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Okpe Kingdom celebrates Wasigbeenile, New Yam festival

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Orodje of Okpe kingdom, Orodje Orhue I, .

Okpe people, both at home and in the Diaspora, recently converged on Okpe Kingdom to celebrate this year’s New Yam Festival, locally referred to as Wasigbeenile, ‘Thank You For Taking Care Of Me.

Located in Akoko-Edo local council, the ancient kingdom whose people according to history migrated from Ile-Ife, present day Osun State, about two thousand years ago, is one of the food baskets of Edo State.

Although located in a rocky terrain, the kingdom is blessed with vast expanse of farmland with majority being farmers and hunters, while the women are known for weaving and trading.

Palace Watch was privileged to observe the festival rites presided over by His Royal Highness, Oba Eshimokhai Okishimede Idogu III (JP) OON, Gbugbulu, the Olokpe of Okpe Kingdom.

It began with a13-day notice to the entire town on July 7, after the Olokpe and his Chiefs had deliberated on the modalities for the feast.

The notice elapsed at 5a.m, on Friday, July 20, with barrage of gunshots echoing from the palace.

This signified greetings from the Olokpe of Okpe ‘Wasigbeenile’ to his people, meaning, ‘thank you all for taking good care of me in this outgoing year.”

After this, Wasigbeenile became the general greetings throughout that the day.

As early as 6.30a.m on this, in accordance with Okpe tradition, natives and non-indigenes resident in the town trooped to Olokpe’s palace to pay homage and also to wish him and his family well.

After this ceremony, another notice, this time, seven days, beginning from that day, was given, as to when the climax of the ceremony proper would be.

Right from the first day of the seven-day notice, farmers, hunters and traders resident in Okpe town began to pay homage to the Olokpe in his palace with their farm produce, including assorted bush meat, goats, yam tubers; among others, as a mark of respect for his throne.

On the D-day, Thursday, July 26, 2018, as early as 6.30 a.m, all roads leading into Okpe town were blocked to enable the people carry out parts of the rites.

While the indigenes were in high spirit, strangers and women who suffered stillbirth around this period were barred from the rites.

The rites began when the Olokpe, emerged from the inner chambers of his palace, dressed in white attires, joined his traditional Chiefs, all decked in white.

Immediately the Olokpe appeared, he and his chiefs began the procession amid scintillating rhythms from the army of drummers from the palace to the village square.

The procession made a stop at the four major ancestral spots in the town to offer prayers for better harvests and productive years ahead.

The colourful procession took about one and half hours to arrive the village square, where prolonged prayers were said for the well-being of the people, both at home and in the Diaspora.

After the prayers, the procession returned the palace for what could be likened to a ‘pounded yam eating ceremony.’

By this time, all roads earlier blocked have been opened for visitors who trooped into the town in their numbers to join in the merriment.

The first day celebration known as ‘Okpukpe,’ had traditional musicians generously thrill the people.

The merriment went on for hours until the Olokpe, his queens and chiefs arrived the venue in style.

As the drumming and dancing get exciting, the Olokpe, who seldom dance in public, showcased lots of admiring dancing steps alongside his queens. 

The Olokpe at the occasion told the crowd at the square that the New Yam Festival is a tradition of the Okpe people.

According to him, the festival was how their ancestors gave thanks to God for good harvest and good fortune every year, adding that the festival existed before the coming of Europeans to Africa.

He noted that, although there were no calendar as it is now, their ancestors began to count their months right from the very day they planted their yam tubers and other crops, having in mind how long it takes for yam to mature for harvesting.

He said: “The festival is a way Okpe people gather to thank God for bountiful harvest.

We have every reason to be grateful to God, because it was just one small piece of yam tuber that was planted that has produced big tubers.

“This is the significance of our yearly new yam festival and the reason my chiefs and I don’t eat yam until this very festival is carried out.

Our ancestors bequeathed the tradition to us and it is, therefore, our duty to nurture and preserve it for generations yet unborn. We are doing this because culture, custom and tradition is the true identity of a people and people without culture are lost.”

The Olokpe appealed to all to always keep the peace despite the boundary disagreement they have with neighbours, adding that government is supposed to have called a meeting as it earlier promised before the end of May, but is yet to do that.

Regretting that the issue has drag on, especially as the Boundary Adjustment Commission is not making any comment with regards to the dispute, the traditional ruler said he is trying his best to calm tension, manage the people and give them hope that government will soon do something about the dispute.

Sharing borders with Owan people in Edo State and Idogun town in Ondo State, he said as a border town, people from both sides are still interacting peacefully and doing their normal businesses.

He said: “We have been handling this very volatile issue and avoiding clashes.

This dispute ought to have been resolved long ago, right from the regime of former Governor John Oyegun/Obadan in the early 1990s, when they came here with a high-power delegation and also set up committees, but nothing came out of all that.

Governors Lucky Igbinedion, Osunbor and Comrade Adams Oshiomole all visited us and promised to resolve the issue, but till date the matter has not been resolved.”

According to him, the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Chief Shuaibu, has also visited Okpe Kingdom and the people are looking forward to seeing positive results this time around.

He disclosed that both parties have resolved to wait for government to do whatever it deems fit to end the protracted dispute, as there is no need killing one another over it.


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