The UKWATA FESTIVAL, which is popularly known as the Ikenge Festival is the major feast of the Amai people of Delta State of Nigeria. It is an important annual festival which is usually celebrated in the month of February. It was first celebrated a very very long time ago.
The festival marks the end of the year’s farming activities of maii people and ushers in another farming year and other activities. During the period of festivities, people do not engage in farming as they remain at home and enjoy themselves and make merriment. From the day the festival date is fixed, yam tubers are harvested and stored in barns till after the festival when new farm are made as part of the new farming year’s activities.
To the King of Amai, HRH the Igwete of Amai, the celebration of the Ikenga festival is an interesting one. It is a period where there is re-unification of families. The period the books of all economic activities are balanced.
To Mr. Anthony Eleh, the Ikenge Festival is all about culture. There is need to maintain our culture, the American and Europeans do that, we must maintain ours, to keep our originality. The celebration starts with the coming home of every sons and daughters of Amai Kingdom.That day is called “Nkwo Nde Ebia”
The Onuosa Chief B.A. Alonu (JP), gave a graphic detail of how the festival is planned. Speaking to team of pressmen in his resident, he said the festival is formally announced after the consultations between the king and the chiefs in council.
According to him, the festival is normally announced thirty days before it commences. He called the festival a festival of achievement. It is a period to showcase the achievement of the people of Amai for the passing year, likes in farming, education generally your wealth of achievement; and in all these, the festival is that of thanksgiving for individual success story. According to the High Chief, the festival is characterized with masquerade dance, various processions.
The festival brings with it a lot of visitors to the town. It makes the people of Amai to plan and showcase to the world their personal economic achievement. This period leads to increase in sales.Significance of the Ukwuata Festival
It is used to mark a period of PEACE AND HARMONY. Immediately after fixing the festival date, a proclamation prohibiting fighting, quarreling, demanding debts summoning one another before the elders (Ikpala), INOTU (Chiefs) and burial ceremonies, is made. Anyone having a grievance against another has to wait until the end of the festival before taking action. The purpose of this is to ensure peace and harmony during the festival.
The festival fosters Unity, re-union and interaction. On hearing of the festival date, home-feeling will be aroused among Amai sons and daughters living outside Amai. Preparations for the festival will be geaned up as it affords them the opportunity of a re-union and inter-action with their families and friends. A special day of expecting the sons, daughters, well-wishers and friends has been fixed by custom, known as “Nkwo Ndi Ebieyi(Strangers Day).
Families will happily be expecting the arrival of the– sons and daughters and when it occurs a loud ovation will rent the air, welcoming them. Those, whose people have not arrived, will continue to expect them. In some cases their expectation will darken into anxiety- anxiety into dread and dread into despair, as those expected failed to show up. nevertheless, the day is a happy day generally as merriment’s will continue until the following day -the UKWATA DANCE DAY
Preparation: Once the festival is announced, the various age grades will be in the bush to hunt for animals that will be placed on the masquerade, called “UKWUATA”. The various age grade show casing the animals they were able to kill brought from their hunting. In all, the festival is to show case the culture of Amai people.
Hon (Dr) Alphonsos Ojo: The festival is a celebration done at the end and beginning of the farming season. It has a kind of economic benefit. One thing that is very glaring is that the entertainment industry enjoys a lot of patronages, most especially the entire Ukwuani LGA celebrating the festival at almost the same time.