The indigenes are predominantly traditionalists and strict believers of ancestral values. Christianity which they also believe is a borrowed robe has not really created any divide in the course of their communing with their forefathers.
Consequently, they have a storehouse popularly known as Odinani Museum where all artefacts and deities of their forefathers are kept which has equally blessed the town as a tourist centre.
But the most significant cultural disposition of the ancient town which binds them together for the donkey years is the recently celebrated ‘Onwa Agwu festival’ where masqueraders display.
This Onwa Agwu festival is the period when after farm cultivation, at a time the ‘Agwu’ (spirit of rascality) would tend to go to the farms and after which they would be caged for business to progress and a bounty harvest to be realised in the month of September.
The festival was held on June 30, and with strong belief that all divine spirits in the town were let loose to parade on their own after which they were appeased for them not to be harmful to living beings.
It is only the Nri kingdom that commemorates the Agwu spirit in the entire world because of its peculiarities to the town.
They believe that Agwu spirit comes in a particular time like this festive period to either do good or bad by luring people into vices but if recognised earlier, it could be guided through appeasement.
The Chairman of Omenala Nri, Chief Chibuzo Chukwu said that Onwa Agwu festival is a period set aside for the celebration of their masqueraders which is not ordinary but believed to emerge from ant holes and align with physical and spiritual world.
“Agwu is a divine spirit full of wisdom which does not live in a man but visits a man. It teaches us how we should do good things because it is an inspirator to develop modern technologies.
“If you don’t appease the spirit of Agwu, you are bound to live extravagant life. You appease it by killing a cock and a small chicken, prepare ukwa (bread fruit) both dry and fresh, and abacha (tapioca), then you feed the spirit with left hand. You will observe the potency of what you did,” Chukwu explained.
Meanwhile, the Igbo lunar calendar is purely different from European calendar. The Igbo calendar which Nri adopts starts with February as the first month of the year and has 13 months instead of the conventional 12 months.
Investigation revealed that Agwu festival comes up after Iguaro Ndigbo which is a declaration of Igbo lunar calendar in February by the Royal Majesty, EzeNri who pronounces the year open and gives his subjects some seedlings to plant, wishing them bountiful harvest.
After this pronouncement, in the 5th month, the Agwu celebration commences.
To arrive at this date appears rigorous as Nri recognises the month by firstly sighting the moon and four market days make a week in Igbo calendar which are Eke, Oye, Afor and Nkwo.
Seven of these four market days make a month and you calculate from the time the new moon is sighted to proclaim the calendar year, then you calculate the 7 times of the 4 days that make Igbo week into 6 times, you will eventually see the moon at that time of early June. This total calculation will arrive at 24 days in the month of June for Onwa Agwu period in Nri.
According to Chief Nnoli Nwako, a Community leader, this month of Agwu festival was sighted on June 3, 2019 and unfortunately it was Oye market day.
“Nri does not celebrate Agwu on Oye and Afor market days but on Eke and Afor, so the counting of date of the month started on June 6 being Eke day till we arrived at the 6th market day known as ‘Izu isi’ of the grand finale totaling the period of 24 days,” he said.
It was learnt that before the celebration, the Eke market square which is the venue where everybody converge for the Agwu masquerade would be cleansed just like other shrines including Obi Alike Nri, Obi Onyiorah and Obi Ogbo Nri shrines.
They were cleansed by killing a he-goat to inform the deities that the children of the town are returning and to seek for their protection. This signifies that whoever that steps into the town with harmful charm would be visited with repercussion.
Nevertheless, this festival ties the umbilical cords of their brotherliness and creates opportunity for development of the community by the age grades, hence it is always a period of mass return.
It also attracts people from all walks of life to come and witness the celebration as it is always a time when the youths exhibit their youthful strength through flogging each other while the female folks watch with ecstasy.
The Secretary of Nze na Ozo Council, Chief Patrick Ogo Egolum, said that during this Agwu period, its night activities commence at 6pm and the free movement of every non-indigenes in the town would be restricted and be compelled to go home and marry their beds because they are Ogbondu (non-initiators of Agwu masquerade cult).
“Only the indigenes that are initiated are expected to move around at night. Any woman coming back after 7pm must be escorted by an ’Mmanwu initiate’ and he will be shouting ’Ogbondu’ to alert that a non initiate is passing by.
“Though, urbanization has done something to our culture like in the last 30 years, it wasn’t like this where initially the festival was strictly performed by only the indigenes. But now, outsiders from Abakaliki, Nsukka people have infiltrated into Agwu festival because they live in the community.
“We always define a way to fine-tune our culture to accommodate these people so we can all live harmoniously. Therefore, to that extent, it has not totally affected our culture but certain modifications have been put in place. It is only when we totally neglect our culture that it could be watered down,” Egolum narrated.
The highlight of this year’s celebration was the procession of the entire masqueraders at Eke market square to enable the Panel of Judges led by Chief Charles Tabansi, to select the most beautiful masquerader, the best flogger and the best enchanter of ‘Mbem’.
The winners were given total cash award of #1m donated by the Chairman of Nze na Ozo council, Oba Emilie Okika.