Eche’Ahana Festival in Ebiraland
Echahana marks the beginning of the series of traditional festivals in Ebiraland. By its conduct, according to our traditions, the rituals performed in the Ireba (Okehi) notwithstanding, the sequence of events that follow which are spread out over a period of over two months preceding the Ekuechi itself cannot but be likened to the funeral ceremonies of no less a person than Ada’ai Ita’azi, the Ohiku Ebira himself.
Three full months were devoted to his burial ceremonies, just as it is done up—to date for great men in Ebiraland, after their death. This particular tradition came into being following his death and as he must have explicitly instructed before he died.
Ita’azi was not only our ancestor but also a great hunter and warrior. The emergence of ‘Eku Uba’ as the announcer of the three—month period slated for his funeral ceremonies as symbolized by today’s celebrated annual Echahana and Ekuechi Festivals, justifies this assertion.
Ekuechi festivals begin with the Okehi’s Ekueehi, from which others follow in sequence and at known intervals between the respective traditional administrative areas. The order is for obvious reasons. It should also be recalled that the ‘Eku Uba! emergence is reserved for either installation or death of traditional rulers.
And as Echahana takes off with the emergence of ‘Eku Uba? The day actually commemorates the very day Ada’ai Itavazi died. Eku Uba is indeed a symbol of the ancestor. Ekuechi was first instituted in Ebiraland as a result of the death of our ancestor, Ada’ai It’d’azi attanuje.
Later in the evening of the emergence of ‘Eku Uba, the Eehahana Okehi takes off. That night till the following day is characterized by the traditional musical entertainment of today’s popular traditional ‘Ikede” singers. It could also be recalled that the late Ikekere Isungwe first introduced ‘Ichekene’ which later developed into ‘Ikede’.
Next is Echahana Eika (Obangede) which is followed by the Echahana Adavi (Oranlinana) etc. Echahana (Kuroko) follows and 7 days later, the Echahana festival is rounded up by Eika (Ohizenyi). The interval of seven days (excluding the first and last days) is called ‘Ogeta’ in the Ebira system of counting.
From the sequence above, it could be inferred during the funeral ceremonies. Adavi and Obaji both played their leadership roles by staging plays twice each while the rest staged once each: Adavi being the eldest child and first child of the first wife while Obaji is the first child of the second wife.
The highlights of the Echahana festivals are exactly like the ‘Unehe’ of Ekuechi. And comparing the general trend of the Echahana festivals with the ancient traditional custom of funeral ceremonies, it could be inferred that when Ada’ai Ita’azi died, the ‘Eku Uba’ was the conventional ancestral bodyguard, who guarded the dead body of this great ancestor until his final burial day.
While he (Ada’ai Ita’azi) was lying in state, the funeral festivities performed by the children are now commemorated by the sequence of the celebrations of the Echahana in the various administrative areas of Ebiraland. The final burial rites which came in the form of Ekuechi are now observed as an annual festival in Ebiraland.
- The first day, the ascension of “Eku Uba’ is the first day of our traditional calendar (before the arrival of the British). This is the day referred to as “Asusurayi”
- Echahana shortened from ‘Eche ahe ana means festival of the continued ceremonies (funeral).
- Eku Uba (shortened form of Eku Ubaneto); ‘Ubaneto’ being a kingly class of cloth in the ancient times, for kings and the wealthy in the society. During chieftaincy installations, the chief is usually dressed in this attire; so is also the ‘Eku Uba’, his bodyguard. The latter is today misconstrued as ‘Eku Oba, a misnomer!.
The Iyahana Festival as the name connotes is the Pounded Yam festival. Its time is right in the middle of the harvest season. The Ebiras are reputable farmers whose main occupation is subsistence farming of food crops like yams, cassava, cereals of all types, and vegetable crops like melon, garden—eggs, fruits, etc.
Other crops grown include cotton, castor, beniseed, groundnut, beans, peas, tomatoes, and pepper. And of all these the predominant crop is yam and the success of any Ebira fanner is determined by the size of the produce of his yam farmland.
Between the months of July and August, the farm produce is being harvested in full swing. The yams, in particular, are fully matured for harvest and sales. The Ebira farmer selects the best and biggest sets of his yams for the Iyahana Festival.
These are preserved on the farm till the festival season. The farmers troop home with these harvests at the time of the festival. The elders of the family, clan, or sub-clan are fondly remembered at this time, Part of such harvests are donated to them, as a mark of respect, and by this, homage is paid to them annually.
During the festival, every household is a beehive of activities which include yam pounding and cooking of the best of ‘Ipapara’ soup, and melon soup complete with bush meat specially preserved for the festival. Assorted vegetable leaves like ‘Eho’, ‘Uzi’, ‘Ebankoro’, etc, are used to add taste to the ‘Ipapara’ soup complete with ‘Une’, locust beans, specially prepared by the women for the celebration of this festival.
The Iyahana festival, like the modern-day luncheon, was designed by our ancestors to foster the exchange of visits, social interactions, unity, and the basis of good friendliness and understanding amongst the Ebiras. During such luncheons amidst drinking of assorted types, such as ‘Eche’omo’, ‘Eche’ayi’ etc., new marriage proposals are made.
With growth, the modern Ebira society does not celebrate this Iyahana festival in the elaborate manner of the past; all the more reason why this age-long tradition is last losing its value and most Ebira youths do not even know of the existence of such a festival! This festival can be likened to the New Yam Festival of the Ibos, some publicized that it is even covered annually by the NTA Newsline.
All efforts should be made to preserve this peaceful and violent festival of the Ebiras others, as part of our cultural heritage. In fact, the Ebiras as good farmers and hunters, have the Iyahana festival as the oldest festival in Ebiraland dating back to the lifetime of Ada’ai Ita’azi. Others like Echahana. Ekuechi, Ebe, etc. came into being after his death.