Igbo Ukwu’s priceless antiquities to universal attention through his works, which includes publications like Unearthing Igbo Ukwu: Archaeological discoveries in Eastern Nigeria, issued in Ibadan by the Oxford University Press in 1977; Shaw was on December 23, 1972; installed Onu n’ekwulu ora (World spokeman) of this Igbo community.

Tourism, Culture and National Orientation Minister, High Chief Edem Duke is slated as Distinguished Guest of Honour; Anambra State Governor, HE Peter Obi (Okute ndi Igbo), as Special Guest of Honour; while Senator Andy Ubah and Hon. Eucharia Azodo have been penned down as Special Hosts of Honour.

The festival will be chaired by Dr. Ikechukwu Omenwa, while Amb Raph Uwechue MFR, President General of Ohaneze Worldwide will be Distinguished Father of the Day.

Prof. Tunde Babawale, Director General of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC); Otunba Olusegun Runsewe OON, NTDC DG; Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma, Executive Secretary of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO); Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, DG of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); Mr. Abdullahi Muku, National Gallery of Art (NGA) DG; Mr. M.M. Maidugu, Executive Director, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC); among others, will be Guests of Honour.

The Idu II of Igbo Ukwu will be Royal Father of the Day, while Anambra Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism will play Chief Host.

As has come to be the tradition, chieftaincy titles will be conferred on the following select recipients; Chief Jerome Isangedighi, Madam Lucy Okoye, Dr John Ikeorgu and Dr. Robert Asiedu; while HRH Igwe Christopher Umeaniba (Ezechukwukwadolu Azigbo), is Organising Royal Father of this year’s fiesta.
Pic 5.

Speaking during a tour of Abuja, where Idu II visited the offices of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation; NGA, NTDC and NCAC et cetera; the traditional ruler confirmed this year’s yam fest will feature a parade of over 200 masquerades.

The Igwe of Igbo Ukwu was accompanied on the Abuja tour by HRH Igwe C.C. Okoli, Ezechukwuchiri and Eze Igbo I of Suleja; HRH C.C. Umeaniba, HRH A.N. Onwuneme, Chief Sunny S. Okeke, MIA Secretary; Mazi Ugochukwu Okafouzu, MIA Chairman and Mr. Ade Fernandez Aremu, a former NYSC member, who after completion of his National Service at Igbo Ukwu Palace, was retained and adopted as son by the traditional ruler.

During Idu II’s latest sojourn in Abuja, this welcome bond between an Igbo monarch and Yoruba-born Ade Aremu was roundly commended by several VIPs, who observed it is a sign of hope for the future of Nigerian unity.

Interestingly, too; it also came to light that a Yoruba Moslem from Ogun State served as Best Man to the then Dr. Martin Nwafor Ezeh during the latter’s wedding decades ago.

This year’s Iwa ji ndi Igbo will open with two events on August 20: These are the flagging off of an art exhibition featuring the works of Cyril Nwokoli, with Slave Trade as theme as well as road shows in each of the five Igbo-speaking states in the South-east geopolitical zone. The streets parade will be led by each state’s council for arts and culture.

Day two will feature homage visits to select Igbo monarchs, while a similar trip will be made to the shrine of the Priest of the Festival (Eze Muo) on day three. Other activities slated for day three include Lectures by Prof. Umeh and Dr. Tony Nwaezeigwe, CBAAC Exhibition for the Festival, Ceremonious Public Presentation of New Yams; and, night outings by relevant masquerades.

August 23 (Day four) has been tagged Anambra Local Government Areas Day, but it is on this day the NGA Exhibition for the Festival is also billed to open. Additionally, Anambra LGAs will feature, among other events, folklore presentations, Best Palm wine tapper contest; and, night entertainment by Osadebe Jr. Band.

On Day five (August 24), there will be dances and other performances by communities in Nigeria’s South-South geo-political zone states as well as Traditional Wrestling contests, opening of NCMM Exhibition for the Festival, Carnival, masquerades carnival, followed by a night show by Oriental Brothers International.

The grand finale, Day Six (August 25) is when the Iwa ji (cutting of the yam) proper will take place. However, the day will also feature Living Treasures Awards, Biggest Yam Competition, Conferment of chieftaincy titles as well as performances by Egedege of Africa, Mich Phillips and Mgbajala Ifite Awka in all night outing.
Pic 6.

At the Tourism and Culture Ministry headquarters, where the Igbo visitors met with the minister, who was represented by Mr. Chidi Uwandu; Idu II thanked the minister for attending, through another representative, last year’s yam festival and for the support of High Chief Duke since he assumed office as Tourism and Culture Minister.

“Hon. Minister, you have within the last one year turned around the country’s culture and tourism sector for the better. You are a man sent to conquer and you have started on the right note and that is what brought us here. Your policies have helped in no small way to put Nigerian tourism and culture on its right pedestal”, declared Igwe of Igbo Ukwu.

Idu II went on to plead that a pavillion promised by the minister’s representative during the 2011 fiesta be built. It could be recalled that  the lady, who represented Chief Duke during last year’s yam festival, had said the ministry would, as part of its contribution to the growth of the indaba, build a Pavillion to serve as a befitting sitting place for VIPs that attend events at the National Yam House grounds.

Although the Director General of the NGA, Mr. Abdullahi Muku, was unavoidably absent, the visitors enjoyed excellent reception from a team of NGA seniors including Mr. Achigbu Henry, Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA); Mr. Steve Akusu, Director, Curatorial Services; Mr. Simon Ikpakronyi, Director of Education; Mr. Adamu T. Ibrahim, acting Director Administration and Staff Development; and, Mrs. Maria Obi, former Keeper of NGA Gallery in Igbo Ukwu.

The visitors, after thanking the NGA Management, commended the Gallery for its annual exhibition during the fest.

However, it came to light that on some occasion, foreign tourists from Ireland could not get any souvenir to buy during a trip to NGA Igbo Ukwu.

In response, NGA top brasses explained such would soon be a thing of the past because a business unit was in the offing at Igbo Ukwu to address issues like this.

When reminded that there was no indigene of Igbo Ukwu among NGA staff, the DG’s representative said plans were at an advanced stage to engage an indigene of the town among its staff.

However, the community was advised to prioritise the list of qualified candidates sent to the NGA since the body could only take a few hands at a time.

During his visit to the NCMM, Idu II had; while thanking the Commission for its support and lauding the administration for completing construction work at the permanent site of National Museum Igbo Ukwu; urged the Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman-led NCMM to arrange for the launch of the museum complex to coincide with this year’s new yam fiesta.

“It is unfortunate that the South East (geo-political) zone has none of its numerous sites in the current UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites”, rued Idu II; who observed: “Idanre Hills and Kano City Wall are receiving serious attention (but) little has been done to highlight the benefits of Owerrezuakala Wonderful Fall and Cave”.

This monarch then went on to submit, “We want Owerrezuakala Wonderful Fall and Cave to be listed as a National Heritage Site and Monument in order to prepare it for UNESCO listing”.

Idu II had another plea, hear him: “Your National Museum edifice in Igbo Ukwu has been completed and we are happy about it. We beg that it will be commissioned as part of events marking this year’s festival. The yearly exhibition mounted by National Museum Igbo Ukwu for the National Yam Festival is encouraging and we hope that this year’s edition will be better than what we had last year”.

Speaking at the NCAC office, where the delegation was received by Mr. Malgwi M. Maidugu, Executive Secretary; and, select NCAC top shots; Idu II remarked: “It’s always a thing of joy to be here. No state participates in your annual NAFEST (National Festival of Arts and Culture) and remains the same. We are here to express appreciation for your support to us last year during the Iwa ji ndi Igbo New Yam Festival. The impact of what this parastatal has done toward the preservation and promotion of our ancient cultural heritage cannot be over-emphasised”.

In his response, Mr. Maidugu; after welcoming his visitors, said: “Today, I can confidently say that we have the right calibre of visitors because NCAC and Royal Fathers work together. We thank you for donating the herbal garden to us in Igbo Ukwu and promise that we will attend this year’s festival”.

On the Idu’s submission that over 200 masquerades will perform at this year’s Iwa ji, Maidugu averred: “Out of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT, about 30 states of the federation practise masquerade traditions. The root of masquerades, I believe, lies in the East. This is why we have sited NCAC Masquerade Research Centre in Enugu”.

Like other hosts throughout the Abuja sojourn, Maidugu was thrilled by news of the adoption of Yoruba-born Mr. Ade Aremu as his foster son by Idu II.

“I am delighted to hear that, even inside your palace; you have a Yoruba man at home there. This is one of the surest ways of promoting unity and understanding among our people. One of my greatest experiences is that I did my NYSC in 1977 in Enugu; and, at some point, I almost didn’t want to leave. There’s nothing as good as travelling. To move out of one’s closet and see the world because we are all one. We have a common destiny, which is to promote peace for the common good”, the NCAC chief concluded.

1. Members of Ohafia, Abia State War Dance troupe at 2011 Iwa ji Festival.

2. Idu II flanked left and right by NCMM DG, Usman and Dr. Hambolu with Barr. Alhassan, 1st left.

3. Idu II with NCAC chief Maidugu middle flanked by Mazi Okeke (l) and Chief C.C. Okoli.

4. L-R: Maidugu and Idu.

5. L-R: Idu II with Henry Achigbu, DFA at NGA.

6. The visitors and top shots of the NGA.

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