Owu-Aru-Sun masquerade festival is one of the biggest festival in the Kalabari Kingdom, of River state that features series of masquerade displays.
According to history, the festival usually comes up after various masquerades owned by both groups and communities are exhausted which lasts between 15 to 20 years.
Under the leadership of Opu Edi, the birth of Owu-Aru-Sun, according to oral history was first marked in 1908 by the Ekine Sekiapu society.
The Ekine, which is the actual name and the dancers called the Sekiapu are the guardian of the Kalabari customs and traditions right. They install laws and orders amongst the Kalabari people. They also play the judge and the jury that serves defaulters their due punishment depending on the level of their punishment.
As per history, the Owu-Aru-Sun has been the most exciting festival with colorful display in the Kalabari kingdom.
The masquerades that are representatives of the Owu which is the water spirit instructed by the Ekine society are said to return to their home, the sea.
Some of the masquerades are owned by the community, while some are owned by the community chiefs. There are also compounds that owns their masquerades such as the Gbasa which is owned by the Onbo compound, the Peri-gbo by Georges compound, the Bekinaru Sibi by Wokoma, the Alagba by the Abbi compound and the rest.
After the last group of masquerades are done performing, the town crier by the instruction of the Ekine Sekiapu would announce the preparation of the next Owu-Aru-Sun, which after that the leader of each groups, community or compound would educate or inspire their people on how to dedicate more of their time in learning how to put in a great performance by bringing in experts and equipping them with the needed costumes.
For the Kalabari man which includes his women folks, culture is a way of life and forms part of their daily life. The Owu-Aru-Sun Alali is a series of masquerade display by the Kalabari people of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Oral Tradition has it that the festival is usually performed after the exhaustion of the various masquerades owned by both the community and the groups or compunds which usually last for between 15 to 20 years.
As usual, the major masquerade play comes up on dry season. Two days, prior to the festival, the Sekiapu will offer sacrifices of an egg, white male fowl, a piece of white cloth and a divided finger of plantain and be kept at the waterside of the deity, Owameso, the entrance of the water spirits, an ancient part of the town, road leading to the river and the Ekine’s house to appease the gods of the land and invoke peace, and send away evil forced that will hinder the journey of the water spirits.
On the day before the festival’s day, all masquerades are being set up in the shrine of the group, community or compound leaders who performs purification sacrifices while the women sing praises to the masquerades.
The purification priest will be at the shrine with a glass of gin and egg in the other hand and offer prayer to the founding fathers of the Kalabari before he now invoke the water spirits to come out the next day and return to the river after the festival. When he is done, he drops the egg in the shrine.
On the main day of the event, the masquerades having lined up are being escorted to the town square by the house members.
Each masquerades would perform a little and will be greeted by the head drummer before entering the Ekine hall.
While the Akwa Alabo summons deities and their forefathers by their names, the masquerades moves anti-clockwise in the Amachree squares, while Sekiapu mention communities and groups by pointing at their shrines. After the third round of performance, they return to the Ekine meeting hall for resting.
30 minutes after the third round, they return back to complete the next round which they will now make rites to send the water spirit back to the river, the women are sent home while the men escorts them to the riverside.
On reaching, the chief priest makes incantations, praying for their safe journey to the spirit world which after that, the masquerade players would pull of the costume and all dive inside the river
Days after the festival, the Ekine would now announce the end of it.