Igbo land is the home of the Igbo people and it covers most of Southeast Nigeria. This area is divided by the Niger River into two unequal sections – the eastern region (which is the largest) and the Midwestern region. The river, however, has not acted as a barrier to cultural unity; rather it has provided an easy means of communication in an area where many settlements claim different origins. The Igbos are also surrounded on all sides by other tribes (the Bini, Warri, Ijaw, Ogoni, Igala, Tiv, Yako and Ibibio). The Igbo culture celebrates a lot of cultural and traditional festivals from way back.
Below is a description of the different festivals present amongst the Igbo of today.
1. New Yam Festival
The Igbo New Yam Festival (also known as “Iwa ji”, “Iri ji ohuu”, or “Ike ji” depending on dialect) is an annual cultural festival held at the end of the rainy season in early August. The celebration is a cultural event that connects individual Igbo communities as primarily agrarian and reliant on yam. Yams are the first crop to be harvested and the region’s most important crop. The New Yam Festival is thus a celebration of the importance of yam in the social and cultural lives of the Igbo people.
The aim of the New Yam Festival is to officially present the newly harvested yams to God and the ancestors of the land. The festival is also an avenue to thank God for sustaining the life of the farmers, the indigenes of the land and the farm product (yam) through a successful planting season. The New Yam Festival is indeed a colorful event which is fast becoming a major tourist attraction. The New yam festival is celebrated throughout Igbo land and it is usually accompanied with cultural music and dance, wrestling, masquerade display etc.
2. A Celebration Of Royalty
This is the official cultural outing of the king and members of the cabinet in the year. The Ofala Festival is an annual ceremony practiced mostly by the Igbos of Anambra state especially Onitsha, Nnewi, Agulueri and Ukpo. The festival serves as a rite of renewal of the king or Obi. The festival is celebrated within two days mostly in October by the Obi. The festival marks the end of a period of retreat sometimes called “Inye Ukwu na Nlo” – when the Obi remains incommunicado and undergoes spiritual
purification for the good of the community. At the end of the week long retreat, the Obi emerges during the Ofala to bless his subjects and say prayers for the community. Ofala is celebrated annually beginning from the coronation of the Obi to his death, the latter of which is called “the last Ofala.
3. Ede Festival
Ede festival also called “Ede Aro festival” by the Abagana people of Anambra and amongst Enugu state is an annual cultural festival celebrated during the harvest of cocoyam. The Ede festival is a very colorful festival that celebrates the cocoyam, Women believes that if the sowing and harvesting of yam which is reserved for the males are celebrated, sowing and harvesting of cocoyam which is reserved for the female should also be celebrated.
4. Mmanwu Festival
Igbo land holds many festivities and cultural performances, most notably the masquerades and the new Yam festivals. Masquerades (Mmanwu) are held in accordance with the community native calendars during festivals, annual festivities, burial rites and other social gatherings. The masquerades are geared in colorful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only at one festival, but the majority appears at many or all. Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements, as according to Igbo belief, they represent images of deities or sometimes even dead relatives. The identity of the masquerade is a well-kept secret and performed exclusively by men.
In the past, masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and order and were primarily used as law enforcement agents. The whole village would come out for the ceremony of the colorful masquerades. While entertaining through dances and exhibiting extra-human feats, the masquerades would walk up to certain individuals and loudly expose any bad habits, crimes or misbehavior of that person. As people would always take corrections from these exposures, the masquerades were effective in keeping up with traditional norms and values in the communities.
5. Iwa Akwa Festival
The “Iwa-Akwa” festival is one of the most beautiful Igbo festival which is been celebrated every three (3) years interval. The Iwa-akwa festival is a cultural heritage of the people of Okigwe Senatorial District of Imo State and Enugu West Senatorial District of Enugu state, mainly celebrated by the people of Ugbo in Enugu state, the people of Mbano, Obowo and Etiti in Imo state. Although other communities does it such as Mbaise, Orlu, Abia state and some other communities of Enugu though with a different name. This is one of the beautiful cultures that has refused to die despite the claims of Christianity which has wiped other beautiful cultures. It also attracts so many tourists both from within and outside Nigeria.
The Iwa-akwa festival is a ceremony where young men who has come of age are been initiated into manhood and given the opportunities to make their contributions in social cultural and political affairs of the community.
6. Igu Aro Festival
Communities kicks off the annual planting season during the Igu Aro Festival. One of the most vibrant and widely observed festivals in Igbo land, especially in Umueri, is the Aro festival, also known as the “Igu aro.” Due to the economic significance attached to the Festival, it occupies a prominent place in the lives of the populace due to the fact that the Priest’s Oracular and Prophetic utterances predicts what will occur each year. This includes the priest’s prophecies about what to expect during the harvest season, such as: It was a sort of yearly prophecy or prediction on what would happen in the upcoming season, including whether there would be “Ugani” (famine), “Nsogbu” (problem), “Agha” (war), “Onwu” (death), etc. If the prophecy comes to pass, communities to flag off the annual planting season.
7. Ekpe Festival
Ekpe festival is a masquerade festival celebrate mainly by the Igbos of Abia state, River state and Nkanu people of Enugu state. Unlike the mmanwu festival which is the gathering of tens and thousands of different masquerades, this masquerade festival particularly celebrates the Ekpe masquerades. Ekpe festival is a lively cultural festival that attracts people from in and outside the state. Male children who have been initiated into the Ekpe masquerade, and are skilled in playing the cultural music, show their expertise in their culture while the masquerade performs the dancing. People appreciate the performances of the masquerade,
players and other individual dancers by donating money to them while the music is on.
8. Inne Festival
This festival which is more popular among the Igbos of Delta state and in most western Igbo communities. In Asaba, the capital city of Delta State which is one of the communities that celebrates the festival, it is a 5-day event holding in the five villages of Asaba. It is a celebration of war and of peace, and it features war dances, military-like parades, re-enactment of old battles, and other related events that spice up the annual event. Although with a different name, the festival is also celebrated among the eastern Igbo, especially in Abia state.
9. Odo Festival
Odo is a term used to describe the returning of the dead who spend up to six months with the living during the festival. The Odo festival is celebrated among the Northern Igbos of Enugu state especially among the Nsukka and the Udi people. The Odo appear as male and female masked figures played by men who are members of the death cult society, and whose identity it is required to keep secret. The Odo are first welcomed back with celebrations, and then make visits to their former homes, which result in more entertainment and gift giving. Their departure is a sad one, and engages the community in an emotional leave taking event before the Odo journeys back. This long festival is a celebration that requires extensive preparations and sacrifice for the community. Women are heavily involved in food preparation and performances as chorus members as well as audience. The creation of costumes and masks with plant fiber, leaves, beads, and feathers, although more durable cloth costumes are
becoming more common in contemporary Odo plays.
10. Igwa Nshi Festival
Igwa Nshi is a festival celebrated in Eke, Udi LGA of Enugu State. It is a celebration that reminds heroes of the past, victories against neighboring town. During the festival, villages that makes up the town always converge at the village square with their drums to entertain the guest. The event usually lasts for eight days.