Igbo-Ukwu Traditional Festivals



Odunke Festival comes up every four years where all Indigenes of the town in Diaspora comes home (mass return) to re-unite with their families. “Odunke” is a shortened form of “Odunkebunne” (Nothing is true) which affirms that nothing can be taken as completely and finally the truth about anything to be depended upon, because conditions can change anytime. Odunke is therefore an ideology based on philosophical skepticism. There are no absolutes in the Igbo-Ukwu worldview. For instance, wealth, children, good health, etc. which might be true endowments of a man today might vanish and place the owner in an opposite position. So, all the truth held in view of the man turns to be false and all the good expectations eventually vanish, hence, the name ‘Odunkebunne’. The feast was held in Igbo-Ukwu about the middle of the dry season when all the planting and harvesting must have been completed and people had plenty to eat. There was no serious farm work. People were expected to regard whatsoever they have achieved so far as temporary and not permanent and therefore should make out time to eat and make merry. This feast, which comes off around February and March was used to venerate the ancestors, thank God and the god of planting for the past season and usher in the next planting season.


This is an annual national seven days celebration staged by Igbo-Ukwu community to host the entire south eastern states usually in the month of August or September to thank God for the new yam harvest and also to showcase talents and her rich traditional values and cultural heritage that are abound among the Igbos.


Igwa nsi is the consecration of the staple food crop (yam) of Igbo-Ukwu Community through the process of communion with the dead (ndi Ichie) (ndi mbu na ndi egede) for the perpetuation of Igbo-Ukwu Community. It is a ceremony or ritual which is performed by the traditional Igbo-Ukwu men before taking the new yaw. No responsible Igbo-Ukwu man will eat new yam without first undergoing through the ceremonies, not to talk of eating new yams first in another person’s house. Igwa nsi is also the ceremony through which Igbo-Ukwu ushers in the eating of new yarns and through which the citizens show their happiness that God has given than the opportunity to live for another year, harvest and eat the yams which they planted. Through this ritual offering the people celebrate the reunion of men with the vital being – forces of the land after the symbolic expurgation of all evil, and show their happiness in the good relationship which exists between them and their personal gods (chi) and the Almighty God. Igwa nsi is an occasion of cleaning cleansing all the abominations, misdeeds, misdemeanor, voluntary and involuntary sins against the land (alu), all mistakes made through the wrong use of our tongues, culpable ignorance etc. The head of every compound heeds the ceremonies in the respective compound (obi). Each lineage performs the Igwa nsi in the founding fathers’ Obi. In this wider families (Umunna) the oldest man in direct descent of the family members (okpala obi) heads, while all males of tile kindred attend and participate in the rituals, provided that each compound heed must have performed the ceremony in his own compound. During the Igwa nsi Umunna, all the male children born within the year, that is between the last Igwa nsi and the present one, are brought out, each with a cock, one yam and eight kolanuts. This was one of the traditional ways of recording the ages of the children in the families (Umunna) oral register. Igwa nsi is also a ceremony of blessing the new yam which is the chief of all the planted crops and all other barn crops, and to renew good relationship, between man and the deities (alusi/ndi mmuo), the gone elders of the communities, the god of yams Uhiejioku) and to solicit good health, procreation (omumu) and holiness of the land.


Iwa-akwa or Iwa-ogodo (meaning covering with cloths) is a significant stage in the life of any age grade. It is the stage when an age grade is officially permitted to cover-up the body because they are judged to be transmitted into adults. It is usually marked with elaborate ceremonies and is the rite of passage of an age group into man-hood. Each person is shown his own plot of land that he is meant to cultivate and later build a house for the sake of raising his own family. The responsibilities are kept alive before him by the system.

“During the Igbo-Ukwu ceremony of ‘Iwa-Ogodo’, all the pubescent males assembled naked at ‘ikilikili’ to receive their first loin cloths from their parents. These were tied round their waists and crossed between their legs, leaving the ends to dangle like John Ploughman’s cloak. The initiated young males, who by this rite of passage were regarded as taxable adults capable of taking part in compulsory and communal ‘Olu Ugwu Okpu’ at Agulu, danced round the market and jubilated. They were given presents of scimitars (obejili), swords and cutlasses. Children of the rich and influential people also got presents of guns”. Girls, on the other hand, receive their presents from their families at marriage. They receive symbolic gifts like the mortar (ikwe), kitchen knife (mma-oge), stool (okpoga), vegetable seeds etc.

AHIA MBIBI: (Coming of age and preparing for womanhood).

It is the ceremony associated with the initiation of all female adolescent in pre-literate Igbo-Ukwu into womanhood. Preparation for this ceremony takes about three moons that is about 84 days. Ahia Mbibi has a lot of social, religious, and symbolic significance in the life of an Igbo-Ukwu grown up girl. Any girl married in those days felt very unhappy in entering family life without performing the ceremony. Prospective husbands take the ceremony (Ahia mbibi) as a very big challenge which if not well performed may bring downfall into the new family. A period of 12 days (IZU NATO) is also allowed after (Ahia Mbibi).


This is popularly and traditionally women’s feast. It is the feast of one’s destiny. At a time during the life of a woman in her new matrimonial home, she goes to her father’s compound with a hen, kola, white chalk and a new earthen wear ware. A traditional medicine man offers these things to the Chi Shrine of her father’s compound. A part of the concoctions prepared are put into the earthen ware given to her. She carries the earthen ware, hug on her chest, back to her new home and installs same in front of her house, and plants a tree (Abubo tree) beside it. The chi festival is celebrated on the next Oye day following the end of Isa ile Umu agwu/Ekpa unwu agwu. It extends for a period of 20 days (IZU NESE) during which women invite and entertain their daughters-in-laws, grandchildren and friends. During this period, sons-in-law present the annual title entitlement (nhu) to the mothers-in-law. Items presented include eight big yams, a hen or she goat, one and half gallons (awaliba) of up-wine and kolanuts. The hen and she goat are offered to the ‘Chi’ but are not slaughtered. They are kept alive for the ‘Chi’ and the offsprings are reared and killed in the future ‘Chi festivals’, if the offsprings are females, they are still reared or sold to buy kids to be killed at the “Chi” festivals. After feeding the invitees the mothers-in-law prepare food to be carried home by the invitees.


The first two activities – Ika udo/Iku agbata udo are ceremonies aimed at fixing a day for the feast of udo deity while the third activity is the actual celebration of the Udo feast and wife Nkwo deity both of them located at Nkwo Igbo-Ukwu market. All other deities in the town that have related names and functions that have not been celebrated are also ministered to during the time. Generally, it is fixed for the 12th day (Izu nato) starting from the end of Chi festivals. Before the Udo feast day proper, a preventive medicine amulet known as “Egbo” is prepared and hung across the entrance into the udo and Nkwo shrines. Individuals also prepare same and hang across the entrance to their private compounds, villages organize themselves, buy and slaughter.


The Ehulu and Oye Igbo festivals follow two days after the feast of Udo and Nkwo deities, that is the next oye day following the Udo and Nkwo festivals. Sacrifices are as usual offered to the shrines at Ehulu – (Obiuno) and Oye (Etiti). The Igbo-Ukwu town hall is located at the South Eastern side of the Ehulu Shrine hence the name Amaehulu Hall. Traditional titled men (Ozo amuma/Ozo alusi) also assemble at the Ehulu and Oye Shrine to perform as they performed at the Udo and Nkwo shrines. Again, on Afo day following the Oye day all the masquerades in Igbo-Ukwu again assemble at the Ehulu/Oye Igbo squares for entertainment of men, boys and girls who assemble in very large numbers, it is a jamboree of luring masquerades and running about late in the evening all parts of Igbo-Ukwu are busy with children and masquerades chasing them back to their various families. An interval of 12 days (Izu Nato) allowed after the feast of Ehulu and Oye Igbo to help people who could not sacrifice to the Udo Nkwo, Ehulu and Oye deities and the shrines there on at the appropriate time to do so.


(Clearing all the leaves used in wrapping the melon used for the feasts). This is a period of 4 days (Izu) set aside for clearing all the leaves used in wrapping the melon (ogili) and other refuse used during the festivals of Udo, Nkwo, Ehulu, and Oye. It is time of general cleaning at the shrines and in the homes for another very big festival which is expected to come off after the four days. It is a time of eating off the animals slaughtered during the latest festivals by the titled men and well to do participants.


Ana/Ala is the deity god incharge of this land on which we live. It has many taboos and any offence against the Ana deity is seriously viewed. Punishment by Ala/Ana against his laws include instant death, swollen belly in which case before the offender finally dies, he must be carried off the ground, blindness, deafness and dumbness etc. There is an Ana deity for each compound for each family (Umunna), for each village and for the entire Community. Sacrifices of fowls, goats, kola, chalk, upwine etc are made to Ana. Women do not eat animals sacrificed to the Ana/Ala deity. Animals that commit abomination such as a he goat trying to make mount a sheep is killed for the Ana and is eaten by the men only. A fowl that lays only one egg or a bitch that bears only one puppy is also killed for the Ana deity by the head of the family and the male children only. After the Ana (Ala) festival an interval of 4 days (Izu) is observed.


Okpensi is a feast during which fowls and goats are offered to the ancestors (Ndi Ichie). Weeks before the festival the whole compound, pathways and public squares are thoroughly cleaned and swept. Daughters who are married bring flocks of chicken and kola to their fathers to be offered to the ancestors. Fathers invite their married daughters, sisters and grandchildren for the feast. The cocks are killed and their feathers are plucked and spread along all the pathway leading out from the man’s compound. Different types of food are cooked and served to them in rites.

At night the ancestors (Achikwu) come out in the form of “Achikwu”, sing, dance and move around the village to carry away all the materials sacrificed to them. All roads in the village are very quiet at the time because of the presence of the ancestors. In the morning the visitors start to go home with their share of meat and some yams from the grand fathers. An interval of 4 days (izu) is again allowed before the next festival.  Visits are exchanged between in-laws, grandchildren and married daughters. 39 days (Izu New) interval also follows this festival.


This is a period of three to four months (Ogu izu na ofu lue ogu izu na isato) during which all major festival and major farm work are over. Everybody is expected to rest from serious work. Yams and other new farm crops are already harvested or being harvested. During this time people arrange feasts and exchange visits. The biggest feast celebrated in Igbo-Ukwu this time is the ‘Odunke festival – a period of eating, dancing, merriment, recreation, wrestling etc. During this time is also celebrated the memorial of the funeral of the son of Udo deity (Ikwa nwa Udo).

These are ushered in with gunshots. Merriments, slaughtering of animals in groups or individually, exchange of visits, entertainment of in-laws, married daughters and grandchildren become the order of the day. All the nooks and corners of Igbo-Ukwu are kept very clean. During the “Onwa Anuli” people think of some of the ways through which to upgrade their standing in the society such as title-taking, marriage, hosting age grade meetings etc depending on the farm proceeds of the year. Infact you cannot fully appreciate the type of relaxed life that pervades the ‘Onwa Anuli” season especially during the ’Odunke’ or ‘Ikwa Nwa Udo’ season unless you had witnessed one. If one adds the number of days between the feast of ‘Ogwugwu Dege’ and “Onwa Anuli’ one would get about 364 days which gives our traditional 13 months of 28 days each of the traditional year. This was the traditional calendar of the Igbo-Ukwu people before the advent of Christianity and colonial system of counting the days, weeks, months and the year.


This is a royal goodwill festival staged by the Idu to entertain his citizenry and other guest in celebration of his reign. This is not a traditional feast, but was birthed with the introduction of monarchal kingship in Igbo-Ukwu beginning with the 1971 edict of Atom Kpera, the executive Governor of Old Anambra State, mandating every community to institute a constitutional kingship system.


  1. Ika Ogwugwu Umudege na Ogwugwu Owele March 24th – Monday Afo.
  2. Ime Ogwugwu Umudege na Ogwugu Owele April 5th Saturday Afo
  3. Ime Ogwugwu Epuna na Ezeabatan April 17th Thursday Afo
  4. Ime Uku Etiti April 29th Tuesday Afo
  5. Ime Ogwugwu nine May 11st Sunday Afo
  6. Ime Uku nine na Akpuldo May 23rd Friday Afo
  7. Ime Ezulukwu June 18th Wednesday Eke
  8. Ime Ezanweke June 18th Wednesday Eke
  9. Izu Abia Mbibi June 29th Sunday Nkwo
  10. Ime Mbughu July 11th Friday Nkwo
  11. Iwakpu ji na Mmuo July 24th Thursday Eke
  12. Ikpo ji na Nkwo July 31st Thursday Nkwo
  13. Igba Udo Akwali September 12th Friday Afo
  14. Ncbeta Dege September 22nd Monday Eke
  15. Isa Ile Nze October 6th Monday Afo
  16. Isa Ile Agwu October 8th Wednesday Eke
  17. Ime Chi October 9th Thursday Oye
  18. Ika Udo Nine October 26th Sunday Afo
  19. Igba Udo Nine November 7th and 8th Friday and Saturday, Afo na Nkwo
  1. Mmonwu Ipu na Udo November 9th Sunday Eke
  2. Igba Ehulu November 10th Monday Oye
  3. Ime Ana Igbo November 25th Tuesday Eke
  4. Okpensi Ezihu November 29th Saturday Eke
  5. Okpensi Igbo December 3rd Wednesday Eke
  6. Igba Ulasi December 17th Wednesday Afor

Apart from the above there are small feasts in the traditional life of the Igbo-Ukwu citizen celebrated between some of the above major festivals. These include Ihu ji utazi, Ihu nhu ji na ede, Ichu aja umu enine, Ichu aja uke, itu egbo, Ihe ahia ezi, Igba ogugo nwo.

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