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Ovia-Osese: A Kogi festival for keeping girls chaste

In the face of moral decadence, decline in societal values and sexual perversion amongst young people nowadays, the people of Ogori community in Ogori-Magongo Local…

In the face of moral decadence, decline in societal values and sexual perversion amongst young people nowadays, the people of Ogori community in Ogori-Magongo Local Government Area of Kogi State have continued to utilise their ageless Ovia Osese annual cultural festival to spur young girls to maintain their virginity and dignity of womanhood.

Ogori is a small serene community with a population of over 20,000 people, nestled amongst rocks and shares boundary with Edo State.

Ogori people also share some things in common with Edo people and the Yoruba nation.

Ogori town is after Okene, and is one of the smallest local government areas in Nigeria.

Apart from priding itself as the ‘home of elites’, Ogori is also the home of culture.

It is one community whose rich culture has placed on the world map.

Cross section of the maidens (ivia) initiated during the Ovia-Osese festival.

Annually, the community hosts the Ovia Osese cultural festival, which involves initiation rites that prepare young maidens for the journey into womanhood. This is after they must have been trained on how to take good care of their homes and sustain their husbands’ love with wonderful food delicacies.

Those to be initiated are usually young girls between ages 15 and 20, who are adjudged by the community to have preserved the sanctity of virginity prior to the time of the festival.

It is a ceremony that openly extols the virtues of womanhood, while celebrating the purity, chastity and untouched physical and emotional conditions of young girls of marriageable age.

Ovia-Osese is usually a week-long event, with lots of other activities, such as sporting competition, cooking competition, beauty pageant and the likes, which keep the entire community in a festive mood.

The concept of Ovia-Osese is to engender the value of self-restrain and sexual discipline amongst young girls in the community.

Over the years, the Ovia Osese festival has undergone transformation and assumed international recognition, attracting foreign personalities and culture enthusiasts.

The Ogori Descendants Union (ODU) has been in the forefront of ensuring the successful hosting of this annual cultural festival over the years.

The grand finale of the 2019 edition of the event held at the Ogori Civic Centre on May 4 with a spectacular display of the rich culture of the people.

This year’s event kick-started on April 29 and peaked on May 4, with the grand finale, during which the graduating maidens who were found worthy in both knowledge and character were presented to the gathering.

The event had a lot of side attractions. On the sideline, there were other activities like beauty pageant, school debate and quiz, sporting events, cooking competition, talent hunt, carnival, free health programme, and so many others.

Usually, during the Ovia Osese festival, indigenes of the community from far and near travel home. As a result of this, on the grand finale day, the roads within the community were very busy and the entire community agog with sounds of music.

There were also large preparations of assorted food, especially by those whose daughters are transiting.

Speaking on the festival, Gbemi Omole, an engineer and the national president of Ogori Descendants Union said: “It is one festival that has survived through the ages and has remained in its original form. The message is still as relevant as it was several decades ago. It is one festival that makes us forget our differences if at all there is any.

“Ovia Osese festival has continued to attract global attention because of its strong message and essence – culture is dynamic. This is so because we do not live in a world that is static. However, even at that, the message and essence of Ovia Osese has been largely preserved. Its message harps on moral chastity and it is something that makes the festival unique.

“We are not averse to civilisation or modernity, if you like, but any civilisation or modernity that will corrupt our culture and influence our young ones, especially our girls negatively, we do not welcome or imbibe such. We have kept our doors firmly closed against any influence that will erode the essence and true meaning of this festival; that is why it has remained in its original form after many decades.

“This is one of the few festivals around the world that has remained in its original form and with its message still relevant in our contemporary world. We are most grateful to the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation for indicating interest to list it as one of the festivals on the National Calendar of Festivals in Nigeria.”

Omole, however, expressed regret thus: “It is rather unfortunate that in spite of the high moral lesson of the festival, it has been left solely to the community to shoulder every year. This festival needs all the support it can muster. Permit me to use this opportunity to plead that government at all levels should support us in the annual hosting of this event.

“Also, events such as this should not lack corporate sponsorship. It is my hope that by next year we would not be sweating to organise this event. On this note, I urge that you all donate generously towards the promotion of the festival. It has been neck-breaking hosting this festival annually, and, indeed, we have a responsibility to keep it alive if only we want a secured home and future for our young girls.

“For us, this is the foundation for a blissful home. It is what makes the Ogori woman a good wife and mother.”

He described the various cultural displays as scintillating, noting that this year, the package was ‘breath-taking,’ and assured that next edition would be better.

“Each year, we strive to make the Ovia better so that people can see something different,” he remarked.

Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Michael Alao, the chairman, Local Organising Committee, described the festival as iconic, adding that: “It brings out the uniqueness of the Ogori person. It is our pride as a people. It is a festival we inherited from our forebears and we have done all within our power to sustain it. I can assure you that it is one festival which message has not been corrupted by modernity or civilisation.”

In this year’s edition of Ovia Osese, the entire Ogori community was lively as the Ivia (maidens) were greeted by a loud ovation and applause as they filed out to perform their ritual dance. The local musical instruments were very captivating.

A cross section of those who attended this year’s event described it as very colourful. They lauded the performance of the Kwara State cultural troupe.

In an interview, the administrator of Ogori-Magongo Local Government Area, Hon. Goke Oparison, said he enjoyed every bit of the displays and praised the organisers for keeping the festival alive.

“I am impressed with all I saw, and of course it further confirms that this festival can compare and compete globally if supported by government and the private sector. Tourism is a big money-spinning event, and Ovia Osese can offer Nigeria that unique opportunity to earn foreign exchange from tourism,’’ he said.

Oparison, who announced a donation of N500,000 on behalf of his colleagues in the central senatorial district towards the promotion of the festival, assured of the commitment of the Governor Yahaya Bello-led government to the promotion of the cultures and traditions of communities across the state that would add value to the state.

While urging support for the government, especially the second term bid of Governor Bello, Oparison appealed to the governor to accord top priority to the completion of the Ageva-Ogori-Magongo road. He assured him of the continued support and loyalty of the people of the area.

The head of Nigeria Mission, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ambassador O.O Orevba, who was the chairman of the occasion and married to an Ogori daughter, said he was delighted that the people worked hard to preserve their culture. He described the festival as unique, pointing out that its message transcends all ages.

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