By Patrick Ochei
Isheagu is an agrarian community in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State. It borders Ewulu in the same Local Government Area and then Abala and Ossissa in Ndokwa East LGA.
The community can as well be referred to as a food basket, owing to her richness in yam, cassava and corn farming, as well as fishing.
Isheagu is a corruption from the name Isho-Agu which the community was originally known for since the inception of their existence by different migrants who constitute the community.
This community called Isheagu is made up of six distinct quarters starting from the most senior one which is Umueze Quarters, where the king of the town comes from. The next quarter is Ogbeonishe Quarters where the kingmakers come from.
Other quarters include Ogbe-Etiti, Isikiti, Umuenechi and Umuoma, making it up the six Quarters in the community. In all, Isheagu has always boasted of one paramount Traditional Ruler occupying the stool for as long as the gods please and then at passing, kingship authority is transfered to the first son. Presently, Isheagu is ruled by HRM Lt. Col. Obi Onyema 11 (Rtd), Obi of Isheagu Kingdom.
The Isheagu community is known for its rich cultural heritage; it is widely known with the Nze Festival which has remained exceptionally unique and celebrated annually. This festival appears weird in nature and only the lion hearted can muster the courage to watch it, let alone participating in it. It is one festival that prides in the excessive use of cutlasses to display and demonstrate the act that led to the institutionalisation of the festival. It is also celebrated with the rain; no matter how the weather appears to be bright and scorchy with the sun, as soon it is time for the festival to commence, rain must fall.
As guests, we personally witnessed these wonders, because as soon as our crew arrived Isheagu, the weather was very bright with no signs it was going to rain. However, as soon as we settled down and the different Quarters began to arrive to pay homage to the king, someone said it must rain, that never in history had this festival held without the rains. And true to his postulation, as soon as one of the main protagonists arrived the Obi’s Palace, the weather changed and the next thing was a heavy rain. What a unique and interesting outing!
The first indigene who narrated the historic background of the Nze/Ikenga Festival to us was the President General of the community and Chairman of the 2022 Nze Festival Committee, Mr. Stephen Uwafili.
According to Uwafili, “Isheagu is made up of six quarters starting from seniority which is the Obi’s quarters called Umueze, followed by Ogbeonishe, Ogbe-Etiti, Isikiti, Umuenechi and Umuoma in that order.
“Years back according to tradition, there was a monster terrifying people in Isheagu, making it impossible for them to access their farms. There was palpable fear in the land as the monster wouldn’t allow people move around without attacking them.
“A day came and God answered the prayers of the people. There was a certain warrior in the community called Odogwu Dagbue. Against the background of fear, even among the warriors of the community, Odogwu Dagbue was able to confront the monster and killed it. He brought back home the head of the monster from the bush and hanged it on tree at a particular position in the community. The community was thrown into jubilation to the effect that their worst fear was over.
“In honour of such heroic adventure by Odogwu Dagbue, the place where the monster’s head was hung was designated a sacred ground where sacrifices are made annually to give thanks to the forebears of Isheagu for saving them from the dreaded monster. Since then till date, that event has always been remembered in honour of the memory of the highly respected and revered Odogwu Dagbue. Based on this too, this festival is used to recognise warriors in the community for their exploits in the course of the season. In memory of Odogwu Dagbue, the community recognises the title of ‘Eze Igbu’ who on mandate of authority by the Traditional Ruler, announces the Nze Festival every year. So therefore, this festival is centred around Eze Igbu.
“Then there is another titled man called Owotor. The Owotor is the one who brings live animal during the festival, severes it into two in remembrance of how Odogwu Dagbue killed the monster.
“Our festival is unique in the sense that it represents the ancient act of killing the monster who attacked and put fear in the people of Isheagu. Because of the incident that happened years back, which caused serious dispute between various quarters of the community, the Nze festival was banned for 12 years now. It was just last year that peace returned and it was agreed to celebrate the Nze Festival this year as a final seal on the peace accord that was reached between the various quarters of the community.
“On this note, I want to sincerely advise the youths to celebrate with caution and not endanger their lives in the process. Of course, you know that cutlasses are used to mimick the act of the past, and we must do everything possible to jubilate in an atmosphere of safety and security”, Uwafili narrated.
From his own historic perspective, a prominent chief of the land and former member of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Chief Joe Adigwe (Isoh 1 of Isheagu), affirmed that Isheagu is a community made up of over 25 migrants from Awka in Anambra State, who crossed over from the river to settle in this land called Isheagu, adding that their settlement brought about the six quarters of Isheagu today.
His words, “This 25 migrants constitute the six quarters of Isheagu with one Royal Dynasty which has continued to be hereditary from history. The Onishe Quarters produces the kingmakers and the oldest man from there is known as the Onishe who crowns the king, while the king in turn crowns him at the point of taking the Onishe Title. Basically, we are warriors who came from various riverine areas to settle here. We share boundaries with Abala and Ossissa in Ndokwa East, and others. Our closest neighbour is Ewulu and we share boundary with them at the Mgbalamgba end of Isheagu where I come from. We inter-marry with the people of Ewulu and over 60 percent of their population has inter-marriages with us.
“Nze Festival is used to cleanse the community of all criminalities to enable us enter properly into the bumper harvest of the new yam. It normally holds in August to early September, and it is usually celebrated with the rains. The Nze Festival marks a combination of honouring past heroes of Isheagu and welcoming the harvest of the new yam.
“Isheagu used to be a place where you misplace a personal belonging and come back to find it. We were not known for theft and lies in the community; our forefathers built the community on the fringes of integrity. That is why, to be a chief in Isheagu is not measured by the accumulation of wealth or status in the society, but by proven honesty and integrity. We are renowned in the farming of yam, cassava and corn, including occupational fishing. We thank God that we are back with what we are known for as a people. The interregnum orchestrated by the intra-community crisis was resolved last year, and the agitation by the youths to hold our festival again after 12 years, has yielded fruit”, Chief Adigwe explained.
Speaking to us also was Chief Peter Ebinim, the Ogbu-Nmor 1 of Isheagu, who told us that Nze Festival is a platform for pursuing bad spirits out of the community.
He equally corroborated the other interviewees’ historical narrations by affirming that the Isheagu forebears fought the spirit and severed his head.
Chief Ebinim who announces the annual Nze Festival as Eze Igbu, insisted that Nze Festival symbolises the celebration of the spirits (Igba Ekwensu), adding that the Festival is used to pursue the demon.
While admonishing the community to embrace peace and always pay reverence to the gods of the community, he noted that once sacrifices are not made in the period of the Festival, the Nze deity begins to disturb the community.
From the point of government, the two terms Councillor representing the community and Deputy Leader of Aniocha South Legislative Arm, Hon. Ugochukwu Kingsley Ikekwuni said that the government would continue to support the existence of the people and the essence of their culture.
Being part of the peace initiative that restored peace back to the community, the Councillor advised youths to continue to coexist within the ambit of peace and unity.
He however, commended Delta State Government under Senator Ifeanyi Okowa for coming to the rescue of the people by building the Isheagu/Ewulu Road to open up the two communities to commercial viability and development.
The 2022 Nze Festival was a fierce one but culturally interesting. At different periods of the day, various quarters led by their heads, came out in their numbers, and dancing to the Palace of the Traditional Ruler to pay homage.
The climax was the final assembling of all the quarters at the Obi’s Palace with fierce looking youths wielding their cutlasses and displaying all manners of show of power. At this point too, the cabinet chiefs gathered to take their traditional handshake with others and the king in that order.
The cynosure of all eyes was the heavily guarded fierce looking bare bodied man, known as the Owotor of Isheagu, Mr. Sylvester Nwachukwu a.k.a Aladuma.
The Owotor is the only man empowered to carry the Nze sacrificial pot from the king into the final place of ritual in the bush. Once the sacrifice is done, there is usually a sign through the shooting of planted gunshots (Nkpolo-Ani), meaning that the sacrifice had been accepted by the gods, otherwise a sacrifice without a sign indicates rejection. The rejection is an evidence of the gods being angry with the community, and that would mean more sacrifice to appease the gods before signing off with the Festival for that year.