Igba Nkwa, the traditional festival in celebration of the Nsude’s legendary exploits in warfare centuries ago. The ceremony is typically performed in remembrance of Uto Nsude, one of the greatest war generals in Igbo history. Igba Nkwa is observed once every two years in Nusde community of Enugu state
This celebration and remembrance of Uto’s glorious past has become a tradition that has survived modernity and defied Christianity and has become one of the greatest celebrations of valour in lgboland. But for government’s lack of interest in developing its potentials in tourism, it would have rivaled the popular Zulu war festival in South Africa.
During Igba Nkwa celebration, young men and women will file out with dane guns and machetes, dressed in battle gears — the symbolic essence of Nkwa. For a male son of Igbo extraction, celebrating Nkwa without a gun is like not taking part at all; and as one grows older, one graduates from wooden to dane guns.
The older still, the longer the barrel of the gun. And those who cannot afford to acquire one are hilariously advised to sell their mothers in order to buy one, or otherwise hide under their beds to avoid the shame of facing their peers, empty-handed on that day that valour is celebrated.
The origin Of Igba Nkwa
Uto Nsude, in his lifetime was reputed to be the greatest warrior in the entire Oshie clan of the present Enugu State in particular and Igboland in general. His exploits in battles and his near superhuman powers were legendary.
He was reputed to have obtained a human head at the age of five, and on his death shortly after in his prime, he had obtained the greatest number of human heads from inter-communal battles. At a period when there were no wars to engage Uto’s attention, he resorted to being a mercenary warrior, travelling far and near to help prosecute one war or the other.
In one of those expeditions in the present day Benin City, Uto was said to have fallen into a trench dug by a strange medicine man. He had contracted a strange disease which manifested fully on his return to Nsude, and it was later found out to be ‘omelumma’ (chicken pox) which could not be cured by the local medicine men.
To suffer from such a disease was a curse and to be afflicted with it was abominable at that period. Despite Uto’s standing as the district’s major inspiration, he was still subject to the tradition and custom which demanded that those suffering from such cursed diseases are ex-communicated in an isolated place.
He was consequently carried to the wilderness (iwhe egu) in the outskirts of Nsude, the highest point of the Udi hills and around the ‘Agu Ajali’ where the community has common boundaries with Owa. There, at Akpata Uto he died of chicken pox and as custom demanded, he was not given a ceremonious burial befitting his stature.
Consequently upon his death, many mysterious things happened in Nsude and other nearby towns in Oshie clan that were founded by his siblings, and for the first time, they suffered defeats in inter-communal battles. Native doctors had revealed that Uto was angry at the ignominious way he was buried.
His son, Ugwu also expressed anger that his father who accomplished so much for Nsude and his Oshie kinsmen, was not accorded a ceremonious burial and was in fact being forgotten so soon. Thereupon, the Oshie clan consulted with each other and agreed to accord Uto a befitting funeral ceremony and to repeat it every other year in his honour and in remembrance of his exploits and valour.
Nkwa therefore originated following the death of Uto the warrior and it is celebrated to sustain the memory of his famous conquests. Like all celebrations in Igboland, Nkwa has also assumed a social dimension. On its day, thousands of people troop to Nsude, the cradle of Oshie clan, from all parts of the country to witness the one-day carnival.
Getting ready involves kitting oneself in those traditional costumes and fearful war attires, testing the dane guns and disguising oneself with painting.
Hours later, the jingling noise of the hundreds of iron bells (called ikpo) worn around the waists, dane guns in the right hands and the gun powder bottle on the left, the celebrants will file out in thousands, chanting war songs and gyrating to the Eke-Uto Square where the famous Ikpa music will be reminding everyone who comes to dance, to ensure he brings along a human head.
In centuries gone by, it was abominable to dance to the Ikpa except you are an accomplished warrior who had obtained a human head from one of the several inter-communal battles. Surprisingly, (in fact, it remains one of the mysteries), despite the dangerous weapons employed during the celebrations, rarely are serious accidents recorded.
Another notable thing about Nkwa is that it has also defied the tendencies of foreign religions, especially Christianity. Even though pockets of critics have tried to label it a pagan tradition, it has continued to attract people from all religious persuasions. Little wonder that of all days in the calendar, Nkwa is celebrated only on (Afor) Sundays, preponderantly in the month of November of every leap year.
Written by Dunu Okigbo