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Okigbo Assumes New Life In ‘Words Over Bonfire!’

By James Eze
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Christopher Okigbo metaphorically rose from the dead in his native Ojoto when six Nigerian poets sought to invoke his genius in a colourful ceremony held on the eve of his posthumous 85 th birthday at the weekend.

The ceremony, aptly tagged Words over Bonfire saw Nigeria’s most enchanting poets, amu-nnadi (Through the Window of a Sandcastle), TadeIpadeola (The Sahara Testaments), NdukaOtiono (Love in a Time of Nightmares), ChumaNwokolo (Final Testament of a Minor God)UcheUmez (Dark through the Delta) andIquo Diana Eke (Symphony of Becoming) singing the moon to sleep under the glow of a bonfire in an effort to give a new figurative life to the heroic poet.

The ceremony which held in the vast compound of the Okigbos in Ojoto-Uno, Idemili Local Government Area of Anambra State was the opening sequence of a two-day poetry festival organised by the Awka Literary Society in honour the late poet.

The night began with a flourish with the poets arriving to the warm embrace of ObiageliOkigbo, the late poet’s daughter, her hitherto unknown half-brother, Onyebuchi and the rest of the family led by Uncle John Okigbo who had ordered several pots of tasty palm wine to slake the thirst of the poets who would soon ease into the performance mode to honour their hero.

The eclectic audience of writers, storytellers, culture lovers, students and curious Ojoto residents were soon to get a foretaste of what the night held in its vast folds when OkigboMbem, an extra-ordinary verbal poet with a voice that has no need for a microphone opened the curtain with a haunting invocation of Christopher Okigbo. His voice ripped through the night air and stirred everyone awake to the business of the night.

OkigboMbem is a well-known griot in Awka and environs who practices a very difficult artform. His rose and fell with the moods of the night as he painted a picture of Okigbo’s life of promise and its abrupt termination by war. He also heaped eulogies on the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano for creating a conducive environment for the arts to thrive.

But the mood soon became sombre when the poets filled out and walked up to Okigbo’s grave to pay obeisance to the fallen poet. Each poet approach the tombstone with deep respect and stood before it for a moment before walking back to their seats.

UcheUmez was the first to take the stage. Every poet began his reading with a brief remark about what Christopher Okigbo meant to him or her. As Umez read, the bonfire crackled to life, sending an incandescent glow into the surrounding darkness. Umez’s performance was solemn and intense, heightening our sense of the moment. But all that changed when Iquo Diana Eke floated to the arena. Iquo’s performance was celebratory, involving a call-and-response that swept the audience along. The mood was infectious as the audience struggled to sing in Ibibio after her.

The night however took a new edge when Prof. NdukaOtiono, author of The Night Hides with a Knife took to the stage. His deep baritone rolled over his lines in a smooth delivery that had the feel of a waterfall on hard soil. His vast experience showed in his seamless glide through his poem, sweeping the audience on what seemed like a rollercoaster ride into a night of words over bonfire.

When ChumaNwokolo stood up to perform, his grey hair glowing into the cascading shades of the night, the performance took yet another turn for the better. Nwokolo seemed so regal, radiating the sense of solemnity that descended on the scene when OkigboMbem opened the night with an invocation. Nwokolo’s voice sounded like the drop of a feather onto a dark still void, soft and soothing.

TadeIpadeola performance was probably the first time Okigbo’s poem would be read to an eclectic audience of poets and writers by his graveside. Ipadeola’s delivery and choice of poem to read heightened the sense of gratitude from the audience to the fallen poet. His brief talk on why Okigbo would always be outstanding was just as brilliant as he recalled how Okigbo had turned around when the limelight was on him as Africa’s greatest poet and pointed out that the honour actually belonged to the Congolese poet, Tchicaya U Tam'si.

But the audience finally felt the magic in the night when amu-nnadi took the stage, accompanied by a flutist. Finally, the performance found its mooring. The flute sang intermittently, weaving in and out and twirling around the words of amu-nnadi’s lyrics, spraying magic around the scene. The bonfire glowed silently in the backstage as the smouldering wood crackled and hissed in the flame.

Dr.Mrs.NgoziChuma-Ude’s performance was a fitting ending to a night that belonged to the gods; a night which could only have been made possible by the spirit of Christopher Okigbo. It was an extra-ordinary night; a night when words reached orgasm on their own, frothing and hissing over a smouldering bonfire!

But perhaps more importantly it was poetry’s first night in South East Nigeria and a fitting posthumous birthday present on the eve of Christopher Okigbo’s 85th birthday!




AMU-NNADI AND ODILI


AMU-NNADI READING HIS POEM


AMU-NNADI


CHRISTOPHER'S YOUNGER SISTER, OBIAGELI, ANNE AND ONYEBUCHI


DANCE AROUND BONFIRE


EMEKA OZUMBA IN THE THROES OF DANCE


EMEKA OZUMBA, OBIAGELI OKIGBO, IFEANYI ANIAGOH AND ONYEBUCHI OKIGBO


EZE, OKIGBO MBEM, ANIAGOH AND UJUBUONU


IQUO DIANA EKE


JAMES EZE AND ODILI UJUBUONU, BOTH OF AWKA LITERARY SOCIETY


JAMES EZE AS THE MC


JAMES EZE REPONDS TO THE SUMMONS OF THE FLUTIST


MEMEBRS OF THE EDGE CREW


NDUKA OTIONO


ONYEBUCHI CHRISTOPHER OKIGBO AND ANIAGOH


OTIONO POURS OUT PALM WINE IN LIBATION


OZUMBA AND EZE


TADE IPADEOLA


THE DANCE


THE EDGE CREW DRAMATIZES OKIGBO AT WAR


THE EDGE CREW IN PERFORMANCE


UCHE UMEZ


UMEZ PAYS TRIBUTE TO OKIGBO


UNCLE JOHN OKIGBO