The Edjenu Festival Of The Okpara People Of Agbon Kingdom
By Iroro Orhero
The attached photograph is the Edjenu masquerade of Okpara Inland in Agbon Kingdom, Delta State, Nigeria. The Edjenu festival happens once in 50 years (celebrated last in 1976) and this masquerade is a rare sight that is associated with the festival. Many people see it only once or twice in their lifetimes. There are other notable masquerade festivals in Okpara such as Eni (which I have also seen) and Okekere. The Eni (or Elephant) comes out once in 25 years. However, no other masquerade festival rivals the Edjenu.
Described by some as a ladder to heaven, the Edjenu masquerade is a symbol of pride for all Okpara people because it foregrounds our history and achievements, over the years. As a festival, it brings back all Okpara sons and daughters from far and near. Before the festival starts, selected people (notably the Ovu people who moved from Eregbe quarters of Okpara) would offer the required sacrifices and perform the rituals to declare the festival open. The Ovu people partake in this because of their powerful deity (Ovughere: a god of war). This festival is deeply steeped in the Urhobo traditional religious experience and it is one of the masquerade festivals that has survived the onslaught of Christianity and the so-called “modernization”.
The festival is divided into various sections and the climax of this year’s celebration is about to begin. It is also important to note that the history and myth of this festival have been appropriated by the renowned writer, Tanure Ojaide, in his novel entitled Stars of the Long Night. The novel centers around a character who has been chosen by the gods to carry the Edjenu masquerade around Okpara. The task is sacred and comes with many preparations and responsibilities. Ojaide explores all of the nitty gritties of the festival against the backdrop of patriarchy in the African society.
It is also important to know that the Edjenu cannot be photographed. Photographers are warned and cautioned not to take photos or videos of the festival in order to preserve the awe and mystique of the Edjenu. The photograph attached to this post is a rare one and possibly the only one that has made its way to the Internet. Unfortunately, this was the only photograph I could get (others may have taken better ones and if indeed you have other pictures, please send them to me).
I invite all and sundry to join the people of Okpara, Agbon Kingdom and indeed the Urhobo nation, in the climaxing events of the festival which will happen today and tomorrow at Okpara Inland, Ethiope-East LGA of Delta State. Unfortunately, the State government and the Nation did not take particular interest in the festival, probably because of politics. Rare festivals of this nature should normally be a source of revenue through tourism. The festival is not even listed in the compendium of significant festivals in the State and Nation. Lets hope things change before the next Edjenu festival which will hold in 50 years time.
I also call on scholars in the Arts and Humanities to pay closer attention to this festival in order to unravel some of its aesthetic features as well as the folktales and songs, myths and legends, theatricality, history, religious experience and other art forms that are embodied in the festival.