By Simon Ebegbulem
IGARRA—IT was like a carnival recently as thousands of indigenes of Igarra Kingdom in Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, both at home and in the Diaspora, converged on their ancestral land to celebrate the stanzas of the 228-year-old Aba drum, one of the unique events that mark the Irepo festival.
Irepo is one of the oldest festivals in Nigeria celebrated by Igarra people of the state and the ancient drum goes into hibernation after the festival with no mortal, except members of the Eziakuta Opoporiku family, who are the custodians permitted to sight the drum until another six years.
Igarra monarch reveals significance: The Otaru of Igarra, His Royal Highness, Oba Emmanuel Adeche Saiki, explained: ”We are celebrating the Irepa festival where the Aba drum dance takes place. Ihe Irepa festival is celebrated once every seven years according to our local calendar, but it is six years in the normal calendar. And the Aba drum is one of the events that are the highlight.
“The significance of Aba drum is that Igarra is ruled through the age groups. It is during the Irepo festival where the Aba drum is played that a new age group comes up and all other age groups move to the next level. This Opoze age group members, who are the celebrants for this very Aba drum dance, will now graduate to the council of elders, then a new age group will come up.
Each of these age groups, they all have their responsibilities in the community. The senior is called the Opoze group and they are the ones graduating into the council of elders. The main duty of Opoze group is to control all other groups under them and also enforce any law passed by the community.”
No rituals: Asked if sacrifices were usually made to herald the ceremony, HRH Saiki stated: “No sacrifice is made, but when we discover any problem or challenges in the community, we embark on some sacrifices to stop such challenges. We immediately take actions that will appease our ancestors which is normal. I will say that the Aba drum is as old as Igarra itself. It has been long. The drum is special because all the age groups must dance to this drum.”
I’m contented to witness another Aba carnival— Chief custodian
The Akuta of Igarra, Chief Charles Shanu Aiyelabola, who is the chief custodian of the Aba drum, being the eldest son of the Eziakuta Opoporiku family, also told NDV: “It is a drum that signifies age grouping in the town. We have six age groups in the community. We have one between 19-21 years, we call the youths who belong to this category Obofafo, and they are errand boys.
“Another one, we call them the age groups that dig graves; the next one is the one that dresses the corpses, that is their duty. We have the Opoga group, when they are promoted, they call them Opoze. This Opoze are the lawmakers in this town and whatever laws they make are taken by all the groups. I started beating this drum in 2011. I am the custodian because I am the head of the family that keeps the drum.”
Aiyelabola disclosed: ”And you cannot beat the drum unless you are a bonafide member of the family. The protection of this drum comes from God, the drum is sacred. Nobody can bring out this drum before the six years interval. I feel happy that I am alive to witness it after six years. After it is beaten, it returns to its home and nobody can see it again, only the custodians and the custodians cannot go there without any reason. Like I said it is a sacred drum.”
At this year’s festival, NDV observed that the thumping of the drum elicited wild celebrations as all the age grades danced to its pulsation. Only the custodians of the drum stood on the rock where the drum is beaten. It is a taboo for any stranger to get close to the drum. Chief of Staff to the Edo State Governor, Mr. Taiwo Akerele, who is a descendant of the Eziakuta Opoporiku family, said the event was significant to the people of lgarra, especially those graduating from one age group to another, adding: “The festival is a unifying event for the people of lgarra and the grand finale is the beating of the Aba drum.”
After dancing to the beguiling rhythms of Aba drum, every family in Igarra takes their friends and visitors home to eat pounded yam signaling the end of the festival until another six years. As expected the Chief of Staff to the Governor treated Comrade Shaibu and other members of the state Executive Council with deliciously prepared pounded yam and assorted soup at his Pope Francis Avenue country home in Igarra.
We‘ll take Aba drum to another level—Obaseki
The state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, was represented by his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, who graced the occasion with other members of the state Executive Council and the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Alhaji Kabiru Adjoto. “This is a beautiful culture that needs to be celebrated by the people of lgarra as well as all Edo people and should be a rallying point for all of us so that we can collectively woo more tourists to come and invest in the state and enjoy our rich cultural heritage,” Obaseki said.
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