The six days long 2017 edition of Ofala Festival took off with a flying start on Wednesday with the Oraeze International Arts Exhibition at the Ime Obi, Onitsha, Anambra State.
Fathers and Elders of the land acknowledged the youths by devoting Thursday (yesterday) to the young souls to exercise their strength in a colourful day-long carnival as they rehearsed for the tomorrow they are destined to occupy.
But the annual celebration of rites of renewal of the Obi that defines spiritual and natural authority across Onitsha principally – and other neighboring Igbo communities, including Nnewi, Ukpo in Dunukofia Local Government Area among others, started in earnest this Friday morning.
Later today, a cocktail party, Eze Onicha is slated to take place, according to the programme of event.
For the fathers of the land who appreciate the taste of good fish, Azu Ofala is the event that is a must-attend tomorrow, October 14.
Sunday the 15th will witness a parade of the most beautiful daughters of the land while the Ofala Music Concert will showcase their skill and talent.
The grand finale of the day would be the crowning of Miss Ofala 2017 at CJ Patterson International Auditorium, Onitsha.
Come Monday October 16, a royal banquet in honour of the Agbogidi, Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, will hold at the Dolly Hills Hotel, Onitsha, to round off the festival.
Sponsors of the annual event, telecommunications giant, Globacom, in a statement earlier, expressed great satisfaction at the unfolding of the festival, declaring that “the festival is growing bigger and bigger every year since we officially took over its sponsorship in 2011.
We commend the Agbogidi for all the innovations he has introduced to the festival over the years to make it more exciting and a tourist attraction.
“We are delighted to be part of this noble festival for another three years.” The company charged all lovers of tradition and culture to visit the Ime Obi, Onitsha Palace, to experience firsthand the celebration of the biggest festival in Southeast Nigeria and savour the hospitality of the people of Onitsha.
Origin of Ofala Festival
Ofala Festival, according to scholars of the land, started way back in the 16th Century when Onitsha people migrated from Benin kingdom to the Eastern banks of the River Niger presently known as the city of Onitsha from where the tradition of monarchy metamophosed, among other customs. Observers see a similarity of Ofala Festival to the Igue Festival celebrated annually by the Oba of Benin.
Historians have linked Festival to the New Yam Festival in Onitsha and devotion of the King to the safety of his people.
A research scholar said the festival marks the end of a period of retreat known in the land as Inye Ukwu na Nlo, when the Obi is separated from his subjects while undergoing spiritual purification for the good of the community.
At the end of the weeklong retreat, the Obi emerges during the Ofala to bless his people and say prayers for the community. The big event is observed annually beginning from the coronation of the Obi to his passage, the latter of which is called “the last Ofala”.
The festival usually starts with a traditional twenty-one gun salute followed by an all night Ufie (royal gong) drumming, dancing and other cultural activities.
In the afternoon, the Obi’s cabinet of chiefs, guests from other communities, age groups, women and youth of the community would throng the palace grounds or Ime Obi.
dressed in traditional attires befitting the festival occasion. The royal music is played during the entrance of the Ndichie (red cap chiefs) who arrive after the gathering of the crowd in procession to the palace.
The highlight of the festival is the emergence of the Obi in his royal regalia to the cheer of the crowd, a cannon shot announces the entrance of the Obi who is usually dressed in ceremonial robe and carries a bronze sword on his hand, he walks to the sides of the arena or a third of the arena acknowledging the cheers of the gathering.
The Obi then retires and subsequently, the red cap chiefs then pay homage to him according to seniority; thereafter, both the Obi and the chiefs reappear after the firing of another cannon shot.
During the second appearance the Obi dances in the arena, something that is rarely seen and his steps cover more distance than the first appearance. Then the visiting chiefs and guests pay homage to the Obi.
Ofala festival is also used by the Obi to honour deserving individuals with chieftaincy titles.
The Ndigbo Development Plan 2066
It would be recalled that the Obi, at a meeting of prominent Igbo leaders last year, addressed the issue of a 50-year development plan for Ndigbo and proper mentoring of the youths of the land.
The Obi made the call at a meeting of Igbo leaders held at the Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, which serves as the headquarters of the World Igbo Summit Group, WISG, under the auspices of the Igbo Leaders, Elders and Collectives.
Among other issues, the meeting brainstormed on how to kick-start the implementation of the resolutions adopted during the last summit of the World Igbo, WISG, on the 50-year development plan.
The resolutions addressed an all encompassing development plan that would cover economic, political, cultural, educational as well as proper mentoring of the youths.
The Ndigbo Development Plan 2066 is aimed at comprehensively tackling the development of Igbo land and would entail persuading Igbo entrepreneurs and investors all over the country and in Diaspora to think-home by bringing part of their investments and wealth home to ensure a prosperous home land.
The project was a collective vision of all the speakers that Ndigbo have had enough talks over the problems bedevilling the race and declared that it was now time for collective action.
Addressing the meeting, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe canvassed for strategic system that would propel the development of future leaders for Ndigbo to effectively execute the 50-year visionary programme.
Features Editor, God’s Covenant Snr