THE OWU-ARU-SUN FESTIVAL OF THE KALABARI KINGDOM IN RIVERS STATE OF NIGERIA
ALL THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT
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For the Kalabari man which includes his women folks, culture is a way of life and forms part of their daily life. The Owu-Aru-Sun Alali is a series of masquerade display by the Kalabari people of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Oral Tradition has it that the festival is usually performed after the exhaustion of the various masquerades owned by both the community and the groups or compunds which usually last for between 15 to 20 years.
Tracing the Genesis of Ou-Aru-Sun, it can be recalled that it was celebrated in Buguma City previously in 1908, 1927, 1973 and 1991 by the Ekine Sekiapu under the leadership of the Opu Edi.
The Ekine (it’s proper name) and Sekiapu (dancers) are the custodian of the Kalabari customs and traditions right from the old shipping (Elem Ama) till date. The Ekine also formed the nucleus of the traditional Government of the Kalabari people which includes the maintenance of law and order, including matters of arbitration where punishment were meted out to offenders according to the laws of the land.
The Owu-Aru-Sun Alali is the festival of the highest cultural display that has ever been witnessed in the socio-cultural organisation of the Kalabari people. Where the masked players in these dances were said to represent the water spirits, (Owu), to whom the Ekine ministered. The unique beautiful scenario of masked masquerades in colourful outfits and dancing in the special steps and styles and styles of their compounds is a sight to behold after which the Owu is said to be returned to the Ocean where they are said to reside.
While some of these masquerades are owned and performed by the entire community, some are owned by particular chiefs and compounds such as the Alagba by the Abbi group , the Peri-gbo by Georges Compund, Bekinaru Sibi by Wokoma Compound, Gbasa of the Onbo group. The major masquerades are always played during the dry season with about three plays annually over a long period which ranges between 15-20 years as said earlier. After the last group of masquerades have performed, the Ekine Sikiapu through the town crier intimates the people of the need for preparation for the next Owu-Aru-Sun Alali. The town crier (Kpo kpo gbo la bo) having done this, Head Chiefs of the various canoe houses and compounds who own masquerades harnesses with it’s people on how to put up it’s best performance and sometimes also involves services of experts in the assembling of headpieces and costumes.
Two days to this celebration, Sekiapu must host some special sacrifices made up of white male fowl, an eg, a split finger of plantain and a piece of white cloth at strategic points sch as the waterside of the national deity of the people (Owameso), the entrance of the Ekine house, the entrance of Adum (head of the local water spirits) Oferema Etele (an ancient sacred path in the North-West part of the town) and Ebe Boko, (an inlet off the main River leading towards the Ocean). The essence of this sacrifice is to appease the deities and also plead with it to ensure total peace and to eradicate evil forces and disturbances from obstructing the going down of he water spirits.
On the eve of the Owu-Aru-Sun proper, headpieces of all masquerades are set up in the ancestral shrine of the various owners where the head chiefs and male members of the group performs the necessary purification and sacrifaces, this also gives an opportunity for smaller houses to come up with request of favours, protection and provisions from the spirits while the women folk sings praise songs of the masquerades in front of the ancestral memorial hall (Inkpu). In the midst of all these, the Igba Alabo (purification pries) positions by the shrine of Obiana (Owame Akaso’s daughter) holding in his hands a glass of gin, and an egg in the other hand and libates to the seven founding fathers of the Kalabari (Amabiame, Endeme, Korome, Ituruame, Akialame, Igodome, Bukume). He invokes by inviting all the water spirits in Ekine to come out tomorrow and return to the Ocean after the Owu-Aru-Sun celebration after which the egg in his hands is placed on the Obiana’s shirne. On the D-day of all celebrations, all the colourfully dressed masquerades of the varioys groups and compounds lines up in front of their ancestral halls and are being escorted to the town square amidst cheers by members of it’s house. On reaching the square each masquerades is greeted by the Chief drummer (Akwa Alabo) and shows a little display of its distinctive dance step before taking a bow into the Ekine hall.
After all the expected masquerade groups has gathered at the King Amachree square, the patron goddess of the masquerades (Ekine Alabo) libates to the Amatemeso with a bottle of gin and glass on the completion of the series of plays of the water spirits and the journey back to the Ocean. The Ekine Alabo ask for journey mercies back to the spirit world and also assurance of their return in the next festival. After which, the Akwa Alabo summons the masquerades and Sekiapu for final procession with the Ikikroko drum with Igba Alabo taking the lead and closely followed by the Opu Edi (Head of Sekiapu) and Ekine Alabo. Following this procession is the masquerades Tari Oboko (First paddler in the water spirits canoe). Then comes all the masquerades that had participated in the last series of play with the masquerade ofor (helmsman) in the water spirit canoe taking the lead. It is worthy of note that Tari Okoko and Ofor do not feature in the series of plays, they appear only at Owu-Aru-Sun. The masquerades calmer (The Owu Koribo) who must be a Sekibo escorts the masquerades and are on a line with unmasked sekiapu dressed in elaborate traditional attire of Donne or Woko and capped with either Ajibulu (head dress) or Bolar Hat.
The procession moves around the Amachree square in the usual anti-clockwise direction moving slowly to the special rhythm for Ofor the helmsman, the Akwa Alabo calls the names of the various deities and ancestors with masquerades and Sekiapu of the mentioned houses responding by pointing towards their various shrines, after which they return to the Ekine meeting house for a rest having completed the third round of dance.
At intervals, the comical trickster Ikaki (the tortoise masquerade) entertains by keeping up the interest of spectators and keeping the arena lively.
After about 20-30 minutes of rest the que of masquerade lines up again for another three rounds of display as usual and as it completes this season, the chief drummer changes to the “sending down of the spirits drums” (Owu Iderima Akwa) which special sound means the embarkation of the spirits. At this stage the purification priest retrieves the egg, with his left hand holding the egg, and his right hand holding his irony purification horn, takes the lead of the procession to its final trip. As soon as he approaches the entrance to the southern part of the main street, he backs off from the line and speeds down to the waterside (Owu Sera) with a group of young Sekiapu rushing ahead of him and with their canes, driving women away. All the masquerades following him also backs off at the approach of the main street and follows suit to the waterside.
On arrival at the waterside, the purification priest reminds the Gods in an incantation of his request of the previous evening of “a safe journey to the spirit world pleading with the spirit to pilot them safely to the ocean, after which he throws the egg into the river and also passes his ivory horn anti-clockwise round his head and dips it into the water, this action he repeats 7 times which ensures that any evil force among them that may cause disruption of the journey to the spirit world is defeated.
After this purification rite is finished, the masquerade players strip themselves off their head pieces and costumes and each after the other, dives violently into the water which signifies the water spirits are on their journeying back to the ocean, and the masqueraders are escorted by the masquerade calmers back to their various memorial halls where they change into their regular cloths. A few days after this once in a lifetime event, the Ekine Sekiapu rolls the Ikinko drum into the replica of the ancient town well (Ama Sube) which signifies the official closing of the masquerade season.
That's what took place within 29th to 31st January, 2009 at Buguma during the 2009 Owu-Aru-Sun festival.
Wow! This was some good reading from the Kalabari festival and learning more about the culture. I'm an Igbo man and though the Igbo cultural people share the same border with the Kalabari, the heavy westernization of our day to day lifestyle in Africa doesn't give room for so much uninitiated inter-cultural education about other people's cultures. An initiated piece like this thus provides great opportunity for better relations.
I hope to hear and learn more about the Kalabari people.
Totally agree with #1 comment above
Good narrative of a peoples culture and to know that the event lasts for between 15 to 20 years. Hope I read well. Oh what the white man did to us culturally
hmmm, I'll have to come back to read the article but the photos caught my attention. Are those lovely girls wearing Aso oke, my Yoruba aso oke (pride :biggrin.... hmmm, Kalabari no get special kalabari dress?....
@#3 Looks more like Akwete to me
Fine damsels Up you Kalabarians Carry go
My position on the Amanyanabo stool and Tonye Princewill’s 40th birthday
By Prof. Tam David West
Monday, February 02, 2009
Photo: Sun News Publishing
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Tonye, I thank you for the invitation to your 4oth Birthday. However, I was unable to attend because the invitation was issued by your father, my cousin, who signed as "King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill Amanyanabo of Kalabad Kingdom. Amachree XI" I would like to believe that as a responsible and highly educated young man you are aware that there is no "King" or "Amanyanabo" of the Kalabari Kingdom as of today. The law of Nigeria is blind to the existence of your father as "Amanyanabo" because he was not properly installed in accordance with our 300 years old tradition and custom. He is accordingly not recognised by the Federal Government of Nigeria as Amanyanabo (King) of the Kalabari kingdom.
The Federal Government's non-recognition is also planked on the not mutually exclusive ground that there is an existing INTERIM (INTERLOCUTORY) ORDER handed down by the Honourable Justice A.A. Wodu on April 12, 2002 RESTRAINING him from parading himself (or be so paraded) as "Amanyanabo of Kalabari, Amachree XI" until the final resolution of the CHALLENGE to his purported and clandestine 'installation' as 'Amanyanabo' in SUIT NO: PH/624/2002 instituted by four other princess (all professionals) who also have no encumbrance whatsoever to the Patriarch King Amachree Throne.
Interim Court Order is both Interlocutory and Prohibitive (In: “Injunctions and Enforcement of Orders” by Afe Babalola, SAN).
Thus, by 'parading' himself as 'Amanyanabo of Kalabari' in the invitation letter, your father, my cousin, is palpably CONTUMACIOUS to the Court of the Land or CONTEMPTUOUS of it. And this is most embarrassing and dangerous especially in the contemporary President Yar'Adua's administration whose mantra is the "Rule of Law," especially OBEDIENCE to court orders.
A categorical rock-solid proof that the Federal Government did not recognise him was provided by the fact that when he was awarded the National Honour, CON, as 'Amanyanabo of Kalabari' two years ago, the President Olusegun Obasanjo government later realized that there is nobody like that by law, and so he most advisedly and responsibly withdrew the award from him. This is why he did not use "CON" after his name in the invitation letter.
He was ONLY recognised by the former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili on June 06, 2002 for political purpose. 'Recognition for Votes.' Trade by Barter of sorts. And that even surreptitiously and criminally contemptuous of the April 12, 2002 interim court order by The Honourable Justice A.A.Wodu.
Please, cousin Tonye, read the details in my 40-page Open Letter No.3 to Governor Odili, "ODILI: LEGALITY, MORALITY, INTEGRITY" serialized by the Independent Monitor in December 2002. I wrote it from London. The issues raised were that grave to the King Amachree's Dynasty
Also read: "Royal Battle Continues As Odili Makes Princewill Kalabari Monarch, ...Government Shuns Court Order. Recognise Princewill as Monarch" (Independent Monitor June 29, 2002). And, "Amanyanabo of Kalabari Issue: Judge Worried Over Non-Enforcement of Order" (Independent Monitor October 14-16, 2002 Back page).
A number of leading Kalabari communities have issued statements in the newspaper that they don't recognise as their King or Amanyanabo. This has never happened in our history as proud Kalabari people throughout the 300 years of the King Amachree Dynasty.
In short, your father is a soi-distant, self-styled, titular, nominal 'Amanyanabo' or 'King'. Putting it epigrammatically, our father is to all intents and purposes a 'Government House Amanyanabo' and not Amanyanabo of the Kalabari Kingdom by the law of Nigeria. Because the law is blind to his existence. Since his purported 'installation' corrupted our age-long tradition and custom.
I will plead with you, my dear cousin Tonye, please let us save the Amachree Dynasty and the sanctity of Kalabari tradition and custom from further corruption, prostitution and desecration. This is a sacred duty we owe the Ancestors, History, Present Generation and Posterity.
MANY MORE HAPPY RETURNS OF YOUR BIRTHDAY
I am sincerely proud of you. I do. Outside your parents nobody in the Family can ever dare to claim to know you more than me. For instance, I’ve followed you up from pampers in 1971 in Leeds, UK. Your father was doing his PhD Bacteriology. I was post-Doctoral Commonwealth Fellow, and also Commonwealth Tropical Medicine Fellow (in tandem) in London. And being very close cousins, your father and I, we exchanged visits (your mother of blessed memory was very much around).
Your father was so close and so dear to me I christened my first son, “Theophilus,” after him. We were so close he stayed with me at my father’s house (David-West Compound) when we were in Kalabari National College. Forget about all the nonsensical excuse that my father’s house is nearer to the College. Didn’t students attend from George’s Compound? Which is at least 4-times farther off. We were so close we called each other with the sobriquet, “De Bro.”
But I cannot allow these to drown my constructive stubbornness on things PRINCIPLES.. I will continue to fight against any attempts to prostitute our Kalabari culture, tradition, and custom. The veritable glues that define us and hold us together. Let me say emphatically that I have neither regrets nor any apologies for the two major issues I have against him.
(1) I opposed his "Regency." Because it gave him an unfair advantage over the other four princes interested to be King (Amanyanabo). The Military Administrator, Group Captain Ewang, later removed him on April 20, 1999 (4 Month Regency) by a special Government Announcement. (Ref: "The Sack of Prof. Theo Princewill" In: "Musing in a Kalabari Cab" by Fitzallen A. Briggs (2001).
(2) I remain (and will remain) implacably and inexorably opposed to his purportd 'installation' as 'Amanyanabo' in flagrant corruption of the revered Amanyanabo Institution of the Kalabari Kingdom.
It is a fight not for me a matrilineal prince. But for some patrineal princess among whom you are one, Tonye. Kalabari operates a sort of SALIC LAW.
Nobody with any shred of grey matter can ever claim a monopoly to arms or to desecreating criminal rascality. It is a time-honoured Kalabari aphorism that when someone falls to the ground in a fit of laughter it is not the laughing that makes him fall down. But he chose to fall down.
Asari Dokubo (Formerly Melford Goodhead) openly confessed: "Prof. T.J.T Princewill cannot deny the role I played to make a King(sic)... This was my plot... I did what I did because I and the king(sic) are from Ogo House." The Hard Truth March 3-9, 2005 Page 9. Part of his CONFESSIONS.
"A secret plan to achieve some purpose, especially one that is illegal or underhand" (Collins Concise Dictionary 21st Century, (2001).
"A plan forming the basis of a conspiracy" (Black's Law Dictionary Seventh ed. 1999).
It is clear that your father, my cousin was NOT properly installed as King or "Amanyanabo." It was all clandestine plot by Asari Dokubo and his militia. Becuase other more responsible, more disciplined, more circumspective and clearly more law abiding chose to 'fall' at the time confident that the BOGUS 'installation' will burn out.
And when "Things Fell Apart" between them, your father and Asari Dokubo, he and his men attacked your father at a public function at the Integrated Cultural Centre, Aba Road, Port Harcourt. Your father was smuggled out. Is this edifying?
Next, he disrespectfully told your father: "The gun I used to make you King I will Use it to remove you." Is this a threat that should make any one happy? After all, without prejudice, he was talking to the "Throne."
But don't ever blame Asari Dokubo. Your father invited the INSULTS to himself. Because if your father was properly installed as Amanyanabo and if Asari Dokubo ever dare to insult him, the whole of Kalabari Kingdom will fight him and even ostracize him.
Tonye, my dear cousin, the ancestors are clearly outraged. Remember, my "De Bro," your father, told the Hard Truth reporters how lightening struck his residence (or one of them) when they decapitated the statue of our Legendary King Abbi, Amachree IV and took it to his residence. King Abbi a celebrated mystic. I kept the copy of the popular journal; indeed like lots of other documents. More terrible things are recounted. More perhaps may visit us. No superstition. Cosmic imperatives. I'm concerned. I'm worried.
“PLATO IS DEAR TO ME BUT DEARER STILL IS TRUTH.” ARISTOTLE
What a wonderful picture of the young Kalabiri girls and a very interesting article. As G-Force said its nice to see other ethnic groups showcase their culture and tradition. Thanks for posting. Nice custumes. Nigeria is so unique.
Ednut, please tell us, what is the purpose of your rather rude interjection into this narration of a very beautiful Nigerian cultural and historical event. You have the the “Main Square”, “Lounge”, “Exhale” etc. Why here? What on earth is the matter with some Nigerians! IT IS SO RUDE OF YOU!
Did you even read Prof. Tan David West's article on his cousins? Please take a minute to read it Mr. Palamedes.
1. Prince Tonye TJT Princewill writes an article on NVS about an important cultural event of his people.
2. Prof. Tam David West has an issue with Prince Tonye TJT Princewill's father. SO? And then what?
3. Ednut shits Prof. Tam David West letter on Prince Tonye TJT Princewill fine narration of once or twice in a lifetime cultural event.
Ednut, I ask you again--this time differently--, why have you dropped your shit on this article in the manner that you did? What is the relevance of Prof. Tam David West's letter to Prince Tonye TJT Princewill's article?
The Rt Hon Palame and Ednut,
Please cease fire and let us all face Prof David West who wants to spoil the fun of the Kalabarians Baoth of you have no quarrels. Ed brought a previleged info to us ie another side of the story but that for me looks like sour grapes on the part of the revered Prof.
Please let the Owu-Aru-Sun festival go go go on. Feel it in your heart feel it in your soul, let the music take control, We gonna party cobambo fiesta
Any body out there to halla the chorus with me All night long, all night....
I said it the pics are great, the Kalabari damsels