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1st Igbo Language Preservation and Iri Ji Festival Records monumental success !
The much awaited Igbo Language and Iri Ji Cultural event took place at the Auditorium of Coppin State University in Baltimore Maryland, from August 5-6th .All roads led to Maryland for this historic cultural festival which attracted participants from Nigeria, South Africa and over 15 states in the USA. The attendees included both young and old, it is heart warming to see the level of interest and participation from young Igbos born in the USA. The young Igbo children took part in the ceremonies, they danced traditional Igbo music, and took part in dramatization of Igbo marriage ceremony. The festival marked the first time ever that Igbos have come together outside Igboland for two reasons,-To draw attention on the need of using Igbo Language for daily conversation among Ndigbo, and secondly to Celebrate our culture-the Iri Ji Festival the most widely celebrated Festival among all Igbo Communities everywhere.
This cultural extravaganza is a joint initiative between Maryland based Igbo Council of Traditional Title Holders of America (ICOTTH USA) and Okechukwu P. Oranika’s Atlanta Georgia based Africa Business World (ABW). Congratulations to all the . who attended this historic festival near the heart of the USA National Capital. This event made history, for the first time ever, Ndigbo in Diaspora came together to address the declining usage of Igbo language in daily communications among Ndigbo many of us often choose the convoluted Engli-Igbo version. Yes this festival achieved a major goal and purpose by being conducted fully in Igbo language! The event also raised a global awareness to the need of using our God given beautiful Igbo language in daily communications among Igbo families, and yes English and Igbo language can both survive on their own without mixing them together.
This program began on Thursday August 4th at the Sheraton North Baltimore Hotel with a reception and meet and greet session for those who arrived early. Food, wine and other drinks were served as guests exchanged ideas and views on many issues particularly on the issue of Igbo Language and culture. This session lasted till about 12-1 am. The following day (Friday) events began later than planned, reason being that the Igbo Community in Baltimore is like Igbo Communities elsewhere in the Diaspora where events often commence much later than it was scheduled.
The state of the art Gymnasium of the Physical Education Building of Coppin State University Baltimore was lavishly decorated (By Professional Igbo Decorators) for this event with Igbo historic artifacts provided by Chief Okey Onunako Igbo Arts Gallery. Singing of the Nigerian and American Anthems signaled the start of the Friday program as the event was declared open by ICOTTH President, Chief Stanley Onyedum, followed by brief presentation from ABW’s Prof. Okechukwu Paul Oranika, ICOTTH USA founder, Dr. Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu, the Planning Committee Chair remarks was made by Dr. Chief Laur Onyekwere. Speech presentations focused on the Igbo language preservation theme. Chief Ifeanyichukwu Ndubuisi a guest from Nigeria discussed his new Igbo language book entitled “Mmanu igbo: A collection of igbo proverbs”. Music and dance performances were presented, Ngozi Igwe and her music director performed and danced to one of her Igbo dance album which was well received by the audience . Food and drinks were served to happy participants for the Friday Session. Because of the late start, several event performances could not be accommodated by the contracted end time of 12 am.
The climax of activities for the Igbo Language and Iri Ji Cultural Festival occurred on Saturday August 6th.The Saturday activities were kicked open by Chief Francis Ogbankwa, ICOTTH’s Social Director. Prayers were presented by Umuada Igbo Baltimore, Singing of Nigerian and American Anthems was performed by PILA children, and Guests were called up to the High Table escorted by beautiful young Igbo usher girls all born in the Diaspora. TThe attendees gave a standing ovation to the entry of Igwe HRH Eze Anthony A. Wabara the traditional ruler of Ohambelem Autonomous Community in Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia State and Igwe Eze Sidney Ogbonna Ihediwa (Abia 1 of Abia South Africa). Igbos have high respect and honor for their Igwes, dont believe when they tell you that “Igbo enwe eze” when His royal Highnesses entered the hall the gymnasium echoed with screams of Igwe! Igwe! Igwe!. Also present was The Abia Indigenes Congress President (South Africa).Hon. Chima C Onyeagba Umealo (Agbawo dike izu) and Chief Mayor Benson Nwaogwuwu. Ishi Nze, Nze na Ozo South Africa, part of the strong contingent that represented the Igbo Communities of South Africa at the Baltimore event. ICOTTH President Chief Stanley Onyedum and Lolo Franca Onyedum were introduced and escorted to the High Table by ICOTTH’s Chiefs. Followed in the order, ICOTTH founder Dr. Chief Hyacinth and Lolo Nwachukwu were escorted to the high table also by ICOTTH Chiefs. Many others were called up and escorted to the High table including Prof. Edward Oparaoji and Dr. Mrs Ndidiamaka Oparaoji, Prof. Okechukwu Oranika, Hon. Odibeze Nkiru Onyema and many others.
The Saturday program began with the breaking of cola nuts delivered to his Royal Highness Anthony Wabara by ICOTTH first lady Lola Franca Onyedum.Igbo traditions recognizes the importance and significance of Cola nuts to any occasion as a sign of good will often extended by the host to all the invited guests. The cola nuts were blessed, and broken in line with Igbo traditions after which the Saturday programs commenced. Speeches were delivered by Dr. Mrs Ndidiamaka Oparaoji followed by the keynote speech delivered by Prof. Edward Oparaoji from Pennyslvania. Dinner was served by ICOTTH women and Igbo Cultural and traditional performances took the center stage.
Many dancers entertained the guests including PILA Igbo School group led by Mrs Kanayo Ntukogu, the PILA founder. She danced to the High table with two PILA dancers a traditional salutation and tribute to the two Ezes (HRH) and members of the High Table. Then the PILA girl dancers came on stage and put up an incredible dance. ICOTTH women took the center stage with their dance which again was well received by the audience. ICOTTH boys danced as well as ICOTTH girls, these were incredible performances put forward by Igbo boys and girls born in the USA.
Other groups performed as well including the popular Masquerade dance presented by ASA-USA Baltimore chapter. It was very entertaining masquerade dance, as the masquerade accompanied by their dance group made their way to to the High table. The traditional Iwa Ji ceremony then took the center stage. Iwa Ji is a very important Igbo festival celebrated by all Igbo communities in Igboland. The ceremony is equivalent to the American Thanksgiving ceremonies through which the American Pilgrims thanked God for blessings of bumper crop. Through Iwa Ji festival which usually starts in early August, Igbos thank God for the bumper new yam arrival.
The ICOTTH women served delicious yam dishes, pepper soup, roasted yam served with vegetable. The two HRH from Abia Communities in SA, and Nigeria performed the traditional Iwa Ji Ceremony as the audience stood up to see the ceremony from their vantage points. Soon the ceremony was fulfilled when the new yam was sliced into two in fulfillment of the Iwa Ji tradition. It is gratifying that Igbo traditions are being carried out here in the heart of America. The young and happy Igbo Children born in the Diaspora were watching with keen interest. I noticed happiness on their faces and exuberance in their spirits. As the young Igbo boys and girls learn the Igbo traditions they will grow up and propagate such culture even here in the United States. Well of course Igbo language was spoken throughout the event, I even spoke Igbo to young Igbo children and they all responded in Igbo as well. More than 100 Igbo children attended the two day festivities in Baltimore. When I said ” kedu ka imere” they happily responded “odi mma” okay this is a great way to heighten interest in spoken Igbo, I am glad their parents are teaching them Igbo language at home as well great job indeed! Of the ten young Igbo kids I spoke Igbo to at the festival, 9 responded correctly in Igbo. The tenth girl was the youngest and she told me she forgot what her mother told her to say. I told her not to feel guilty its okay, and when someone asks “kedu ka imere” her answer should be “odi mma”. She repeated the answer and perhaps will never forget it again.
Igbo marriage dramatization was performed by young Igbo children under the direction of Lolo Dr. Nene Okereke. This program offered a great opportunity for the Igbo young to see and take part in Igbo marriage ceremony. We appreciate the contribution of Dr. Nene Okereke’s group to the success of the event.
There are many people to thank for the successful staging of this festival. The ICOTTH President was very instrumental in achieving this level of success. He led and worked night and day on this project. The vice president of ICOTTH Chief Raphael Oguariri worked tirelessly in attaining a high class Brochure with just under 100 individual and business subscriptions. The Planning Committee chair Dr. Chief Laur Onyekwere devoted lots of energy and enthusiasm towards leading the planning Committee of the festival. Chief Ike Alex Okeke was instrumental in the success achieved, he worked night and day in many aspects of the festival planning, and spoke with me even at odd hours. Chief Frances Ogbankwa did well and devoted much time to many aspects of the planning process including the challenging Event program work. Chief Emmanuel Ibewuike was an active and hardworking member of the Planning Committee. he is the reason for production and finalization of the event program, and also worked on logistics and more. Chief Emmanuel Onyekwere did very well and helped to organize lodging accommodation and other logistical work. Chief Eusebius Duru carried out many logistical work both as committee member and on the ground logistical work. Prof. Okechukwu Oranika represented ABW as a partner and helped in event coordination and more. ICOTTH first president Dr. Chief Hyancinth Nwachukwu was part of the reason why this event happened in the first place. When the Igbo language festival idea came to me I discussed it with Chief Nwachukwu who was the president of ICOTTH at that time. he promised to discuss the matter with ICOTTH members. He came back few weeks later to tell me that ICOTTH is going along with the proposed project. We reached an agreement to combine this event with the already existing ICOTTH annual Iri-Ji festival and the rest is history. ICOTTH’s first lady Lolo Franca Onyedum rallied the rest of ICOTTH women which provided crucial support for the festival. Great many thanks to ICOTTH women for their excellent support.
We thank all our guests, particularly HRH Igwe Wabara from Nigeria, HRH Eze Sidney Ogbonna Ihediwa (Abia 1 of Abia South Africa).President South Africa.Hon. Chima C Onyeagba Umealo (Agbawo dike izu) and Chief Mayor Benson Nwaogwuwu. Ishi Nze. Nze na Ozo South Africa, Special thanks to all our performers, ICOTTH women, ICOTTH girls ICOTTH boys, PILA School led by Model Kanayo Ntukogu, Dr. Nene Okereke and her Igbo marriage dramatization group, Chief Okey Onunaku for providing all the Igbo artifacts used to decorate the stage, my good and dear friend Odibeze Nkiru Onyema for being there when ever I ask for her help. Thanks to Ngozi Igwe and her music director, special shout out to beautiful Miss Africa USA Frances Udukwu and the queen mother herself Nkechi Osakwe and husband Mr. Osakwe, We thank talented Lilicent Ogbuagu(Nigerian-born-Maryland-based stage Actor and Acclaimed dancer.
We appreciate and thank members of the Academia, Prof and Dr. Mrs Ndidi Oparaoji from Pennyslvania, and Chief and Prof. Sussie Okoro of Howard University. Special thanks to Ify Davis of Maryland, kudos to the highly talented MCs particularly Hon. Ephraim Oduche and the co MC for spectacular performance. We were mesmerized by ASA USA great Masquerade dance group , thanks to all my ICOTTH friends including Dr. Chief Stanley Onye and Dr. Chief Pete Egwom, greetings to my fellow Abanna (Abatete) brothers who came to the event, Ntukogu family from Maryland, and Efobi family from New Jersey, We thank Dr. Emma Modeme of South East Medical Association and special thanks also to , author Chief Ifeanyiachukwu Ndubuisi, both are part of the Nigerian guest who came to witness this special event. We thank all our partners, including Nze na Ozo South Africa, Abia Indegenes of South Africa, and Nze na Ozo USA Representatives at the event. We also thanks Umuada Igbo Baltimore for participating. Last but not the least we thank Coppin State University for allowing us to lease the ultra modern state of the art Physical Education Gymnasium for our event. We thank the Mayor of the city of Baltimore for his welcome message.
My final thoughts is to remind our people that we must never ever allow Igbo language and culture to vanish. They are what made us Igbos, and if we loose them then we loose our identity as Igbos. You may think this is not important, but it is and we must move away from actions helping to foster this problem. I am putting forward what I can call the “Oranika Dictum” From now henceforth, all Igbo public events, and Conferences must be done in Igbo language. We can accommodate non Igbo speakers by having English language translators to translate from Igbo to English. The Russian president speaks Russian language when he addresses the world community, not because he could not speak English. The Chinese Prime ministers, India President, French President, German Chancellor and others do the same, but anytime an Igbo is called up to speak be prepared for unloading of “Timber and caliber” type of grammar. Ndigbo must always look at the big picture. All Igbo states’ academic institutions in Nigeria must offer and make it mandatory that students must pass Igbo Language course to graduate. We must hence forth only elect Igbo leaders who can fluently speak non convoluted Igbo language and understands Igbo culture. To me this should be the mark of the sophisticated Igbo leader, and not ability to blow big grammar. Out here in the Igbo Diaspora, young Igbo Children have demonstrated huge interest and enthusiasm in understanding Igbo language and culture. We must help them achieve such goal because the future of our language and culture lies with the younger generation and not with us the older generations who are on the way out. All Igbo conferences, conventions meetings and other events done in the Diaspora should henceforth be carried out in Igbo Language. We just demonstrated it in Baltimore by having this event done totally in Igbo language. It worked out very well !
Story compiled and written by Okechukwu P. Oranika, CEO Africa Business World.
Photos by Okechukwu P. Oranika, Chief Francis Ogbankwa, and Chief Alex Ike Okeke
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