The age-long Ofala festival is an Igbo festival that is arguably an Anambra festival as most of the towns where it is first done are in the state. It is practiced in Onitsha, Umueri, Umuoji, and other neighboring communities such as Aguleri, Nnewi, and Ukpo in the Dunukofia Local Government Areas, etc. It is also celebrated by few royalties in other states under different names. For instance, Arondizuogu in Imo state calls it Ikeji.
As an Abian or Imo indigene, it will take quite some explaining to understand this festival but no explanation might do justice to it. Ofala festivals are better witnessed than told. Next time you make it to the east of Niger during the Christmas period, plan to attend one. This post will try to do justice.
What is Ofala – and the origin
Ofala is from the word Ofo (An Igbo way of establishing authority) and Ala (land). This festival is a celebration and rite of renewal of the person holding the Ofo of the ala. The renewal is held every year by the king or Igwe or Obi, usually the traditional monarch of the community.
The Ofala’s origin can be traced back to the Benin kingdom where the people of Onitsha are said to have originated from. It is celebrated as the Igue Festival annually by the Oba of Benin. Some historians also believe the festival is related to the New Yam Festival in Onitsha. Ofala festival is also similar to the Ine, Osi or Ogbanigbe Festival observed in many Midwestern Igbo communities (Anioma) of Nigeria. It has been refined to what we have today as the Ofala Festival.
The Distinct Ofala Ceremony
To mark the Ofala festival, the monarch goes into his chambers for one week with no communication with the outside world. It is called Inye Ukwu na Nlo. He is said to be offering prayers, giving thanks to the gods for the lives of his subjects, offering sacrifices, and undergoing spiritual cleansing.
At the end of the week-long ritual, he comes out to take a spiritual walk around the town. During this walk, he is seen blessing his people and their land for the coming year and planting season. That is one of the reasons why the Ofala is celebrated after the harvest season. The Ofala is a two to three days festival.
On the first day after the Igwe ended his one-week spiritual cleansing, the monarch reveals himself to his people. The date for this is an exact match to the date he was installed as the King.
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The ceremony starts with the monarch’s procession; he takes a walk of cleansing and prosperity around his community, pouring blessings on them. He does this adorned in custom-made regalia with crowns and feathers and is accompanied by his Queen(s), household, chiefs, elders, and other officials in his palace.
After that, the title conferment ceremony for the year commences. Men who are eligible to hold titles and awards are recognized and inducted. There is always a lot to eat and drink for those in attendance.
On the second day, The king takes his seat on his throne to receive felicitations from all and sundry. All deities of the land, represented by their masquerades and totems make grand entrances into the king’s throne room to pay homage. They also display their prowess and potency.
All titled chiefs make entrances into the event with their subjects, trumpeters, drummers, and dancers. They make their way to the King’s throne and take a bow with their gifts in hand. This might look chaotic but each titled chief is assigned a beat peculiar to him and a dance step to suit his beat and title.
Government officials, captains of industries, top civil servants, brands, celebrities, and the general public pay homage to the throne with their gifts and felicitations, and the throne, in turn, gives them its blessings.
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At the peak of the occasion, the King “ga ago ofo oma” (Invoke good tidings on the community using his authority). This is a prayer of wealth, prosperity, good health, abundance, and peace on the land and its people. There is jubilation, dancing, merriment, meet and greet, among the people.
The King is given time to recount the activities of the previous year, and visions for the coming year.
The throne also uses this as an avenue to raise funds from well-to-do men. These funds are used for community projects executed in the coming year.
Traditional drummers entertain the crowd in attendance to good music as they sing, dance and “jollificate”.
Some communities hold Ofala annually while others hold within a 3 to 4 years gap. Asides from the usual Ofala, there is an Ofala called “The last Ofala” this is the Ofala after the Monarch dies. It is the most iconic and it symbolizes the enthronement of another King.
Indigenes (and residents) always look forward to Ofala celebrations, it is a time to give thanks to the ancestors for sparing their lives and giving them a bountiful harvest. It is a time to have fun and make merry.
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