Edo indigenes in Stockholm enact traditional Igue festival
Citizens of Edo in Nigeria resident in Stockholm and a large gathering of non-Nigerians met at Husby Centrum on December 25 to celebrate the end of the year and to mark the end of the traditional seven-day Igue festival. The evening, scheduled to start at 2000 hours, got off slowly as most of the celebrants, observing African time, turned up later than the advertized opening time. But they came and the evening turned out to be a very successful one.
Among the distinguished guests was the Nigerian Ambassador to Sweden and the Nordic region, Mr Benedict Onochie Amobi, who, on his coming, went around the hall to greet every individual as if he had known him or her personally for a very long time.
The Ambassador later delivered a speech that was highly appreciated by the crowd, that had by then turned big. He detailed the activities of the embassy (established as far back as 1967) that he has headed for nearly three years now. One of his biggest achievements since assuming the post was the installation of a passport machine at the embassy. Prior to the coming of the machine, Nigerians in his countries of accrediation had to wait several months to have a new passport and there was a backlog of more than five months. Now, Nigerian citizens who had all the correct requirements can get their new passports in a matter of hours. This elicited a large round of applause from the audience.
The Ambassador also talked about the relationship between his country and the host nation. He said the Swedish ministers of Finance and Trade had visited Nigeria earlier in the year and gotten acquainted with the large investment opportunities in the country. He said Nigeria, offering a captive market in Africa with its 170 million citizens, is a 300 billon dollar economy - huge by African standards. He revealed that the trade balance between Nigeria and Sweden, which had been in the latter's favour, has now turned to Nigeria's advantage. But he pointed out that the Swedes were mostly importing crude oil from Nigeria even though there are lots of other non-oil areas they could profitably invest in. Other countries have seen these opportunities and blue chip companies are now investing in the country. Nestlé is expanding its activities in Nigeria and Nissan will soon start assembling cars in Lagos.
The Ambassador said that he knew his countrymen and women always sent remittances to the folks at home but advised them to go beyond that by bringing business ventures to the country either alone or in collaboration with citizens of their host countries.
He assured his countrymen that his embassy was ready to meet the needs and requirements of those they are to serve in his countries of accrediation and gave examples of the help they had given to individuals who had found themselves in one problem or the other. He advised his fellow citizens to always remain outstanding individuals and to excel in everything they do so as to dispel the negative perception of Nigerians abroad. The speech went down well very with all who heard him who also applauded enthusiastically.
Earlier on, the President of the Edo Forum in Stockholm, Mr. Chris Obakpolor, in his welcome address, talked about the activities of the union and said a few words about the enactment of the Igue festival which was to be the highlight of the evening. Mr. Wallace Dinyo, Edo Forum's PRO, then gave a more detailed explanation of the festival tracing it to its historical orgins in the 15th century, a time when the Benin kingdom was at its height and was equal to any royal court in Europe then.
The Igue festival, celebrated by the Binis, is an annual thanksgiving festival that ushers in the new traditional Edo year. It is a week long event that starts with fasting when the Oba goes into seclusion. The fast is broken with an ancestral ceremony in which the long line of departed kings are honoured. The Igue proper depicts the worship of the head of the reigning monarch as well as the princes and princesses. The grand finale is the Ugue Edohia. This is the day when various live animals are slaughtered at the shrines to appease the spirits of the departed Obas and other gods of the Binis. There is general dancing and celebrations by all the citizens and Benin City, the capital, is turned into one huge cultural hub of activities attracting even non-Benin citizens from far away places.
It was a piece of this last day that we saw enacted in Husby. We saw the Oba and his wife, resplendent in their traditional costumes, coming to sit in state followed by a long retinue of royal elders. Two young boys wielded traditional swords in front of the Oba as he came in. There was the traditional breaking of coconut as wishes were made. A dry coconut was broken open with a hammer and the milk poured into a glass. The modernization (and the somewhat debasement of the traditional rites) went with prayers to a God that looked more like the White Man's god than the traditional god which would have been the proper object of the pure celebrations. But we are living in the white man's land and certain things could be excused.
We also saw the paying of tribute to the Oba which involved a traditional dance in which a ceremonial sword was wielded in acrobatic ways before the Oba. This beautiful performance marked the highlight of the evening. The applause was defeaning. Traditional Benin music issued from the speakers. There was traditional dancing and the women, some of them displaying the intricate headgears Nigerians are so famous for, ululated in joy. It really felt like home again.
The evening then went on with performances by Nigerian comedians in Stockholm. Then there was a disco night and people danced until the wee hours of the morning.
Food was served to everybody free and people who had not tasted home food for a long time took the opportunity to have several helpings of eba, pounded yam, and other traditional delicacies.