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Mmanwu Festivity… Anambra’s rare cultural heritage

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Cultural practices distinguish a people from their neighbours.

  According to a handbook titled: Culture and Its Manifestations- Know Nigeria Series 3, a publication of Federal Ministry of Information, which was co-coordinated by Professor S.E Ogude in (1991), “culture as defined in the cultural policy, is the totality of a way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meeting to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organisation thus, distinguishing a people from their neigbours”.

  The publication also revealed that “culture involved dance, music, charms and incantations. It comprises material and non-material dimensions, and blends practical accomplishments, inspiring philosophies, oral traditions and abilities in man’s continuous efforts for development.”

  Dr Segun Oduko, writing on Drama for Rural Development in a book: Philosophy and Dimensions of National Communication Policy (vol2), edited by Dr Tony Nnaemeka etal, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation, noted that, “there are two forms of drama useful for rural development in Nigeria.

One is indigenous drama (masquerade and festivals), which has long been firmly established in rural settings, the other is the western form of stage drama) established in urban settings. Since 1840s, according to him, formal education in schools, theatre groups and mass media (particularly radio, television and film) have been propagating the western stage drama. He revealed that” the indigenous drama, on the other hand, has received less and less attention.

  As a result, indigenous drama is now less known and its value in society diminished. This is unfortunate because indigenous drama has considerable potential for effective dissemination of development messages”.

  Authors of National and State Festivals, Culture and Its Manifestations, Know Nigeria Series, revealed that” the festival has become a key vehicle for realisation of the objectives of national cultural policy.

In consonance with new demand, the concept of the festival has further broadened to accommodate new ideas which are geared towards technological development and seeks to promote indigenous creativity, generate employment opportunity, and establish a base for self- reliance”.

  The publication, also insightfully noted- “its presentation has been consciously designed to promote patriotism and national discipline for a proper social cohesion, which will eventually supplant and substitute present dependence on foreign imports and provide a basis for all-round independent development”.

  Mmanwu Festival is a festival of spirits and ancestors. Know Nigeria Series 3 revealed that “the supernatural plays a very distinct role in traditional administration. They embodied in the masking traditions of the Middle Belt zone and Southern states.

The publication, informed, the member of various masking societies transmogrify into ancestors or incarnate elemental forces and spirits. These masks were originally used as law-enforcers, guardians, messengers and entertainers and were greatly revered by the people”.

  In addition, “the demand to contemporary living have eroded the importance of these masks thereby living them in modern uses as mere vestiges of ancient belief, tokenly displayed as reminder of their past position in the society.

  Therefore, to preserve this manifestation of our cultural heritage, the Anambra State Government originated staging of annual Mmanwu Festival. The success of the first edition of this festival held in 1987. It afforded the people the chance to see rare mask as Ijele- the king of masks.

  It should also be noted that since the inception of Chief Willie Obiano administration, the state government, under his watch, has celebrated various yearly Mmauwu Festivals with pomp and pageantry.

 Visit to Mmanwu Cultural Festival

     The most interesting masquerade I am lucky enough to watch is the one popularly called Ijele which is referred to as  the ‘king  of  masquerades.’

The masquerade featured during the World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC’77 in Nigeria.

  Ijele masquerade is a masquerade that performs only on very big   occasions. It appears at a coronation or installation ceremonies of a king, at yam festivals marking the end of a planting season and the beginning of another, at the death of very important village head. It is worth noting that appearance of Ijele symbolises a great occasion.

  Anambra State in Nigeria parades this masquerade during its famous “Mmanwu Cultural Festival. It is noted for celebrations and festivals.

  In most of these masquerades are the species which liven up such occasion. They are artistic institutions whose aim during the Mmanwu Festival is to entertain a wider audience that comes from all the states o f Nigeria  and outside the country. Ijele is a peculiar masquerade and regarded as the epitiome of masquerades.

  Masquerades are regarded as spirits or better re-embodied friend or relatives in form of re- embodied spirits to their former surroundings especially on festal occasions where they are displayed to share in the celebrations.

  Masquerade association is purely a man’s affair. In Anambra State and throughout Igboland and most societies, the making of masquerade is enshrouded in mystery and secrecy.

  Dramatically, the ‘Ijele’ masquerade has complex artistic devices which have deep rooted meanings that are highly enveloped in symbolism.

 Ijele performs usually at the square called ‘Ama’. This is especially because of size of the masquerade and the large audience it draws. The dancing arena is decorated with tiny triangular shaped plastics in different colours of blue, red yellow and indingo, artistically stringed together, hung with ropes and poles in tantalising  patterns.

The dancing arena blooms as these multi-coloured plastics dance in the air. These colours are chosen to fit the custume of the Ijele masquerade thus ensuring colour uniformity and beauty. The colours serve decorative and artistic purposes and people look at them for aesthetic pleasure.

  The house of Ijele is built semi- circularly with traditional woven raffia palm tree leaves. This is where the masquerade mounts until its formal outing.

  Ijele, the masquerade which I saw originated from the concept ‘Dim Kpa’. “Dimkpa’ literally means a youngman who must be courageous, strong and confident.

He should signify the grandeur, majesty and clam confidence. Since such a man towers above all else, he should be capable of undertaking very difficult and onerous tasks which other do not. This is the pivot in which most, if not all activities rotate in the olden days.

  The costume of Ijele masquerade is all embracing. The costume is complex and colourful. Above all, there are representations of the colonial administration or British imperialism in form of a European on an iron horse ,the peace – loving people of the town in  form of two policemen, finally defense, in form of armed person. All over, the masquerade is decorated with glasses. The glasses reflect as the masquerade turns and are essential for beauty.

  Ijele, itself impresses the spectators as a huge, voluminous, almost mountain-like structure glittering with bright colours and carrying carved images- inventions of vivid imaginations!

Thus, the size indicates the spirit impersonator must of necessity be huge, strong, otherwise he cannot endure the weight on the head and shoulders and at the same time, half suffocated.

  The most powerful, incisive and important is the production of Ijele music. The drum language is often appreciated more for their musicality than the verbal interpretations.

  However, music of the drum provides certain rhythmic patterns pregnant with symbolic meanings. The presentation of the drum music shows a high poetic capacity in its dancing and movements.

Perfect combination of all these instruments produce melodic rhythmic of instruments of drum of Ijele which is the music, the most essential aspect in the performance of the masquerade.

  The English translation of the music read as follows:-

  The die is cast for the service

  What is the matter, what is the matter?

  Are you ready?

  Today is great day

 The carrier show them what you are

 You have done it first time, the second time

 What will prevent you from doing it in your father land?

 Is it fear?

God forbid.

  Indeed, this masquerade has helped in no small measure in giving the community in which it comes from a face lift. Economically, it can be hired to perform any where depending on the agreeable terms. The members and the community benefit from the proceeds.

  Know Nigeria Series (3), Culture and Its Manifestations (1991), revealed that Mmanwu Festival has now become an annual event, celebrating the wealth, pomp and pageantry of the masking tradition in Nigeria.

  Furthermore, the publication noted that” these festivals are not just a re-enactment of the past but also a development towards achieving national goals and aspirations. It is a basic ingredient, if not the main force, behind our technological break- through. It is also what distinguishes us from other people in the Diaspora.

“Nigeria dream is for hi-tech future based on inputs from our traditional resources. These various components which the cultural policy seeks to address is a means of promoting and harnessing these dreams, and giving them expression. At the end of the day, this will put Nigeria on a sound technological footing and self-reliant nation,” Know Nigeria Series (3) emphasised.

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