By Chinenyeh Ozor
NSUKKA — The indigenous people of Imufu Community in Enugu Ezike, Igboeze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, is known for its unity and oneness, in spite of their religious differences. The community which was one of the 36 carved out from the old Enugu- Ezike autonomous community weekend celebrated its rich culture, the Omabe Masquerade Festival amid pomp and ceremony.
In Igbo land, masquerades which have been in existence for several centuries are seen as a sacred club for adult males alone as it is a taboo for a woman to come near a masquerade, as some of them are seen to possess some mystical powers. However, the ceremony which is normally celebrated by non- Christians was witnessed by thousands of tourists from far and wide because of the unique features of the masquerades.
South East Voice witnessed the theMarch 7, 2015 Omabe masquerade, celebrated every five years. As early as 5 am smaller masquerades took to the streets of the community to signal the return of Omabe festival after five years of being kept in abeyance. Spectators who trooped from different parts of the country were busy watching the minor masquerades, obele monwu, unknown to them that the bigger masquerades, mukwu monwu, would later take their turns during the festival until about 3pm when all the entry and exit points of the community were flooded with human traffic moving to the village square, for the big show of the day.
South East Voice gathered that a good number of civil servants took casual leaves to take part in the Omabe masquerade festival with their friends across the country. However, masquerades considered to be ‘’humane,’’ heradled those considered dangerous because of their mystical powers like Ejii Ogbene, Ajulaka, Oshagenyi, Ajija and Mgbedike among others.
Such masquerades like eshiwe and others in their category took their turns, chasing people to herald the arrival of other bigger ones. The arrival of Mgbdike masquerades from the three quarters of the community, adorned with colourful costumes of Akwete, beads, animal skins and whiskers of lions and tigers, changed the scenario of the village square as each of them paraded with groups who beat sambas, drums and gongs trying to steal the show, before the next day when all the masquerades would pay homage to the eldest man (Onyishi) at his palace.
Apart from the dangerous masquerades, like Agbaeji and Agele which provided entertainment for the visitors and natives alike. The eldest man in the community and de- facto leader Onyishi Ngwu Nwa Idoko Agashi spoke to South East Voice on the festival of the community, saying that it was the first masquerade festival since he became the Onyishi following the death of his predecessor, Onyishi Ugwu Eya.
Explaining that he assumed the throne just last year, he said that the masquerades would operate on every Oye Market day until they were ordered to go into hibernation. He said that the masquerades would be available until after one year when they would go back to the ancestors and stay with them for another five years. ‘’In our culture, masquerades are spirits. They can go back to the spirit world after one year on earth with mortals like us,’’ he said, adding that the significance was to celebrate peace and unity in the community and also rejoice with our ancestors for taking care of their descendants on earth,’’ he said laughing.
He pointed out that the masquerades would not be violent to people, adding that tomorrow (Friday 8/5/2015) all the masquerades would visit him with their troupes to pay their traditional homage. Onyishi Idoko further said that he grew up and met the festival and would not violate the rules and regulations guarding the festivals as stipulated by his fore fathers. ‘’The masquerades will visit me the next day for me to pray for them and advice them not be violent. It is line with our tradition and culture We always uphold the tenets of the tradition and culture,” he added.
He noted that the masquerade is not to beat any person but to entertain, while the owner of any masquerade that violates the rule of the land will be severely fined by the community, adding that the festivals was for fun as youths would never cash on it to carry out evil acts in the community. He pointed that the masquerades will be on for eight days consecutively after which it will be for four native days (Oye days) till the one year elapsed.
‘’Nobody can cash on the masquerade to commit rape and other crimes as any person who tries it will chased away by the Omabe masquerade” he noted. He also, explained that people return en-mass for the festival because they would not be privileged to see the masquerades until another five years time, as nobody was forced to return. The Onyishi advised the youths to be peaceful and play to the rules of the festival which were to entertain and make merry.
Chief Fabian Ogbu Nwa Eze said that the masquerade festival in the community was in accordance with the culture and tradition of the community right from their fore fathers, adding that the masquerades not only protected the land from evil things but exposed evil doers in the community by killing them. He said that he is the leader of the Mgbdike masquerade of his own clan.
Mr. Anselem Ben Odo a civil servant and leader of the Mgbdike masquerade of his own clan said he returned for the festival from Abuja, because it was what their fore fathers bequeathed unto to them and cannot be stopped discarded because of Christianity. According to him, in different parts of Igbo land people do travel to their communities for new yam festival, just to uphold culture and tradition of their people.
He noted that people should embrace the culture of their land as it would not stop them from practicing any religion of their choice, adding out that Omabe was the culture of the whole of Enugu-Ezike, and not peculiar to Imufu Community and pointing out that he had always returned for the Omabe masquerade in the past 25 years.
South East Voice witnessed 600 masquerades of different sizes and shapes with different costumes at the Afor Imufu Market where there were over 5000 spectators across the country. There were masquerades like Agbeji and Ajija, Oshagenyi and kpapawu, eshiwe among several others. Agbeji which had varies beautiful feathers on its top was usually owned by families or clans which entertained the people like Mgbdike masquerades. They all entertained to the admiration of the spectators.