“AFIA OLU OR” IFEJIOKU” (NEW YAM) TRADITIONAL FESTIVAL OF NNEWI AS RELIGIOUS RITUAL AND DRAMA
by Okonkwo, Chidimma Violet
Department of English and Literary Studies,
University of Nigeria. Nsukka.
Nnewi as metropolitan city encompasses two local government areas, Nnewi North and Nnewi South. Nnewi North is commonly referred to as Nnewi central and comprises four autonomous communities: Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewi –Ichi. Nnewi North also includes Ichi, an autonomous neighbouring town. The city is located east of Niger River, and about 22 kilometres Southeast of Onitsha in Anambra state.
The Aneado (Nnewi) communities have common ancestral beliefs, traditional value system and many cultural events which notable amongst them is the New yam (Afiaolu, also known as Ifejioku) festival which revolve around drama and rituals especially religious ones. Afiaolu was introduced to Nnewi around 1918. It is observed in honour of Ufiojiokwu the deity of land fertility. It takes place usually in the month of August of every year and lasts for four native days. The actual celebration begins on an Eke day through Orie, Afor and ends on a Nkwo day.
The preparation of the festival takes place five months ahead, the girls learn a dance supervised by young men. They also dye their bodies and dress gaily. Young men (oto kolo) group initiates all young men who are up to age into the masquerade cults so that they will be able to particulate in the masquerade dance. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous year’s crop) are consumed or discarded followed by “Onuakuku” which marks the dropping of hoes and machetes after the farming season. And even though many families have started eating new yam, the supreme ancestral deity of the town, “Edo” and “Edowuwe” his chief priest must not taste new yam until the “Afiaolu” festival.
The Afiaolu festival commences on “Eke” day with what is traditionally described as “IWAJI” (scaling of yam) and Ikpa Nku (the wood gathering), this heralds the availability of new yam as well as a thanksgiving to God. The festival includes a variety of entertainments including the performance of ceremonial rites by the Igwe (king), cultural dance by girls and masquerade dance.
On the first day of the festival which is Eke, the Igwe of Nnewi officiates the Harvest thanksgiving ceremony at his palace where the yam is offered to the gods and ancestors. The chief priest of Edo after the thanksgiving ceremony is presented with fowls in the palace by elders from the different communities that made up the Anaedo (Nnewi) community in order of seniority, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi. After the parading of these fowls by the chief priest, the fowls are taken to the farm were they are slaughtered in honour of the “Ufiojiokwu, the deity of land fertility. After that, the ritual of breaking Kola nut (IWA OJI) follows. It is also offered by the Igwe for it is believed that his position bestows the privilege of being the intermediary between their communities and the gods of the land. The Iwaoji is meant to express the gratitude of the community to the gods for making the harvest possible. Following the “iwaoji” is the “IKPA NKU” (the wood gathering). The Nku is used in the roasting of the newly sliced yam. The belief being that roasting the new yam will make every other yam harvested to be strong, more edible and nourishing. The Igwe after the roasting of the yam is usually the first to eat the yam after which other people are invited to join him. Immediately the Igwe eats the yam, masquerades such as “Mikpala and “Ikehudo”, randomly parade the village square and market place teasing and entertaining children and women. The first outing of these masquerades signifies that the Igwe has eaten the new yam.
The following day, “Olie” is a day for a dance performance by young girls and boys. “Igba Ijele” dance is a dance performed by this group and it is devoted to “Edo” and nominally to public deities of the land. With Iwaji, the people are free from famine and hunger. From now on merriment can begin and that is when Igbaijele” appears for the first time in the years to perform on stage. The dancers first perform at Edo shrine before touring the Nkwo market square and eventually enters the Igwe’s palace where the main dance is performed. During the dance, the people are virtually thrown into an uncontrollable ecstasy with rhythmic body jerks and twisting of waists and breasts. Highly trained chorus leaders lead during Igba Ijele. It is a time for competition in excellence during which the best dancer- artiste for the year is honoured.
Among are the days of the “Afiaolu” festival, the evening of “Afor” is the most entertaining and most memorable. It is usually an evening reserved for masquerades drama and the Igwe and his counselors usually invite the Ijele masquerade from UmueriAnambraState. Ijele is the king of the masquerades in Anambra state and it is a family of four: the mother, father, police and palm wine tapper.
Nne Ijele meaning “mother of Ijele” is always the first to come out, she is a beautiful lady masquerade that holds a big ox tail with a carved enamel plate. She performs a dance to flute and soft music. Ijele “Onuku” (Ijele father) has a big face and dressed in chieftaincy regalia as he follows the wife into the arena. The next to step into the arena is the Ijele police, they are usually six in number and their duty is to ensure that the people do not encroach on Ijele father and mother. To complete the group is the Ijele palm wine Tapper: it accompanies Ijele fro the sole purpose of picking its rear as it performs. Another significant personality is the Ijele fan carrier of Akupe carrier. It is not really a masquerade but it plays a crucial role in leading the Ijele with its symbolic powerful fan called Akupe. Once one Ijele loses sight of the fan and its carrier, it gets lost and it signifies danger. Ijele moves when the fan carrier move and also stops when it stops.
For Ijele to start performing, his musical instrument must be set. The musical instrument includes drums, ogene Ubom, Uyo, Ekwe, flute (Oja –Ufele); the Ijele dances majestically to the royal Igba – eze: dance of the kings popularly called Akunechenyi in Anambra state.
The Ijele masquerade only performs immediately (7) cannon gunshot are released to the air alongside the sound of its royal music. The Ijele mostly perform during the dry season to mark fertility and annual bountiful harvest.
Nkwo day is the last day of the “Afiaolu” festival it is the day the chief priest, Igwe, and elders make the final prayer on behalf of the community. Sacrifices are offered to Edo to protect the children home and abroad. Women who have been commissioned to cook, prepares pounded yam and bitter leaf soup which is taken to the palace to entertain both visitors and Anedo people present at the arena. It is equally a day devoted to all the adult masquerades which are displayed at designated venues for each village. All one four communities are been represented by one masquerade such as “Orinuli” in tolo, “Ayakozikwo”-nai” from Uruagu, Ozo –ebunu from Umudim and Ebu –Ebu from Nnewichi performs at their various centres to round up the day’s activities. And so ends the Afiaolu traditional festival of Nnewi.
WAYS BY WHICH “AFIAOLU” FESTIVAL CAN BE ADAPTED FOR THE STAGE
Igwe – The king of one land (Anejedo)
Lolo – The king’s wife
Edowuwe – The chief priest
Nne Ijele – Mother of Ijele
Ijele Onuku -Ijele father
Now Ojii – Ijele police (six men)
Ijele ote nkwu – Ijele palm wine tapper
Ijele fan carrier
Villagers – spectators
Elders 1 – from otolo village
Elder 2 – from Uruagu village
Elder 3 – from Umudim village
Elder 4 – from Nnwichi village
The scene opens at Edo shrine as the villagers are seen standing on a raised mould of sands outside the shrine. The chief priest “Edowuwe” is seen at the centre roasting the newly harvested yam. The Igwe and his wife are seen sitted at the left side corner of the shrine wit two body guards fanning them. After some time, the chief priest announces that the yam is ready. The happy villagers cheers. The chief priest brings out the yam from the fire, cuts it into pieces and blesses it
Edowuwe : Edo we have come!
The owner of Anaedo land,
We your children have come to present to you the new yam. Please the god of our ancestors, as we eat this yam, may we eat life and health.
Villagers : Isee !
Edowuwe : May the harvest of next season be
better than that of this season.
Villagers : (with a happy cheer and thunderous
Edowuwe : (facing the Igwe) Igwe ! May you live
You have seen what your sons from the four villages come with. Here are the fowls to be sacrified to the god of our land ‘Edo’ and our ancestors. So as the tradition demands, I call upon you to come and help us with this sacrifice. I – g – w- e- !
Igwe : Chaa ! chaa ! Ndi be anyi kwenu !
Villagers : Yaa !
Igwe : Rienu !
Villagers : Yaa !
Igwe : Nuo nu !
Villagers : Yaa !
Igwe : Kwe zuo nu !
Villagers : Yooo!
Igwe : My people, we all know what today is. As
the tradition demands we have gathered have today to celebrate our new yam festival and also to honour our god the great Edo and our ancestors for making this season’s harvest possible. (The Igwe turns to the shrine, picking one fowl and saying some incantation). Edo the great, we your children have come, we have come to honour you. To say thank you for your love, protection and provision (He takes the knife from one of his body guard, slaughters the fowl and shrinks the blood in front of Edo shrine)
After the ritual observation, The Igwe picks one pieces of the scaled yam, eats and declares that the people can all join him. There is a great noise from the people as the beat of musical instruments is heard; women, children and men are seen rejoicing, singing, clapping and dancing.
At the Igwe’s palace. The whole place is filled with the auideness, waiting for the performance of the king of the masquerade “Ijele”. The Igwe, Lolo and elders are sited in front of the obi. Musical instrument such as drum, ogene, ubom, uyo, Ekwe, Oja, igba and the instrumentalist’ are seen at the left side corner of the obi where the Igwe and others are sited. Suddenly, seven cannon gunshot is heard alongside the sound of a royal music. A few minutes later, the Nne Ijele “mother of Ijele” is seen holding a big ox tail wit a carved enamel plate. She performs as the audience all a plused with shout and clapp. Soon after Ijele Onuku “Ijele father” a masquerade with a big face, dresses in chieftaincy regalia, walked into the arena majestically with his fan carrier fanning him, followed by Ijele police (six young men) on police uniform with guns. They surrounded the Ijele father and mother while they perform their dance to ensure that the people do not encroach. The Ijele wine tapper also appears on stage with his calabash of wine, smelling of palm wine and staggering. Spectators surround the arena. Horn and wooden drum plays they praises the Ijele with their instrument.
Drummers : Welcome king, welcome oh king
Welcome king, welcome
If a king is seen he is greeted.
Ijele Onuku welcome
Ijele Onuku : I hear you my children
Events has happened in the
Society eh eh !
I stand in place of our ancestors
Where is Ijele nwaanyi
Nne Ijele : Ezi dum m oma
Ijele Onuku : dance for me my beautiful queen,
The woman I married when the world is yet to began
The audience starts clamouring. The children and women exclaimed in wonder and the men applauded for the mmonumu. The drummer continued with the drumming while Ijele and Nne Ijele perform their dance.
Light opens at the palace. Villagers are trooping into the palace to watch the final performance by the dancers. After some minutes everyone is seated. The Igwe and his Lolo followed by his body guards comes on stage and take their seat. Cheers are heard from the villagers as they hail the Igwe. Drum beats are heard. Everyone is excited and happy. Suddenly groups of dancers with faces, legs and hands dyed with white nzu and colourful dresses and handkerchiefs on the left hands enter the palace dancing. A thunderous cheer is heard from the village. As they got to the center the dancing stops. Dancers take up positions with the lead singer in front. Drums change beats as the lead singer starts.
Lead singer : Anyi a abi ala ooo
(we have come ooo)
Dancers : Eeh anyi abi ala
: yes, we have come
Lead singer : Edo nne anyi oma anyi ekele gi
Maka ubi oma, anyi ekele gi
(mother Edo, we greet you, for one)
(great harvest we thank you)
Dancers : Nne anyi, any ekele gi
(mother we thank you)
The song is sung over and over for five times. Singing subsides giving way for dancing and drumming alone. Ovation from all angles is heard. After a while the dancing and drumming stopped. The Igwe gets from his seat, thanked the dancers and round off the day’s activities.
Igwe : Thank you my people for that wonderful performance.
I must confess that it has being a wonderful performance.
Villagers : Igweee !
Elder 1 : O ihe merem
(that is it)
(The group is seen dancing out of the arena with their group leader, leading the way out).
Igwe : Please I now call upon the women to
present us with what
they have prepared for today’s occasion.
(women are seen, carrying bowl of pounded yam and bitter leaf
soup. The villager are all shouting wit great joy). And Igwe after some time begin to talk again)
My people we have come to the end of
this year’s new ;yam festival, and as we return to our various places, I pray the gods of our ancestors to grant you all journey mercies.
Villagers : Isee ee
The Igwe after the prayer, leaves the
arena with his Lolo and
body guards as the audience continued with the merriment.