Isuofia: New Yam, Spirit Beings And Other Stories

By Casmir Igbokwe

When you hear of Argungu fishing festival, what comes to mind is Kebbi State. When Osun-Osogbo is mentioned, a festival rooted in deep Yoruba culture brings nostalgic feelings. When New Yam festival is an item on the agenda, the gathering must be that of the South-Eastern people. And when mmanwu (masquerade) performance comes up for discussion, what you get are mixed feelings, heated debates and a clash between paganism and Christianity.

This is what played out penultimate Saturday at Isuofia in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. The town, like many others in Igbo land, celebrated New Yam festival with pomp. The event afforded many indigenes from far and near an opportunity to commune with their ancestors.

Tagged Unity New Yam festival, the occasion was the first of its kind in the community after over 20 years in crisis. The traditional ruler of the town, Igwe (Col.) Christopher A. Muoghalu (Retd) used the occasion to crown the new traditional prime minister (Onowu) Chief Ndubuisi Osele. The six villages which make up the town namely: Umueze, Ozalla, Isiaku, Ezioka, Okpoko and Akulu came with different side attractions. Akulu village shone brightly with her traditional Ekelemgba wrestling dance to the admiration of spectators.

The special day also witnessed the unveiling of some brand new masqueraders called Achikwu. Immediately the “spirit beings” entered the Isuofia Civic Centre where the festival took place, the arena erupted in ecstasy.

Igwe Muoghalu explains the phenomenon better: “Celebration of the feast of New Yam is deeply rooted in ancient Igbo culture, fore-grounded in the belief that yam is the king of all crops. And to underscore its prominence among all other crops, the feast of New Yam is celebrated to thank the gods of good harvest. Being an important event in the calendar of Igbo race throughout the world, it is very important to state that contrary to misrepresentation by religious zealots, the new yam festival has nothing to do with fetishistic and diabolic practices. It is simply the Igbo traditional way of thanking God for giving them the opportunity to plant and reap.”

That is true. But to some people, the introduction of mmanwu in this year’s festival amounts to drawing the town back to paganism and fetishism. They cite instances of the ruins some youths of a neighbouring town, Ekwulobia, faced in the recent past because of Achikwu. Some Christians also frown on the presumed magical powers big masqueraders display; the type which the late singer and traditionalist, Perrycomo Okoye, popularised in his lifetime.

They believe such practices will corrupt the youths. According to them, what the youths need now are jobs and creative abilities that will make us match a country like China and the United States in technological wonders. Those who think this way have a point.

Nevertheless, it is worthy to note that culture is dynamic. There was a time killing of twins was in vogue. It is no more so today. In the days of yore, new initiates of the prestigious Nze na Ozo society went through some rituals. Today, it has been reformed such that ardent Christians are now members.

In those days, if you were not a full grown man or an initiate, you dared not come close to where big masqueraders were performing. You also dared not touch any economic tree dedicated to them. The consequences would be severe. These days, women and children even watch their performances at close range.

Mmanwu is part of Igbo culture. It energises any function or festival. Like other cultural performances, it is an occasional thing, not a daily affair.  To many local pub operators in some Anambra communities, it is merely a veritable form of entertainment. They make huge sales whenever those “spirit beings” perform on their business premises during festive seasons such as Christmas.  I don’t see how this occasional merriment will render our village youths useless as some people have postulated.

Let us look more at the positive side of the coin and discard the bad aspects. Recall that the old Anambra State held the first mmanwu festival in 1986 at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. For the period it lasted, the festival became a good source of entertainment and attracted many tourists to the state.

Reviving and reforming some of our cultural festivals could be money spinners for the country. About one million tourists from different parts of the world just witnessed Osun-Osogbo, arguably the most popular cultural festival in Nigeria. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has listed Osun-Osogbo groove among its world’s heritage sites. Not satisfied, the Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, seeks partnership of indigenes of the state in the Diaspora to further promote and project the festival.

Nigeria spends millions of dollars every year to sponsor pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and Israel. While we continue to stone the devil and kiss the feet of Jesus at these “holy sites”, the host countries continue to smile to the banks with huge sums of money. We should learn to promote our own and invite foreigners to come and patronise us.


Re: What a country!

Despite your Column’s usually engaging intellectual disputations, you apparently flew off the handle last week, when you called for “localised protests”, to hold local leaders to account. It will not work, ten times over.  I will not protest against my LGA Chairman, who is from my town, even if he is a bum-sitter. This is because he is not the problem. Governors corner the allocated LGA funds, under their ubiquitous “Joint Account Allocation Committee”. They then give LGA Chairmen everywhere, some pittance to pay staff salaries. They get next to no money to buy laterite to confuse local roads. I appreciate your doing a yeoman’s job raising much of the ills and muck in a society that wages war against itself. Don’t you worry. Something must give.

•Dr. Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, 08085914645.

The title, “What a country”, is so exciting and also intriguing. By 1999 as we waited for year 2000, we all had strong and very high expectations when the air was filled with the slogan everything for all by the year 2000: wives, houses, jobs. Contrarily, we never saw it that way at all. What we experience on a daily basis is nothing but a catalogue of woes and disheartening events. What a country! Perhaps, all hope may not be lost. We all must guard our loins, lie flat on the dusty or muddy soil and cry to Onyame, Chukwu, or Abasi, Allah, Oluwa, Soko, Shekwo, Osonobwa for His Mercies and forgiveness over our numerous offenses more especially for the killing of those three police officers and one civilian by our own soldiers. What an irony, and what a country!

Pastor Livy Onyenegecha, Ibeku Okwuato, Aboh Mbaise, Imo State,


Dear Casy, the present leadership in Nigeria, the Presidency, the legislature and the judiciary are products of corruption. The three arms of government are people of the same faith whose agenda is to take our ancestral lands and give to their Fulani brothers who migrated from other West African states on their invitation. The present government led by Buhari and its next level is nothing but chaos. Let every ethnic group prepare how to defend their lands, lives and properties because Buhari has failed. God bless you always.

Eze Chima C, Lagos, +2347036225495

Casmir, you will now agree with Nnamdi Kanu who stated that this country is a zoo, because what is happening in Nigeria will only take place in a zoo. I call it a failed state because Nigeria has all the characteristics. We have gone back to the state of nature where Thomas Hobbes stated that life was solitary, poor, short, nasty & brutish. But John Locke offered us a remedy – we should revolt when the government fails to protect our lives & properties. But my bro, keep telling the powers that be the truth. Don’t be deterred by their castigation.

Smart, Abakaliki, +2348160638941

There is no contradiction to the fact of general insecurity in Nigeria as contained in your article “What a country”. The issues of Boko Haram, militancy, kidnapping, banditry and assassination have become worrisome because they have grown in dimension and proportion. Let’s recall that kidnapping and assassination have taken a toll on our VIPs including Maj. Gen. Peter Ademokai, Major Gen. Alkali and AVM Alex Bade. President Muhammadu Buhari should do something urgently. This is because we don’t know whose turn it will be tomorrow.

Mr. Chinedu Ekwuno (JP) 08063730644

It’s very unfair for security agents to stop any protest since the law allows aggrieved or suppressed people to protest so that government will address their problems. Insecurity in Nigeria is very worrisome and the three tiers of government should find lasting solution to it. Truth of the matter is that investors will not come when there is insecurity in the country. Let’s tell ourselves the truth. Nigerians are not interested in hearing condolence messages from government officials over killings. They need solutions please.

Gordon Chika Nnorom, +2348062887535

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, August 19, 2019.

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