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Nchaka festival: Where humans commune with spirits

The festival, which is celebrated in all the 39 towns and clans that make up Ogba land, is said to be an age-long tradition.

The Nchaka festival is an annual new yam event celebrated in the entire Ogba land in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. Our correspondent learnt that the festival is performed for the purpose of cleansing the land from evil spirits and mortals, as well as celebration of a bountiful harvest.

The festival, which is celebrated in all the 39 towns and clans that make up Ogba land, is said to be an age-long tradition.

Ogba is noted for its rich oil and gas deposits as its communities play host to numerous oil prospecting and servicing companies, such as Agip and   Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited (TEPNG).

The Ukela Ukwu 1 of Igburu, His Royal Highness, Ambassador Bright Abali, told Daily Trust that although Ogba Kingdom had been influenced by social values, behaviours, laws, traditions and modern life, the people had maintained their identity and retained many of their traditions and customs.

He said Ogba people were known for elaborate greetings, praise names and titles, which he said made them very prominent in any gathering.

Abali noted that Ogba land is also known for cultural celebrations, which are staged to show gratitude to God for fertility, cleansing and protection, and to mark the end of the planting or harvesting season.

The most prominent among the cultural celebrations of the people is the Nchaka festival. Other cultural festivals celebrated by the communities of Ogba land are Igba-Ogwe, Ebiam, Egwi-Iji Onube and Egwu-Ohali.

Nchaka is celebrated between November and December. It is performed for five days, beginning with traditional rituals performed by the female folk of the communities, called Nchaka-ki-inyenwa, and the one performed by their male counterparts, known as ‘Nchaka-ki-ikenwa.

Several activities are lined up for the five days, such as singing, dancing and merrymaking, which involves eating foods throughout the festival period.

The festival is heralded by its proclamation at the famous Ahiakwo, the main market in Omoku, the headquarters of the kingdom by the Ogba Council of Traditional Rulers, on the directive of the king and custodian of the customs and tradition of the people.

The late king, His Eminence, Sir (Dr) Chukwumela Nnam Obi II (OON, JP) Oba (Eze Ogba) of Ogba land, was the one saddled with the responsibility of kicking off the festival with a dinner, which would attract chiefs, elders, sons and daughters of the 39 towns and villages that make up the kingdom.

The dinner, which also attracts dignitaries outside the kingdom, ushers in the ancient carnival of beauty, colour, abundance and sharing.

The festival is marked with beautification of the environment, including painting and decoration of houses.

Nchaka also encourages courtesy calls on well-wishers, friends, relatives, the king and community leaders.

It is a period of rebirth, when diseases, evil and calamities are repelled from the kingdom.

According to Ambassador Abali, Nchaka festival provides a sound indigenous cultural foundation for socio-political progress and sustainable economic development for the state and the nation, especially in view of the natural endowment of the kingdom.

“The objectives of any cultural policy for the country should thus aim at ensuring the continuity of traditional skills, sports and cultural festivals and their progressive adaptation to serve modern needs and establish a disciplined moral and enterprising society. It is believed that the giant economic, political and social strides of both China and Japan are rooted in their culture.

“Now, what is required to make Nchaka rank among the cultural festivals across the world that attract tourist attention? Since culture is human centred, the festival can attract tourists from both within and outside the country if, among other things, the environmental problems, especially those of degradation, resources depletion and oil and gas pollution faced by the kingdom are addressed.

“The annual carnival can also be elevated to its pride of place if the required foundation is laid for a true urban life that is already characterising Ogba kingdom, especially Omoku, its headquarters. This will involve providing the area with the necessary infrastructures and putting in place, model markets, holiday resorts/recreational centres or beaches, zoological gardens, libraries and sports centres in such major towns and villages in the kingdom, such as Omoku, Erema, Obrikom, Akabuka, Ogbogu, Obite, Oboburu and Ede.

“Considering the primacy of the kingdom in the growth and development of Nigeria, the provision of any facility by government and the oil companies operating in the area to upgrade the living condition of the people and Nchaka festival should be treated as a priority,’’ Abali said.

Omoku is the headquarters of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State and also serves as the ancestral headquarters of Ogba land. The community is noted for rich oil and gas deposits, just as many multinational oil companies operate in the community.

The community has also produced prominent personalities that occupied positions of trust at both state and federal levels. A former minister of finance, the late Chief Victor Masi, hailed from the area, as well as a former vice chancellor of the Rivers State University, the late Professor Austin Ahiazu and the immediate past chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, Brother Felix Obuah.

During the festival, skills, strength and mystical powers are also displayed. The most intriguing part of the festival is the display of mysticism and magical prowess by participants, especially the men. Some of the magical powers displayed include running a knife into one’s stomach, using sticks to pierce one’s nose, as well as using needdle and thread to stitch one’s month.

The traditional ruler of the kingdom makes his proclamation in the last four days of the festival and after.

On day one of the festival, the oldest woman in the community dresses in a traditional fabric known as Akwefe, from her shoulder to the waist and holds a burning firewood in her right hand. She is accompanied by women dressed in casual wrappers and blouses in the order of seniority, walking barefoot behind the oldest woman to Omoku river for cleansing ritual.

At the river, the oldest woman begins with incantations to invoke their ancestral spirit, known to be in support of the cleansing. The oldest woman makes more incantations to drive away evil spirits and mortals, bad luck, illness etc, after which the burning firewood is passed round and thrown into the fire. All the participants at the ceremony are expected to go back to their respective homes, accompanied by their family members.

On day two of the festival, food is prepared in groups and clans and taken to the oldest man in each family, where all the women eat separately from the men.

Day three is heralded with merriment, which continues till the fourth day.

On the fourth day, all the members of the kingdom are expected to gather at the four village squares. During this period, cultural dances are performed, as well as wrestling contest and display of mystical powers.

On the fifth day, people from various clans gather at the palace of the king to receive his blessings. This marks the end of the festival and participants are expected to go back to their respective homes.

According to Jonah Promise Ebubechi in his ‘omokucelebrity.com,’ Nchaka festival has for a long time created economic and cultural values for the people.

He said Nchaka craft and costume was defined by deity worship and ancestral veneration and help towards preserving the tradition of Ogba people, thus promoting its culture. So, costume has pragmatically become an essential element in defining the way of life of Ogba people.

Nchaka festival as an essential pivot of cultural heritage helps towards teaching and sustaining law and order, thereby promoting the craft of the people.

But despite these attributes, the cultural values of the festival, like other Nigerian festivals, have been diminishing due to the advent of Christianity.

“This is plausible because the festival is associated with deity worship and ancestral veneration that contradict the western culture, which negates the traditional beliefs of the people. The effect of this is seen in the prevalent activities that contradict the law and order in the Ogba society,’’ Ebubechi stated.

He stated that his narrative on Nchaka festival was aimed at identifying the cultural values of costume towards preserving the craft and tradition of Ogba people.

He, therefore, recommended that costumes used in Nchaka festival be preserved for posterity.


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