Owu-Aru Sun festival

Kalabari masquerede
Masquerade named Minjidia at Town Square by the Kalabari Ekine Sekiapu. Photo: Kalabari TV

Owu- Aru-Sun is a series of masquerade display by the Kalabari people of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Oral Tradition has it that the festival is usually performed after the exhaustion of the various masquerades owned by both the community and the groups or compounds which usually last for between 15 to 20 years. Tracing the Genesis of Owu-Aru-Sun, it can be recalled that it was celebrated in Buguma City previously in 1908, 1927, 1973 and 1991 by the Ekine Sekiapu under the leadership of the Opu Edi. The Ekine (it’s proper name) and Sekiapu (dancers) are the custodian of the Kalahari customs and traditions right from the old shipping (Elem Ama) till date. The Ekine also formed the nucleus of the traditional Government of the Kalahari people which includes the maintenance of law and order, including matters of arbitration where punishment were meted out to offenders according to the laws of the land.

The Owu-Aru-Sun Alali is the festival of the highest cultural display that has ever been witnessed in the socio-cultural organisation of the Kalahari people. Where the masked players in these dances were said to represent the water spirits, (Owu), to whom the Ekine ministered. The unique beautiful scenario of masked masquerades in colourful outfits and dancing in the special steps and styles and styles of their compounds is a sight to behold after which the Owu is said to be returned to the Ocean where they are said to reside. While some of these masquerades are owned and performed by the entire community, some are owned by particular chiefs and compounds such as the Alagba by the Abbi group, the Peri-gbo by Georges Compound, Bekinaru Sibi by Wokoma Compound, Gbasa of the Onbo group. The major masquerades are always placed last after  the last group of masquerades have performe. The Ekine Sikiapu through the town crier intimates the people of the need for preparation for the next Owu-Aru-Sun Alali. The town (Kpo kpo gbo la bo) Head Chiefs of the houses and compounds who own masquerades harnesses with it’s people on how to put up it’s best performance and sometimes also involves services of experts in the assembling of headpieces and costumes.

Two days to this celebration, Ekine Sikiapu host places some special sacrifices with white cloth at strategic points such as the waterside of the national deity of the people (Owameso), the entrance of tne Ekine house, the entrance of Adum (head of the local water spirits) Oferema Etele (an ancient sacred path in the North-West part of the town) and Ebe BOKO, (an inlet off the main River leading towards the Ocean). The essence of this sacrifice is to appease the deities and also plead with it to ensure total peace and to eradicate evil forces and disturbances from obstructing the going down of the water spirits.

On the eve of the Owu-Aru owners where the head chiefs and main members of the group perform some purification and sacrifices, this also gives an opportunity for small houses with requests of favour, protection and provision form the spirits while the female folks sing praise songs of the masquerade in front of the ancestral memorial hall (Inkpu). In the midst of all these the Igba Alabo ([purification priest) positions at the shrine of Obiano (Owame Akaso’s daughter) holding in his hands a glass of gin and egg on the other hand and liberates to the seven founding fathers of Kalabari (Amabiame, Endeme, Korome, Ituruame, Akialame, Igodome, Bukume), He invokes by inviting all the water spirits in Ekine to come out the next day and return to the ocean after the Owu-Aru Sun celebration after which the egg in his hands is placed in the Obiana’s shrine.

On the D-day of the celebration all the colourfully dressed masquerades of different groups and compounds  line up in front of the ancestral halls and are being escorted to the town square amidst cheers by members of its house. on reaching the square each masquerade is greeted by the chief drummer (Akwa Alabo) and shows a little display of its distintive dance steps before taking a bow into the Ekine hall. After all the expected groups have gathered at the king’s Amachree sqiuare, the patron goddess of the masqueredes (Ekine Alabo) libates to the Amatemeso with a bottle of gin and glass on the completion of the series of plays of the water spirit and the journey back to the ocean. The Ekine Alabo asks for journey mercies back to the spirit world and also assurance of their return at the next festival[i].










[i] Fresh Facts, February 15, 2009

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer