The annual World Eri festival which is the celebration of Igbo origin was on November 7 held at Enugwu Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government Area, Anambra State.
The event sponsored by Aguleri World Forum (AWF) this year, met all its spiritual requirements; foods and drinks were not in short supply. Regular witnesses of the festival, however, said the dancing, masquerade and cultural displays were not like the previous ones because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from the prayer session and merriment, chieftaincy titles were conferred on deserving eight personalities for their service to humanity. Eze Eri while conferring the titles said impeccable character and good heart were prominent in the choice of the new chiefs.
The festival, as usual, started by the Eze Eri Kingdom, embarking on many weeks of fasting and prayer with fewer contacts with human beings; seeking the face of Almighty God for the betterment of the human race. On the day of the celebration, many dressed in white cloths go on a long procession from the king’s palace known as Obu Gad as early as 5 am, to the confluence of Rivers Ezu and Omambala. At the confluence, extensive prayer is offered; asking God to intervene in humans affairs and meet the people at the points of their needs. After the prayers and praise-singing led by the Eze Eri, the worshippers fetch water which the reporter was told to be very effective in ensuring success in different fields of endeavour, including business, education and fruit of the womb.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eri, the king of Eri kingdom is called the Akaji Ovo Igbo. It was learnt that unlike most traditional rulers who were either elected or chosen by their people and given certification by the government, the position of the Eze Akaji Ovo is different. His ascension is said to be surrounded by many mysteries which were not denied or confirmed by the people who spoke to the reporter on condition of anonymity. Part of the mysteries is that God usually selects the king of Eri kingdom through mysterious signs such as the person’s mother dying a few days or weeks after his birth.
Aside from that, such a person must be taken away immediately on an exile once it is divinely revealed that he should succeed the father; simply because he must not call any living human being, a father.
For Eze Chukwuemeka Eri, when he was informed about being chosen, he made several efforts to avoid being crowned. But his efforts at avoiding the throne could not stop God from ensuring that he assumes it since it was more spiritual than physical. It eventually dawned on him and his people that he was the chosen one.
Daily Sun learnt that Eri Festival was initiated by Eri himself in a form of a miniature yearly celebration to remember his arrival at Agbanagbo-Ezu-na-Omambala (Confluence of Ezu and Omabala rivers). The original participants were his sons, wives and followers.
In order to ensure the propagation of the ideals and remembrance of Eri, his children continued the festival after his death. The festival served as a unifying factor for all the sons of Eri even after they had dispersed from Aguleri communities. The dispersal of Eri sons notwithstanding, the Ancient Iduu Cultural (Olili Obibia Eri) festival continued to be held at Obu Gad.
The festival was designed as a unifying force for the Igbo both at home and elsewhere. It featured religious ceremonies, agricultural trade fairs, dancing and musical entertainment. All these served to strengthen the bond of union that kept both Agulu Eri and his dispersed brothers together.
The festival somehow suffered setbacks in 1892. It was said that an Aguleri man out of bravery punctuated a drum of palm oil belonging to British merchandize. The action tagged “Onwurume Oil Spillage” battle between the two sides lasted for four days with British soldiers suffering many casualties. War artistry displayed by the Agulerians during the clash created the impression in the minds of the British, that Aguleri drew strength from the annual Olili Eri (Eri Festival) during which stamina and courage were tested among the youths. As a result, the British administration allegedly planned and sowed seeds of discord among the participants – the Eri sons – especially the dispersed sons of Eri who only came on pilgrimage to Aguleri during the festive, nevertheless, Aguleri people continued to give the Olili Eri it’s an annual recognition and due regards and so continued to hold the celebration. Joyfully, the celebration from 1999 till last year showed that the festival had picked up linearly with time as a unifying factor of the descendants of Eri and that the Obu Gad is recognized as the converging point for all Igbo people.
According to lawyer and historian, Emeka Ozo Umeh, the dynasty of Eri kingdom negates the erroneous assumption that Igbo have no kings. “Eri dynasty has lasted for centuries in Igbo land and has produced kings ranging from Eze Anyiamigbo Ezeora I in 1038 to the present Eze A.E. Chukwuemeka Eri, Ezeora XXXIV. Eze Akajiofo Igbo is the present custodian of the of Ofo Igbo, which empowers him to rule.
His Majesty, Eze Eri who does not grant interview as a rule on the day of the celebration, urged the Igbo anywhere to only engage in dignifying enterprises and exhibit noble characters as “no Igbo will ever be killed in vain again in any part of the world without consequences except if the person deliberately did something illegal.”