The National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) in partnership with a Lagos based communication and marketing company, Potter Media Communications and Marketing Company, will in August this year hold a novel cultural festival cum tourism programme in Ohafia, Abia State.
The festival, Ohafia Heritage Festival and Slave Route Tour (OH-FESRT), would provide local and international tourists the opportunity to experience the famous Ohafia War Dance (Egu Ikperikpe Ogu), a traditional dance festival that evolved from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade era.
The festival will also offer tourists the opportunity to visit historical sites in Ohafia and Abia North senatorial district associated with the slave trade era.
The NCAC director general, Otunba Segun Runsewe, currently spearheading usage of culture and arts for economic benefit of the country, said the heritage festival would help to further project our culture and tell our story as a people.
Speaking on the festival, the project coordinator, Mr. Okorie Uguru, said the festival would provide a platform to celebrate the culture, history, craftsmanship and rich artistry of Ohafia people and by extension, the Old Bende Region (Abia North Senatorial Zone).
He said: “While the festival will showcase and assemblage of Ohafia War Dance troupes from 27 communities of Ohafia, the Slave Route Tour will cover Uzuakoli, Bende, Ohafia and Arochukwu towns to see key places and artifacts from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade era.
“Ohafia and the whole of Abia North were very active during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade era.
The relic, artifacts and outposts are there. Our aim is to create a tourism economy in Ohafia and Abia North. It is a cultural cum tourism fiesta that aims to develop a tourism economy for our people.
Currently in the Old Bende region, the economy revolves around farming, trading, small and medium scale enterprises (SME) and civil service.
Tourism, through the festival and package tours, could add to the economy of the people by directly attracting tourism that would spend their money within the region.
This would stimulate the economy and the proceeds go directly to locals to help improve their livelihood.
Uguru stated that: “It is a known fact, all over the world, that tourism being the biggest employer labour, also has a direct economic impact on the host communities. OH-FESRT will provide entertainment and improve the economy of the region. In addition, many places in Nigeria are losing their history and identity as a result of westernization. There is no better way to preserve and celebrate our history than actively reliving it through the traditional dance.”
Speaking on the war dance, Okorie Uguru explained: “The Ohafia War Dance is a spectacle we want to package properly for tourists to come and enjoy. It is a heritage that represents the antecedent of the people of Ohafia and the larger Old Bende region. The electrifying cultural dance encapsulates history, music, choreography and creativity. It is from this music and dance that the oral history of the Ohafia and the Old Bende region is passed from generation to generation. The creativity is in the oral history rendition including accuracy, creativity, dance steps and costuming. Apart from the touristic value, the festival is educational as our youths would use the opportunity to imbibe the history of our people.”
He also spoke on the history behind the dance: “Historically, Ohafia people are warriors and their exploits are succinctly captured in oral tradition passed through panegyrics. Ohafia warriors were mercenaries during the slave trade era. They were engaged by the Arochukwu slave traders for punitive and slave raids. It is from these war exploits that the Ohafia War Dance Ikpirikpe Ogu or Iri Agha originates.
“With the coming of modernity, the war dance became purely for entertainment, artistry and musical creativity. The Ikpirikpe Ogu has become one of the leading dances to showcase in Igboland.
“ Apart from wars, as earlier stated, Ohafia people are very artistic, most especially in the area of wood carving. The testament to this could be seen in the close to 20 feet wood carving adorning the entrance of the National Museum Onikan, Lagos. The Omo Ukwu temple in Asaga and the Obu Nkwa in Elu Ohafia also attest to this.
“Although artifact looters have raided and looted wooden artifacts at Obu Nkwa, but Omo Ukwu ancient artifacts are still intact.
For Ohafia people, history is captured in dance and merriment that extol the exploits and conquest of the ancient warriors. The dance celebrates the history of Ohafia people and also captures series exploits of the warriors in the past.
“Apart from wars, as earlier stated, Ohafia people were artistic, most especially in the area of wood carving. The testament to this could be seen in the close to 20 feet wood carving adorning the entrance of the National Museum Onikan, Lagos. The Omo Ukwu temple in Asaga and the Obu Nkwa in Elu Ohafia all attest to this.
“Although artifact looters have raided and looted wooden artifacts at Obu Nkwa, but Omo Ukwu ancient artifacts are still intact.”