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When Irewha hunting festival unites Shafa-Abakpa locals

The cultural parades vary. For some sections of the Hausa, it is traditional boxing – Dambe.  Ojude Oba, OsunOlojo festivals are known for the Yoruba…

The cultural parades vary. For some sections of the Hausa, it is traditional boxing – Dambe.  Ojude Oba, OsunOlojo festivals are known for the Yoruba in Ogun and Osun states respectively. In the East, the festival could come in the form of New Yam festival. During these festivals celebrated periodically, there are cultural displays including masquerades of different kinds to entertain guests.
It is the same with the people of Shafa-Abakpa. The community, rich with historical monuments, is reputed to be among the communities first visited by the colonial masters. Its hunting festival, Irewha festival, can be likened to the Osun Oshogbo festival in Osun State and Argungu fishing festival in Kebbi State.
Shafa-Abakpa, in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, is predominantly made up of the Egbura speaking people.
Last month, all roads leading to Shafa-Abakpa for the annual hunting festival were busy. Youths garbed in befitting hunting garments, wielding hunting tools such as dane guns and arrows, took to the forest in pursuit of the grand prize.
Expectedly, the hunter with the largest catch goes home with a reward.
The festival, which attracts bigwigs from different parts of the country as well as tourists, is traced to one of the founding fathers of the community, Ikaka. Residents have about eleven months to prepare for the festival. It is celebrated with sporadic gunshots and a show of strength amongst youths while girls between the ages of 12 and 15 also add color to the event through a beauty pageant. The winner of the pageant is crowned queen of the occasion.
To commence the event, fierce looking youths of the community march into the forest, adorned in black attire, and clutching their Dane guns, chanting war songs and incantations.
Their catch from the forest are displayed with a reward for the person with the biggest catch. “The fun is not in the reward but in participation,” a resident told Aso Chronicle.
Legend has it that the Irewha hunting festival was initiated centuries ago by Ikaka, a great hunter nicknamed Ada-Ugbe, meaning, ‘father of hunting’ by the community members due to his bravery and expertise in hunting.
Ikaka, a chief in the village, had instructed his son (Onda) to stage a hunting festival after his death, which should be accompanied with merriment. The hunting festival as instructed by the late warrior should be carried out to appease his spirit.
The Irewha hunting festival has today been transformed to an event that attracts people from various walks of life from within and outside the country. They gather every December 27.
The national president of Shafa-Abakpa Community Association (SACA), Barrister Muhammed Zubair, said the hunting festival encourages people, especially indigenes residing outside the community and country to return home at the end of every year to unite and address some challenges facing the community.
“The Irewha hunting festival has provided a forum for unity, peace and progress since its inception among Egbura speaking people. And through this forum, there have been amicable achievements on issues of our common interest where a lot has been achieved,” he said.       
He added that the festival has become a bridge for the integration and transformation of the community’s ancestral heritages, adding that it has helped in sustaining discipline, hard work and other virtues in the community.
Zubair, however, said the event became necessary because it takes place at a time when the natives come home to discuss the problems bothering the village and in turn look for solutions to them.
He called on the government to help provide more boreholes to the community, adding that as the population of the community keeps growing, the boreholes available are no longer sufficient.
The president urged political aspirants from the community not to see politics as a do-or-die affair, but an avenue to impact meaningfully into the lives of the people, who had voted them into office.
He therefore called on the youth to embrace peace as it was only with peace that development will exist in the area.
Also speaking, the Ohimegye of Igu, Koton-Karfe, Alhaji  Abdurazaq Isa Koto, who was the chairman of the occasion, solicited for financial support from both state and federal governments for the Irewha festival to be upgraded to international standard. He said if it is upgraded, it would serve as a tourist attraction, which will in turn, generate revenue for the government.
He observed that the hunting festival is not only aimed at uniting the Egbura tribe but is also meant to attract both local and foreign visitors.

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