Oke-aku Ezza Ezekuna: A Festival Of Love And Peace

By Monday Eze
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Today, Orie (Saturday) 8th July, 2023 is Oke-aku Ezza Ezekuna 2023. Ezza Ezekuna people at home and in the diaspora invite their friends and well-wishers to the warm and colourful convivialities and ceremonies which characterize the annual Oke-aku Ezza Ezekuna festival.

The people of Ezza Ezekuna are the descendants of Ezekuna, the first son of Ekumenyi. Ezza Ezekuna people are warm and itinerant farmers and men of valour who ran enviable traditional peace-keeping missions since creation. In the Bible, Ezza (spelt Ezer) was mentioned as the first among other tribes that helped David in the wilderness of Ziklag to overcome King Saul's army. Hence, in 1st Chronicles chapter 12 verse 8 - 9, Ezza people were described as "mighty men of valour, ... whose faces were like faces of lions, and who were as swift as gazelles on the mountains". Through the chains of successful peace-keeping missions which Ezza Ezekuna people engaged in for the reward of portions of the land and dints of hard work, Ezza Ezekuna people are found in great numbers in all the senatorial districts of Ebonyi State beyond their ancestral home - Onueke; and especially in Enugu, Benue, Kogi, Ondo, Ogun, Cross River and Anambra States et cetera. It is instructive that the ubiquity of Ezza Ezekuna people notwithstanding, they have no history of forceful conquest; rather, Ezza Ezekuna people are the only major tribe in Ebonyi State with verifiable histories and records of wilfully defending weak minority tribes at the expense or risk of their (Ezza Ezekuna people's) lives and limbs! To Ezza Ezekuna people, the lives of other people, especially the weak and the minority, matter!

Ezza Ezekuna people are blessed with a rich cultural heritage which, like the umbilical cord, irrevocably binds all Ezza Ezekuna people at home and in the diaspora together. This feature of Ezza Ezekuna people is further reinforced by their loyalty and positive disposition to their culture which has a lot of interesting festivals.

Oke-aku, the New Yam festival of Ezza Ezekuna people, is regarded as the greatest festival for two major reasons: One, Ezza Ezekuna people are basically farmers, and yam is unassailably the king of all crops. Two, Oke-aku festival marks the beginning of the traditional calendar year because it usually starts on the New Year day and and runs through the first traditional week of the year.

A typical Oke-aku festival begins in the morning of Orie day with cross-fires of traditional greetings laced with good prayers and good wishes for a prosperous and happy New year. Each family head is presented gifts by his wife/wives, adult children and other relations. The man in turn prays for his family, friends and relations; and blesses kola nuts which he shares among his people who eat same with specially-prepared pepper-sauce known as "uza ukpara". At the end of the kola nut ceremonies, the man shares remnants of old yams and palm kernels known as "nsa aku" among his family members, friends and relations. This symbolically marks the passover from famine period (unwu), when old yams, palm kernels and other local snacks known as "echa" are rationed, to the period of plenitude when new yams and other crops are harvested. Thereafter, the women go to prepare special dishes while the men source good palm and other choice drinks all of which will be enjoyed for the rest of the day. The rest of the days of the traditional week which are Awho, Nkwo, and Eke are used to visit inlaws, the poor and to pay homages to elders and constituted authorities.

Orie which is the first day of the second week in Ezza Ezekuna traditional calendar is known as "Orie mbi-eka" which marks the grand finalé of Oke-aku festival. On this day, people go out to supervise and do minor works like uprooting weeds which might have sprouted in between the crops within the past week when less attention was paid to farm work. This casual and minor works in the farms are known as "Mbi-eka ewu". At noon, every one is back home for refreshments. Afterwards, people come out to the village squares to meet their friends or relatives and watch cultural displays.

Oke-aku festival of Ezza Ezekuna people is significant in many ways. It marks the transition from the period of scarcity of food symbolized by nsa-aku and old yams withered by long period of preservation to a period of prosperity manifested by the mature and ready-to-be-harvested new yam. Oke-aku is also a period of stock-taking and re-direction. Oke-aku is a festival of love and peace; a period of reconciliation when wrongs are forgiven and broken relationships are mended. Above all, Oke-aku festival is a time for thanksgiving to the almighty and benevolent God for His graces over the ages and the previous year upon the people of Ezza Ezekuna. It is both the tradition and desire of the people of Ezza Ezekuna that every Ebonyian, nay Nigerian, will use the golden opportunity of this year's Oke-aku Ezza Ezekuna to genuinely forgive his/her neighbour; enlarge the circle of love and friendship; and promote collective interests above minor passions and personal ambitions.

As Ezza Ezekuna people pray for a prosperous New year, God, Ebonyi people and the rest of humanity expect Ezza Ezekuna people to stretch their love and unity beyond the sphere of culture to the sphere of politics which has been rightly described as a game of number and interests. This will give them a bigger and better voice as well as the golden opportunity to avail Ebonyi State and her people the benefits of the humongous goodwill, courage, intelligence, industry and natural commitment to the common good which are natural trademarks of Ezza Ezekuna people. These should be the watch-words of Ezza Ezekuna people if they really want to continue in the eventful progress match of their forebears which took them across the sharps of many forests and into distant lands and, yet, united them in love with peoples of diverse cultures.

Anyi aboo! Awhaa l'aburuanyi awha oma!
Vuta- vuta, anyi avuta; gbala-gbala, anyi agbalaa!
©️ Monday Eze
Abaragu Court, Ibenda village, Ezza-Effium, Ohaukwu LGA, Ebonyi State.

08: 07: 2023