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Published On: Thu, Mar 15th, 2018

Origin And Performance Of Iyeri Festival Of Ughelli People

LAGOS MARCH 15TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Among the Urhobo speaking people of Ughelli, the Iyeri festival which is celebrated annually in the month of September, is the most popular amongst the festivals celebrated in the clan.
The origin of the festival according to Chief James Emekpe, dates back to an Ughelli princess named Irivwidide. She was childless but was loved and respected by her people. During her life, she was chief priest of an Ughelli deity called Orevwo, initiated by Ogele, her son Ugheni, the ancestor of the Ughelli people.
According to the tales surrounding her, she usually invoked the powers of her deity, Orevwo in all wars against other people. She was a very great warrior who was very courageous and brave. Though female, she not only planned the wars but also partook in them. Stories have it that she was never defeated in battle.
During such wars, she made use of Orevwo the war deity who at such times turned itself into a deer (Orhea). Whenever an attack was on, the deer would appear in the front of the people directing them on how to go about it. It is also said that it showed signs of either victory or defeat to them. For example, if the deer crossed from the right side of the road to the left in front of them. It meant victory and if it crossed from the left to the right it meant defeat in which case they would withdraw.
Consequently, the deer became a sacred animal in the clan and all the natives were forbidden to kill or eat it. These activities of Idide and Orevwo helped the people in no small measure.
Before her death, the childless Princess requested that on her death, a festival be celebrated annually to immortalize her name. The feature of the festival was to be the washing of the ancestral ‘Ihenri’ that is the relics of an ancestral shrine made from the horn of big animals, set aside for that purpose.
These relics otherwise known as Ihenri are generally kept by the eldest members of the main family group. She further instructed that on the day of the festival, the Ihenri be collected from their various shrines and taken in a procession to ‘Echeode’ stream near Otovwodo to be sanctified by washing after which they would be returned and placed at the spot where she was buried.
Thus, the Iyeri festival was born at her death in obedience to her request. The festival is nine days festival.
The first day is marked by general dancing comprising men, women, girls and boys. Usually, it begins at dawn till late in the morning. Though it is a free dance, sexually abominable acts are excluded. Later in the day, animals are slaughtered and there is exchange of food and other gifts items between the natives. The citizens also pay homage to their Ovie by bringing food and other valuables to him. In fact, it is a period of showing affection and appreciation to one another.
At about 5pm, in the evening, the real event, which is the washing of the Ihenri, takes place. As the bearers of the relics proceed to the stream, the traditional shout of Obe Kpo Vo, Ukpete awhorhe kpete awhorhe rents the air from the excited natives.
At the shrine, the relics are sanctified by invoking the spirits of the gods of the clan and those of the ancestors. Prayers for peace, prosperity and good health are said in the traditional manner. Therefore, the celebrants blowing the horns return with joy and are generally welcomed by an equally joyous crowd who continue dancing till dusk.
On the second day at about 5pm, the Ihenri relics are collected and sent to Orevwo shrine to be worshipped and this time, they are served with pounded yam and soup. They are taken back to their various family shrines where they are formally served by individual family heads.
While the Ovie(king)v serves the frivwivie(clan ancestors), the other family heads serve the ancestral shrines of their fathers. This ceremony is popularly called ‘Iye Esemo’ or Iyeri Uvo.
The third day is set aside for the worship of spirit of their departed mothers. It is believed by the people that both the spirits of their dead fathers and mothers should be served and adored equally during the period. It is known as ‘Iye Iniemo’.
During this period, different dance troupes perform to the admiration of all, especially the royal dance Ema which is used to pay homage to the king.
On the evening of the eight day, the Iwereko people statge a colourful boat regatta known as Umalokun. It is the padding of canoe on the Ughelli River by gaily- dressed celebrants. Apart from the boat regatta, there are series of traditional dance that precedes and ends it.
Early in the morning of the ninth day, the festival is formally brought to a close. There is the bearing of wooden torches through all the streets of each town that make up Ughelli clan and then into the bush. This ceremony is meant to drive back to the abode all spirits that have come to the town for the celebration of the festival. Thus the clan yearly festival is formally closed.

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