Iwa Akwa Festival (Initiation Into Manhood)
Iwa Akwa in progress. Photo credit: Susan Duru
The Iwa Akwa festival is one of the most cherished cultural celebrations of the Imo State axis of Igbo Land, Nigeria. It is a ceremony ceremony that initiates young boys into manhood. Boys become men.
It used to be more widespread in times past, encompassing more areas of Igbo Land. But today, it is still passionately celebrated every 3 years by some communities that have faithfully held the torch on behalf of Ndigbo.
These communities include:
It should be more widely introduced in a reformed mode. It is one of the fun aspects of Igbo culture that must not be allowed to fade away in the face of modernization.
The Iwa Akwa Festival in Ehime, Imo State
This festival is traditionally a two-day programme. The first day is the actual initiation day. On that day, previous celebrants come to ‘show their seniority’ to the new initiates. Pricedings start as early as dawn. Prospective initiates assemble at the Village Square. They come with buckets so that they’ll go to the stream to fetch water for the seniors to drink.
Each initiate, no matter how highly placed in society, is expected to carry out their task without complaining; and the water they fetch must be ‘very clean’ if the initiate doesn’t want to be sent back (wink) (Lol).
For if the seniors ‘notice any dirt’ in the water, the person who fetched that bucket would be asked to go back and fetch another one.
According to enthusiasts, one average, each candidate goes to the stream three times. This amounts to fetching three buckets of water.
And it doesn’t end there. For, after this, the initiates will be made to clean the senior ones’ shoes – as a mark of respect. They must do this without complaint, irrespective of whom they are in society. I think this teaches service and humility.
Sometimes another variant of this task is done at the senior’s request.
If this task is carried out successfully, the initiate is given a pass mark and allowed to go home. After the task is carried and no fault is found in an initiate’s service, he is allowed to go home. That is when celebration starts.
In cases where a candidate misses out on the exercise, the whole group will match to his family house and seize valuables to compel him to come and perform his own rites. And when he returns, he will have to pay certain amount of money (as fine) to bail those items. When the rites are completed, the new members will match home barefooted, as a further sign of respect to the senior ones.
Note: senior have been known to ask initiates to kneel down under the sun for hours to confirm their patience and loyalty.
Meanwhile at the family homes of the initiates, relations will be busy preparing locally made foods are for visitors coming for the reception. The reception starts from 6.00pm. It lasts to about 1.00am and often beyond. There I’d a lot of merriment.
Day 2, which is the big day, traditionally starts in the church. There, the initiates will hold wrappers out brand new wrappers which are blessed by the priest.
After that, each initiate will take his wrapper home, spread it in front of his compound. This is so that passersby might see and be know that someone in that family is being initiated into manhood.
No one is expected to touch the hung wrapper until the senior ones come at about 10.00am, bring it down themselves and tie it on the waist of the celebrant. After that, it is time to match to the Village Square. Each initiate is expected to match down with different musical artistes playing. There are displays of cultural dances, masquerade performances, and agu nkonko performances. Musical bands will also be retained at the homes to make the occasion lively.
The celebrants march to the monarch’s palace, village square, as well as the market square with the musical artistes playing melodious tunes.
Note: The wrapper used is a symbol of coverage. Officially they (initiates) were naked children before but they are now clothed adults.
After this ceremony, the initiates will now be able to attend community meetings, pay dues and take part in the decision making process of the community.
After the march to the market square, another reception is held at each family compound, with so much dancing and merriment.
Special thanks to Susan Duru for information used in this content.
Aju (Iwa Akwa) Festival of the Ugbo People
This festival is celebrated once in three years. It is the passage rite of male adolescents of Ugbo into manhood. The rites directly involve males of between the ages of 21 and 24 years – and above in the Igbo kingdom, which is situated in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igbo Land, Nigeria.
Aju Festival is the Ugbo version of Iwa Akwa. Boys are initiated in to manhood. After that, they are free to make their contributions in the social cultural and political affairs of Ugbo Kingdom.
The Aju Festival is celebrated during the month of August every three years.
First comes the Nkata Ekwa rite. Nkata Ekwa involves the initiate sending a traditional invitation to his relations with some kegs of palm wine to inform them that he will be celebrating Iwa Ekwa.
After the NKATA EKWA, which every initiate of the new age grade would have celebrated in their individual home, it will be time for the Aju Festival proper.
On Day 1 of the festival, all the UMU EKWA or initiates will gather in their individual village square to entertain the villagers and guests with IZO EKWA rites which will be done in groups.
After the IZO EKWA performance, each initiate comes out to the village square to dance and do some agana.
During the dance and agana, friends, relations and well wishers present their gift of akwa money (‘clothes money’) and other things to the initiate.
After this, former initiates come and give their EGBE EKWA.
Ndi na enye Egbe Ekwa will come to the village square with their EGBE NTA (dane guns). They then release some traditional gunshots in the air and do some IZO EKWA in a show of strength.
After IZỌ EKWA from UMU EKWA, the rites for Day 1 come to an end.
Day 2 of the Aju Festival is traditionally called MGBAHE ISHI.
Mgbahe Ishi is a parade of the umu ekwa initiates. They will zọọ ekwa round the entire town, stopping by in each village square in Ugbo Kingdom to zọọ ekwa for them.
Prior to the parade which will be done at the same time, the Ugbo Okpala people fire a number of gun shots into the air to inform the rest of the villages in Ugbo that they are about to leave their village to meet their Oyibo relatives that live some distance away.
When the Ugbo Okpala arrive at Oyibo, Umu Ekwa initiates from Oyibo will usher them into the Oyibo village square, called OBODO IKE. This is usually accompanied by a ‘show of force’ by the Ugbo Okpala.
When the Ugbo Okpala eventually arrive the village square, another round of gunshots will be fired into the air. This is a signal to the other villages in Ugbo that they have arrived the Oyibo village square.
Interestingly, the villages of Ugbonabọ and Ngene Ugbo will also release their own gunshots as a response to Ugbo Okpala that they got their message.
Izọ Ekwa then starts in their villages.
The Ugbo Okpara carry out this rite and usher in Izo Akwa in all the villages of Ugbo. This is the story of Mgbahe Ishi, which happens on Day 2.
On the third day, the entire Kingdom of Ugbo, friends, well wishers, and guests come together at the ORIO UGBO in Ugbonabọ for the final IZỌ EKWA which is called IGBA NA IZU.
Igba Na Izu is coupled with other entertainment for guests like:
Akunaeche enyi ndi Oyibo with their
Adanma, Shaba, Police, Otenkwu and Owa Oji.
Not left out are Amala Ubo ndi Ugwu Ede, Okolobo ndi Ugbonabọ, Ogene umu Oyibo; and Akunaeche enyi from other villages.
Women’s Njomu dance also provides entertainment, notably the Oyorima dance from Njomu Oyibo, and Opi Igwe from Njomu Ugbonabọ.
We close with this statement by Hon. Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, the Okeosisi of Ugbo Kingdom
on the significance of the Aju (Iwa Akwa) festival to the people of Ugbo.
“Aju festival is one of the major cultural landmarks in Ugbo traditional calendar and a significant process in, not just Ugbo, but also in many Igbo societies.
“The festival is a chain of ceremonies performed every three years to mark the Rite of Passage for males from adolescents into manhood. The celebrants are males between the ages of 20 and 24 The rite of passage, called Iwa Akwa (clothing) is the most cherished festival in the life of every Ugbo indigene.
“Aju festival dates back to Ugbo history. Our ancestors conceived it as a classificatory process of grouping males into specific age-grades for smooth and effective communal administration.
“On the other hand, both seniority and age grade are seriously emphasized such that in Ugbo, old age goes with honour, dignity and gerontocratic rights.
“Iwa Akwa involves various social processes aimed at initiating the adolescents into manhood as well as bonding the members of the age-grade across the entire hamlets of Ugbo.
“The initiates are in the process, fully incorporated and enculturated into the core Ugbo essence and traditional cosmology. Apart from impacting the Ugbo consciousness in the initiated, the Iwa Akwa confers on the celebrant all the privileges, rights, dignity and profound sense of belonging in the Ugbo society.
“Iwa- Akwa also goes with some challenges. The celebrants are reminded as in Corinthians, 13 Vs 11: “As a child, I spoke, thought and understood as a child. Now, as a man, you must put away all the childish things’’. It is the occasion for the central message: Go ye into the world, tread cautiously as an Ugbo indigene with an achievement ambience.
“Put differently, any male who has not performed the Iwa Akwa ceremony is considered a minor in Ugbo. Going by the standards of Ugbo custom and tradition, such a minor may not only be allowed to marry but will not be entrusted with serious responsibilities in the community.
“Expectedly, every Ugbo parent looks forward with emotional excitement, to a day his/her son will perform the Iwa Akwa ceremony. It is considered a thing of immense joy for a parent to witness the rite of passage of his/her son.
“It is greeted with enormous fanfare, gunshots, feasts, dancing groups, etc. Because of the relevance attached to the Aju festival, all sons, daughters and friends of Ugbo both at home and in the Diaspora usually strive to participate in the festival.
Hon. Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia