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Ukpor ready for Igba Asara

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FOLLOWING the spread of falsehood over the staging of the once in a lifetime feast of Ịgbo Asara in Ụkpor, the President. General of Ukpor Improvement Union (UIU), Chief Emmanuel Nwachukwu (Ọnọdụgo) has, cleared the air and thrown more light on the upcoming  Ịgba Asara 2019 Cultural  Festival of the community.

Speaking in his country home, Rosewood Logue, Umuhu Ukpor in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State, Chief Emma told journalists that Ịgba Asara Ukpor was the biggest cultural festival celebrated by the community at the periodic intervals of 10, 15 or even 20 years. He traced, he the origin of the   festival to Ọgụ Agbaja (War of Agbaja) which was an intercommunal war between the people of Ukpor in the present-day Nnewi South Local Government and the people of Nnewi in the present-day Nnewi North Local Government. Ukpor people emerged victorious, after killing Metuh, the then greatest and most dreaded warrior of Nnewi.

The war, according to him, was caused by unwarranted and undeserved maltreatment from the then King of Nnewi ,who would always compel the young men and women of the neighbouring communities to take particular days that they would go and work for him, and which they were to go with their foods and water, as there were no provisions for any refreshment made by the king, who they said, never rewarded, entertained nor appreciated the labourers in anyway. Hence, as Nwachukwu noted, the then newly emerged Ukpor king determined to put an end to such an inhumane act; and consequently issued an order condemning and prohibiting that. This, he said, infuriated the king of Nnewi, that he pronounced a war against those neighbouring communities for their act which he termed ‘rebellious’; and they began the war with their nearest community which is the present-day Ukpor, which preparedly had already united and strategized with the nine villages that made up the Ekweteghete, being the general name of the nine villages that were subjected to the unrewarded compulsory labour.

As Nwachukwu noted, it was in celebration of this victory which Ukpor recorded in the War of Agbaja that the then king (Eze Obiukwu) now decided to kill a cow for the people and call for merriment; of which the other villages which shared in the victory ‘hit their chests’ and determined that they would also bring their own cows, all of which were then sampled and hauled round the village square, with a view to knowing which village came with  the biggest cow. He said these cows were thereafter killed and used for merriment which was then named ‘Asara’, coming from the Igbo word ‘Saraka’ which implies merriment.

Debunking the superstitious and spurious assumptions by people that the Asara Festival has a linkage with a deity known as ‘Udo Ukpor’, Chief Nwachukwu who reminded the assumers that there is a different between culture and religion, maintained that, currently, the festival is not done in honour of any idol, nor has it any modicum of link with the Udo Ukpor. He pointed out the fact that the festival had far begun before the lady called Udo (who later became the wife of Eze Obiukwu) came from Alor, and was later on deified Udo Ukpor after her death, due to her great exploits and heroism in those days.

This assumption and belief, he said, has always been the major source of the controversies surrounding the celebration of the festival in this present time, as is also being witnessed in this forthcoming celebration slated to hold between 22nd to 27th April, as Christians in the community continue to disagree vehemently that the celebration has nothing to do with idolatry, even after the town’s apex body (Ukpor Improvement Union) and other influential citizens of the community, such as Chief Mbazulike Amaechi and others  have committed both their resources and times in adjusting some of the ways by which the celebration was being done in the olden days, to suit and be in line with the modern belief and religion (Christianity). According to him, these adjustments have gone to the extent of creating avenues for people to now take their cows to the church during the celebration, for Reverend Fathers to bless them, rather taking them to any deity or through elsewhere as was being done before.

He said: “All these and many other adjustments are aimed to buttress and prove to the people that even though the festival may have had any idolatry linkage in the past (because Christianity hadn’t come to our people by then, and our forefathers only worshipped idols) Asara, currently is just a festival with no single strand of idolatry in it.

“Most of these ‘adjustments’ and ‘cleanings’ kicked off since 1985, and so many things have been jettisoned; yet there have always been controversies, each time the community sets to celebrate the festival.”

These were pointing to an order recently issued by the Council of Catholic Priests in Ụkpọr, warning that no member of Catholic Church in the community should partake or participate in the festival, as any one caught in the celebration would be deservedly dealt with. This, which was made known by Rev. Fr. Ifeanyi Igwe, who spoke on behalf of the Council of Catholic Priests in the community, citing the order as coming from the  an order from Catholic Bishop of Nnewi  Dioceses, Most Rev. Hillary Okeke, who issued it after the council wrote him, informing him of the festival, the controversies therein and why they think their members should not partake in it. These reasons were classified into three, as was made known by Fr. Igwe, with the first harping on their assumption that the festival is celebrated in honour of an idol; the second being that it has been fixed to be celebrated during the octave week (Easter Period); and the third being on their allegation that the festival was proclaimed and fixed by an unbeliever, which, according to them, should not be so, if the community actually wants Christians to take part in it. Among others, the Catholic Community also alleged that the person who fixes and proclaims Asara Festival does not always stay alive to celebrate the festival, ,which they said justified their claims that the festival has an idolatry linkage.

It is worthy to note that the Anglican and the Pentecostal churches in the community had earlier said that they would not be part of the festival, laying hold on nothing as their reasons for such decision.

However, in a reaction to the claims and  the order by the Catholic Community, Nwachukwu noted that the 2019 Asara Festival was proclaimed by a well-known gentleman and Christian in the community, known as Mr. Basil Agusi (Dara Nwakobe), as against the assumptions of some people that it was proclaimed by an unbeliever. He said that, traditionally, it is the onus of a ‘Dara’ ozo title holder (as the PRO) to fix or proclaim Asara, being the reason why it was Dara Nwakobe, the current head of Dara ozo title holders in the community that proclaimed this year’s own.

He also said that the 2019 Asara celebration will not restrict any other celebration in the community, as the Culture and Tourism Committee of the town has declared that everybody should go ahead and celebrate or hold whatever event he or she has that period, as all these celebrations will now indirectly be part of the Asara celebration.

He explained that the  committee has long fixed an inter-denominational service as part of activities slated to herald the Asara celebration, re-emphasizing that the present day leadership of the community, which is made up of Christians have long resolved to jettison idolatry from all the cultures and festivals celebrated by the people.

Reaffirming the community’s stand on the celebration, he said that the Catholic church’s threat to their members, no doubt, also constitute a major threat to the celebration, because Ukpor people obey and respect priests of God; but also noted that they would continue to engage the church in dialogue till better and convincing resolutions are reached by the parties, which was the condition given by Bishop Okeke who promised to withdraw the restriction order he issued once the Catholic community in the town also write to him that a convincing end has been attained. He said the community will go on with the festival as planned.

He however, advised ndi Ukpor never to take their cows to any idol that day, but rather take them to church for priests to bless them; charged them not to disturb anybody or disrupt any activity in course of the celebration; and called on the Catholic community, other denominations and other religious leaders in the community to see reasons in what the union is saying, and start view Asara as a pure cultural festival now done without any iota of idolatry in it, and hence be part of the celebration without any fear of having their faiths being tampered with.

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