Nri Kingdom Celebrates Onwa Agwu Festival To Appease The Gods

By KayCee August 9, 2014 12:34

Nri Kingdom Celebrates Onwa Agwu Festival To Appease The Gods

The word Agwu in Igbo is omnibus; it means different things to different people. It could mean madness or a deity. However, it is generally regarded as the personal deity charged with the responsibility of shaping one’s destiny.


When the destiny is shaped towards success, it is assumed that the Agwu spirit is a benevolent one, but if on the contrary, the Agwu is regarded as a negative spirit. The Agwu deity is perceived to be so powerful that it has powers to scuttle or promote the progress of its adherents and when such misfortunes begin to befall the person, he is said to be under the influence of the Agwu spirit Many people despite their positions in the Igbo society have been linked to this dreaded spirit.


No wonder, the Nri ancient kingdom in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State celebrates the Onwa Agwu festival to continuously appease the Awgu spirit. In the Nri kingdom, there are some requirements needed to appease the Agwu spirit to allow its victims achieve success in what they are doing. It is called Iru Agwu. Oriental News gathered that no matter one’s religious calling, if one is under the influence of the Agwu spirit, one would find it difficult to experience positive things unless sacrifices were offered to the Agwu deity to appease it and cleanse the person.


According to Mr Robinson Ibekwe (Otuome Nri), the Onwa Agwu festival is very special to the Nri kingdom and dedicated to the Agwu deity, which is very powerful in the kingdom as it has powers for prosperity or that can impoverish its adherents, depending on the level of adherence, belief and one’s destiny.


Ibekwe disclosed that in most cases the Agwu spirit is hereditary, meaning that it transcends from father to son while in some other cases it goes beyond generational divides to make impact in the lives of the offspring of a man whose Agwu spirit is seen as a wicked one.


He said that the spirit has also been responsible in some cases of mental disorder in the kingdom.

“Some of the people who behave abnormally have been regarded as people under the influence of Agwu deity; hence the only solution as the case may be must be (Iru Agwu), a sacrifice to appease the spirit for freedom.

“However, westernization of Igbo culture and the advent of Christianity adversely affected such belief, but the Nri ancient kingdom still marks the Onwa Agwu festival, an annual festival that lasts for one full month for the Agwu spirit.


“Within this month which is always months preceding the Igu Aro Ndigbo and declaration of another Igbo calendar and planting season by the custodian of Igbo culture and tradition, Eze Nri Obidiegwu Onyesoh, Nri Enwelani II, the people of Nri kingdom commemorate and celebrate this Agwu spirit in a special way by making beautiful masquerades.


“At the end of the month which is usually in June/July every year, the grand finale of the Onwa Agwu (month of Agwu) is always held at the popular Eke market square with display of various masquerades in the community.

“Within the month of Agwu, there is full display of masquerades across the community. There is a native curfew in the community that slams order on women and young male children who have not been initiated into the masquerade cult to enter into their respective houses once it is 6:00p.m every day,” he said.

Ikebwke said that women were not allowed to be part of masquerade in the kingdom like young or old male children who have not been initiated into the masquerade cult, who are also regarded as women and

called Ogbondu (novices) in the Nri kingdom.


“The law forbids them from discussing anything concerning masquerades,

see, or participate in the display of the masquerades and above all, they are under obligation to remain in their houses once it is 6:00p.m. “However, if you must go out beyond 6:00p.m as a woman or a novice, the law stipulates that you call a young male child who has undergone the rituals of initiation into the masquerade cult to follow you. The person becomes your mouth, shouting, Ogbondu na-agakwa o,” meaning a masquerade novice is passing.


“The essence of this message is to alert the masquerades that a novice was passing, reasons being that the masquerades should steer clear and hide themselves since the man is not eligible to see them or touch them in the night,” he said.


During the day, the masquerades beautifully dressed with ornaments come out to go round the villages, singing, entertaining the people, especially children who always come out to lure the masquerades into chasing them around the village square. For those who have attained the age of initiation into the cult but have not joined, there is no hiding place for them as the masquerades are always on their trail, humiliating them in the open to show that though they are males they are still regarded as women.

Thus this category of men, he said, continue to run and hide from the masquerades all through the month of Onwa Agwu. Ibekwe noted that not even war or any calamity could stop the festival, which he said dates as far back as 1856AD.


“The Onwa Agwu festival does not respect anybody irrespective of your position. The rituals heralding the initiation of one into the masquerade cult is held sacrosanct and must be respected by all and sundry no matter how highly placed.


“We use this period of Onwa Agwu to sanitize the community and use it to warn evil doers to repent or face sanctions depending on the magnitude of their offences. For instance, if there is any man known for evil or those who go after other men’s wives, it is during this Onwa Agwu that masquerades will go to him and tell him his evil in his face and also use it to compose songs that will be used to cajole the person,” he said.


He also disclosed that within the period of Onwa Agwu, the community in its wisdom has ways of checkmating the excesses of the masquerades.


“At the beginning of the Onwa Agwu, masquerades begin to make official outing, but that is limited to nights alone for some time before they begin to make outing in the day. There are some masquerades that only come out at nights but they don’t come out in the day like Ajukwu and Agu Mmanwu, they don’t come out in the day time till the period of Onwa Agwu,” Ibekwe said.


The church and the festival


Oriental News gathered that when Rev. Fr. Pius Odilimuo was the Parish Priest of St Mary’s Eucharistic Parish, Nri he was against some of his church members who after receiving holy communion went back to participate in the Onwa Agwu festival.


It was said that some of the alter knights, a group of young boys serving at the church sanctuary, were suspended at one time or the

other by the church leadership, especially among the Catholics and Anglicans for participating in the Onwa Agwu festival, but this did

not deter some of them from taking active part in the festival, which they believe show that they have come of age.


The grand finale of Onwa Agwu


On the last day of the Onwa Agwu, he said the atmosphere is usually charged with young men from Nri who are living outside the town coming back en masse to be part of the festival.


He also said that beyond the merriment that follows the festival, there are other rituals that must be performed by the elders, Ndi Ichie and Nzemabo, to signal the end of each year’s Onwa Agwu festival.

Part of the rituals, according to him, includes a special sacrifice which must be offered to the Agwu deity by the elders with prayers to guide them through the next Onwa Agwu in the next season.

Oriental News gathered that though women and uninitiated men are not allowed to be part of the masquerade, only one woman in the Nri kingdom is allowed to see, touch and be part of the masquerade. She is

called Nne Mmanwu, mother of the masquerade. The Nne Mmanwu is one of the elders that prepare the sacrifice before the Agwu deity, signaling the end of the year’s festival before all the masquerades would file out and head down to Eke market square as parts of the final outing for the whole season.

It was gathered that a special delicacy is prepared by every family, Ukwa with dry fish (breadfruit and dry fish), who are expected to invite their extended family members even beyond the shores of Nri to be part of the celebration.

Families who cannot afford to prepare this special and expensive delicacy of Ukwa with dry fish are however at liberty to prepare any delicacy of their choice and within their reach.


A first time visitor to Nri during the Onwa Agwu grand finale would be stunned by the actions of the young men between the ages of 18 to 45 who engage themselves in the fierce competition of flogging themselves.


The sound of the cane being used by the youths during the exercise was enough to drive a visitor away from the community.


The Eze Nri and the masquerades


As the people of Nri celebrates the Onwa Agwu, a purely masquerade festival dedicated to spirit of Agwu, their monarch, Eze Nri, is forbidden from seeing the masquerades.


As long as Eze Nri lives, he shall not behold any masquerade either within his kingdom or outside his kingdom while on duty or passing, Ibekwe said, explaining that “Ndigbo regard masquerade as spirit, Eze Nri haven been dead and buried though still apparent to ordinary eyes is also a higher spirit and therefore cannot see a smaller spirit.”

He said that apart from the fact that masquerades could not be displayed anywhere Eze Nri is present, no masquerade is allowed to make official passage through the palace of Eze Nri, adding that Eze Nri also is forbidden from seeing a corpse and other things which are part of the laws that guide and protect the divine throne of the Nri Kingdom.

He said that should the Eze Nri see a masquerade by mistake, a sacrifice must be performed to cleanse his eyes from beholding a taboo.

“If by mistake Eze Nri sees a masquerade maybe on official duty outside his kingdom, four eggs must be provided, these eggs are native eggs, not eggs from agricultural fowls, these eggs will be broken and Eze Nri will use the egg liquid from the eggs to wash off the taboo from his eyes. This must be done if such taboo is committed against the throne of Eze Nri,” he said.

The grand finale of this year’s Onwa Agwu was held on July 20, a day after the kingdom bestowed Ofo Ndigbo on former Chief of General Staff (CGS), Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd)

source:  sun news



By KayCee August 9, 2014 12:34