The Ikeji festival is an annual four-day celebration of the harvest of fresh yams and the Igbo culture conducted by the Igbo people of Arondizuogu in Imo State, Nigeria, in March and April.
This is equal to one week which corresponds to the four Igbo market days of Eke, Oye (Orie), Afo, and Nkwo.
Each of these days has a special significance and represents one of the several dimensions of Ikeja.
Eke is the day when livestock are purchased at various Eke markets.
Oye is the day of slaughter and feasting.
Afor is the day of more merriment and masquerade displays.
Nkwo is the carnival day when all new, old and ceremonial masquerades assemble at the central arena.
From all the towns and villages of Arondizuogu hordes of exotically dressed masquerades and their exuberant followers trudge out towards Nkwo Achi, the central arenas of the carnival.
Some wield whips made from the lighter end of the branches of palm or coconut trees wrung or twisted at the tip.
The Ikeji festival goes back five centuries and is an Igbo event that brings together all Igbo races from across the world as they return to the southeastern areas of Nigeria to watch and participate in the festival.
The celebration is highlighted by the presentation of countless masquerades dancing throughout the villages, music, and the practice of traditional Igbo religion.
Economic importance of Ikeji festival
The Ikeji festival serves as a source of revenue for Nigeria through tourism as foreigners as well all the Igbos in diaspora travel back to Arondizuogu to witness the festival.
Brief History of Ikeji Festival
Originally, ikeji was a ritual held to commemorate the end of the planting season. ‘Ikeji’ is thought to be a shortened version of ‘ike Ji isi’ (to remove the yam), which is commonly done in preparation for seed yam preservation in the yam barn.
In Arochukwu, Arondizuogu’s native homeland, Ikeji is conducted in March or April at Arondizuogu due to the ease of the location.
Early Christian missionaries were unable to comprehend Ikeji and, in classic European fashion, attributed it to paganism to deter their disciples from attending the celebration.
Ikeji, on the other hand, survived and came to be recognized as a cultural treasure deserving of preservation. Even the clergy now take part in ikeji.
The Masquerades of Ikeji festival
There are different sorts of masquerades:
Abuja – a hilariously adorned masquerade specializing in the enjoyment of ladies and children.
Ojionu – a fearsome whip-wielding masquerade
Mgbadike – a dumb, energetic masquerade wielding a wooden replica of an axe or cutlass restrained by a restrainer.
Ogba igbada – a dancing masquerade that electrifies any arena with nimble and harmonious dance steps; and the ceremonial masquerades, which are often massive, majestic, and expensively decorated.
Each disguise has its name. The masquerade or masquerades, the umu nkwu (followers), and the okwa Oja make up a masquerade group (flautist).
About Arondizuogu and what they are known for
Arondizuogu was founded by the use of force by Mazi Izuogu Mgbokpo and his brothers (Iheme) in the mid-14th century.
Izuogu Mgbokpo was a charismatic slave merchant who came from Arochukwu to Awka in search of slaves Arondizuogu (Aro-ndizuogu) is a town inhabited by the Igbo subgroup, the Aro people in the Imo State of Nigeria.
The Arondizuogu community is believed to have migrated from Arochukwu in the present Abia State to their present settlements across three local governments in Imo state.
These include knowing Okigwe, Ideato North, and Onuimo Local Governments, although there are others of Aro descent in other local governments in Imo State.