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DRAMATIC ELEMENTS IN THE ONUNU FESTIVAL OF OKPUJE IN NSUKKA
- GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION OF OKPUJE
Okpuje is a town that is located at the north-west end of Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria. It is on the trunk B road leading from Nsukka to Idah in Kogi state. At her Northern end, Okpuje has a common boundary with Ibagwa Agu in Nsukka Local Government Area; in the south, Orobo-Abbi in Uzo-uwani Local Government Area, in the East, Ibagwa-ani and Akpa-Edem both in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State and in the west, Avurugo and Ugwaka in Kogi state. It is situated on a friendly land scope which is straddled, somehow, by two hills, one at the north and the other at the south, extending to the western part of the town.
The primary occupation of Okpuje is farming. This can be attributed to the large expance of agricultural land on which it is situated. A lot of farm crops such as yams of various species, coco yam, cassava (for which the people are great garri producers), melon, maize, beans etc. are produced in the town.
A man is adjudged rich based on the abundance of agricultural crops he possesses by traditional standards. Wealth in itself confers honour and dignity. Consequently, people strive to be wealthy and since what an individual, working alone can hardly acquire wealth, it makes people to marry as many wives as they could. Many children are born and large scale farming is practised. More hands, more wealth and greater recognition is achieved.
Okpuje people are deeply religious. They believe in the existence of a supreme being called Ezechitoke Abiama (God the creator) who is the source of life. Apart from him, there is also a belief in a personal god called chi to whom sacrifices are offered during good and bad times. Furthermore, there is a belief in a pantheon of deities like Ugwu-Okpuje, Asama, Ahimuze, Ovogovo etc. the Chief priests called Atamama is in charge of these deities. It is pertinent to note that Christianity and western education have impacted so much on their traditional religion that most of them today are Christians of various denominations. Okpuje community has produced some men of God; one Rev. Father Boniface Ekowo, Rev. Ugwuanyi Clifford, Rev. Okwuchukwu Ayogu and Rev Christian Ajibo both of the Anglican denomination, Pastor (Professor) Paul Emeka of the Assemblies of God church and many other men of God in various denominations.
The administrative set up of Okpuje comprises the elders and Ama-title holders. The elders are in charge of administering civil duties in villages and they also handle minor criminal disputes.
The council of Ama-title holders is in charge of handling cases which the elders could not settle. They serve as the final court of appeal. This council also deals directly with serious criminal cases. In serious cases of sacrilege such as disclosing the secrets of masquerade to a woman, the culprit is tried and fined by the general council. Other cases such as witchcraft and poisoning are settled by drinking a liquid concoction from a tree called “Ohachi”. The belief is that the innocent would vomit the whole substance and live while the guilty shall die. It will be interesting no matter the gravity of his/her offence. The highest penalty that can be given is banishment.
The Igwe-in–Council is the paramount ruler while the Onyishi and representatives of each community form the leaders of the community.
- BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The focus is the Onunu festival in Okpuje and the dramatic elements therein. This is a form of oral literature that has not actually attracted the attention of any scholar (to the best of researcher’s knowledge). This area is of great interest to the researcher. The activities involved in traditional festivals are always interesting but Christianity and Western cultures which are prevailing in our towns today have driven our mind away from them. These are the things that ought not to be neglected because they are part of our culture and culture is way of life. Anybody who has forgotten his culture has also forgotten himself.
The researcher’s interest in the Onunu festival which provoked her to carry out this research was primarily based on personal experiences. The researcher grew up in the Okpuje community thus witnessing the Onunu festival year after year. This festival was interesting to the extent that the Okpuje indigenes who are not in town will always travel back during the festival period. The memories are unforgettable and prompted the urge and desire for the study. Some literature on oral literature in African also sparked her interest in carrying out this research. It was quite challenging that researchers have been carried out on some other masquerade festivals in African but none has been done on the Onunu festival. Agu(nd:26) while writing about the Odo festival says:
Odo is essentially the biggest and most important festival which takes place between Onwa ito and Onwa ishi every two years, it provides for the natives an unsurpassed period of feasting. All the villages have an appointed day for its Odo feast. Friends and relatives are invited and heavily entertained. The Odo itself is seen by all and sundry including non-initiates.
The Onunu festival in Okpuje is also the biggest and most important festival in Okpuje traditional society. This is the reason why there is need for a documented fact about the festival and so necessitates this research work.
It is not just enough to study Onunu Okpuje as an oral literature; it is pertinent to study it as traditional drama. The researcher has read some other research work done by other researchers which used masquerade festivals to prove that traditional drama exists in Africa. Amankulor (1981:16) in his study of the Omabe festival, says:
Omabe is regarded as a traditional drama because it involves drama, music and miming. It makes use of the totality of all arts available to a particular community as its raw materials. The practice of drama is dominated by cultural convention and ethics. Traditional drama in African societies is always characterized by exterior factors as religion, ritual, ceremony and quest for livelihood.
The Onunu festival is no different and should not be left out. This work is therefore in support of these assertions and counter to the evolutionists who claim that traditional drama does not exist in African.
- OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The objective of this study is to demonstrate that the Onunu Okpuje festival is traditional drama. Also determine the impacts of the masquerade display during the festival. Moreover, the researcher seeks to: Highlight the Onunu Okpuje festival myth and the dramatic impact of the festival. To determine the people’s commitment in the preparation of the festival, account for the possible spending that are made and the reasons behind them. Again to identify the various places people gather to watch various performances, describe the costumes which are used by the performers and how they are procured and also determine how long the festival last.
- SCOPE OF THE STUDY
There are many festivals in Igbo traditional societies in general and in the Okpuje community in particular but the study did not cover all known festivals. The researcher therefore focuses on the Onunu Okpuje, the most popular festival in Okpuje community. The researcher seeks to establish the existence of traditional drama in the Onunu festival. The researcher chooses to study the Onunu Okpuje festival in particular but will always make references to other similar festivals in Igbo land and make comparisions with them. The research went a long way in covering areas of activities that take place during the period like Obubo Uzo, Ogugo chi, Orie Nchekwe, Nkwo Nri Umuoru etc. and the masquerade display and the values.
- PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
A number of problems were encountered at various stages of the research. The major problem was the season of the festival. The Onunu festival takes place once a year and the researcher had to be in the community at that particular period of the year to make sure that she captures the events. It takes place in the months of August and September.
The closed nature of the Onunu festival makes it difficult to get information about it. As a woman, this posed a great challenge and almost marred the research work. Even the peripheral information they gave the researcher was paid for in cash because they felt that the researcher was going to make money out of it. To counter this problem, the researcher pleaded with a woman known as Eze Iolo a woman that behaves like a man, (she was initiated into masquerade) who helped to convince the informats on the need to document their traditional festivals for the future.
Moreover, finance constituted a problem in carrying out the field work. The researcher had to engage the services of a cameraman for coverage of Mgbawara, Ugurum Itodo and other Masquerades on their various location. The masquerades insisted that the cameraman must not photograph them. The cameraman has to plead with the masquerades through their attendants and gave each masquerade some money before the photographer was allowed to snap them. The researcher borrowed some money from relatives in order to overcome this challenge.
- SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Onunu Okpuje is a great festival in Okpuje land. It started when the community started and there is no written document concerning the festival. This research work will be significant to the Okpuje people, Igbo land and Africa, at large. First, it will help to awaken people’s interest in this aspect of Igbo culture. It will help literary scholars, anthropologies, philosophers who are doing academic work. It will help them to make their literature review.
Secondly, it will help both indigenes and non-indigenes of Okpuje to have a pellucid picture of traditional festivals of the community.
- RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The following research questions guided the researcher in carrying out her research work.
- What are the myths associated with the Onunu Okpuje festival, and the dramatic impact of the festival?
- How is the preparation of Onunu festival carried out?
- Does the festival entail any spending? If yes, what do they spend on and for what reason?
- Where do people gather to watch the performance?
- Do the performers use costumes? If yes, are they procured?
- How long does the festival last?