Festivals show the cultural heritage of an ethnic group and present opportunities for knowing more about a people. With over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, there are so many festivals that are celebrated in the country. In this article, the focus would be on discussing the festivals celebrated by the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. Read on to learn more about the different Igbo festivals in Nigeria today.
Igbo festivals in Nigeria would be discussed below:
New Yam Festival of the Igbo
The New Yam Festival is a prominent cultural festival celebrated by the Igbo people at the end of the rainy season in early August every year. This festival depicts the importance of yam in the socio-cultural life of the Igbo people. The style of how this festival is celebrated differs from one community to another, however, certain essential components remain the same.
In some Igbo communities in Nigeria, the New Yam Festival can last a day, a week, or more. The components of this celebration normally include cultural dance presentations, masquerade dances, and the performance of rites by the Igwe, or the eldest man in the community. In addition, only yam dishes are served during the festival.
The Ofala Festival is an annual ceremony mainly practised in Anambra State, particularly in the Onitsha, Umueri, Umoji, Aguleri, Nnewi and Ukpo communities. in Anambra State. This festival has been practised as far back as the 16th Century when Onitsha people emigrated from Benin to the eastern banks of the River Niger in present-day Onitsha. Some of the communities celebrate this special Igbo festival every year while other towns may require the Ofala Festival to be celebrated two to three years apart.
This festival is usually celebrated within two days in October and involves several activities such as the traditional twenty-one gun salute which starts the ceremony, cannon shots as well as all-night Ufie drumming, dancing and other cultural activities. Music and arts are also essential components of this festival. And sometimes, the Obi of the community where the Ofala Festival is being celebrated may honour individuals with chieftaincy titles.
Aju Ugbo is an ancient festival that is celebrated predominantly in the Ugbo town of Enugu State, as well as some other Igbo societies. Aju Ugbo is celebrated every three years and serves as a rite of passage to mark the transition of adolescent males into adults. This cultural festival which usually runs for three days, in which the adolescents participating in the festival would be expected to partake in the Iwa Akwa, Mgbaheishi, and Ozuzugboligbo rites to be fully incorporated into the core Ugbo spiritual heritage. The Aju Ugbo is so important that eligible young men between 19 and 23 years of age that do not partake are considered minors and may not be allowed to marry or be bestowed with certain responsibilities.
Igu Aro Festival
The Igu Aro festival is an annual cultural ceremony that is practised in some Anambra communities such as Enugwu-Ukwu, to celebrate the start of a new planting season. The festival is usually held on the first Saturday of the New Year and runs for a week. The Igu Ago Festival features several traditional and cultural events aimed at displaying the rich cultural heritage of the community. In addition, the traditional ruler of the community may honour some deserving individuals with chieftaincy titles.
The Ekpe festival is practised by the people of Umuahia and has been in existence for so many years. Ekpe is translated from the Igbo language to the English language as masquerades, which implies that the Ekpe festival is a masquerade festival. The ceremony involves male and female natives of Umuahia to dress in their cultural ensemble, of which the males are expected to tie a wrapper around their waist.
The male children already initiated into the Ekpe masquerade play the musical instruments for the different kinds of masquerades to perform cultural dances. There are other cultural presentations in addition to masquerade dances. The major highlight of this Umuahia masquerade festival is the Ekpe masquerade beheading a goat with a single strike of the machete.
Onwa Ebo Festival
This festival is peculiar to the Orba people in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The Onwa Ebo festival is performed to honour the ancestral spirits of the Orba people and it usually features a display of different masquerades and several other entertainments.
The Igbo tribe exists as a minority ethnic group in Delta State and Aniocha North Local Government Area is one of those few parts of the State with indigenous Igbo people. And expectedly, there are festivals which are celebrated by people of the Igbo extraction in that part of Delta State. One such Igbo festival in Delta State is the Inne Festival celebrated by Issele-Ukwu, a community in Aniocha North LGA.
The Inne Festival usually runs for days, consisting of numerous events and cultural events. Some of the activities performed during the Inne Festival include inter-village traditional dance competitions, traditional fashion shows, and raffle draws, among others.
The Odo Festival is a masked festival that is held every two years in the Northern Igbo societies, particularly communities in Enugu State, such as Ngwo in Udi. This festival portrays the mass return of the dead who appear as male and female masked figures of the secret death cult society. During the festival, the masked figures referred to as Odo, are welcomed back from the dead with celebrations, to their former homes. And later on, the masked figures depart back to whence they came.
The Odo Festival lasts several days and features music, dramas, and numerous other activities.
Igwa Nshi Festival
The Igwa Nshi Festival is a cultural celebration of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria, particularly Eke, Udi, Enugu State. Several states in the southeastern part of the country practice this annual festival of drums. During the Igwa Nshi Festival, the men beat the drums while the women, girls, and children dance in excitement.
The festival begins only after the moon has been declared to be sighted from Imama village in Eke and the date fixed. In the first week of the festival kicking off, children get to participate in Nshi Umuaka rites. And after that, the Amankwo, which is for adults, and lasts three to four days involves lots of singing and drumming.
The Uzoiyi Festival is an annual cultural celebration that is particularly celebrated by the Umuoji people in the Idemilia Area of Anambra State. This festival is celebrated about Idemili, the river goddess of the Umuoji people. It is believed that the Uzoiyi festival will bring forth sufficient rainfall for a successful farming season. The Uzoiyi festival involves various activities, such as a parade of masquerades that showcase the great and cultural lifestyle of the Umuoji people of Anambra State.
The Ikeji festival is a prominent Igbo festival celebrated by the Arondizuogu people of Imo State. This festival is also celebrated by the Arochukwu people of Abia State. The Ikeji festival is a four-day festival that celebrates the harvest of new yams and the Igbo culture and it is held every year, usually between March and April.
This festival features several traditional activities, one of the most popular being Ito-Ebule(translated to “untying of the raw”) a competition that is held on the last day and characterized by the display of occult powers by various self-proclaimed sorcerers to find out who can unsuccessfully untie the ram. The parade of numerous masquerades around the villages and music are some other activities that make the Ikeji festival worthwhile.
Nwafor festival is celebrated in the Ogidi and Ogbunike communities of Anambra State after the cultivation of yam to mark the beginning of a resting period. This festival usually lasts eleven (11) days, starting from the first Friday in July every year. The day before the Nwafor festival starts, that is, the first Thursday of July, ceremonial masquerades parade the community to set the tone for the festival and the induction of new initiates into the masquerade group.
The natives of the communities celebrating the Nwafor festival usually gather at the community halls on a Sunday (that is, two days after the start of the festival) to say prayers and thank God for a successful planting season and pray for a bountiful harvest. There are several other activities performed during the 11-day celebration. In addition, no funerals or wedding ceremonies are the Nwafor festival is being celebrated.
The Oja festival is a popular Igbo festival that is usually held around October every year in Enugu State and some other southeastern States. The Oja festival is a part of a cultural development initiative of Attama Attamawa and 2015 was the first time it was celebrated. The objectives of this festival are geared towards showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo society, promoting the Igbo language, and hunting and promoting hidden indigenous talents in the young. The activities that are performed during the Oja festival include Igbo poetry presentations, traditional wrestling, folklore, and traditional games, among others.
Onunu Festival is a yearly cultural event that is celebrated to mark the traditional calendar of the Uratta clan of the ancient Ihiagwa Community of Imo State. This festival establishes the yam season. As the folklore goes, Opara-ogu, a deity of Ihiagwa, goes to inspect and harvest farm proceeds before any person can start harvesting. Consequently, no one is expected to farm or visit the stream during the duration of the festival which usually lasts eight days. It is important to note that this festival is also practised in some communities in Enugu State.
Akatakpa Masquerade Festival
The Akatakpa Masquerade Festival is peculiar to Amachalla village in Enugu-Ezike community in Igboeze North Local Government Area of Enugu State. The duration of this festival usually lasts for up to two months and is held once every four years. The Akatakpa masquerade which comes in different shades and sizes is worn by adult males alone as women are not allowed to go near them while they parade the community.
At the peak of the Akatakpa Masquerade Festival, fathers or first sons in a family are required to appease their ancestors by offering libations calling for the protection of lives and property. Married women who are originally from Enugu-Ezike would have to offer wine and kola to their brothers to offer libations on their behalf during the last day of the festival. Sadly, the Akatakpa Masquerade Festival is not as popular as it was in times past as natives of Enugu-Ezike who are Christians claim the practice is fetish.
The Omabe festival is an ancient traditional ceremony peculiar to the Igbo people of the Mba Waawa community, Nsukka region, Ezike in Enugu State. This festival is celebrated every five years with the belief that it purges the community from evil. The Omabe festival begins as early as 5 am with the masquerades coming out to perform and entertain keen viewers with different styles and dance steps and different tricks. By noon time, the more dangerous masquerades come out, however, these harsher masquerades are always surrounded by friendly masquerades to prevent the onlookers from being beaten or pursued. Females aren’t permitted to be in proximity to the masquerades during the Omabe festival.
The Mmanwu Festival is an Igbo festival that only males initiated to various secret societies are permitted to participate in the ceremony, particularly in the creation, care and use of the masks. This festival is characterised by large displays of masquerades that perform together, as well as drama and other arts that can be performed by both people and masquerades.
The types of masquerades featured during the Mmanwu festival include the visible masquerades which are meant for entertaining the public and the invisible masquerades that parade the community at night. Although women are not permitted to actively participate in the Mmanwu festival, they can observe the ceremony from a distance.
The Ezigbo festival is an annual festival that has been practised by the Igbo people in present-day Asaba, Delta State, for over three centuries. The duration of this festival usually lasts for a week and features several activities that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo people in Asaba, Delta State.
Ojiji Izzi Festival
Ojiji festival is the New Yam festival of the Igbo people from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. This festival is a major feast among the Izzi people and it is usually held in August. After the road leading to the farms had been cleared the day before, heads of families in the communities would harvest the new yams with sticks.
The harvested yams are washed, peeled, cut, and put in a pot. The new yams could be eaten boiled, roasted, or pounded to be used to eat soups like Achi and Egusi stuffed with meat. The Ojiji Izzi festival signifies the beginning of a period of plenty, hence why it is accompanied by lots of entertainment activities.
Oke Aku Ezaa Ezekuna Festival
The Oke Aku Ezza Ezekuna festival is an annual celebration practised by the people of Ezza Ezekuna in Ebonyi State. This festival is similar to the New Yam festival practised in other Igbo societies. The Oke Aku festival usually starts on the first Saturday (Orie) of every New Year and runs for a week.
The ceremony begins with members of the community exchanging traditional greetings laced with good prayers and wishes for a prosperous year. Thereafter, children and wives are expected to present the head of their respective families with gifts, and the man, in turn, will offer prayers for his family, friends and relations.
Furthermore, each family unit will share kola nuts blessed by the head of the family. The kolanut is usually eaten with a specially prepared sauce. Afterwards, the head of each family will share the remnants of the old yam and palm kernel with the members of his family.
The first day of the Oke Aku Ezaa Ezekuna festival ends with each family unit eating special dishes prepared with yam and drinking palm wine and other choice drinks. The remaining days of the festival are used to visit inlaws and the less privileged as well as to pay homage to the elders and constituted authorities.
Ikpuru Uke Fishing Festival
The Okpuru Uke Fishing Festival is peculiar to Ebonyi State.
Owu festival is celebrated by a few communities in Mbaitoli LGA of Imo State from June to July every year. The festival.
Iwa Akwa Festival
Iwa Akwa festival is an adult initiation ceremony that originated from the Obowo community in Imo State. In Obowo, the Iwa Akwa festival is arguably the most celebrated ceremony that every male child looks forward to if they want to be regarded as adults.
This festival is celebrated once every three years and eligible male children willing to participate in the adult initiation must be between 24 and 26 years. Before the day set aside for the Iwa Akwa festival, the initiates would have spent the last three years preparing for the D-Day.
In Obowo, the immediate elder age-grade set helps the initiates for the year in the preparations for their adult initiation ceremony. It is the duty of the immediate elder age-grade set to make age-grade selections for the to-be initiates, upon their (the to-be initiates) request. The elder age-grade set also guides the meetings of the to-be initiates and teaches them the customs of the land.
The final rite of passage to-be initiates are to participate in to be considered as adults is the market-square display. On this day, the to-be initiates would have to be dressed in their elegant long-woven wrapper customs and the immediate elder age-grade set would guide their steps as they move and dance round the market square. Upon completion of the market square display, the young men are deemed to be eligible to pay taxes/levies and partake in decision-making and communal discussions, among other perks.
It is to be noted that some other communities Ihitte/Uboma, Ehime Mbano, and part of Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Areas of Imo State also practise the Iwa Akwa festival. However, there are variations to how the ceremony is practised in Obowo (the originator of the festival). One such variation is that young men would have to be over 30 years of age to partake in this festival.
Imo Awka Festival
Imo Akwa festival is one of the major cultural events that is celebrated by the people of Awka kingdom every year. This festival is always held in the month of May yearly and the duration of the event usually lasts for two weeks. The Imo Awka festival presents the opportunity for the people of Awka to appreciate the Imoka god (the avenger god of Awka people) and request for much better years ahead.
The festival features several activities that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Awka people, including the display of numerous kinds of masquerades at the Imoka shrine. The major events that are featured in the Imo Awka festival include Ede-Mmuo, Ogwu Oghugha, Egwu Ope-Eke, Egwu Imo-Oka, and the Nro-Nta. On the final day of the Imo Awka festival, the entire community participating in the ceremony visit the Imo-Oka stream as the final rite to conclude the festival.
- Okonko Festival
The Okonko festival has been practised in several Igbo societies as far back as the 14th century. The origin of this ancient festival is linked to the Arochukwu shrine. During this festival, young boys of seven years are in the communities, where they would be taught the ruling culture of the Awka people and how things are done, as part of the initiation rites.
The initiation of the young boys involves the children staying in a shrine for four days. The to-be initiates are made to perform certain traditional rites to be deemed part of the community. This festival doesn’t recognise the girl child, hence, women and girls are to stay indoors throughout the initiation ceremony.
Onwu Oru Festival
The Onwu Oru festival is celebrated by the people of Uratta, in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State. This annual cultural festival which dates back to ancient times is a celebration of peace, unity and cultural values of the people of Uratta. In the weeks leading to the festival, tradition demands that natives desist from divorce, fighting, quarrelling, and demanding debts.
Aside from the Uratta where the Onwu Oru festival can be held, it could also be celebrated elsewhere, even outside the southeastern States. For example, in 2022, the Uratta Development Association (URA) Lagos branch had the Onwu Oru festival celebrated in Lagos State.
- Okorosha Festival
- Ekpe Festival – Umuahia Abia State
- Ebuebu Amorji Festival
- Iriji festival
- Omereife festival
- Ibono festival