Ogori’s Ovia Osese festival promotes sanctity of virginity
Young men of marriageable age, who have been searching for their missing ribs but are yet to find it in a bride are now in luck and need not look farther anymore. Well-cultured maidens, who are ripe for marriage abound in Ogori, as showcased in Ovia Osese Festival for maidens, who are ripe for marriage through initiation to womanhood. This is after being tutored on how to take good care of their homes and how to sustain their husbands’ love with wonderful food delicacies.
Ogori is a local government area in Kogi State, and shares boundary with Edo State. Ogori people also share some things in common with Edo people and the Yoruba. Ogori town is after Okene, and is one of the smallest Local Government areas in Nigeria. It is nestled among rocks, which are said to be the great, great grand parents of land.
Forerunners of the maidens, Ibusuke, young girls, who will take over from the Ivia in subsequent years, are clad in pink shorts, bedecked in beads. They file into the arena with a dance to a haunting song and form a circle. Finally, the Ivia would file out after the Ibusuke had done their bit. The young women, with aso oke tied around their chests and decorated with beads. They filed out in the same fashion as their forerunners. Their wore mournful expressions and grim postures but there was a regal quality about their strides. Their oke dance was in tune with soulful chants. It was almost as if they were mourning the loss of their childhood days. They seemed determined not to smile, even when one of them was chosen as the best.
The culture is an important aspect of the people, which set them apart. Every maiden strives to keep her virginity in Ogori despite the prevailing culture of immorality.
National President of Ogori Descendants Union (ODU), Mr. Gbemi Omole, told The Guardian last Saturday that the Ogori Ovia Osese cultural festival dates back to 1870.
“Initially, it was a family affair, when individual families initiated their daughters, who have attained the rightful season of womanhood.”
Omole said when Christianity came the festival succumbed to the wind of change and most of the rites were shelved. He said it, however, metamorphosed into the church through church rites but in recent times, just about two decades ago, the community started having it as a communal programme, where young girls from ages 14 and above are initiated into womanhood. He said the essence of preserving the culture is to encourage chastity among the youths.
On the reality of maidens keeping their virginity, he said the reality is there but it might not be 100 per cent, adding, “There is no doubt that in some homes, there would be some deviants, deviant girls who will go into sexual relationship before initiation but once they are being initiated and they get to know, they are taken out of the ceremony and the girl cannot belong any age group.
“By mere observation, you can see that this place is organised according to age grades. Once you are found to have defiled yourself, you cannot have a sense of belonging because you will not be allowed be part of the age grades.”
Omole admonished the youth to maintain a sense of morality, saying it was the only thing they can give back to God, their creator. Former Commissioner for Information, Bode Ogunmola, captured the background history of the festival, as arising from a man, who had two wives.
“The first wife had seven children, while the other one had only one daughter and that daughter was kidnapped for days. While the girl was still in captivity, the step-mother taunted her mate, that none of her own children could be kidnapped. Not long, the missing girl returned home and the mother discovered that her daughter had kept her virginity. The mother went to the market square to announce that her daughter had returned and that she was still a virgin: ‘come and see!
“So annually, if your daughter is a virgin at maturity, you come to the arena and tell the community that she is still a virgin and she is ready for marriage and for suitors to come around.”
He said from then on, the Ovia Osese became a major cultural festival. There are a lot of tourism potentials that abound in Ogori for the sons and daughters of Ogorimagongo to tap, using Ovia Osese as launch pad. Infrastructural deficit is one area Ogori is sorely lacking, as Kogi State Government is yet to make its presence felt in the community. With the state’s economy badly hit by dwindling revues, Ovia Osese and other cultural products in the state could begin to play a major part. Many visitors graced this year’s event, thus opening the community and the state to possible foreign investors. Already, the government has hinted on raising the ante in tourism by ensuring it equates with festivals like the Osun Oshogbo festival to attract tourists to diversify the economy. This explained the never-before-witnessed pump and pageantry that attended this year’s Ovia Osese. The glamour that was brought into the festival included the traditional title given to the governor with his wife – Ogbuloko of Ogori, meaning ‘The Courageous One,’ someone that faces battle without fear.
As part of activities to mark the grand finale, there was the cooking competition and a competition on mother tongue for young people, who understand the indigenous language, without reflecting English, when they speak, and who can actually give proverbs in their mother tongues. The First Lady gave out the prize for the first, second and third positions. On how the state government plans to upgrade the festival, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Petra Akinti Onyegbule, said the state’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism was already working on a plan such that people didn’t just come every year to celebrate and go back but should generate economic value it can generate.
He said, “We are working on how it can promote the livelihood of people in the state and Nigeria at large because it is a very rich cultural heritage. The serenity of the community is next to none. It is a place where people will want to come and relax from the hustling and bustling of city life.”
She said for people that are interested in ethnography, in sociology and in anthropology, Ogori offers a good opportunity for them to come and learn firsthand some of the things they read online.
“University students can organise excursion to the place and see the culture because it is entrenched in values. It has existed for over four centuries – that is over 400 years,” saying the festival shows the premium that the community places on womanhood because in the community, there is no difference between men and women, as it were, in terms of empowerment and in terms of sending their women to school.
“There is no victimization and subjugation of the girl child here. We had always celebrated women for over 400 years; so, it is not only for tourism but also for academic endeavours. When people come, they will spend money in Kogi State, and it will also improve the economy. Kogi State Government is also looking at other things they can do to ensure that people don’t just come but they can leave with memorabilia that can contribute to the economy of the state.”
According to her, UNESCO is making efforts to put the Ovia Osese on the world map and that the State Government would ensure that there is advocacy towards that direction.
She noted; “There is the Osun Oshogbo festival because they have succeeded in putting it on the world map. You can see people travelling from their countries to Osun State to witness it. So, we can do that. If we look at it beyond that day and from all aspects, we can. The tourism plan is to aggregate all the cultural festivals and to showcase all of them. If we don’t showcase them, people will not know and if they don’t know, they will not come.”
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