There is a young mad woman in my village that loves to dance at the sound of good music. From her countenance you can see that she is clearly filled with joy at the sound. As she danced among the thronging of revelers, what kept going through my head was, ‘what does she really think is happening here-‘So we have as many mad people as myself in this village, and they have been pretending all this while!’ Outsiders may get shocked at the carnival of madness called Ogene Nkirika-three days of music, dancing and dressing up in outrageous costumes, all part of the New Yam celebration in Oguta, Imo State. Mother Earth seemed to unleash all the passion and joy of a great harvest in those three days.
As the day approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement, again, in lieu of the horrid recession and hunger in Nigeria. I wondered if people would return home to the festival, as in times past. Was there still money for transportation and beer; were people willing to laugh for three days like there is no tomorrow (and commit all the other sins that come with consumption, to boot?) I have long stopped being a moralist, since ‘none is perfect’. I wanted to record the rising of the human spirit through daunting times. The locals will become innovative; they will create wit, drama, and humor out of daily living. That’s the spirit of Ogene Nkirika.
The village of Oguta lies on both sides by the Blue Lake. The residential area is on one side, while the farmlands are on the other. So, visitors don’t see bushes and farmlands between houses, as appears in most of the other villages around. They see only the well-planned road network and neatly placed houses.
The villagers go to the farmlands across the lake to plant yam, cocoa, cassava, vegetables, etc. They sometimes live on these farm settlements for long stretches, only visiting the residential areas sparingly. By a strange twist, many other Ogutans may never visit the farmlands all their lives! The same goes for the farmers.
Around August of every year, the farmers return to the residential area with their harvest to mark the end of the cycle of farming. Ogene Nkirika is the period when all Oguta converges to share stories of happenings in the town, to live out their experiences. Buhari or no, I was delighted to find that this year would not be any different. Individuals dramatized their narrative, dressed up as drag queens, danced around. One thing to note is that the principal actors in the parades is all male. Old, young, middle-aged men play the part, as some dress like women too.
I saw the boy carrying his pet dog named after the president; the ‘girl’ that had lost her virginity and was going through the crowds with a kerosene lantern searching for it; the ‘girl’ gone crazy taking selfies; the ‘snake-carrying girl (alluding to Mami-wata, the Lake goddess), wearing sunshades and dreadlocks, going up and down Amaeshi road, looking like Phyno, holding on to a crowd of pushing children with gifts of sweets and balloons thrown into the air at intervals! There were different groups of dancers, some advertising a announcing a new Nollywood flick; a middle-age ‘bride’ escorted through town by uniformed ‘bridesmaids’, smiling and welcoming felicitations from passersby; the key story of the new religion in town told by a procession of whip-wielding soldiers torturing the people’s messiah through the streets as he staggers with his cross; the ‘wizened old’ man who moves around with so much effort!
Some of the performers just wore panties and ran through the crowds spilling powder or blue (for washing white clothes) on their friends who had come to participate as mere spectators; there was the Oguta secondary school ‘girl’; the hairy-faced nurse with her ears plugged in a stethoscope; the ‘old’ man with a rickety bicycle and bag who had been thrown out of his house, and so on and so forth.
Commercial photographers were on hand to snap the girls who had dressed to kill for the crowds. There were other men who made videos of the actors. Many people don’t know that the renowned Nollywood star Clem Ohameze is an indigene of Oguta. He came with a camera crew to record the festivities, and did short interviews with the performers. He also had his cameraman go from Amorocha (the shores of the lake) to Umudei village recording entire space. He will upload the movie clips of this year’s Ogene Nkirika on his online station- ClemOhamezetv on YouTube!
I documented from my point of view. Of course, nothing beats the ‘real’ experience of being ‘there’. Besides Nigeria’s second largest lake situated in Oguta, the rich culture of the settlers stands out in contrast with that of nearby villages. Oguta as a viable income earner with huge tourism potentials can never be understated. A source said that the poorly kept golf course is the largest in West Africa.
About 60% of the oil wells in Imo State are on Oguta’s farmlands, yet sadly, the village rarely enjoys electricity. I documented the protests a few weeks back. In terms of urban planning, only a handful of Igbo villages (Abiriba, Ohafia, Onitsha) can be compared to the small village by the banks of the blue lake. The locals have started to work at making the place great again, if the government will continue to ignore it in a sinister plot that seems to undermine all the development that Oguta has seen.
At some point, Osisioma age-grade, Oguta, joined hands to execute developmental projects like putting up signposts of streets. James is the son of the late Guy (pronounced ‘Gor-ye), longtime proprietor of Guy Spot, a popular local beer parlor and restaurant. The restaurant has stayed opened for over forty years, and is run by ND and Uzoma, siblings of James. James has ventured out to set up his own bush bar by the lake, building and hoping to attract visitors who come for picnics or just to swim.
There is the five-star hotel under construction by Ernest Nwapa, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. The high-rise hotel will have 8 floors, a boat club, swimming pool, golf course and children’s amusement park, among other things. The December carnivals organized and financed by prominent indigenes, with the maverick entertainer and musician Charley Boy and the award-winning international music star Dr. Alban is there to make your Christmas an unforgettable way to end the year.
Speaking of things to come, mark the date for Ogene Oma (the good Ogene), coming up on the 11th– 14th of September, about two weeks from now. The whole town joins in, with age grades and friends dressing up in their best native attire. People will be dancing on the streets and making merry. That is how we play in Oguta. The fun-loving people of the land have a saying- O di m ka chi ejina (I wish night will not come) the party must go on. I am witness.