In most Igbo communities, female folk are not allowed to have direct contact or see some masquerades both in day time and in the night. But in Aku community, Igbo-Etiti local government area of Enugu state, the reverse seems to be case.
Tucked away from the rapidly developing Ogbede town, local government headquarters, Aku Diewa seems to be living a different life from the rest of many Igbo communities.
Odo Aku masquerade festival
The Odo Aku masquerade festival is a biennial event. Though the festival lasts for a period of six months, every day of the festival produces a different phase culminating into different villages celebrating their own masquerades outing.
So, every year, thousands of indigenes of the land-locked ancient community from different parts of the globe make their way home to celebrate the festival.
WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that the last festival was held in 2021 with a lot of huge controversies leading to many non-indigenes calling for the outright ban on the festival.
When our reporter visited the community to ascertain the level of preparedness for this year’s festival, many residents were on high spirit, waiting for the D-Day.
One of the residents who gave his name as Ogbobe John told WITHIN NIGERIA that every Aku indigene is expecting memorable Odo festival this year.
” On February 15, 2023, the Odo festival will kick off. It is exactly two weeks now that the Odo masquerades will come down from the hill where they stay. ”
Though Mr. Ogbobe didn’t want to take a deep dive into the occultic aspects of the festival he told our reporter that ” this festival is like the life of the indigenes of this community. Everybody is involved irrespective of your religion.”
Benefits of Odo Aku masquerade festival
However, another indigene of the community, Mr. Emmanuel Ezikanyi told WITHIN NIGERIA that ” there are so many benefits we derive from celebration of this festival. One of them is the entertainment aspect. The festival period is entertainment period. In a world where tragic events take place every moment, we cannot but do without Odo festival.”
Explaining further, Mr. Ezikanyi, a graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka who invented Igbo calendar said that ” it is a mark of identity. It shows who we are. Let me tell you that without Odo, there wouldn’t be Aku. Odo is our identity as Aku Diewa people. That is why everybody, man, woman, children, traditionalist, priests and even atheists believe that Odo is a mark of our identity.
“Again, it also serves as a mark of protection against any evil attack by enemies. Odo masquerades whether you believe it or not protects Aku people from the hands of their enemies. This doesn’t depend on whether the people believe it or not. It exists in the spiritual realm.
“Finally, it is tourism hub yet to be harnessed. Odo masquerades festival should be seen and treated Eyo festival in Yorubaland. If properly harnessed will be generating a lot revenue for the state and the community at large.”
Masquerades and their villages
Another indigene who gave his name as Odo Emeka Odo told WITHIN NIGERIA that many villages have masquerades that prohibit both men and women from seeing them during the festival.
These villages are; Nua Lenegu with Ann mpu masquerades; Nuaelu with mgbugbara masquerades; Amaezi ugwunani with ọchọkụ; Amauwani ugwunani with odo oji; Ọda with imodiọda; Ọda with okoronweri
and Amabukwu with ebi masquerades. These masquerades are not seen by any human being, both man and woman in the night or day time.
Asked what could likely be the consequences of the disobedience. Emeka told our reporter that ” the consequences are incurable sickness, bad luck and many a time, immediate death. It had happened times and so, none of the indigenes of this community will ever want to experiment on the veracity of the claim. It is beyond human comprehension.”
WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that some decades ago, following the death of many indigenes as a result of the violation of the masquerades rules, six well meaning indigenes of the community had a meeting and decided to find a solution towards annihilation of the alleged killer masquerades. Of the six persons that converged to get rid of the masquerades, one said he wouldn’t be part of the annihilation process. Two months after the meeting, five out of the six persons died mysteriously.
Since that incident, nobody wants to talk anything against these masquerades any more.
However, WITHIN NIGERIA investigation shows that the Odo Aku Masquerade is adjoined as one of the most friendly masquerades in Enugu state.
Unlike Oriokpa Nsukka, Akatakpa Obollo and Akatakpa Ibagwa, Odo Aku masquerade does not foment trouble. The masquerade does not run after females or strangers. They don’t carry canes of violence. Before now, women were not allowed to put on trousers on masquerading days of Odo masquerades such as Nkwo and Eke market days during festival months.
But after the 2021 reform of Odo masquerades, such practice was abolished.
The Odo masquerade unlike their counterpart in other communities are also not allowed to carry phones, cutlass, gun and other weapons. They can only wield cane for detente.
They are also not allowed to enter government establishments like schools or any hospital.
However, despite those huge reforms in the system, till today, both male and female are still prohibited from seeing some Odo masquerades and there is no end in sight to this seemingly awkward and controversial ancient culture in a community with more than forty Professors in different walks of life and with international repute.
When this Odo culture or tradition will be abolished is open to conjecture.