…tells Ndigbo to be proud of their cultural heritage
By Nwabueze Okonkwo
ONITSHA—FORMER Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC and Ex-Aviation Minister, Chief Osita Chidoka at the weekend, performed a symbolic feeding of 5,000 children with five roasted yams and two plates of garnished palm oil, similar to the Biblical feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish by Jesus Christ.
The symbolic feeding of 5,000 children was part of activities that marked his annual Obiora Ike Obosi new yam/cultural festival which he performed at his country home, Obosi, as a member of Obosi royal cabinet.
At the ceremony which came a day after the traditional ruler of Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iweka celebrated his annual Obiora Obosi cultural/new yam festival, Chidoka cut the tubers of roasted yams into pieces, dipped each of them into the palm oil garnished with pepper, oil bean (Ukpaka), dried fish and other delicious delicacies of the Igbo people and dished them out one after the other to the children who had fallen in line and stretched out their hands.
Masquerade and dance groups
As he dished out the yams to the children, one after the other, organizers of the event were busy controlling them to remain in three line and avoid disorganizing the arrangement until each of them received their own piece of yam.
While dishing out the yams, other teeming guests, who were in consonance with the tradition waited until the kids have eaten, after which Chidoka showed his dancing abilities as he stood up several times and danced with the different masquerade and dance groups.
Some of the dance troops that featured prominently at the ceremony included the Igba Araba and Ajugwu musical groups, as well as great masquerades like the Ajo Ofia, from whose head flames of fire were oozing out.
Speaking at the ceremony, Chidoka called on Ndigbo across the globe to be proud of their cultural heritage and join hands for its promotion as well as the development of Igbo land.
Chidoka who has a chieftaincy title of Ike Obosi (strength of Obosi), maintained that since our culture is our identity, we must always preserve and improve on it, irrespective of how educated or religious we think we are because according to him, “if we allow our culture to die a natural death, then we shall be wallowing in the desert like sheep without shepherd.
“I think that the whole idea of culture and tourism is something that we are taking for granted in South East. I think that Anambra state can actually restructure the new yam festival and synchronize it as something that happens simultaneously within the period of one month so that people who visit Anambra during this period will know that they will see masquerades and new yam festival at least for four weekends beginning from September all through October.
“State Government should work towards establishing that event as a significant portion of our culture. So you know that if you are in Anambra this time, it will be a time to celebrate and visit various towns. Visiting home must not be during burials only or Christmas. When the new yam festival is synchronized, we will have a whole month of celebration in the state,” he explained.
He further stated: “Tourism is a critical factor to every society and the society itself needs to improve to offer something valuable to the tourists.”
On the rudiments of the ceremony, Chidoka explained that the Igwe of Obosi, who is the king usually holds his own Obiora the previous day, to give leeway to citizens of the community to celebrate, adding, “In the community, Obiora Igwe happens on Saturday, and the following day, Ndi Ichies (cabinet members) hold theirs in their various families. So it’s our cultural arrangement and if you go round Obosi today, the various Ndi Ichies are at home holding their own Obiora.”
Explaining further about the importance of the festival, Chidoka declared: “Yam is at the centre of Igbo economy. The Igbo economy was at one time defined by yam, so every man that is strong is known by the size of his barn. You know the story from Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall Apart’ and you know the story of how hunger rattled Unoka as the lazy man who did not go out to tend to his farm.”
He continued: “We remember Okonkwo starting off his life, and the first gift he got was seedlings from his uncle so that he could become a farmer. And when he borrowed those seedlings, there was a great famine in the town and he lost a lot of yam that year.
“Yam has always been a defining ingredient between the rich and the poor, the hard-working and the strong. Yam is so essential in the quality of Igbo life, it waqs what made Igbo people industrious very early, because to plant yam, you need to plant at the right time.
“You need to dig, and put a stick to manage the tendrils to grow well. When it’s time for harvesting, you need to be patient. You have to harvest it gently in order to bring it out from the ground. Any attempt at being fast, lazy or doing it haphazardly will lead to breaking the yam.
“So the process of yam farming by its nature makes Igbo people have a natural instinct for industriousness, and that is why during the slave trade era, many Igbo were taken to those colonies where they planted tobacco. Tobacco planting is almost like yam planting. It’s something you have to tend very gently.
“So you find that the Igbo slaves were very adept at the plantation system and if you go through Virginia, South Carolina, Igbo slaves abounded. This was because they were found to be the people who had the temperament, the industry and the hard working ability to manage the tobacco crop. In the same way, yam has always been a defining crop for the Igbo. It is our estimation of wealth, and in today’s world, yam still symbolizes our hard work, our industry and our attitude to agriculture,” he further stated.