By Chris Oji
All is now set for the celebration of this year’s Ikeji Aro, the annual new yam festival of the people of Arochukwu in Abia State.
Precisely on September 23, His Royal Majesty, Mazi Ogbonnaya Okoro (CFR), the Eze Aro of Arochukwu Kingdom, the traditional rulers of the 19 villages, the President-General of NzukoArochukwu World-wide, Mazi George Okoronkwo Ezumah, and his exco and notable sons and daughters of the ancient kingdom, including kith and kin from Arochukwu Diaspora, shall lead the entire community in a solemn procession into Amaikpe, the ancestral square where Aros gather for major events, to celebrate Eke Ekpe, the climax of the three-week long new yam festival.
On that day, there shall be an assortment of masquerades, dance troupes and cultural displays.
Ikeji festival is celebrated annually to mark the end of the year. It started about 912 AD in Arochukwu, the ancestral abode of Arochukwu people worldwide. It is observed in over 350 Arochukwu communities, including those residing overseas, culminating in the grand finale in the ancestral home, Arochukwu, Abia State.
The Aro monarch releases the calendar following the indigenous lunar calendar that often coincides with the month of September, but at times spills over to October. This year’s festival started on Wednesday September 5, and it shall end on Thursday September 27.
Ekekpe is the climax of the festival and it shall see all the villages, Aro Diaspora, Aro allies displaying masquerades and dances. It is a season dedicated to showcasing the Aro rich cultural heritage, renewing of ancient covenant that unite Arochukwu kingdom and thanksgiving to God for a successful year.
Prominent personalities from all walks of life, including local and foreign tourists, shall participate in this year’s festival. The current leadership of Nzuko Arochukwu that came into office two years ago rebranded the Ikeji festival to a very enviable status, including attracting MTN Nigeria and Nigerian Breweries, amongst other corporate and individual sponsors to brand it.
This 3rd edition shall build on the successes achieved in the last two years, and especially serve as a home-coming event amongst Umu Aro in various places. The annual cultural festival presents a unique opportunity to celebrate Arochukwu tradition and culture in its pure and original form. It is also a platform for infinite entertainment, commerce and tourism as it features huge home coming, rare masquerades, traditional dances, cultural displays and so much more.
Arochukwu indigenes who may not make it home, especially those overseas, watch the events online.
According to the Chair, 2018 Ikeji Organizing Committee, Dr Azubike Okoro, “the activities shall start at 10.00am prompt and we expect diverse cultural troupes which shall compete for honors. The Ekpe Arochukwu will, as usual, grace the occasion and usher in the royalty to the arena.
“Consistent with our resolve to use culture to cement good neighborliness, we expect appearances by troupes from some of our immediate communities at the arena. Amaikpe square shall be closed to vehicular traffic from 8am to 7pm, so we implore all citizens, including VIPs, to use the alternate routes created for the purpose. Tourists shall have opportunity to see historic sites and ancient artifacts that will give them idea about the roles played by the town in commerce, trade and leadership across the entire eastern and middle belt regions of Nigeria.
“This year’s event, aside from expanding the commercial frontiers which presents bigger opportunities for businesses will also feature other significant innovations. For example, there is a new theme, “Ikeji Arochukwu: Culture for Development”, which shall provide focus for all activities thereby direct the community’s thoughts and energies towards what shall propel or trigger collective survival and growth.
“Moreover, given the significant role of the youths as agents of development, we shall work in concert with the umbrella youth body, NASS, to ensure the attainment of the goals of active participation of their members by providing a platform to showcase their talents and creative energies aimed at the advancement and growth of the kingdom. Tagged “Arochukwu Got Talent”, it shall take place on Ikeji eve to herald the grand finale the next day.
“Finally, the 2018 Ikeji Organizing Committee recognizes the fact that politics is in the air this season, and that political gladiators may wish to seize the opportunity of the mammoth crowd at the arena to fraternize with their supporters. We therefore, wish to emphasize that the Ikeji brochure is available for such political communication while the ekepke, being purely a traditional and cultural event, be spared of politics in any form. In this wise, political party outfits and groups are banned from the arena and politicians are requested to ensure that their supporters be in compliance. Let’s celebrate 2018 Ikeji Arochukwu and jointly renew the friendliness and brotherhood of the ancient kingdom.”