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Iwu Festival of Ibusa, Ubulu-Uku

Iwu Festival is one of the numerous annual festivals celebrated within the Anioma region. Some of the other festivals are Ogbanigbe, Ine, Igue, Ife Ji Oku, Iwaji, Irua Nmor and Olia Oma. Iwu Festival is particularly celebrated by Ibusa, Ubulu-Uku, Ubulu-Unor, Ewulu, Ogwashi-Uku, Illah and a few more Anioma communities. However, the discussion here will be based on its celebration in Ibusa and Ubulu-Uku, two communities with striking similarities and dissimilarities of the festival.
Like other known festivals in secular societies, Iwu is a communal festival with carefully planned programme and high revelry. It lasts for some days and its celebration mostly involves adult and youths who engage in it. It is generally believed that as typical of other festivals, Iwu may have evolved based on communal efforts to placate forces and allow fruitful existence of man. It is also a festival associated with planting and harvest times. Though Historians have not been able to link the origin of the festival to any historic happening, it is believed like other major secular festivities that the festival may in some ways be associated with a momentous occurrence before spreading to the other parts of the region.

In Ibusa, the festival is celebrated by Ogbeowele and Umuodafe Quarters of the town. Ibusa tradition traces the origin of the festival to certain Ibusa warriors who went to Ani-Nmor (Land of the spirits) and returned with the idea of the festival. This according to the mythology explains the dance step of the main characters during the festival. However, popular opinions claim that the festival was imported to Ibusa by Diokpa Oyana of Adigwe family from Umuga Clan of Umuwor in Ogbeowele. It was from Ogbeowele that Umuodafe borrowed the festival and consequently began to celebrate it. The Ogwa (shrine) where Iwu was first celebrated in the town can still be seen standing at the entrance of Adigwe family compound. While Ogbeowele celebrates the festival in November, Umuodafe celebrates it in December. Celebration of the festival comes in stages and can be described mainly as an outdoor festival.

The period of preparation for the celebration of Iwu in Ibusa is known as “Isibe-Iwu” or “Isibe-Ife”. This is known as the period of silence. It is a period that cries, quarrels, fighting, breaking of firewood and all sorts of noise are forbidden within the vicinity of Iwu. The fine for breaking this law may be kolanut, drinks or goat. This period lasts for four days and also forbids performance of Okanga, the running dance and marriage within the Ogbe. Mourners conducting Okanga dance are usually advised to follow alternative routes to avoid disquieting the period. During this period funeral ceremonies are also conducted which means that the dead may be quietly interred without any form of ceremony. This period may be described as “traditional lent”.

The next stage is “Ihoda-Iwu” or “Ihoda-Ife. This marks the stage at which Ohene (Chief Priest) of the ceremony declares an end to the 4-day period of silence. It usually takes place in the morning of the fourth day which in turn ushers feral euphoria among inhabitants. These inhabitants then take to the streets in celebration of a new season of rewarding farming.
It is on this occasion that the people move from house to house congratulating themselves. They may also congregate in groups to other villages to greet their illustrious daughters (Umuada) married in these villages, greeting them “Na ahor, na ahor ka anyi ga eji na gba Iwu, anyi ama gba na ahor yali ahor” literarily meaning that “We shall celebrate Iwu Festival from year to year. We shall never celebrate Iwu in a year and leave celebrating it in another year”.
Iwu comes with unique songs and dance-steps which are rarely sung on normal days and celebrants appear in groups singing and dancing to tunes composed by them. Major musical instruments are “Agogo” (small gong), Ekwe and Akpele (native flute). Not only does Iwu go with these traditional musical instruments, it also has a tune inimitable to it. Principal characters of the festival are Ohene (Chief Priest), Eze-Iwu that are three in number and Enem. Ohene appears in small plain white fabric called Akwa-Ocha covering his waist with a white feather strapped to his head while the Eze-Iwus and Enem appear in red attire. Ohene’s body is robbed with white native chalk called “Nzu” in local parlance.

These characters are also known to be beautiful dancers that entertain the crowd. Iwu Festival of Ibusa presents the opportunity to pay great indigenes visits and applaud them for the wonderful deeds rendered to the town; this is done with the symphony of songs. It is also the period to compose traditional songs to ridicule the defaulters of the norms and traditions of the society no matter their position in the society. In ancient times, Iwu was a social means of exposing evils committed by natives and other inhabitants of the town believed to be clandestine. Such evils were publicly chanted round the town as celebrants move in groups. The last day of Iwu Festival is known as “Idune-Iwu”. It is a day that the festival is rounded-off. Crowds gather and dance forming “Ogbor”. These spectators circle the characters to enable them entertain them with dance. Few hours later, at dusk, the characters are accompanied by the crowd to a certain point where they (spectators) return allowing only the main actors to journey down to Oboshi River where certain ceremonial acts are performed for the community’s growth and prosperity. For the spectators the point at which they turn back signifies the end of the festival.

Iwu of Ubulu-Uku resembles that of Ibusa in some ways yet differs in other ways. The characters are the same except that the Obi of Ubulu-Uku also has some royal roles to play before and after the festival. There exists Oshene (Ohene) who is also the Chief Priest. There are three Eze-Iwus, one for the Obi, the other for Nne-Ubulu and the last one for Ezemu. Oshene has one Eze-Iwu, Ezemu has one and the Obi of the town also has one. Isibe-Iwu (Cooking of Iwu) starts on a Sunday, brought down on Friday which for Ubulu-Uku is the period that nobody talks signifying the period of silence earlier mentioned in the case of Ibusa.

When brought down, a period also known as “Ihorda Iwu” celebration continues ending on a Saturday. A major rite of the Ihorda Iwu is the Otito which the Obi gives to the Eze-Iwus after the Iwu has been put down. Nne-Ubulu and Ezemu also gives Otito to the Eze-Iwus. With these Otitos handed to them, the Eze-Iwus embark on a journey to Mkpitime River to bring back the pots of water together with the Otito given to them. The three Eze-Iwus are expected to return to the palace with pot of water, a task that must be executed. This is the most important rite of Iwu as celebrated in Ubulu-Uku because failure to bring the pot of water means that Eze-Iwu will definitely die thus rendering the celebration of Iwu incomplete.

As noted earlier, the climax of the festival is the journey to the sacred Mkpitime River by the major characters of the festival to bring back a pot of water each to the Obi of the community. This pot of water is carried to the palace of the Obi of Ubulu-Uku and traditionally presented to him on a Saturday signifying the end of the festival in the town. Celebrants of Iwu in Ubulu-Uku observe certain traditional rules within which the festival must be celebrated. Celebrants are for instance, not allowed to wear foot-wears while celebrating the festival and indiscriminate rubbing of native chalk on any part of the body is also prohibited by the laws of Iwu celebrations in the land. To the Ubulu-Uku people, Iwu ground is a sacred place that must remain sanctified throughout the celebration of the festival. It is therefore considered an act of sacrilege to cover one’s feet while celebrating the festival at any given time.

Native chalks are also held sacred in the land and must never be ordinarily rubbed on any part of the body particularly at the time of celebrating the festival. Traditional wrestling also importantly features in Ubulu-Uku celebration of Iwu. This is strange to what is witnessed in Ibusa. Challenges are openly thrown to enemies for a friendly wrestling match to test their strength. It takes only cowards to rebuff such attempts when such challenges are thrown in the eyes of the public usually with a handful of sand thrown at the enemy just as it requires the Lion’s heart to openly accept such challenges before watching eyes. Significantly, a lot is expected from contestants.

These traditional wrestling bouts take place at the eve of Iwu Festival. In ancient times, quite a number of men acquired their wives through throwing their opponents to the ground. The friendly traditional wrestling contest thus served as a means of getting married. Iwu for Ubulu-Uku may also follow with a great feast in which sumptuous meals are prepared for household members and visitors. The festival may also require special kind of delicacies. This is also not known in Ibusa.

The purpose of Iwu festival wherever celebrated is for purification of the land. It also serves as an appeasement and extension of gratitude to the gods for abundant harvest reaped at the season. It is believed that once the festival has held, evils committed in the town have been cleansed with a new beginning put in place. It is the cleansing of the land that makes it possible for the land to experience prosperity which is the chief motive of celebrating the festival.


In today’s world, there are certain challenges confronting the celebration of the festival in almost all the communities where it is celebrated. The first major challenge generally is the submission by Christian adherents that partaking in the festival does not glorify God. This belief is fast making the festival to lose the large number of enthusiasts that once greeted it. In Ubulu-Uku, Iwu was not celebrated for six years until 2011. Even then, the celebration in that year was greeted with crass irregularities as reported by indigenes of that town. In 2011, Umuodafe shelved the celebration of the festival for the first time in its modern history due to what was attributed to security reasons but particularly because Odanta and Odaukwu clans that make the quarter could not agree to come together and celebrate it. The decision got many indigenes of the town forlorn particularly traditionalists.

There is no doubt that Iwu Festival is one of the finest festivals celebrated by the Anioma people, there is therefore the urgent need to revive and preserve the festival so that it does not die a natural death.