By Bubaraye Dakolo
I woke up this morning, not because I had slept enough, but because of the earth-shaking, blasting sounds from those age-old canons shot so early in the morning in the kingdom. Seven of them in all. One each from Gbarantoru, Tombia, Agudama, Bumoundi, Akaibiri, Bumoundi-Gbene and Ikibiri. The towns that make up Ekpetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa State. Due to the distance of Aven, the Ekpetiama town in Delta State, there was no way to hear theirs though. But it is believed that the sound from their canon must have woken all and sundry in the Patani Local Government Area of Delta State where they belong, and have been residing peacefully with their neighbours for ages.
The canon shots say something about Okolede that announces our age-old traditional annual, bountiful harvest thanksgiving festival. And what the canons are simply saying – ‘let Okolede begin!’ And it has begun!
Okolede Festival 2022 has begun in earnest.
These booming canon shots say so unequivocally.
The women of Ekpetiama are dutifully roasting the water-yam, as I write. The teeming youths are running from town to town – Okolede Cross Country race! While the men salivate uncontrollably as they patiently await the serving of the roasted diascorea alata for this year’s festival, to be served with the best palm oil that could be found in any part of the world, or with palm oil gravy made with leafy vegetables and scented fresh pepper, cooked by the best hands from the entire wide world. You guessed right. Cooked by the loveliest hands of the loveliest, exceptionally black and beautiful, black Ijaw women of Ekpetiama Kingdom of Bayelsa State of Nigeria. Mennh!
Well, while all the males in the kingdom shall be treated to the roasted yam in a while, followed by expertly prepared yam pottage shortly after, Ibenanaowei, the king, has to patiently await his turn only on the 11th day of June, the grand finale day at Bumoundi. He does not have to eat the yam. That is his punishment for being the Ibenanaowei – he is delayed gratification personified!
Well! Na wetin man pikin go do naa? But the patient obiri na him dey chop the fat bone. Na so our people talk am!
A week of rejuvenating funfair has just started. You could just pick and choose which of the communities’ events would soothe you best. Your frail, aching nerves need to be soothed, you know? Come catch some fun.
By the way, Okolede 2022 Festival Flame has been lit and hoisted at Bumoundi. Bumoundi is getting ready for the grand finale on Saturday, June 11, 2022. Remember, it is always a day to remember! The youths are heading to the Palace of Agada IV right now…
Okolede Festival 2022, the cultural festival of the Ijaw of Ekpetiama Kingdom, came to a close before twilight on Saturday, June 11 at the Bumoundi Multipurpose Auditorium with the handing over of the Okolede Festival Flame, the golden flame from burning palm oil, which had been blazing since it was lit on June 5, 2022, the day culturally marked annually from time immemorial for the festival to begin, to Chief Omekwe Nimitei, the Deputy Amananaowei of Akaibiri by Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama, HRM King Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada IV.
HRH Engeribo Izonbodei, Amananaowei of Bumoundi, the town which hosted the grand finale of this year’s festival, had to hand the blazing Festival Flame to Ibenanaowei in ‘a thank you so much and congratulations for an exceptionally successful cultural harvest thanksgiving festival’ gesture. And then courteously requesting that ‘on behalf of the kingdom in your care, please pass it on to the town that is next in line to host it.’
As it is more or less usual with Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama, it rained cats and dogs just before he set sail by boat from Gbarantoru, the location of the Palace of Agada IV, in a colourful, fast-paced motorboat procession for the venue. It was a display that is better experienced than told. There is no iota of doubt that in my mind that the memory shall linger in the minds of the young and old alike who saw it, and may be told as epic tale in the future.
Of course, no sooner had the King settled down at the venue than the rain stopped as expected, to allow for maximum participation of all. Well, no one ever said wonders would ever end anyway. Why should they?
With several world class filmmaking crews deployed with their expert cameramen and camerawomen, it can only be expected that it would not be long before the Ijaw in Ghana, the Caribbean, the Americas and other friends of the Ijaw across the world would see the spectacle and come over in their numbers to enjoy Okolede like never before.
You cannot beat the participation of the military in Okolede 2022, as they have always made efforts at underscoring the fact that the much talked about military-civil relationship is strengthened in beautiful occasions such as Ekpetiama Okolede, where law-abiding civilians and military personnel meet to enjoy an age-old, rejuvenating cultural event together in peace. Moreso, the occasion was chaired by Brigadier General Eric Angaye (rtd), and it had such a personality in the rank of a Rear Admiral on parade!
In due time, and soon after Ibenanaowei broke and ate the delicately roasted water yam he was served, with palm oil that was locally made by the masters themselves, whose sweet aroma induces salivation, it did not take long before the women from Ekpetiama Kingdom’s towns of Gbarantoru, Tombia, Agudama, Bumoundi, Akaibiri, Bumoundi Gbene, Ikibiri all in Bayelsa State, and Aven, all the way in Delta State, took turns to stylishly dance in their colourful dresses to present baskets of the nourishing water or purple yam, the highly medicinal staple of the Ijaw of Ekpetiama, what the Botanists call diascorea alata to Agada IV himself.
For dances and other displays, Ijaw youths, in different groups of males and females, treated the audience beyond anything they had seen before. I am not alone in feeling 10 years younger since the festival. But a particular old lady’s experience is legendary. The fairly old lady of about 70 years, who has been living in Lagos after her retirement in the last 20 years, confessed that she has since been feeling like a young lady of about 25 after experiencing the festival dances. When pressed as to how, she disclosed that her flow started again that morning after over 18 years since it ceased. Wonders, isn’t it?
Though there is no statistics of those who identify their better halves during the annual event and eventually got married to them, it is a well-known fact that the dances, the dramas and the air of togetherness of spinsters as well as bachelors which comes with the largest gathering of Ekpetiama people, one of the biggest tourism events in this part of the world, hosted in the Ekpetiama segment of the famous River Nun is beyond words, nuptial alliances are eventually formed.
As one who did not only witness, but participated from start to finish, I can say there has never been anything like Okolede Festival 2022 ever before. Not on Earth, Mars of Jupiter. There has not been any Hollywood, Nollywood, Bollywood blockbusters or stage plays in the last several decades that impacted on me like the performances at Bumoundi during the grand finale of Ekpetiama Buru Fi Uge – Okolede Festival 2022, on June 11, 2022. Were it possible, I am sure most persons would have called for it to be made a monthly fiesta. But wishes are not horses and shall never be.
With Bayelsa State Government actively supporting to make Okolede Festival the number one tourism event, and Ekpetiama people enthusiastically ensuring that it remains the number one tourism event in this part of the world, I can say for sure that Akaibiri will catch fire next year. And the smarter people of the world may just be working towards keeping a date with the Ijaw of Ekpetiama from June 5 through 17, 2023, with June 17th being next year’s grand finale. A new experience is guaranteed every year!
While expecting Ibenanaotu, especially King Collins B. Aranka, King Jones, Ere III, and King Solomon Ebifadei Edi to gear up and return, I also congratulate the chiefs and people of Ekpetiama Kingdom, especially the ever beautiful, ever colourful women, Her Majesty Queen Timinipre Bubaraye Dakolo, Ibenanaowei ta of Ekpetiama, Igirigi 1 of the world in particular, and all who came from far and near to be part of a tourism event of great historical significance. Onua!”
- HRM Dakolo, Ibinanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, is the author of the thriller novel on the Niger Delta, The Riddle of the Oil Thief