When talking about tradition and culture in Igbo land, one would not forget nor would the number be complete without the inclusion of the Imo-Oka festival – an annual festival of the Awka people.
Imo-Oka festival, a revered celebration of the Awka people which comes up mostly on the first week of May by the announcement from the Chief Priest as it has no fixed date is an annual festival marked to celebrate their deity for its role in protecting them in times of danger and war, as it was told of their victorious war history in the 18th century.
History on the origin of Imo-Oka tells of a female indigene of Awka named Nomeh that got sick at a certain time, and her people brought native doctors all the way from Umuezeukwu to cure her. All treatment administered to her was futile as she still died. Out of disappointment and anger, Awka people had to carry out genocide on the Umuezeukwu community which brought the extinction of the community. The place she was buried is now the Imo-Oka shrine. It was believed that Nomeh’s spirit was not at rest as her kinsmen claimed to be haunted by her spirit. Children started dying untimely and the Awka people had to invite a native doctor from Idoma that made a charm that was buried in Nomeh’s grave. The charm was effective that made the people to start worshipping it as their goddess and had it named Imo-Oka, and a festival was dedicated in honor of Imo-Oka which falls every May which is the beginning of their native year.
The Imo-Oka festival features only the indigenes that comes back home from far and wide to witness the annual festival. Shops are locked. Some non-indigenes either travel to their towns or remain indoors till the end of the festival, as the motive of the festival is to reunite the indigenes together. Non-indigenes where previously allowed to engage in the festival activities but they were believed to have violated the festival sacredness as looting, maiming were recorded while some went ahead flogging aged and disabled people. Due to the uncultured acts, the non-indigenes were prohibited along with the use of machetes to using canes.
Beating of canes which they call ‘Nti Agba’ is part of the celebration that permits any indigene to flog someone of his age grade who in turn offers the cane to be beaten back – this act can go on till one refuses to beat back. The Nti Agba has its governed rule that prohibits one from flogging any age grade above him.
Among the 33 villages in Awka, there must be an Eze Imo-Oka whose duty is to feed the deity, while the King ensures a successful festival as he plays the role of his people’s representative to the government. He fights for sponsorships and tourists to witness the occasion thus retaining tradition and culture of the Awka people. The government in turn supports the festival by allocating funds to see that every needs for the success of the festival was met.
Among the sacredness of the Imo-Oka is the presence of Monkeys which is been revered highly by the Awka people – it was told of their vital role played in safeguarding the Awka people. Monkeys according to history were said to be great informants to the people as they alerts the people of invaders in times of war and omen which they will avert by consulting the Imo-Oka. Because of that, Monkeys in Awka are forbidden to be killed nor eaten, and if mistakenly killed, a rite was to be made to cleanse the land or the land, especially the killer will face a great wrath.