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Making Imoka more cosmopolitan

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CULTURE is regarded as the totality of man. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines culture as the way of life especially the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time.

Everything that defines a man’s modus operandi is his culture. Respectively, the traditions accompanying a certain culture must be in sync with the norms and value systems surrounding a particular set of people.

Looking at the cultural festival of Awka; named, ‘Imoka,’ marked a few weeks ago, there are various angles to appreciating the cultural festival apart from the idea behind the celebration.

Awka is the state capital of the industrious state, Anambra. The choice of it as a capital was originally based on a number of ideas but most especially, the creative ingenuity of the indigenes. The culture of  Awka peoples dates far back to millenniums.

As the forefathers agreed within themselves; the monkey is  honoured and worshipped because it served as their deity. Thus, the lines: ‘Onye Oka na- aso enwe'( An  Awka indigene honours and worships the monkey ). Just like the Idemili people have the python as their deity, so, it is with  Awka people and the monkey.

At the beginning of the festival, the chief priest of the shrine beckons on the gods and appeals for peace and harmony on the land. Thereafter, he motions to the different leaders of the masquerade cult to carry on with their activities of entertaining guests and residing indigenes.

Most of the leaders of the cult happen to be youths between the ages of 16-30years. The masquerades, referred to as Mmuo (Spirit) is accompanied by acolytes bearing long and heavy sticks and some props like the African flute.

One elder statesman and indigenes of Awka, who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that in the olden days , the Mmuo would beat anyone who comes across his way in an untraditional way; supported by his acolytes. This particular scene of the drama-in-action elicits the entertainment and is the creative part of the festival.

Of recent, there has been rising cases of attacks on humans and valuable properties during the period of this festival. Visitors and non-indigenes residing in the city especially in the inner towns where it is in high gear usually live in fear.

Cultists use the opportunity of hiding in the camouflage of Mmuo to attack and kill rival parties. Some others use the opportunity to extort money from people, whilst refusal would warrant a swing of the long, heavy stick.  In short, the period of celebration seems to become a moment of pain and agony to others, especially non-indigenes.

Although the new generation seems to lack the care and understanding of the intricacies and ills it is causing to their image and that of the entire Awka and Anambra State in general, the appear to have understood that the once cherished festival is turning to something else.

Just a week before the last festival, the elders-in-council met and initiated a special taskforce to checkmate the excesses of those practically involved in the cultural display. Why? You may ask. The simple answer is this: insecurity of lives and property.

Although this years celebration did not go without record of deaths, injuries and destruction of properties, the elders-in-council cum the state government deserve accolades for taking drastic measures such as the existing one to curtail unforeseen and dangerous excesses and at the same time, reflecting and upholding core traditional values. One can imagine what would have happened without having such security measures in place.

Have you ever experienced or heard of the Calabar Carnival, the Mbaise festivals? Have you had a taste of the Tiv Cultural Festival? What about the ‘Iri agha’ (war dancers) of the Ohafia people? These aforementioned festivals have become avenues for tourism, attracting guests within and in diaspora. It is so because the people concerned took a decision to make it fun and entertaining.

To further promote the cultural standards and values of the Imoka festival and curtail cultural shock, more of the creative and entertaining aspects should be reconsidered, along with its grotesque parts.

The elders-in-council, traditional rulers, president general, indigenes and major stakeholders must endeavor to envision and project this culture and tradition positively to the full glare of the globe in a manner that is more befitting and welcoming to tourists, within and outside the country.

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