Okwa oji. (Kola Nut bowl) kolanut container
Offering of kolanut to visitor(s) in Igbo land is very important to the people of Igbo land in the South East of Nigeria.
This is the first presentation to visitor(s) and it is normally presented to male by male, a woman can bring it and give it to man to present to the visitor and if a female visitor is there, he can only show it to her by saying (Oji Abila) Kola has come. The seniority in presentation of it is highly observed as the kola nut is normally given to the nearest brother by the person who brought it and he will locate his senior in the family or community before presenting to the visitor(s), after that it will be bless, this is the mark of receiving their guest and wishing him well.
In Ezinihitte Mbaise local Government Area of Imo state in Nigeria, the Kolanut is a cultural festival which is celebrated every 1st January of every year and it is rotated among the communities involve.
THE ORIGIN OF THE OJI EZINIHITTE CULTURAL FESTIVAL
The Oji Ezinihitte cultural festival dates back to the settlement of the people of Ezinihitte at Orieukwu Oboama-na-Umunama, the seat of their God. It is a refined form of the old annual worship of Chileke-Oha by the people.
When the people migrated to their present abode, they found a god for themselves who they believed guided and protected them in their journey. Earlier, various forms of worship took place but the major one was the ancient worship of the Orie market days and was attended by all the kindred, villages and towns of Ezininhitte. Sacrifices, rituals and supplication were usually made to the god. Votaries would bring fowls, goats, sheep, kolanut (Oji) and "Nzu" or "Ufara" for sacrifices.
After whatever remained would be prepared for the merriment of the people. Kola (Oji) and "Nzu" (Native Chalk) used in offering were broke and put in Okwa-Oji (Wooden Saucer). Villages would come according to their order of seniority to take kola nut and Nzu, e.g. the oldest village would take its own and call the town after it to come and collect. It continued in that order until all the communities got theirs.
The above ritual practices was the major activity displayed before god. It served as a roll-call of the communities to know which ones were absent and also as communion of the identity. This practice became popular and so came to be known as "Ichi-Oji" (taking of kolanut). This concomitant activity in the worship of Chileke-Oha kindled anxiety in every Ezinihitte son
The annual worship was abandoned following the embracing of Christianity by the people and colonization of Nigeria by Britain and condemnation of "paganism" by the Christians as ungodly, all taken together led to the death of the old worship which later revived by the Ezinihitte leaders and re-christened "Oji Ezinihitte Cultural Festival". The left out all "Pegan" practices, rituals, Sacrifices and took only "Ichi Oji" (taken of kolanut and Nzu) as was done by their forefathers.
THE AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITIES INVOLVED IN THE FESTIVALThe communities involved in the festival include
14. Ibeku, Umuhu and Lagwa (Okwuata) which is believed to be part of Ezinihitte were excluded in the Oji festival and never hosted it.
The festival begin rotating after the reformation by the leaders, among the thirteen autonomous communities. The Oji took place in its modified form, it started first at Oboama-na-Umunama in the year 1954 and was held every subsequent year on the new year day.
The second round of the festival started in 1966 also with Oboama-na-Umunama. After that, the military overthrew the civilians the same year and in the year 1967, the Nigeria Biafra civil war broke out and obstructed the festival. For the fact that Ezinihitte was equally involved in the war, the festival was kept aside until the war was over in 1970.
In the year 1977, Ife-na-Owutu hosted the celebration at Nkwo-Ife after which the rotation began again. Chokoneze hosted it in 1978, Ihitte in 1979, Eziudo in 1980, Akpodim in 1981, Amumara in 1982, Itu in 1983, Okpofe in 1984, Ezegbogu in 1985, Udo in 1986, Obizi in 1987 and Onicha in 1988. Onicha is the last to host and the festival continues from the first which is Oboama-na-Umunama and moved orderly.
THE EVE OF THE FESTIVAL
The festival of Oji in Ezinihitte is a reformation of the fetish worship of Chileke-Oha at Orieukwu. Just like the ancient worship, it is preceded by fascinating events. In the olden times the seven days peace-period precede the worship. For as long as the lasted, no one quarreled or fought with another. After the week of peace, the people would then go and worship Chileke-Oha. The festival today don’t observe the week of peace, rather what precedes the festival is the reception of the " Oba and Okwa Oji" which takes place on the evening of the 31st day of every December. The Oba/Okwa are carved artifacts rich in Cultural designs, symbolic of the Custom, Culture and tradition of Ezinihitte people.
THE HANDING OVER OF OKWA OJI
On the evening of the 31st December of the year, the Oba and Okwa-Oji are carried in a procession by the community that hosted the Oji last, to the community to host it on January first. The host community, waiting at the boundary between their community and the last host of the festival or at an agreed but convenient place , will carry the Oba and Okwa Oji. This will be heralded with cannon shots (ie 16 gun salute) known as (Ntu nala in Igbo), signifying the 16 (sixteen) traditional communities in the clan.
After welcoming their guest at the boundary, the host community will then lead the procession on their market square where their visitors/guest and the Oba and Okwa Oji will be received with cannon shots and cultural dances. The handing over shows the host community that they will formally host it; and the reception by them shows entire clan that they have accepted to host it and the festival will hold.
After rejoicing over the arrival of the Oba and Okwa, the gathering will proceed to where the Oba/Okwa will be preserved for use the next day, usually at the Eze’s palace or any other convenient place.
THE MAIN FESTIVAL AND ORDER OF HOSTING IT
As stated earlier, the ancient worship of Chileke-Oha was replaced by this festival and renamed Oji Ezinihitte Cultural Festival with Sacrifices, Rituals and fetish abandoned.
It holds every 1st day of January, the host community receives guest than ever and gifts also, from neighboring communities, Ndi Eze (Traditional Rulers) Ndi Nze, Chiefs, title men and women, friends, loved ones, invited and uninvited guest, visitors around the nation and government parastatals. They will all see that day in their homes or at the venue of the festival to say, happy new year!. On that day the members of the host community and neighboring town will be awakened by cannon shots (Ntu n’ala) to announce the beginning of the festival. The ancient Gong (Uhie) will be sounded also.
People will be moving to the arena of the ceremony as the hear the sound of the cannon shots and Uhie sound also. People gorgeously dressed will start arriving, even children will dress traditionally.. At the market square which is normally the venue of the ceremony, the traditional dance-songs will be booming heralding the festival. The popular traditional dance are, Abigbo, Ekpe, Agbachaekurunwa by women in different villages etc.
The arrival of the people to the scene is saluted by 21 cannon shorts as the take the canopy positioned to them according to their communities and they are entertained including the visitors outside the clan and government parastatals.
Oba Oji arrives and is received by the traditional rulers (Ndi Eze) of Ezinihitte Mbaise and heralded with 16 (sixteen) gun salute. The Oba and Okwa Oji are then carried to the arena by the men from the host town who must dress in a traditionally dignified manner led by traditional Rulers, Ndi Nze, chief, and other dignitaries from the town with cultural dance normally (Ekpe).The Oba and Okwa Oji are placed in a raised platform where everybody shall see it. The festival has begin.
The Master of Ceremony (MC) will start announcing the chairman of the occasion after taken his seat and the taken of seats by the members of the High Table, the opening prayer will be said and "Ekpe" dance take the air, pounding carefully the "Nkwa Ike" (power Dance) to welcome all guests. After the Ekpe dance cease, the Chairman will make his opening Remarks and the welcome address will be read by the hosting community . After that, the Ekpe Dance starts again, at this juncture, the Oba Oji, with the Kolanut, the "Okwa" and "Nzu/Ufara" in it, will be presented by the host community with cannon shots, Dane guns, double barrels, and cap guns; thus presenting long life. The Kolanuts are then scooped out into the Okwa (small carved bowls) numbering (16) sixteen and some extras for those other groups and neighbouring communities to whom kola nuts will be extended to. The traditional Rulers of the host community standing behind the platform where the Oba Oji is placed, hands over the Okwa containing kolanuts and Nzu to communities as they come with dances, the communities are represented by Ndi Nze and chiefs of their community.
NB: Kolonut is a token of goodwill from the host community to their visitors/stranger/guest and this shows that the visitors have been gladly received in Igbo. So the presentation of kolanut in this festival shows that the host community has welcomed the guest; starting the festival with kola and the new year particular , means starting them with long life, peace and prosperity which is in consonant with an Igbo adage which says "Onye Wetara Oji Wetara Ndu" meaning, He who brings Kolanut brings life. The presentation of kolanut in this festival is what brought everybody there and is the reason in which the crown is made.
After the presentation of kolanut, it will be blessed, then the Oji band (Ekpe will begin again. The trophy presented by Ezinihitte Heritage Club which they donated in 1987 and funds the redemption every year. The named it "Ezinihitte Unity Cup" (trophy). Any town that performs best in the Ekpe dance will be brought out. The judges for the dance will then take their position/seats.
Ezinihitte communities would be invited to receive the Oji and Ufara/Nzu in their Okwa Oji, with Ekpe Dance, starting with the eldest son or community of the clan- Oboama-na-Umunama. Each town, before receiving the Oji, will pay stated sum of money for the Oji. Individual wishing to take kola with money are allowed equally. After payment, the number of the people allowed from each community in the Ekpe dance all dressed in traditional attire (with or without masquerades) will be led by their traditional ruler into the arena, through the in-gate and will dance round the vicinity before carrying the kolanut and Nzu. After receiving their kolanut, the people shall leave the arena through the out-gate. Each group coming to receive their kolanut must dress in traditional wear of wrapper (down) and shirt/Chieftaincy (up) and must not be worn over trousers.
As the "Ekpe" souds so is the dancing. Each group is expected to dance to the rhythm and take of the dancing and lend colour and beauty to it. Any community that shows excellent and exceptional skill in the performance will be applauded by the observing crowd. They reception of Oji and Nzu/Ufara continued town by town according to genealogy as follows:
1) Oboama-na-Umunama the senior followed by 2) Ife-na-Owutu 3) Chokoneze 4) Ihitte 5) Akpodim 6)Amumara 7) Eziudo 8) Itu 9) Okpofe 10) Ezeagbogu 11) Udo 12) Obizi 13) Onicha and 14) Okwuato (ie. Ibeku, Umuhu and Lagwa) are the accorded the hosting right.
The judges seated at a raised platform will be busy selecting the best dancing community that will win the Ekpe trophy.. The gathering enjoying the melodious turn and satisfying their eyes with the dance applaud their favourite town(s). when the last son of Ezinihitte Onicha, Carried the last Okwa Oji guests will be served with kola, Nzu, "Ugba" (African salad), drinks of all types etc. this marks the climax of the festival. The noise produced by the Ekpe dance, dane gun, cannon shots, double barrels and the rhythmical chants of women is usually so thunderous that any person who is unaware may think that revolution or civil war is going on.
After the guest has finished what is served to them, the Ekpe trophy will be presented by the Chairman of the occasions or Ezinihitte social club. The vote of thanks will be moved after that, the ceremony will be declared closed. Ndi Eze will then depart and cannon shots will crack marking their departure and guests will start trooping out.