By Vincent Ujumadu
OFALA is celebrated in most kingdoms in Anambra State as a memorial ceremony for the remembrance of the date the traditional ruler of the area was installed. Indigenes of the various communities always look forward to their Ofala which takes place annually, usually towards the end of the year. There are two types of Ofala in the history of every monarch in Anambra. One is the annual event that attracts friends and well wishers of the people of the community during which the traditional ruler takes stock of his activities within the year and the other is the last Ofala which takes place after the death of the monarch.
The Ofala festival is the most important surviving traditional ceremony of the Igbo people. It is also an occasion where the indigenes of the community join together for dancing, singing, meeting old friends and making new ones.
It is also a season of thanksgiving to the ancestors, for sparing the lives of the people and allowing a successful planting season. In many communities, it is a weeklong event and some communities use if for mass A return during which community development projects were launched.
Almost all recognized traditional rulers in Igbo land celebrate Ofala in one way or the other. While it is called Ofala in many communities, others have peculiar names for it. For instance, Nnewi calls it Afia Olu, Arochukwu calls it Ikeji; it is known by other names in various communities.
In Onitsha, for instance, it is a three-day event, usually in October. In many communities, it usually begins with church services. The festival season is also when the people of the community celebrate anniversaries and commemorate important events in order to create life-giving stories, hope, and a sense of purpose.
At the Igwe or Obi’s palace, hundreds of men and women dance to the pulsating beat of traditional drummers while enjoying the festivities. The highlight of every Ofala festival is usually the monarch’s entrance his royal regalia, decorated with crown led into the arena, sometimes accompanied by his queen and traditional trumpeters. This royal dance is usually the highlight of the Ofala festival or whatever name the community gives to it.
The red-capped chiefs in their traditional attires arrive independently, each accompanied by their village music. They then proceed to the Obi’s throne in order of seniority. There, they pay homage to the Obi by kneeling on the floor and bowing down before him. Gifts are usually brought by the various villages to the monarch and received by the palace officials and recorded.
They dance, according to seniority, to the tune of the sacred royal music/drums at intervals of three along the palace grounds. The beat also changes in accordance with their respective titles and positions. In recent times, corporate organizations have been sponsoring Ofala festivals as part of their social responsibility. A typical example is the Onitsha Ofala festival sponsored annually by the communications giant, CLO. During such Ofala festivals, the company would give out samples of its products and pay for entertainment for the guests invited to the ceremony.
The royal music sets the rhythm for the Obi’s dancing, during his three outings. These royal drums, like most traditional ones, are made by stretching animal hides over a frame. Sometimes, these are tied together with raw hides. Other drums are also used, depending on the occasion. During the ceremony, dances and songs by the indigenes, with their traditionally attire, is performed, with the performers wearing colourful traditional clothing.
The dancing activities usually wearing include elaborate war dances.
Indeed, Ofala festival is an occasion for age grades to showcase their masquerades as a great way of keeping the heritage of the people alive. Youths also bring out their own masquerades, which they use to solicit for money from the visitors.
In Ukpo Kingdom in Dunukofia Local Government Area, the Ofala has gone beyond dancing and celebration, to empowering people. The old, the young, the less-privileged, widows and widowers always look forward to the Ofala festival because it is an opportunity to make the most money into a year. For the period the Ofala lasts, commercial activities flow into the community and the traders make brisk business.
While the festival is mainly celebrated in other parts of Igbo land to mark an additional year for the Igwe on his throne by rolling out the drums, masquerades, the young and the old in their beautiful dresses dance, drink and take photpgraphs, the traditional ruler of Ukpo, Igwe, Dr. Robert Eze (Okofia VI), has mapped out a programme for empowering people.
Apart from dining with them and distributing clothes, money, food items and paying school fees for the children of the poor, he also gives chieftaincy titles to deserving people from the community. In fact, one of his cabinet chiefs is a woman, Professor Chinyere Okunna, the dean of the faculty of social sciences of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka who was honoured for her academic excellence.