By Olasunkanmi Akoni
ALmost every community in the traditional African society is identified by a unique feature which makes it different from others. Such unique features include the type of music, dance, cultural festival, sports and sacred rituals.
In South Ibie, a peaceful community in Itsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, the umbilical cord that holds the people together is the Erua/Elenile (age grade initiation festival). It is celebrated yearly during the period of the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir and is a period when boys, from the age of 17, are initiated into manhood.
Erua/Ulenile gives the initiate various forms of liberty such freedom to marry, to build a house of his own and raise his own family. The importance of this festival lies in the fact that it serves as a rallying point for members of the community; a time when its sons and daughters and those in diaspora, come home in droves to reunite with their families. More significantly, it is a time to set agenda for future community development.
The festival kicks off amidst pomp pageantry with an initiation ceremony on the night of the first day. The principal characters at this ceremony are the immediate senior to those who will be initiated. These seniors are the ones on whose shoulders the task of initiation falls.
The initiation proper involves the tying of a piece of cloth round the waist of the initiate which symbolises that he has now been initiated into manhood. The new initiate is expected to wear this wrapper round the waist till the second day.
On the second day/night, the most senior member of the community gives the initiates a group name after consulting with the Aidonogie who will give his approval. However, in spite of this approval, the initiates are not allowed to disclose the name to anybody.
Rather, they will dance to the palace of the Aidonogie where the eldest in the group will go and whisper the name into the ear of the traditional ruler. The King will then call the name loudly seven times and at the seventh time, the group will answer in unison.
After this, the Aidonogie will offer prayers of long life and prosperity for them and ask them to go and show themselves to the community. This is the apex of the festival as the new initiates dance round the town to the admiration of relations and friends and well – wishers.
After this, the new initiates retire briefly to their homes to freshen up and change into their ceremonial attire which by tradition is a uniform. They will then sit at the square and receive gifts from family members, friends and well-wishers.
To many, this is a period of popularity test during which youths who are popular within the community are identified by the number of gifts they receive. This is indeed a period of glory for the good ones and shame for the bad ones. However, the euphoria of the ceremony often overshadows the individual feeling any of the initiates may have as a result of the outcome of this aspect of the festival.
The 2011 was unique in several ways. One, it drew a particularly large crowd of indigenes as well as friends, relations and well-wishers,.Two, it was a paradigm shift from the usual security uncertainty that pervaded the festival the year before. This time around, security agents from the state government were on ground to protect and keep the peace in the community during the festival.
The festival was the secondwhich was successfully celebrated after more than 10 years of fratricidal feud arising from the bloody chieftaincy tussle in the community. The festivalwas put on hold for that long on the orders of the state government.
This was due to two bloody clashes between two contenders to the throne of Aidonogie and their supporters which claimed many lives and property worth millions of Naira. The disruption denied hundreds of youths the opportunity of the initiation into manhood and shattered the age-old peace and harmony for which community was well known.
Addressing the 127 youths after the naming ceremony, His Royal Majesty Umoru I. Umoru enjoined them to keep the peace at all times as this was the only foundation for development of the community. He assured the people that the community would continue to enjoy peace and harmony during his reign as the Aidonogie.