INCULTURATION OF EGUME EGBE FESTIVAL
Rev. Fr. Fidelis Ele-Ojo Egbunu at August 5th, 2013
EGUME EGBE FESTIVAL
REV. FR. FIDELIS ELEOJO EGBUNU
Copyright © Rev. Fr. Fidelis Eleojo Egbunu
C/O Catholic Secretariat,
Catholic Diocese of Idah,
P.O. Box 55, Idah,
Kogi State, Nigeria.
First published: July, 1991
Publisher: Pastoral Printing Press, Anyigba, Kogi State.
Truth lies beyond the mountains. One in search of it must travel to find it. Therefore, it is better to light one candle than to curse darkness. That is why the wise person checks what is on the fire before washing the mortar. So as to have any guidelines for celebrating Egume Egbe Festival in Idah diocese we should know what it is all about.
Egbe is an annual festival celebrated by Egume indigenes in Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State. It is celebrated with every fanfare. Not by the traditionalists alone. Both Christians and Muslims get involved in one way or the other.
Why is this festival celebrated at all? How is it celebrated, and what should be the Christian stand on Egbe festival? These and few other issues would be addressed in this short piece.
The Story Behind Egbe Festival
The Egbe festival came to stay as a result of kingship tussle between Akogwu Omaga and Akogwu Ohinekwu, both from Idah. After series of attacks and counter-attacks, Akogwu Omaga who was a gallant warrior, decided to settle at Egume with his supporters from Idah. But no sooner than later, than Akogwu Ohinekwu took pursuit of him to this settlement. Consequently, Akogwu Omaga, being so courageous and brave a man mercilessly dealt heavy blows on the warrior of Akogwu Ohinekwu ,putting nine of them to death. This is Akogwu Omaga, the indefatigable, the invincible fighter, and the mysterious. He is said to have got some ‘power’, the source of which was unknown to his rivalries. It was a top secret.
Nonetheless, being a great lover of peace, human dignity and of life, he never wanted continuous blood-shed. So he did the vicarious thing, revealing the secret of his valour. That he could be killed only by being hit on the neck with a pestle. No iron could do it. Neither could any sword, dagger nor gun. By a pestle alone could this ‘tiger’ of a warrior be defeated. That was how he brought the war to an abrupt end. This wasn’t any easy decision. It meant acting a woman, losing an ambition, and above all, losing one’s life for the sake of others. He was eventually killed and his head was taken to Akogwu Ohinekwu at Idah.
Though happy to have emerged victorious, Akogwu Ohinekwu ordered that his head be returneed to his people at Egume and be buried honourably in appraisal of his heroic deeds. It is in virtue of this that Egume people held Akogwu Omaga in high esteem up till today. He is most beloved of all Chiefs. The head is said to be buried in the present site of Egbe Festival Shrine. On this site are buried his successors. However, his own tomb remains ever distinct.
The festival actually began with the planting of Egbe tree on the tomb of this hero. Egbe festival therefore became an annual affair to commemorate the heroic deeds of Akogwu Omaga. Consequently, he is deified and appeased to keep watchful eyes on the land.
Ritual Sacrifices and Practices Involved
In preparation for the festival, hunters go on hunting expeditions, the livers and kidneys of such games go for sacrifices to the ancestors. They also make sacrifices in appeasing the god of fertility (for soil, domestic animals and women folk). This is known as “An?-eche.” The next and the final stage of preparation is “Adale-eche” (to appease the gods for this stream) after which the “?r?g?l?wu” (i.e. the chief priest) announces the day the festival would be celebrated. In this final stage, libations are poured at the Adale stream to push or wash away all evils from the land.
On the day of the festival, all ?m?-descendants are expected home. Farmers are forbidden from going to farm. Any defaulter would be squarely dealt with by the divinities. Special dresses are worn and everybody in Egume this day is supposed to wear a festive air.
It is believed, the festival does not only ward off evils from the land but purifies the land, ushers in peace, good health, prosperity, good harvest and fertility.
As a matter of fact, the festival itself is celebrated at Egbe forest. Ritual sacrifices are made here at the grave of each of the chiefs. Nine shrines are kept at this graveyard with that of: Akogwu Omaga being the tenth. The Egbe plant symbolizes eternity and more so, the immortality of Egume chiefs. The plants have the characteristics of withering in the dry season only to rejuvenate in the rainy season. It is in this regard that the people hold that, though Akogwu Omaga was killed and buried, his spirit still lingers. He is not dead. He has only gone to rest. This forms the basis of the strong traditional belief that the chiefs of Egume never die. And this is the more reason why they continue to look unto them for assistance.
The ceremony starts with ritual sacrifices to the departed chiefs. Goats are slaughtered. Akogwu Omaga takes one while the other goes to the father of the incumbent chief. Akogwu Omaga is given the pride of place because of his power in war. He is said to have lived a life of blood and iron. That is also why the four lineages join in sacrificing to the Akogwu before those of their fathers. After making the sacrifices, the blood is sprinkled at the bottom of the “Akpa” (iron-wood) beside the grave. Balls of pounded yam are also sacrificed. Tradition demands that these sacrifices are brought by the sons and daughters of the departed chiefs. But where they fail to do so, the reigning chief improvises. The ?r?g?l?wu presides over the whole ceremony using a good deal of incantations. The meat to be offered is only roasted and can be eaten by anybody who is not involved in witchcraft. It is also believed that those eating can stubbornly fill other people’s stomachs for them if they keep on watching them unnecessarily.
Funeral dirges are sung and special drummers and dancers continue to keep the whole atmosphere agog until later in the day when the “Abahi” (Effigy) is lifted for procession to the chief’s palace. This effigy symbolizes the coming home of the dead. While the procession leaves the graveyard, anybody behind the effigy is forbidden to look back. It is said that he who infringes this rule would see the late king and some old women – which is a bad omen. Similarly, the reigning chief does not see the effigy. If he sees it he would die instantly.
As soon as the procession reaches the main road there is a temporary road-block until it reaches the Onu’s (chief’s) palace. The people continue with folk songs, funeral dirges and dances. They bear leaves in their arms adding excitement to the whole atmosphere. The youth especially, sing unique songs, running to and fro the effigy till the procession ends at dusk.
Right in front of the effigy is a sword-bearer usually the ?r?g?l?wu who displays the sword used by the hero. Inside the canopy too are two bearers of “Ugba-?bo.” These should be teenage girls who are virgins and are not under menstruation. The “Ugba” (plate) contains materials for the ceremony.
The whole day is marked with festivities. People wine and dine to their fill. The only soup accepted by custom on this day is “Abaro”
When the procession finally arrives in the Onu’s palace, the people are later treated to a variety show of cultural activities ranging from songs and dances to displays. The chief could also make out time to address the guests, with his Gagos, Aides in attendance and other traditional Rulers in Egume. The talk could be centered on Egbe – festival, its origins, meaning and significance.
An Egbe festival could turn out to be female (?ya) or male (?k?). It is said to be male when despite the whole ceremony, people experience famine, disease, accidents, death of domestic animals, poor harvest and hardships. If it is “Egbe- ?ya” the direct opposite holds sway, there would be plenty of food, property and fertility in the women folk. An Egbe is considered masculine, when, for instance, it rains before the procession ends and if it does not rain within the first three, seven or at most, fourteen days after the festival, in a bid to set things right, sacrifices are made at the Adale stream.
The Christian View-Point
The festival contains a good deal of points for the lover of God to consider. Foremost is that it unites all “?me” descendants who come from both far and near. They bury all differences, heal old wounds, forgive and reconcile with each other in preparation for the festival. This oneness fosters great sense of patriotism in every indigene, that all may work for the progress of the land.
Furthermore, it is one of the ways of paying homage to the deceased heroes. Like the Church canonizing heroes of the faith, those who have really loved and served their fellowmen, and set them as models for the living. And as the Holy Writ exhorts, “Remember your former leaders…….Think back on how they lived and died” (Heb. 13.7). Model heroes of old are to other religious traditions what saints are to the Church. We learn from their experiences (Sirach 6:33-35).
Egbe also helps in preserving the people’s culture. And every child is supposed to be an heir to all the ages. Therefore, it is incumbent on the child of any generation and culture to inherit and transmit the culture to the succeeding generation. For instance, Jesus took some of the customs of his people when He used mud and saliva to heal a blind man (John 9:6). The ancients used spittle from a fasting person to heal. In fact, the theology of inculturation encourages us to love traditions. If for instance we find any good in the traditional religion we should take it, truth does not contradict truth. A case in point is the usual dynamism and joyfulness in traditional worship.
However, there are some elements of these beliefs and practices, which the Christian should guide against or shun entirely.
The traditional belief that the Egume chiefs never die could be misconstrued for the Christian profession of the immortality of the soul. For God’s faithful, people’s life is changed not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven. Whereas the traditionalists believe that the chief lingers on and the body is only ‘going to rest’. This is why they offer sacrifices to them to avert their rage and ask for blessings. But the Gospel truth is that the dead ancestors have no power to harm anybody; they themselves, if they are not in heaven are looking for help from us (we believe in praying for the dead). The sovereign Lord condemned pagan worship (Hosea 4:11-19). And Zeus’ observation a couple of centuries ago (in Hume’s Odyssey) holds much water here.
“How foolish men are:
How unjustly they blame the gods.
It is their lot to suffer,
But because of their own folly
They bring upon themselves sufferings
Over and above what is fated for them.
And they blame the gods”
We must, however, be careful so as not to throw the baby with the bath-water.
GUIDELINES BY BISHOP E.S. OBOT ON EGBE FESTIVAL
As we continue to study the meaning, significance and modes of celebration of the Egbe festival, the following guidelines must be observed in Egume parish:
(i). The celebration of Egbe should not prevent Catholics from fulfilling their Christian obligations e.g Holy Mass on Sunday following the festival.
(ii). Hence there should be Mass (or Masses) on Egbe day and on Sunday after it at convenient times. Within the Masses, especially at the prayer of the faithful, prayers should be offered for the dead/living, for peace, progress unity, etc. of the community and nation. Special collections for the poor and for offering Masses for departed Catholics can be made too.
(iii). A week of Christian activities preceding Egbe festival should be organized by the parish e.g a retreat for some days, penitential service with confessions, Christian drama, dance groups, games etc…
(iv). No Catholic should take part in carrying the effigy.
(v). No Catholic should visit the Egbe shrine during the celebration of the festival. Visiting the shrine can tempt someone to participate in the food sacrificed to idols and cause scandal to non-Christians. Jesus Christ is our only Redeemer who has brought about the forgiveness of our sins. No animal’s blood can wash away sins (cf. Hebrew 10:4-5).
(vi). Carrying of traditional masquerades is detrimental to our Christian faith e.g Ukpokwu, ?lagenyi, Ajamalede, Adaka etc. The brutality with which innocent travelers are treated in the course of the procession is against Christian love and justice.
+ E. S. Obot,
Bishop of Idah
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