ABARRA: THE FESTIVAL THAT DEFINES EGBEMA KINGDOM
“Alin’so,” popularly referred to as Egbema kingdom, pride’s a fishing festival common with her people known as “ABARRA.” The kingdom is located on boundary between Imo state and Rivers state. The dichotomy was a necessity for the adoption of a boundary toward the creation of Imo state in 1976.
For the people of Okwuzi community of the kingdom, the biennial event holds the opportunity for the revival of the kingdom’s old fishing culture. Prior to the journey for the festival, all male indigenes of Okwuzi community are seen arranging their nets, canoe, hooks, clubs, and all fish hunting paraphernalia in readiness for the festival. It is an eight day event; the first four days are spent at Okwuriuoba waters and the later four days at Opkuma, also known as Mmiri’ukwu.
The women, while visiting their husband and sons on the third day of the fishing festival do so with foodstuffs, snuff, cigarettes, hot drinks and leave with the catch from their various host. The festival is the exclusive reserve of the Okwuzi community of the kingdom. Indigenes from other communities that make up the kingdom and strangers are forbidden from partaking in the exercise. But can visit for sight-seeing and economic purpose.
The spectacular moments of the fishing festival involves the setting up of tents on opposite ends of the water, the fetching of firewood for cooking and roasting of fish yet to be caught, the readying of nets and canoes, the quietness that galvanize the environment as though a deafening spell was cast, the sudden rush unto the water on hearing the slightest of noise even from a monkey, an old fellow jumping from his canoe and into the water only for him to rise up with his teeth clutched to the neck of a mighty fish, the rain of curse on the fellow who had led to the sudden rush unto the water by those who weren’t able to make reasonable catch, the preparation of trapped fishes for roasting, a mimicking of the kingdom’s ancient masquerade called Umuagbarra, the rush to the town and markets for economic purpose by those who desired to sell their fish fresh, the visit by the women on the third day of the festival, and the preparation for the midnight walk to the Okpuma waters.
While the festival lasted, unlike before, but relatively in comparison to the rainy season, fish become cheap for the kingdom that with two hundred naira, one is certain of a pot of soup or pepper soup. After the festival, people who made big catch could pay their bills, pay for children’s fees, and achieve their desired dreams no matter how small with the proceeds from their fish sell.
The fishing festival provides for the kingdom, an opportunity to renew contact with the old-ways as series of sacrifice are offered to the gods of the waters before, during or after the festival. People who had lost contact could get to meet again as old and young, rich and poor, get to participate in the festival.
Before departing for the festival, family, friends and well-wishers offer gifts like coconut, bread, pepper, Garri, rice, and so on, to their loved ones. And on return, such kindness was reciprocated with a sharing of fish
Aside the economic benefit, the historical and cultural importance of the festival, Abarra ushers in a period of peace, joy and relief to the Egbema people.