The Iwa Akwa festival took place in Umuopara nsu in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State on the 3rd of January, 2016, as it is usually done at the interval of three (3) years. It is an avenue, where the young men of the community, who are between the ages of 26 and 30 years, are initiated into manhood.

This festival is the biggest festival in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area, as it is the only ceremony that brings tourists to the towns and villages in Mbano. It goes as far as attracting foreigners to Ehime Mbano to participate in the festival.

In this particular Iwa Akwa festival, which took place on the 3rd of January, 2016, a total number of seventy-eight (78) youths were initiated, which marked the highest number of initiates in recent years.

The festival is a two-day programme; the first day holds the initiation where the previous celebrants come to show their seniority to the younger ones, who are billed to be initiated into manhood. They start as early as 6.00am to assemble the prospective initiates at the Village Square; they ask them to come with buckets so that they go to the stream and fetch water for them to drink, as their seniors.

Each person is expected to carry out this task without complaining; and the water they fetch must be very clean. If they notice any dirt in the water, the person who fetched that bucket will be asked to go back and fetch another one. Each candidate is expected to go to the stream three times, which amounts to three buckets of water.

After this, the younger ones will made to clean the senior ones’ shoes, as a sign of respect; and this must be done without complaint, irrespective of whom you are, how rich you are, or how popular you are. Tradition is tradition, so they must obey.

Though the tasks vary from year to year or group by group, as long as the task is dictated by the senior ones, the younger ones must obey. After the task is carried and no fault is found in an initiate, he is allowed to go home and rejoice. On the other hand, if any candidate misses out on the exercise, the whole group will match to his family house and seize valuable items until he returns; and when he returns, he will be pay certain amount of money (as fine) to bail those items.

When everything is done, everyone will match home bare-footed, as a sign of respect to the senior ones. In some cases, the senior ones will ask the younger ones to kneel down under the sun for hours to test their patience and loyalty. While all these are going on, the family members will be home making sure different delicacies are prepared: locally made foods are prepared for visitors, who come from far and near to grace the occasion. The reception starts from 6.00pm to about 1.00am and beyond, depending on the wherewithal of the family.

The second day, which is the main day, starts as early as 6.00am in the church, with all the initiates holding their wrappers and waiting for the Reverend Father to pray and bless them before they commence the occasion proper. After the wrappers must have been blessed, each candidate will take his wrapper home, spread it in front of his compound for all passers-by to see and be aware that someone in that family was being initiated into manhood.

In accordance with the tradition, no one is expected to touch that wrapper again until the senior ones come at about 10.00am, bring it down themselves and tie it on the waist of the celebrant. When it is time to match to the Village Square, everyone is expected to match down with different musical instrument playing, just as there displays of cultural dances, masquerade performances, and agu nkonko performances. There will be different types of colourful wrappers as all the families match from their compounds to the Village Square.

Each celebrant is expected to employ two types of musical artists that will make the occasion vibrant and lively. One is expected to play at home to make the place lively, while the other is to accompany the celebrant to the Village Square, as well as the Market Square, in order to keep everyone entertained.

In is pertinent to note that, the wrapper used is a symbol of coverage. It is assumed that they (initiates) were naked before but they are now covered. This explains why most families go all out to make sure they buy the best wrappers in the market. Though the occasion is a competitive one, most families try hard to make their families proud.

One of the youngest initiate in the 2016 edition of the Iwa Akwa Festival was 26 years old Odinaka Duru. This initiation marked a new beginning in his life and in the life of his family because Odinaka will now attend community meetings, pay dues and take part in the decision making process of the community. This always brings joy to families of the celebrants because through their son, they will be updated on what is happening in the community.

Iwa Akwa Festival is usually so educating with so much entertainment around. It take two nights, the initiation night and the festival day, which takes people the king’s palace or village square before heading to the market square where the celebrants will be declared duly initiated. At that point, the candidates are lifted high up by family members, friends and well-wishers.

After this step, the reception will hold at each family compound, with so much dancing and merriment.    

Susan Duru

OCA Dept

NICO HQ, Abuja