By Chudi Okoye
The 2020 edition of the traditional Awka festival, Egwu Imoka, has commenced. Day 1 of the three-day carnival, a cardinal event in Awka cultural calendar, took place as planned on May 25, 2020.
There had been some uncertainty in the lead up to the commencement of the event. The Anambra State government had, on May 10, issued an order suspending Egwu Imoka 2020, along with other cultural events in the state, on account of the growing incidence of coronavirus contagion in the state. The state government issued the suspension order as Anambra State, which went for a stretch of time without an active coronavirus case, began to record new cases. The Anambra State Police Command also issued a statement stipulating to a full enforcement of the government’s order.
Notwithstanding the government’s suspension order, the custodians and planners of the Awka heritage event, following apparent oracular consultation (with Imoka, the Awka deity which is honored during the event), had insisted that the event would be held, albeit with sensitivity to government rules on physical distancing and social restraint amidst the Covid-19 crisis.
With the virtual stand-off, it was unclear how the Egwu Imoka 2020 event would unfold. Day 1 of the festival provides a clue.
Awka Times reporters who monitored the Day 1 events report a mixed outcome. Day 1 of Egwu Imoka consists in a mission called Osonogba Umuokpu, a contingent of humans and masquerades despatched to the non-contiguous Awka village of Umuokpu to deliver a message inviting the village to the upcoming Egwu Imoka event. Usually it is a boisterous procession snarling southwestwards from main Awka town to Umuokpu village, with assemblies of merrymakers gathered all over the town and along the stretch to Umuokpu.
Initial frontline reporting by Awka Times suggests a determined but muted observance of the opening-day event. The emissary to Umuokpu was duly despatched, including men, masquerade and motorcade. Pockets of participants came out, gathered in isolated spots around Awka, in proud and assertive jollity to mark the event. Awka Times reporters observed some conscious attempt to follow the government’s guidelines relating to the coronavirus pandemic. But in many spots it seemed that the ascending spirit of the event simply overtook the gathered revelers and any observance of Covid-19 rules was forgotten.
This is not unlike observations in re-opened markets and churches around Anambra State – simply citizens habituated to certain cultural practices attempting to be mindful of unfamiliar social gathering rules.
Stay tuned for detailed reporting on the Day 1 of Egwu Imoka 2020 by Awka Times reporters, Kene Chukwudi and Stella Nzekwe, which will include descriptions of the day’s events and the perspectives of the event organizers and various stakeholders.
In the meantime, we present below a collection of Awka Times’ initial pictures and videos from Day 1 of the 2020 Egwu Imoka festival.
♦ Pictures and video clips from Awka Times reporters, Stella Nzekwe and Kene Chukwudi