anambra legacy-preserving our cultural heritage

Anambra’s Legacy: Upholding Igbo Culture and Preserving Our Heritage

Celebrating Anambra's Cultural Heritage: A Journey Through Festivals and Traditions

by Ikem Emmanuel

The Igbo culture shines brightly among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups, cherished for its rich traditions and customs. Central to their way of life is a deep respect for family bonds and community spirit, alongside a dedication to preserving their ancestral heritage. Known for their skilled craftsmanship in woodcarving, cloth weaving, and blacksmithing, the Igbo people also boast a vibrant musical tradition, highlighted by instruments like the Igba (wooden drum) and Ogene (metal gong).

Nestled within the heart of Igbo territory lies Anambra State, a symbol of unity and respect for elders. Here, a strong emphasis on education and hard work is intertwined with a profound connection to age-old customs and beliefs. Traditional festivals, such as the revered new yam festival, serve as joyous celebrations of Anambra’s cultural identity, adding to the depth and richness of this dynamic heritage.

Anambra’s Cultural Treasures: What Makes the State Unique

1. The Magnificent Ijele Masquerade

Among Anambra State’s cultural heritage treasures, one shines brightest: the majestic Ijele masquerade. Revered as the ‘king of all masquerades’ in Anambra and Igbo land, the Ijele is a spectacle to behold, adorned with 45 intricately crafted figurines atop its head, each representing different masquerades.

But the Ijele does not dance alone. An entourage of symbolic characters accompanies it, each playing a unique role in the performance. The graceful Nne Ijele, or mother, enchants onlookers with her elegant dance to the melody of flutes and soothing music. Meanwhile, Onuku, the father, commands attention with his imposing presence and ceremonial attire. Police officers stand guard, ensuring the safety of the parents and the palm wine tapper, who waits to catch the Ijele’s backside during its performance.

Guiding the Ijele is the Akupe carrier, wielding a symbolic fan that directs the masquerade’s movements. The performance begins with seven cannon gunshots and the stirring strains of royal music, signaling the start of this mesmerizing display.


More than just entertainment, the Ijele embodies profound cultural symbolism. It serves as a powerful emblem of peace, unity, and community spirit, uniting the diverse communities of Anambra State in celebration of their shared heritage.

As the beating heart of Anambra’s cultural landscape, the Ijele masquerade continues to captivate audiences and inspire awe, keeping alive the rich traditions and Igbo cultural heritage for generations to come.

2. The Mkpokiti Dance: An Iconic Expression of Anambra’s Cultural Splendor

Introduced by Chief Festus Okoli, fondly known as Ojimgba, in Umunze, Anambra State in 1959, the Mkpokiti dance swiftly ascended to prominence, marking its place in the annals of Nigerian and Igbo cultural heritage. Its moment of triumph arrived in 1970 when it clinched the top spot in a national competition, earning not just accolades but also substantial rewards, including a coveted gold gong.

Following this resounding victory, the Mkpokiti dance continued to soar, garnering recognition from the Nigerian government and captivating audiences both locally and internationally. Its prowess was further underscored by multiple victories on the global stage, including prestigious World Cup wins, cementing its status as a cherished national treasure.

With its dynamic movements, rhythmic beats, and spirited performances, the Mkpokiti dance stands as a testament to the vibrancy and richness of Anambra’s cultural heritage. As it continues to captivate audiences far and wide, the Mkpokiti dance remains a proud symbol of Anambra’s enduring legacy of artistic excellence and cultural splendor.

3. AfiaOlu Festival: Nnewi’s New Yam Celebration

The AfiaOlu Festival, a cornerstone of Igbo culture in Nnewi, Anambra State, epitomizes the enduring connection between the people, their land, and their traditions. As the festival approaches, anticipation builds as young ladies and men diligently prepare under the guidance of elders, learning traditional dances and adorning themselves in festival attire, often adorned with intricate body designs.

This meticulous preparation is a testament to the deep respect and reverence for ancestral customs passed down through generations. The festival itself is a spectacle of sights and sounds, with the rhythmic beats of drums filling the air as masquerade dancers take to the streets in vibrant displays of tradition and heritage.


The ritualistic disposal of yam residues symbolizes the cyclical nature of life and the importance of renewal, while the prohibition against the town’s chief priest and the supreme ancestral god from sampling fresh yams underscores the sanctity of the occasion. Through the AfiaOlu Festival, the people of Anambra State not only celebrate the bounty of the land but also reaffirm their commitment to preserving and honoring the timeless traditions that define their cultural identity.

4. The Grand Ofala Festival

The Ofala Festival, derived from ‘Ofo Ala,’ meaning the authority of the land, holds a revered place in the cultural fabric of Anambra State, particularly in Onitsha and Nnewi, where the esteemed Obi of Onitsha and Igwe of Nnewi reign with profound respect. This grand celebration commemorates the coronation anniversary of the reigning monarchs, symbolizing the enduring strength and unity of the Igbo community.

As the Obi of Onitsha and Igwe of Nnewi emerge resplendently adorned in symbolic regalia, they epitomize leadership and authority, commanding reverence from all who gather to pay homage. The Ofala Festival is a vibrant tapestry of colorful ceremonies, traditional dances, and elaborate rituals, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and regal splendor of the Igbo people. Through this annual event, Onitsha and Nnewi reaffirm their collective identity and cultural heritage, ensuring that the legacy of their ancestors endures for generations to come.


These few cultural practices, alongside numerous others, exemplify the rich heritage that the people of Anambra hold dear and are steadfastly committed to protecting. From the vibrant celebrations of the AfiaOlu Festival in Nnewi to the regal splendor of the Ofala Festival in Onitsha, these traditions serve as pillars of identity, uniting communities and preserving the essence of Igbo culture. As custodians of this cherished heritage, the people of Anambra remain dedicated to upholding and passing on these cultural treasures to future generations, ensuring that the spirit and legacy of their ancestors continue to thrive for years to come.


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