African Studies, Articles, Essays

Onwasato or Ilo Muo New yam festival in Nri

This is the biggest festival in Nri tradition. Some towns call it “Iri Ji” or “Iwa Ji” festival. Nri people call it “Onwasato” or “Ilo Muo” festival.

In keeping with the mystical aspect of “ji”-yam, Chukwu instructed Eze Nri to sacrifice his first son, to avert famine. Eze Nri obeyed God’s instruction, and yam sprouted on the grave of the son of Eze Nri. He distributed these yam tubers to his children. In memory of this event, Eze Nri ritualized yam as “Ifejioku”, and crowned it as the king of crops. On every 3rd market day of the eighth lunar month, September, of every year, Nri will offer Chukwu the first farm harvest as directed by “Chukwu”-God. In thanking Chukwu for a good harvest, the Ifejioku cult must be appeased as the cult of yam.

New yam would not be eaten anywhere in Nri, until after this ritual. But before this is done, twelve days before the feast, Nze na Ozo-titled men that claim to be holy would, in keeping with the culture and tradition, go down to the “Ajana” shrine called “Onuebo” to make atonements, and for cleansing of their souls and bodies before the ancestral spirits. Only those who are upright spiritually can perform this obligation. The evil doers and wicked titled men do not go near the “Onuebo” shrine for fear of sudden death that year or spiritual destruction. The clean “ozo” titled men go in, while others remain at the “Anu Oye” square, waiting for the upright “ozo” men to return from the sacrifice. It is always a thing of joy when they safely return from this pilgrimage.

On the Eke Market day; three days to “Ilomuo” festival, all married daughters (umu ada) are obliged to perform the “Ibu-Chi” ceremony. This ceremony consists of taking her husband and her children to her father with presents. These presents shall include: “asato ji”-eight tubers of yam, one big cock, two gallons of raffia palm wine-“ngwo”, one bottle of hot drinks, and “isi akwa”-some yards of cloth. Her father gets the hot drinks and her mother is presented with the clothes. After this is done, she would present her children to her father for blessing. The father also offers some particles of food to his “chi”. Those daughters (umuada) whose fathers have already died would travel down to their parental home to sacrifice to their dead father and ancestors. It is during that day that “Egbo”-a powerful artifact, is prepared at the entrance of every titled man’s compound. This “egbo” prevents any bad things or bad luck during the “onwasato” feasts. On the eve of “Onwasato” day, which is “Afor” market day, all hosts and their guests assemble at the Eze Nri palace to pay homage. “Ufea” music, which is the only music that “Eze Nri” dances, and other traditional dances are performed. Also wrestling contests among the villages are performed. In-laws, friends and well-wishers throng the community.

On that day also, all Nri people in diaspora are welcomed to their ancestral homeland. Some eminent Igbo sons that have ably represented Igbo interests are given titles and presented with “ofo’ and their feet washed with “ogilishi” leaves. “Ofo” staff is very rarely presented except to people of impeccable character. On the “Onwa Asato” or “Alomuo” festival proper, which must be Afor market day, all Ozo titled men, will as early as possible, slaughter all cocks available, depending on the number of male children and married daughters. The Ozo titled men will all go round in company of other members of his “umunna”-kindred, and perform the same ritual. All families in Nri shall be in a festive mood. It is like Christmas, as all children dress in their bests. Young women dress up for the occasion in anticipation of suitors. Young men on their own parts, shop around for young ladies to marry. Also it is during this period that aspirants to the “Ozo” title perform their final ceremonies or put up biddings for “ozo” title called “ifiko ofo”.

On the following day, being Nkwo market day is a feast of “Inya okuko”-roasting of chickens. All the “umunna”-kindred will gather at the “obu”-palace of the eldest “Ozo” titled man. Each family head will present all the cocks he slaughtered, at least three cocks, to the eldest “ozo” titled man. Rich men kill goats, rams or even cows. These cocks must be well cooked according to the age-long Nri custom and tradition. On the chickens, there must be no spice, no pepper, no salt and it must be consumed without palm oil or any other oil. It must be as white as snow. This according oral tradition is in accordance with what the Israelites experienced while in Egypt, they were ordered to bake bread without yeast. However, all kinds of dried fishes and meats are freely used to prepare sumptuous “egwusi” soup. Also pounded yams are prepared to go with the “egwusi” soups.

At the gathering of the “umunna”, all male adults from the age of eighteen and above, would be initiated into manhood. Each household will present their teenagers for initiation. However, if not physically present, they shall have their name registered with the Umunna. Ilomuo is a period of meeting and mapping out developmental strategies in the community. The feast of “Onwasato” will come to an end after three days of merriment. The guests will then go back with many gifts and food stuffs from their hosts.

CSN: 63324-2008-23-24

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