On Saturday, 8th October, 2016, the country home of Osita Chidoka, former minister of aviation, and ex Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) was a beehive of activities.
It was the Obiora ceremony, a feasting event that heralds the New Yam Festival of the Obosi people. It was at that ceremony that Chidoka fed 5000 children, in a dramatic ceremony in line with the customs of the Obosi people.
Boys and girls, men and women, even spirits, in the form of masquerades came to partake in the feasts.
According to Chidoka who spoke with journalists, the Igwe Obosi, who is the king had held his own Obiora the previous day, to give leeway to citizens of the community to celebrate. Hear him; “In the community, Obiora Igwe happens on Saturday, and the following date, the Ndi Ichie hold theirs in their various families. So its our cultural arrangement. So if you go round Obosi today, the various Ndi Ichie are at home holding their Obiora. The Obiora culture is going on in the various compounds right now”.
Explaining further about the importance of the festival, Chudoka who is a kinsman of the legendary writer of Things Fall Apart ‘, Chinua Achebe revealed; ”
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 if his barn. So you hear the story from Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall Apart’, so you hear the story of 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 can 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. So yam has always been a defining ingredient between the rich and the poor, the hardworking and the strong. Yam is so essential in the quality of igbo life, it made it possible that Igbo people learnt to be 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 ensures that Igbo people have a natural instinct to industriousness, and that is the reason why during th slave trade era, many Igbos 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 plantations. So 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. So 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”.
The festival, which began in earnest when Chidoka, who is the head of the family stepped out of his obi. He was flanked on two sides by his first son, Chinua Chidoka, and his wife, Barrister Mrs Chidinma Chidoka and the family danced to the admiration of the general public, a move in the spirit if the celebration. While the masquerade groups played and danced as if in a bid to outdo each other, most members of the audience also rocked and danced to the melodious rhythm.
Next, prayers were offered after they were seated, along with the chiefs and other guests, and kolanuts were prayed over, broken and distributed.
Then came the main event of the day. Although the New Yam festival is celebrated in every community of the Igbo nation, each community has ita unique qualities that stands it out from the other. The Obosi for instance, celebrate children, and after cutting roasted yams brought to him, and eating some morsels in red palm oil garnished with pepper, ukpaka, dry fish and other delicious delicacies of the Igbo people, Chidoka set to work.
Ike Obosi(strength of Obosi) as he is fondly called by his people then invited all the children present to feed them. This act is reminiscent of the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus Christ, because, as soon as that call was made, thousands of children flooded the podium.
It took the joint effort of some able bodied young men to organize them and compel them to stand in three lines and wait to receive the piece of yam dipped in palm oil. Each took his and ate with delight as he ir she walked away.
For over 30 minutes, Ike Obosi sweated and worked very patiently, feeding the young chaps. The other teeming guests, who are in consonance with the tradition waited until the kids have eaten.
After the feeding of the children, different types of delicacies were served and everyone began to eat. Chidoka also showed his dancing abilities as he stood up several times and danced with the different masquerade and dance groups.
The Igba Araba and Ajugwu musical groups featured prominently among those who played. Great masquerades like the Ajo Ofia, from whose head fire burned was also among the entertainers that thrilled.
Speaking on the importance the event, an elated Chidoka who was sweating as well as he was happy said; “Every human being has an identity, and once you have an identity, you have a culture. I am first and foremost an Obosi man, an Igbo man and a Nigerian. All of these are what I call our various categories and I make sure that every time in my life, I affirm my own identity and my consciousness. So as an Igbo man, I am very proud and happy to be Igbo. I want to be able to accentuate and project all that is positive about Igbo. In our interactions with the rest of the country, I feel a certain generational burden to reinterprete Nigerians to Ndi Igbo, and intreprete Ndi Igbo to Nigerians. This is because there are lots of misconceptions about who we are, and why we are the way we are. But understanding our history and culture will enable people understand us and build a better Nigeria”.
The former Minister of Aviation offered advice on how Igbo culture can be advanced; ” 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 reorganise the new yam festival and make it something that happens simultaneously within the period of one month so that people who come to Anambra will know that they will see masquerade 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.
“Tourism is critical to every society, any Society that has tourism, society itself needs to improve to offer something to the tourist”.