Mgbede community, Egbema in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State, last Saturday, was agog with fanfare and celebrations as the ancient Mgbede kingdom hosted the 2018 edition of its new yam festival.
Popularly known and called the Mgbede Day since its debut about a decade ago, the festivity was characterised by cultural performances, traditional dances, formal presentation and eating of new yam, chieftaincy investiture on prominent indigenes with track record in community service, awards to diligent indigenes, masquerade displays, exchange of visits and gifts and re-union of friends and families.
Eminent personalities from all walks of life all came in their numbers to grace the occasion which is celebrated annually to mark God’s blessings and mercies to the community and renewal of the bond between the people and the Supreme Being who, despite all odds and human inadequacies, granted indigenes life, mercy and blessings, and more importantly bountiful harvest, especially in yam cultivation.
Virtually all the 16 communities in Egbema clan cutting across the two geo-political and administrative states – Rivers and Imo, witnessed the epoch-making and historic event dating back to the ancestral generation.
The Mgbede Day was, indeed, the climax of eight days of activities and celebration of Mgbede new yam festival.
Mgbede, by oral history, was the eldest son of Egbema after migration from Great Benin Kingdom some 200 years ago.
Days before the festivity, Mgbede people had gone to farms and markets to stock their households with food, fish, beverages, spirits and wine (local and foreign) in readiness for the event which is seen as a period for happy re-union by families, friends and well-wishers from far and near.
As early as 5am of July 21, 2018, one could feel the festivity from the distance as the invitation to attend the epoch-making event rent the air. People, cutting across various strata of the society, adorned colourful cultural attires and chieftaincy regalia of various shapes and sizes.
The cultural festival which has some historical relevance and landmarks had in attendance all the Ezealis, title chiefs, Nzes, Okeyis, Ofo holders, youths, women, social and cultural troupes. Singing and dancing were noticeable at every corner across the community and beyond. It was a fanfare.
The festival’s main arena was a huge carnival with dances, cultural troupes, masquerades, and the popular disco theque bombardment by youths who gave account of the generational difference from the old school who preferred traditional and cultural displays and activities.
The Mgbede Day, to say the least, has become a yearly cultural tourism destination designed not only to celebrate God’s blessings but also to attract infrastructural development from government, NAOC and other corporate organisations as well as from various stakeholders within and outside the community.
Apart from the display of the rich cultural heritage of the larger Egbema clan, particularly the Mgbede community, the festivity had other side attractions which added pump and pageantry to the colourful yearly event.
Like other popular cultural festivals, the Mgbede Day remains a human regeneration of sort and a celebration of life. Infact, the Mgbede Day has because a way of life and a home-coming event for all indigenes of the community worth the name.
The Mgbede Day, now replicated by other Egbema communities, showcases cultural identity, heritage and potentialities as well as attracts investments from individuals and corporate citizens within and outside the clan.
As one tourist, Anthony Pedro succinctly put it “when socio-cultural system is not incorporated into development menu, society and the people suffer”.
By implication, no society grows beyond its cultural value, and norms. The inter-play between culture, civilization, science, technology and religion is therefore inevitable and imperative for advancement.
Advancement of any society remains a mirage, if development programmes are not incorporated into the socio-cultural system of any society.
The Mgbede Day has become a cultural renaissance aimed at transforming the cultural heritage of the people. Egbema people are predominantly farmers and fishermen. The festivity is built around the new yam.The yam symbolizes the pre-occupation of the Egbemas from origin.
The cultural fiesta, among others, showcases, the rich culture of the people, the communal spirit of the community blessed with vast arable land, and national endowments in oil and gas, all pointing to the fact that Mgbede is an investors destination and haven for business activities.
The festivity has been largely modernized, though the essence is not cost as yam which is the symbol of the celebration remains the rallying point. It was a victory dance for indigenes of Mgbede oil-rich community.
The highpoint of the festival was the presentation of new yam to all the 16 communities in Egbema ably represented by the Ezealis and prominent chiefs and elders.
The Ibewari ceremony was performed by HRH Eze Chadwick Nkem Ogor (JP), Eze Ogbagu I and paramount ruler of Mgbede Community, Egbema, accompanied by the chairman of the occasion, Dr Uche Mike Chukwuma (ACP retired), the Director General/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Agency, and other chiefs and prominent personalities.
Speaking, Eze Ogor said the New Yam Festival is as old as Egbema clan and solicited for reconciliation and unity of all Egbema people despite their political and administrative division.
“We will continue to lead by example and provide the enabling environment for peace, unity and prosperity of our people”, he declared.
The monarch charged the youths to continue to embrace peace and unity as divisive vices would take Egbema to nowhere, adding that Egbema would be re-united politically in the present generation life-time.
On youths empowerment, he disclosed that projects such as livestock feed mill industry would soon be established to employ the youth and urged multi-national companies in the area to employ indigenes so as to curb restiveness and hostilities against their operations.
The chairman of the Igwa-ji Mgbede event, Dr Uche Mike Chukwuma, described Mgbede community as a pacesetter and trail blazer in cultural, historical, traditional and customary activities, adding that Egbema should always be proud of its identity.
Dr Chukwuma explained that one of the cardinal objectives of floating the agency which he oversees is to engage the youth in meaningful ventures, especially community policing and security network in order to ensure safe environment for investment and business to thrive.
Earlier, the coordinator of the Mgbede New Yam Festival (2018 edition) Comrade Vincent Ubah described the Mgbede Day, project as a mission accomplished and stressed the need to make the annual event a tourists haven with national and international attraction.
Similarly, Eze Luke Ejekwe (the Eze Olori 11) stressed the relevance of the event to the well-being of the people. For him, it is a period of re-uniting friends, families, youths, elders and all stakeholders who gather to take stock of the past and project for the future.
Eze Olori solicited for tolerance, peace and unity in order to make life more meaningful for the present and future generations.