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NEWS ANALYSIS: Promoting Tourism Via Culture

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The rich cultural features of the annual Okorosha Izombe cultural festival in Imo — eastern part of the country — qualify it for recognition as a fundamental cultural heritage that can boost tourism sector, culture enthusiasts have observed.

The culture has two months entertainment action packed windows, starting from the Itornkwa for Owu held around the first week of June to final Okorosha market carnival which comes up at Ogboafor market square on Aforukwu day in the first week of August every year.

Enthusiasts then note that if English Anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor says culture includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law and custom, among other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society, then Okorosha Izombe cultural festival is to reckon with in that regard.

These attributes by Tylor are encapsulated in Izombe cultural festival, an oil bearing community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo.

Okorosha festival of Ezeoji Amaigbo, Imo state. Credit: www.youtube.com. |  Download Scientific Diagram

The clan has estimated population of 162, 576 based on the figure obtained from the 2006 National Population Census, comprising 19 villages in the four autonomous communities of Aborshi, Umunwama, Obeabor and Ndiuloukwu in Imo.

As usual, the residents have begun the 2024 edition of the festival with Owu dance marking the beginning of Okorosha season.

Some cultural enthusiasts, who spoke in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), bared their minds on how the community sees the Owu/Okorosha culture and its potential for the development of tourism.

Mr Valentine Onwuka, a cultural enthusiast, from Amakofia community who gave the historical background of the culture said that Amakohia and Okwuorji villages were the originators of the culture in Izombe.

“Because our forefathers brought the culture before it spread to other villages, we are the first to perform the Itornkwa ritual, ushering in the Owu/Okorosha season before other Izombe villages yearly.

Onwuka said that the “culture recognises yam as the king of all crops in Igbo mythology and it begins after the cultivation and planting season by the people.

“It is after the market carnival and subsequent wrestling activity that the people begin to harvest and eat the new yam for the year’’.

According to him, as defined by Tylor, Okorosha culture has mechanism to promote peace and order during the season as the rules forbid residents from quarrels and anti-social behaviour.

“Okorosha has been an influential culture in our community and has survived more than 150 years providing arts, entertainment, fashion, happiness, strong consumer brands, innovation and prestige among our people,’’ he said.

Chief Marcellinus Ogbodo, a community leader from Umuokwu Izombe, described Okorosha as an age-long cultural heritage of Izombe people which synchronises with the agricultural activities of the people.

“If you look at the farm calendar in Izombe, in the month of June, an average farmer has finished cultivating and planting in his farmland and this is when the Owu dance starts.

“The festival climax in August with the Okorosha market carnival by from all the villages at Ogborafor Market Izombe.

“It is after the end of the festival that our people now go in the wrestling and harvesting of new yam which is the chief agricultural produce.

“During the season, the Okorosha rules prohibit quarrels and helps to unite the people, promoting peace and good neighbourliness, among others,’’ Ogbodo said.

He said in the time past, “ if you have an Izombe person as a friend and he hadn’t invited you to witness this culture, the person does not take your relationship seriously.

“The glamour and merriment associated with the market carnival is spectacular, each village Okorosha (masqueraders) made in beautiful designs and colours, sign and dance in their unique Okorosha language.

“The ambience of the event can be likened to best carnivals in the Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and some Caribbean countries,’’ he claims.

Eze Uzoma Akopunwanne, the traditional ruler, Obeabor Izombe Autonomous Community, described Okorosha as a cultural identity of Izombe, noting that average native would want it projected internationally if possible.

He said in recent time, the clan is looking at the reform of the culture at a commercial point of view, saying “we hope to record high number of local and foreign tourists attracted to it annually’’.

Dr Akopunwanne, a retired director from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Port Harcourt before he became the Obi II of Obeabor community, explained that the reforms would give Okorosha a 21st century tourism status.

“When I became the traditional ruler, I inaugurated a cultural committee in 2021 with a charge to the members to help come up with the innovation to transform the Okorosha and other cultural heritage of our people.

“This is because all the materials for the design of the Okorosha are articles of trade; fanciful materials and other entertainment materials promoting good businesses during the event.

“Two years ago, the kind of creativity exhibited by some communities, especially from Aborshi area was spectacular.

“Some produced animated isi egwu (type of Okorosha) that looked like tipper, forklift and other gadgets which innovators and technologists can take advantage of.

“The creativity was so fascinating that those who witnessed the event left with blissful memories and some of the dignitaries that we invited from the ministry of culture and tourism are itching to come again and again.

“We expect going forward that each year’s outing should have a special message to the extent that tourist who came would return home with meaningful messages,’’ he said.

Akopunwanne added that the uncertainty in the yearly date for the market carnival which affects willing tourists from planning ahead to enable them to participate is among the areas of reform.

The royal father said that the community would reach out to some big entertainment firms, corporate bodies and individuals, especially the Nollywood for partnership.

Akopunwanne explained that “Okorosha is not fetish, contrary saying there is nothing like the culture being fetish, besides our people have brought series of reforms in the culture which makes it a merry making and convivial venture’’.

For Mr Lucky Dibiagwu, the President, Umuokwu Izombe Development Association, an umbrella group for Umuokwu people in the Diaspora, participating in Okorosha festival is among the yearly activities for his association.

“We see this culture as the pride of our people that should not be left to die in the hands of our ageing community leaders.

“This year, we are going to sponsor at least 100 Okorosha to ensure Umuokwu emerged as the outstanding village during 2024 market carnival.

“My organisation also feels that promotion of this culture can be a vehicle to attract foreign investment and interests to our homeland.

“Izombe is richly blessed with numerous opportunities being an oil bearing community with vast arable land for agriculture. We strongly feel that through this means, a lot of development doors could open for our people,’’ he said.

Dibiagwu regretted that some Africans, including Nigerians abroad, would no longer remember their roots, saying getting involved in this kind of activity could be an antidote to bring such persons home.

The diaspora leader said that apart from promoting the cultural heritage of his people, the association had championed a lot of development programmes in Umuokwu community.

He used the medium to call on other Nigerian diaspora communities to identify with the homeland to assist in the development of the nation.

A News Analysis by Francis Onyeukwu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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