By Nath Akpo
All is obviously set for tomorrow’s grand celebration of this year’s historic traditional New Yam Festival (Ine), in the ancient kingdom of Onicha-Ugbo, Aniocha Local government Area of Delta State.
There is also reason to look forward to a peaceful and colourful celebration based on assurances given to that effect by the Obi of Onicha-Ugbo Kingdom, HRM the Obi of Onicha Ugbo, Agbogidi Victor Chukwuma-lieze1 and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachiku, who is also the Odogwu, traditional Defence Minister of the kingdom, respectively.
Speaking exclusively in his traditional Ogwa (inner palace), on Tuesday August 30, before the traditional royal procession across the kingdom, to offer prayers to God and the forebears for a peaceful festival, the highly cerebral Obi Chukwumalieze1, who established the historical link between the new yam festival and the emergence of Onicha-Ugbo, said that though the ancestral origin of the founder of the kingdom,
Ezechima, is still shrouded in mythical speculations till today, he was generally believed to have migrated from Arochukwu, in present day Eastern region of Nigeria, to the ancient Benin kingdom, where he had found great favour with the then King, Oba Eweka, as a result of his ingenious proficiency, energetic dexterity, excellent craftsmanship and fabled sorcery.
Obi Chukwumalieze1, sitting under the watchful gaze of his grand-father, Obi Okobi, whose majestic influence beamed down from a framed photograph hanging on the wall just above the royal chair, noted that the multiple gifts and talents of Chima, as hunter, blacksmith, brave warrior and sorcerer, had assisted Oba Eweka tremendously in staving off aggressions from neighbours like Dahomey, Songhai and even Ghana and elevated him to the position of a highly respected Chief in the Benin royal palace.
“As you know very well, Chima is an Ibo name and the Ibo race is famous for its migratory spirit, especially in search of greener pastures; so there is a connection between him and Arochukwu. He was also a very industrious young man, a farmer, hunter, blacksmith and also a Native Doctor and used his skills to assist Oba Eweka, who in turn appreciated his efforts and elevated him to the position of a very high Palace chief in the kingdom.
“However, in what I can best be described as the first recorded palace coup in Nigeria’s traditional folklore, Chima’s good fortunes attracted the jealousy of some other powerful interests who protested against his growth as a stranger in their midst and hatched a plot that he was planning to dethrone the Oba, on the pretext that he had challenged the supreme authority of the Oba, over an altercation with royal emissaries who invaded his farm in the name of the king. But Chima, by virtue of his powers as a native doctor, got wind of the plot and promptly gathered his family and some loyalists, absconded from Benin and headed East, ostensibly to his supposed home town in Nri, Arochukwu, where he was said to have originally migrated from,” Obi Chukwumalieze1 said.
Continuing the narrative, the Obi of Onicha-Ugbo said that the escaping party, after wandering for a long period, arrived at Ani-Emi, the first original settlement of the Onicha-Ugbo people and Chima was then crowned as the first Eze (King), thus he became known as Eze Chima, (King Chima). But by then a royal decree had been issued from the Palace to seek out Chima and his settlers wherever they were and finish them off.
And after having staved off several skirmishes and established themselves in their new home, word had finally reached Benin on their whereabouts and a search party led by Gbumara, the giant had been dispatched to carry out the royal directive.
“The people first settled at Ani-Emi, which is close to where St. Pius Secondary school is now located and having crowned Chima as their Eze, quickly settled down and started life anew in the new land. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the giant Gbumara and his search party, arrived as Eze Chima and his people were preparing for the new yam festival. A princess suddenly noticed strange movements in the bushes and seeing the invaders promptly raised an alarm and everybody scampered helter-skelter for dear life, ‘Oke na ofia, Ngwele na onu’.
“A fierce skirmish had ensued and while the people defended themselves bravely against the obvious superior firepower of the Benin assailants, many of them escaped in the heat of battle, including Onicha, the first son of Ezechima and his brothers and sister, who scattered across the vast expanse that is Aniocha (new land) and even across the River Niger and into the East,” said Obi Chukwumalieze.
Concluding the narrative Agbogidi Chukwumalize1, affirmed that his great forebear, Onicha and those who followed him had then settled in a nearby farm (Ugbo), and in the aftermath of the battle, had named the new settlement Onicha-Ugbo (the farm of Onicha) and thus the folklore of Onicha-Ugbo was born. His brothers who forayed into different parts of the area and settled in the nine communities at close proximity with Onicha-Ugbo, that became known as Umu Ezechima (the children of King Chima), and drawing from the antecedent that Onicha-Ugbo and indeed the new settlements of Umu Ezechima, locate their genesis to the day Ani-Emi was attacked as it was about to celebrate the eating of the new yam.
That historical moment was elevated to a grand festival, both in commemoration of an established tradition and in remembrance of a period of rebirth. Obi Chukwumalieze, who then identified some of the major symbols of the festival in his inner Palace, including the Osisi (staff), replicas of the various dane guns, ancestral sword and other weapons used in the Ani-Emi battle and Nzu (white chalk which signified peace), emphasized that the festival was now devoid of all fetish practices.
He, however, hinted at the metaphysical presence and significance of the ancient Iroko tree in the palace ground and was quick to recognise the omniscience of the Supreme God in all the activities that guided the festival. Corroborating the historic significance of the new yam festival to the people of Onicha Ugbo and also lending his voice in support of the peaceful commemoration of the grand festival, the Odogwu of Onicha-Ugbo and Minister of State, Petroleum resources, Dr. Ibe Kachiku, described the festival as a grand carnival which has created a colourful, cultural platform for the sons and daughters of Onicha-Ugbo to unite and re-connect with their roots annually.
Dr. Kachiku, who spoke through Chief Felix Onyekamsi Kachiku, the representative of the Odogwu and Diokpa (most senior elder) of the Kachiku family, noted that as the traditional Military General of Onicha-Ugbo kingdom, adequate measures have been put in place to ensure a peaceful celebration and the safety and security of both indigenes and visitors, during the celebration, even as he added that the kingdom enjoyed a warm and very cordial relationship with all her brother neighbouring communities and the festival would be a colouful parade of dances, a panoply of razz-matazz, a kaleidoscope of glorious colours and indeed a bountiful feast of food and drink for one and all.
Highlight of the formal commencement of the Onicha-Ugbo new yam festival, was the 36 kilometres royal procession on foot, accomplished in about two hours, to the various clans that make up the kingdom, including the ancestral spot at Abu- Anor where Onicha-Ugbo, first settled, led by Obi Victor Chukwum-alieze1, accompanied by Chief Festus Mafiana , the Iyase (Prime Minister), Chief Michael Diji, the Isama, Chief Augustine Osodi, the Ozoma, Chief Anwuli, the Omu, Chief Okafor Amafuise, the Odafe, Chief Bazee Nwokolo, the head of Ogbe-obi clan.
Others included Chief Ken Iwelumo, the Alibo (Ambassador plenipotentiary), Chief Nwawolo, all the clan heads from Ogbe-kenu, Ishiekpe,
Umuolo, Ogbe-obi and Agba clans as well as military war chiefs and other titled chiefs, including Dr. Okwudili Okwechime and Ogbuefi Chuks Egbe, amongst others, all resplendent in their full traditional splendor in Akwa Ocha (white cloth) Okpu (cap) and staff of authority to match.