By G.G. Darah
ACCORDING to an ancient African proverb, a community that cannot host festivals is like a journey made without the guide of maps. This idea is echoed in the statement credited to Ahmadou Hampate Ba, UNESCO Ambassador of the Republic of Mali thus: Every old person who dies in Africa is like a library destroyed by fire!
The import of these wise sayings above underscores the importance of festivals in the cultural life of Africans. Every festival in Africa is a platform for the celebration of life, an opportunity for performing the vital rituals and processes that define social relations and cultural identity. Festivals also serve the purpose of bringing people together seasonally to celebrate landmark events such as victory over community challenges – wars, epidemics, insecurity, settlement of communities -, migration experience, and significant epochs and dates in a people’s history.
In Africa, festivals are the most organised and popular events. Major festivals are multi-event ceremonies involving religious observation, feasting, singing, dancing, drumming and merry-making. A festival occasion encourages people to be peaceful, hospitable and fashionable in dressing.
Festivals seasonally renew a people’s agendas for development; they are conventions where the collective engage in communal thinking, discussion and planning for public welfare, security and spiritual balance and harmony. This is why it is said that a community that does not organise festivals is as good as dead and stagnant.
The African continent hosts the largest number of festivals in the world. Each of the 1,750 ethnic groups in Africa observes several festive occasions. In Nigeria, there are about 96 major festivals listed in the National Calendar. Among these are Igwe festival of Benin, Ofala festival of Onitsha, Osun Oshogbo festival, Argungu Festival in Kebbi State, Ijele Masquerade Festival of Enugu, Eyo Masquerade Festival of Lagos, and Durbar Muslim Festival in Kano and other northern states.
In Delta State, each of the 25 LGAs is noted for pleasant festival events. In Urhobo, the iconic festival events include Ogba-Urhie of Peace and Restoration of Ughievwen, Iyerin Fishing Carnival of Ughelli, Emeteyavwon Bridal Pageant in Ughievwen, Udu, and Orhunghworun and Eghwu. There are also Idju War Festival of Agbarha-Warri, Edjuvwie of Uvwie, Adane-Okpe of Okpe, Adakaji Memorial Festival of Avwraka, Erosofe Festival of Orogun, Abo-emuo (Wrestling Carnival) of Uwherun, Ohworhu Masquerade Carnival of Evwreni, and Ekene Masquerade Festival of Agbarha-Otor.
Ogba-Urhie Festival ,which starts tomorrow, Tuesday, August 30, 2022, is the grand feast of the Ughievwen people held in August every year. The Ogba-Urhie institution symbolizes the safe arrival of Ughievwen people in their exodus from Ogoibiri, now in Bayelsa State. Oral history indicates that the aboriginal Ughievwen people migrated from ancient Benin territory about 1,000 years ago. The sojourn took the progenitors of Ughievwen through Sabongida, and Etsako districts, Igala territory and through the River Niger to Ogoibiri on the River Nun. From Ogoibiri, the Ughievwen migrants voyaged through the Forcados River, entered the Okpare Creek, and finally settled at Otughievwen to the east of Warri.
In all likelihood, the sojourn took many years of travel on foot and boats through hazardous and sometimes hostile territories. The terminus is marked with rituals of prayers, benediction, offering of tributes, feasting, merriment and conventions for peace-making, conflict resolution, and rewards for harmonious and orderly existence. The annual Ogba-Urhie is a grand convention where religious and socio-political officials as well as fun-seekers and revellers converge to renew and strengthen their bonds of unity, mutual understanding and pledges of virtuous and responsible conduct.
Ogba-Urhie Festival is managed and coordinated by four traditional institutions or religious fraternities. These are Ade (Nobility), Igbun-Otor (Administration & Peace), Igbun-Eshovwin (Law and Order) and Ebo (Medicinal Healing Sciences). Ade is the premier fraternity; its head or leader presides over the opening ceremonies at the Ogba-Urhie waterfront theatre. After the opening ceremony, the members and accolades of each fraternity assemble at designated theatres in Otughievwen to offer tributes to their cardinals (Odede), entertain themselves and engage in review sessions about the fortunes of their group.
In ancient times, the converging of the jubilant crowds at Otughievwen created a carnival atmosphere of the status of a cultural Olympiads. In recent times, the scale of the celebrations has been moderated in response to growing economic hardship and attention of many young people to fast-growing Christian denominations.
Several theatre events are staged for two months after Ogba-Urhie festival. These include Emete-eyavwon (Bridal Pageant), Ore (Ancestor Veneration and Homecoming) and Udje Dance carnivals involving all 32 Ughievwen communities. This 60-day season of festivals enables the general public to renew familial and social bonds, to venerate and amuse themselves, and to collate human and economic resources for promoting the overall well-being of the Ughievwen people.
Ughievwen is generally acknowledged as one of the most peaceful and artistically versatile of the 24 kingdoms in Urhobo land. This proud and enviable heritage is nourished by the unbroken celebration of Ogba-Urhie and affiliated cultural events in the past 500 years. Regrettably, this unique heritage of indigenous governance faces great threats arising from the negative impact of modernization and globalization. The loss of Ogba-Urhie tradition will result in grave damage to the identity, religious order, and artistic diversity of the Ughievwen in particular and Urhobo and Nigeria in general. There is therefore an urgent need to reactivate, revamp, and promote Ogba-Urhie Festival and all that it represents for Urhobo culture and civilization. There is need to devise measures to safeguard the indigenous heritage in accordance with the cultural programme and protocols of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO), with particular reference to the 2003 Resolution for the Safeguarding of Endangered Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).
* Darah is a professor of oral literature and a cultural and political activist; he’s the Ogba-Orien of Ughievwen Kingdom