UZOIYI FESTIVAL: A SYNTHESIS OF RITUAL AND THEATRE

UZOIYI FESTIVAL: A SYNTHESIS OF RITUAL AND THEATRE

INTRODUCTION

This essay is borne out of the need to be conversant with our culture which is our identity.

However, it is imperative to state that no given society is static. We live in a dynamic world which has continued to evolve over the years. Umuoji, being part of the larger society is not left out of this trend as it continuously responds to certain existential reality, with concomitant changes in her culture and tradition.

Like I had earlier noted, societal progress is steady, as no known society is static.

Thus, the question begging for honest answer is: Has our progress as a community been northward, or southward in the last 30 years? That is, has it been on the positive side, or negative side? It is a compelling question that we should all individually provide answers to.

It will not be out of place, or rather asking for too much to admonish that we must work conscientiously, individually and collectively to leave behind a better community for generations unborn by adding values to our town. But, if on the other hand, one cannot add any value, the least I ask is that one should not devalue the community through ill – informed actions or inactions, which may be advertent or inadvertent.

Now, let us go straight to the discourse.

WHAT IS UZOIYI FESTIVAL?

Essentially, every community has at least a festival it is known with. Ogidi Community is known with Nwafor Ogidi which has given rise to the commonly used cliche in Anambra State: Ife Ogidi ga – emesi welu mee Nwafor. So many communities in Nsukka axis of Enugu State celebrate Odo Festival, the Ohafias, Arochukwus and some parts of Cross River State Ekpe Festival, Arondizuogu – Ikeji Festival among others.

Uzoiyi, which is among the numerous festivals in Umuoji is heavily rooted in traditional religious belief. Ikenga Metuh feels that : African Religion is part and parcel of the whole fabric of African cultural life. Religious phenomena are thus closely interwoven with social, psychological and moral dimensions. He goes further to say that: The invisible world of spirits and the visible world shade into and mutually influence each other. Man is at the centre of the universe of dynamic beings and forces, and seeks through rituals to maintain an equilibrium and a harmonious relationship with all beings and forces that impinge on his life and being.

Against the aforementioned background Uzoiyi is celebrated. Thus, Uzoiyi is a potpourri of ritual and histrionics. The annual event is dedicated to Idemmili, the river goddess. In the ages past, Umuoji people were predominantly farmers and therefore would need adequate rainfall to ensure bountiful harvest. To achieve that, the river goddess must be appeased by way of propitiatory sacrifice. The people believe that it is within the purview of the goddess to dispense adequate rainfall which in turn promotes good yield during harvest. Hence, the conclusion of the festival therefore marks the beginning of the planting season in Umuoji with the implicit belief of adequate rainfall.

It is pertinent to state that in the days past, Uzoiyi was purely a female affair because of the river goddess. It was an equivalent of what is today known as “Mothering Sunday” in some Christian Churches. During that period, men normally paid homage to their in – laws by way of giving them gifts such as: cloth, yam, cassava, cooking utensils etc.

Men started active participation in the festival with the incorporation of masquerade display to the event. Uzoiyi as it were never started as a masquerade – display festival as it is known today.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF UZOIYI TO A MASQUERADE – DISPLAY FESTIVAL

Relying heavily on the oral accounts of Chief Joseph Nwokeke Obadike from Abor Village who was President- General U.I.U from 1952 to 1977 and the author of the book, Umuoji on the March, Goodwill Press, 1962 and Ogbuefi Onwudili from Ideoma Village, literally an Umuoji – encyclopedia of sorts, Uzoiyi emerged as a synthesis of ritual and theatre after Onyekulufa, a midnight satirical masquerade from Ideoma Village threw a challenge to IleChukwu Nnaebue who had aversion for tree – climbing and some other activities that portray masculine virility. Onyekulufa told him that in the event of his climbing a palmtree and cutting down a Palm head, he would bare himself in day time (Igba ifienu).

Unexpectedly and surprisingly, Nnaebue climbed a palm tree and cut down a palm head to everyone’s amazement. At night on that day, as Onyekulufa sang, IleChukwu Nnaebue, with a sense of great accomplishment told him that he had fulfilled his own part of the challenge. As a result, Onyekulufa bared himself in sunlight with his wife, Akunkwo to the full view of everybody – both male and female, as well as grownups and toddlers. Coincidentally, Onyekulufa featured on Uzoiyi day.

The following year, Onyekulufa threw another challenge to another Ideoma man called Okoye Okaluide, telling him the same thing that he had told Nnaebue. Okoye took the gauntlet and did exactly like IleChukwu Nnaebue. Again, in keeping his integrity intact, Onyekulufa appeared in daytime and the appearance coincided with Uzoiyi Festival.

As time went on, Dianokwu Village borrowed a leaf from Ideoma and started featuring their own Onyekulufa. Amoji saw the emergence of Onyekulufa in daytime as a good innovation. Thus, Amoji copied from Ideoma and Dianokwu. Aguma became the fourth village to buy into the innovation, then followed by a stream of other villages in Umuoji. People started enjoying the performance. It became incorporated as part of Uzoiyi Festival. That happened between late 19th and early 20th century.

Umuoji leadership having seen something good in the theatrical display made a law which stipulated the rotational hosting of the festival by each of the 23 villages making up the town. The law equally demanded from the villages to feature a variety of masquerades, as featuring of only one type of masquerade ( Onyekulufa) had become monotonous. The law gave birth to a variety of masquerades that appear on Uzoiyi today. The host village made sure that it consulted rainmakers so as to forestall any rainfall during the masquerade display. Failure to do so, and the masquerades got beaten by rainfall attracted some fine to the host village.

Ezekwesili J. Chukwuemeka Rems Mgbemena JP KSM BA MBA MNIPR