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Issele-Uku Kingdom Celebrates Igbu Awai

By Kenneth Orusi, The Nigerian Voice, Asaba
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Issele-Uku Kingdom is a perfect example of culture personified; as an offshoot community from the Great Bini Kingdom it has continued to accord high regards for the traditions and customs of the progenitors of Issele-Uku.

Igbu Awai is the traditional day of eating the new yam by the titled men of Issele-Uku known as Ndi Ikpala. It is a day the new yam officially enters the house and prepared in porridge form for all the household members, friends and well wishers to eat together.

But before any activity could commence for the day, just as the men had gone to get the yam, the daughters of the family (Adas) would perform house cleansing with 'Nzu na Odo' to ward off evil and illnesses associated with the eating of the new yam. This is preceded by gunshots from the monarch of the community, HRM Agbogidi Obi Nduka to open the day for such.

Meanwhile, fire is made outside the house with big iron pot set on it. The yam is pilled, washed and placed in the pot for cooking.

When the yam is done, part of it is removed to prepare what is called 'Abubu'; it is mashed and oil applied on it. It is the dry form of the Awai and everybody eats that first before oil and salt are applied to the one in the pot on fire, which eventually turns into a porridge (Awai).

While these processes are ongoing, a goat must have been slaughtered by the men in the house and the women commissioned to start cooking food at the backyard, which everyone eats eventually in conclusion of a day of celebration with sumptuous meal.

Another aspect of the Igbu Awai is the preparation of 'Otite'. This process involves roasting some tubers of yam and in the end, scraping the burnt body of the yam and slicing it to mix with the already prepared Otite leaves. This is another delicious form of the Igbu Awai and it is medicinal too, in the sense that the herbal leaves take care of any stomach upset that may result from the eating of the new yam.

With utmost dexterity to get the details of this age long tradition, our crew moved round town to report the ceremony.

It was however, disappointing to note that not too many Ikpala indigenes of Issele-Uku are still involved in this form of culture. While some of those spoken to on the less number of participants claimed it was due to lack of finance, others just feigned lack of interest.

Nevertheless, we visited the Ogwa Ogbelani of Issele-Uku, where Diokpa Okonkwo Isimchei praised Issele-Uku Kingdom for remaining in tune with the culture of our forebears.

He therefore prayed for Issele-Uku land, the Obi of Issele-Uku, Agbogidi Nduka, all sons and daughters of the Kingdom including strangers in the land. He asked God to preserve the life of all, including granting the Obi and his subjects the wisdom and well withal to continue to nurture and keep the tradition of Issele-Uku.

He said that Issele-Uku is about the only community that is keeping with the tradition of Igbu Awai, whereas others more or less roast the yam and cook food for new yam celebration.

The Ogbelani affirmed that Igbu Awai is an annual event in Issele-Uku, thereby praying for the blessing of bountiful harvests and the grace to celebrate annually.

Another family visited was the traditional home of the Okwelegwe of Issele-Uku, where Comrade Lucky Ochei, the representative of Chief John Ochei (Okwelegwe of Issele-Uku) hosted a good number of youths and family members to celebrate the Igbu Awai.

The great culture enthusiast and Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Aniocha north local government area, happily affirmed that Igbu Awai is an annual event and as a son born into tradition and culture, he would always do the needful every year.

He equally prayed for the King of the community and the land of Issele-Uku; however, declaring "Aka Ene Aho Ene", meaning so shall it be every year.