The 1106th yearly edition of Aro Cultural (Ikeji) Festival which kicked off September 5, 2018, in the 19 villages of Arochukwu Kingdom, Abia State, will be rounded off on Wednesday, Sepember 27, after 21 days of festivities.
The festival which is one of the oldest in Igboland, 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 among others.
Arochukwu indigenes who may not make it home, especially those overseas, watch the events online. The climax of this year's festival will come on Sunday, September 23, at Aro Kingdom, when the President-General of Nzuko Arochukwu Worldwide, Mazi George Okoronkwo Ezumah, and his executive council, will lead the traditional rulers governing the 19 villages, as well as other prominent sons and daughters of the ancient kingdom, including their kith and kin from Arochukwu in Diaspora, in a solemn procession to pay homage to the Spiritual Leader of the Kingdom and Eze Aro, His Royal Majesty, Mazi Ogbonnaya Okoro, CFR, at Amaikpe, the ancestral square where Aros gather for major events, to celebrate Ekekpe, the highest activity of its three-week long new yam festival.
Ikeji festival is celebrated annually to mark the end of the year as a way of thanking God for keeping the people alive in the outgoing year, 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 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. 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 Aros' 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, among many other corporate and individual sponsors to brand it. This 3rd edition, after the rebranding, is expected to build on the successes achieved in the last two years, and especially serve as a home-coming event among Umuaro in various places.
According to the Chair, 2018 Ikeji Organising Committee, Dr Azubike Okoro, "the activities shall start at 10.00am prompt and we expect diverse cultural troupes who shall compete for honours. 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 an idea about the roles played by the town in commerce, trade and leadership across the entire eastern and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria," Azubike said.
According to him, 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 directing the community's thoughts and energies towards what shall propel or trigger collective survival and growth, he added.
Moreover, Azubike stressed that 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."
Azubike further said that "the 2018 Ikeji Organising Committee recognises 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 fraternise 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 are in compliance. Let's celebrate 2018 Ikeji Arochukwu and jointly renew the friendliness and brotherhood of the ancient kingdom! Ako bu Ije."