Ojiji Izhi Festival

In one of his famous lines, Edmund Burke insists that ‘People will never look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.’ The attempt to modernize an African without consulting his cultural continuities has backfired. Things are not working; institutions of governance and morals are decaying, structures rust as if the ancestors have pronounced the curse of cultural sabotage on every clan, Izhi inclusive.

Ever before the Whiteman happened to Izhi Nnodo, the clan was at worship, her sons and daughters were at prayer, proudly upholding the customs of their ancestors. Mr C. W Patridge, the then District Officer of Obubra who led a division of West African Frontier Forces that came to Izhi in 1903 burst out his admiration for Izhi culture which in his testament was simply un-barbaric.

With ancestral home at Anmegu, Izhi clan developed well structured institutions of governance and morals under which socio-cultural activities revolve. The consultative position of Anmegu has never been disputed as it remains the apex court of Izhi culture and customs- guarding and fixing Izhi calendar, announcing when Ojiji and Otutara festivals will be celebrated as well as communal activities and sacrifices. Under the traditional high priesthood of Ishi Uke Omelali, sacrifices for maintaining cosmic balance are made to Ophoke Anmegu, the enya-ali Izhi, the only shrine for the entire Izhi.

In Izhi social structure, the oldest son of every woman after fulfilling cultural requirement is installed Uke while the rest are Okoro. This structure helps to solve complex issues like land ownership, disputes, abominations, labour, and gender issues. In addition, it is a base for clan’s socio-economic activities. Known for their farming activities, The Izhi believe that good yields come from gods. Even health issues and sickness like leprosy, epilepsy, smallpox, Oke-ejo-onwo, rheumatism, tuberculosis, hernia, madness, guinea worm, jiadijiadi, measles and ehu-ekoko (swelling of corpse) were explained out with religious microscope. As unscientific and primitive as these explanations might have become, they once served their purposes and helped to maintain homo-ecological order.

Long before the arrival of the religions of the cross and crescent, Izhi has developed a religious consciousness that generates admirable values. These are respect to sacredness of life, tolerance, honesty, humility and hard work. The straightforwardness and hospitality of Izhi people has endeared them to visitors more than other clans. Despite the caricature of people that Izhi people are terribly tolerant, the people have remained unruffled.

However, the influx of foreign cultures has been a heavy distraction to Izii cultural pride. With their in-roads, Izhi people were treated as savages whose humanity and spirituality were in question; the Izhi indigenous religion was condemned as idolatry as their ancestors were seen as lost souls having lived and died outside the church; the Izhi feasts and ceremonies were abhorred as immoral; their language was ridiculed as tone-infested cacophonies while their names were unpronounceable and had to be substituted with names of canonized saints and great heroes of Nigeria.

With such consistent intolerant attitude and worse still the imbibing of this attitude by the people, Izhi man began to shy away from his culture. One consequence takes appearance of social turbulence let loose upon a clan. Besides, Izhi has become a victim of divide-and-rule politics which democracy brought to Ebonyi state. There has been rapid sequence of socio-cultural and political shifts in Izhi over the last decades. If the Jews in the Diaspora had scrambled to change their culture as fast as Izhis in their homelands seem to be doing, the miracle of Jewish identity would not have lasted 3 millennia in the wilderness. Many Izhi people seem to be undergoing faster cultural change in a single generation more than Jews underwent in the first 1000 years in dispersal.

Gone with those yesteryears are also superstitions and ugly cultural experiences. Advocating a total return to Izhi past is like seeking a return to early Christian martyrdom in order to produce faith. While the compact of our age has to include sensitivity to wider world of human race as a whole, the fate of those giant Izhi values may not have been irrevocably sealed. Izhi has to look inwards towards ancestry for more systematic investigations into the cultural preconditions for the success of socio-economic and political projects through the intermediary of consulting Izhi usage, custom and tradition.

To this end, the efforts of pan-Izhi socio-cultural group, Ogbo Ohubama Izhi, in promoting Izhi culture are highly commendable. Beyond regular promotion of Izhi major festival like Ojiji, printing of Izzi literatures, Ogbo Ohumbama Izhi organizes Izhi Cultural carnival, Oboiphe Izhi, usually featuring a cultural parade of the 25 communities of Izhi in and round her ancient city, Abankele city centre, symposia, cultural display, and all-night carnival. At the grand finales are usually ecumenical service, beauty competition to select “Nwomarimma” and “Mkparawa” Izhi clan; performances, exhibition of artifacts, fashion parade on “Akwa Nwoke le Nwanyi, Akwa Unwoke nole ùbvu, Akwa Nwanyi hee Nwaswa, with handsome prizes for the best and runners-up of beauty competition and others. All these have not been in vain despite external efforts to bulkanize Izhi, a story for another day since no one fasts on a feast day.

At Ojiji, Izhi Nnodo clan celebrates her first fruits as the highest and cultivators of best yams, a root tuber crop. Ojiji remains the greatest socio-cultural feast of Izhi Nnodo clan because of the significance of yam for an Izhi man. Ojiji is more than announcing that new yams are safe for consumption,
it celebrates hard work and patience of the Izhi people, hope over despair. That one would sow little yam seedlings, mulching, pruning and caring for them till they grow to big tubers to feed his family and entire humanity tell the story of the Izhi as people who treasure hardwork and patience above get-rich-quick syndrome.

The feast celebrates Izhi hospitality as it mandates Izhi man to share his new yams with in-laws, neighbours, friends, visitors, widows and indeed the needy during the feastival. It celebrates peace and unity as it is an abomination to eat Ojiji meal or accept Ojiji gifts from one whom you bear grudges towards. This explains why you cannot sit on Izhi nose and balance well. Those who ignore these cultural prescriptions without due atonement are usually paid back in their arrogance by Enya Ali Izhi, an Izhi moral deity that never sleeps; though slow to anger but he is rich in justice.

As Ojiji festival comes at a time Izhi unity is under political stress, it becomes an opportunity to rethink Izhi cultural values and reshape the clan anew in order to create a modern and future Izhi that incorporates the best of its own cultural mechanism to withstand the imposed political cyclone, nicknamed kindred politics.

There has been deliberate attempts to sell different narratives of kindredism. It is time for the Izhi to take up their story and expunge the narratives of those who pretend to be more concerned about Izhi plight, weeping more than the bereaved while spreading more divisive narratives calculated to achieve political ends. If the Izhi do not tell their story, someone else takes it from them and paints it in a way that suits his whims and caprices. What it means to be a bat is only known to the bat.

In the ecumenical spirit of Ojiji, the Izhi Nnodo clan, therefore, invites all brother and sister clans, the great Ekumenyi sons and daughters, neighbouring clans, co-cultural partners, friends, in-laws, and admirers of Izhi in Ebonyi state and beyond to join her in celebrating Ojiji festival.

Ge o duru Ali Izhi le ree! Duru ali Ebonyi le ree!!