By Iorliam Shija
In the early 20th Century, Christianity came to most tribes that today occupy Benue State. While the Dutch Reformed Christian Mission , DRCM began their missionary activities in Tivland in 1911 and to be followed by the Roman Catholics in the early 1930s, The Methodist Missions started their preaching amongst the Idoma people in 1924 and the Igede land in 1935 respectively.
One of the most recurring effects of Christianity in these earliest days of berthing amongst the people was the attacking of people’s traditional beliefs or pressuring the new converts to drop their age-long festivals and rituals.
To the missionaries, their activities were simply designed for the liberation of the people who had lived in darkness for ages and any way of life they didn’t understand or stood in their way as they carry out this important task , needed to be abolished or demonized . Through these rigorous activities, most of the ways of the lives of our people were lost like the Igbe, Ivom and Amar in Tivland .
Today, many years after Christianity has taken roots and become the major religion of the Benue People, couple of such festivals are still celebrated and observed religiously. One of the most enduring and elaborately celebrated cultural festivals in the year is the Igede Agba, New Yam Festival, observed by the Igede people who live in Oju, Obi and Gwer West Local Government Areas of Benue State and Yala in Cross River state.
The drama, “Ego ny’Igede” depicts the perfect tradition of where the Igede people came from and why they are where they are today. According to the tradition, the Igede are descendants of Agba, a high chief in Sabon Gida Ora in present Edo State. A struggle between the Igede and the natives of Ora led to their migration from that region to present-day Benue state through Nsukka in Enugu state.The history of Igede Agba (New Yam Festival) dates back to the arrival of the Igede at their present place of abode.
There is a rendition of how they left Edo in a very large group but only to disperse along the line to other places . Some Igede elders hold the view that their progenitor, Agba was a renowned native doctor who traveled widely. Agba was also said to be fond of a musical instrument called “Ogede”. From there the name Igede probably came from.
The Igede people are believed to have been led by one Irumanyi as they traveled east ward until they came to the bank of Oyongo River with seven tributaries. The river parted ways for the people to cross after they performed some rituals as demanded by the oracle.
They crossed to the other side of the river called “Utukenge”, where the Igabu, Opirikwu, Anyogbe and Ikwuro people of the present Ogoja in Cross River State, who were part of this migration, parted from their Igede kith. The Igede continued their journey to Ipinu Igede, their present abode from where each clan moved to its present location.
In Oju Local Government Area which was created in 1976, there are five major market days in a week . These are Ihigile , Ihio, Ihiobila, Ihiejwo and Ihiokwu. Igede Agba is celebrated on the first Ihigile Market in the month of September.
To the Igede people,like many others in Benue State, Yam, is the king of all farm produce, so it is used to mark the occasion of harvest and the new planting season. As such, harvesting of new yams before it is declared free for harvesting, to Igede beliefs, is a taboo.
Every Igede man is therefore expected to celebrate the festival with yams from his farm, and not those bought from the market. During and immediately after Igede Agba, families are expected to eat only pounded yam but not the usual fermented cassava, popularly called Akpu (fufu).
The 2019 Edition of Igede Agba falls on Sunday, 1st September which is the first Ihigile Market, but the Omi Ny’ Igede Development Association in conjunction with the Igede Intermediate Area Traditional Council, IIATC will be holding the Festival on 7th September, 2019 in Oju
Some of the events outlined for this year’s celebration are Andi-Ibilla Mountain Race, Face of Agba Beautiful Pageant, Yam Exhibition, Traditional Wrestling and Thug of War amongst , so many other cultural displays.
So from 1st September to 7th September, the Igede and their friends shall gather to celebrate an enduring tradition. This show of strength and belief in tradition is typical of all Benue people and to a large extent goes to demonstrate the strong character of Benue man , especially the Igede tribe.
This is manifest in the lives notable Igede men and women have lived . Examples come handy like, Late Ochi Idoma , Abraham Ojene Akpabi, Ode Ojowu, former , Chief Economic Adviser to President Obasanjo and CEO National Planning Commission, Oga Okwoche, Former Nigerian Ambassador to France, Peter Okwoche, Host of the British Broadcasting Corporation Focus on Africanews magazine programme, Late Ogiri Ajene, Former Deputy Governor of Benue State.
Others are Dr. Stephen Ijaha, The pioneer rector of Delta State Polytechnic, Otefe-Oghara, Joel I. Iji, Ace Broadcaster , Prof. (Chief) John E. Enyi, Lecturer BSU, astute public Administrator and Rural Development guru and of course young Igede ambassadors like Mike Okoche of TVC and Henry Ipole of Radio Benue.
Benue, and especially Igede people invite cultural enthusiasts, sociologists , historians and tourists to come and witness rare traditional Festival that dates back to a hundred years ago.
Iorliam Shija is
SSA to Benue State Governor on Archives, Research and Documentation.
31st August, 2019