Eben Enasco Reporting.

Centuries ago, the Emo ‘Orho Traditional Festival also termed the New Yam Festival provided a forum for the Benin race, both at home and abroad to converge, socialize, and promote the distinctive gift of the kingdom.

It is a festival believed to have religious meanings as many people carry out spiritual sacrifices to honor the spirits of the land and the souls of their ancestors annually.

The Festival of the New Yam is held every year between September and October before the harvest begins, to honor the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the Benin clan.

The rationale for the New Yam Festival, called Emo ‘Orho in Edo land, according to available records
is to generally recognize that farming is a highly risky business.

Benin sons and daughters across the globe of the Kingdom come home to join the palace of the Oba in celebrating the seasonal feast.

The Monarch being the symbol of the Benin race, communicates by declaring the annual event’s date where all descendants play a role through their various families.

The significance of the festival is that nobody eats the new yam in the Benin Kingdom until the Oba of Benin declares the season fit for the consumption of the new yam.

A roasted yam, salt, and oil are used to break the halt placed on eating new yam during the event which is shared by the head of each family.

To­gether, these acts have evolved to become iconic emblems of the Benin race for tourism destinations and technological pro­cessing.

These cultural wonders had become a brand identity and marketing concept premised on peculiar tan­gible manifestations and intangible expressions unique to the Benin People and most states of the federation.

Each of these constitutes the wonders of natural endowments or amazing evidence of human creative interactions.

However, this phenomenon of cultural values fell in its sense of value to Westernization’s entrance between the late 80s and early 90s.

Citizens left the shore for either prostitution overseas or higher studies and good living conditions, but by the time they return, they have been Westernized whilst most now see their roots as a dirty and fetish voyage, thereby, plummeting the cultural values of the Emo ‘Orho into extinction paths.

The situation remained so until the advent of the Oba Ewuare II, who decided to re-echo the significance of the Emo ‘Orho Festival communion.

The Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II, rounded off the 2023 customary Emo ‘Orho New Yam Festival, to rekindle the enthusiasm of Benin’s ancient traditional practice to put a new beginning of celebrating the annual event.

The festival was resuscitated by the Oba from going into extinction after he performed the rite that approved the consumption of new yams produced by Benin people in line with customs and tradition.

Royal drummers supplied the required impetus at the climax, with melodious songs by palace functionaries.

The palace chiefs clad in unique regalia, displayed royalty that stunned the royal fans, friends and well-wishers, spectators, and guests, including many visitors who attended the event.

The oba had declared that the Ugie Emo ‘orho, the equivalent of the “New Yam Festival,” is intended to exhibit love among one another and reignite the rich Benin history by divine order.

The monarch again reaffirmed at the Emo ‘Orho Ceremony that the Festival would be marked with one month of prayer and fasting by all Benin sons and daughters at home and in the diaspora beginning in the 2024 calendar year.

He said, “Emoro Festival is also translated as Ugie Awe meaning a period of fasting; it has long been celebrated in Edo State. Muslims mark their fast in the month of Ramadan, while believers in Christ have their own time for fasting and prayers”.

However, the new development offers a unique opportunity for artistry, crafts­manship, and entrepreneurial skills that can be developed, showcased, and marketed to derive a robust cultural industry.

A rich cultural industry in Nigeria will no doubt speed up our diversification drive, engender rapid socio-economic growth and develop­ment, and lead to a strong and stable Nigerian currency in the international market.

There has been no time in the socio-economic evolution of Nigeria that the naira, the nation’s national currency, has been under such severe pressure as it is today.

With the exchange rate of one US dollar to less than one naira in the 70s, the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar today has risen beyond 1,000 to one US dollar.

This phenomenal fall in the value of our currency, beginning from the Structural Adjustment Programme SAP regime till today, has continued to negatively impact spheres of our national life, and challenge our cultur­al values. It calls for a comprehensive value re-orientation.

Our educational curriculum has become largely alien and non-reflective of our socio-cultural background.

, Governor Godwin Obaseki has started the Museum of West African Art MOWAA, where he maintained that it will be a catalyst for deepening connections between contemporary arts and culture and the rich cultural heritage of West Africa, and a center of excellence creating opportunities for African and Diaspora artists and scholars.

The initiative according to the Governor will provide exceptional infrastructure and programs for the preservation, display, research, learning, and exchange of arts and culture from a world-class campus in the heart of the historic district of Benin City, Nigeria.

This can only become very attractive when he works together with the palace to sustain the value.

For example, the Zanna Cap of Borno, the Akwa-Ocha dazzling white traditional woven fabric of Delta State, the queen India head of Benin, Edo State, the Ikogosi Water Spring of Ekiti, the Nok Culture of Kaduna State, the Dye Pits of Kano, the Itoguntoro traditional weaving heritage of Kogi State, the Dada pot­tery of Kwara State, the brass works of Niger State, to mention but a few, have all assumed unique cultural brands that can be enriched, repack­aged and aggressively promoted as aspects of Nigerian cultural brands at the international market place

In addition to the above, Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of cultural festivals.

Our fascinating cultural festivals and dance include Ohafia war dance in Abia State, Ekwobi dance in Cross River State, the Nwa Umu-Agbogho of Ebonyi State, the Odo Masquerade festival of Enugu State, the Eyo Mas­querade of Lagos State, Argungun Fishing festival of Kebbi State, the Osun Osogbo festival of Osun State, Igwe festival of Edo State, the boat regatta of Rivers and Bayelsa States and so on.

These festivals can be re­packaged into a cluster and a nation­al festival calendar evolved to ensure that tourists in search of leisure and festival entertainment can experience several of these festivals in a particular cluster during one.

During the festival, it can be celebrated as a feast on the first day, and then there is wrestling and other traditional sports on the second day.

Recall that Wrestling is a sport by which Okonkwo excelled and rose to fame In Things Fall Apart, the values and beliefs of the Igbo people in what is now Nigeria collide with the turn of the century European Christian missionaries’ ideas of what it means to be civilized.

One man who tends to have seen an opportunity is a Former Military General, and contender for the 2024 gubernatorial election, Retired General Charles Ehigie Airiavbere.

He said one of his top priorities will be to strengthen the operations of traditional institutions and make them a cultural tourist hub that is capable of generating revenue in the state

Airiavbere at a forum where he officially launched his ambition to succeed the incumbent Governor, Godwin Obaseki on Monday in Benin City said he will continue to promote and uphold the significance of the cultural heritage of the state.

He assured of using the Emo ‘Orho Yam Festival to showcase the rich cultural gift and attract investors in tourism to the state.

Airhiavbere call would mean that others in their various fields can also see this as an opportunity to attract investors to generate revenue.

All stakeholders and key players in the arts and culture sector should begin to apply their energies toward optimizing the huge potential in our vast arts and culture sector.

If the state’s cultural resources are carefully har­nessed and productively channeled, it will open up our cultural economy, engender rapid socio-economic growth, and lead to the emergence of a strong and stable state.

As a free market economy, the value of our nation’s currency would ultimately be determined by the market forces of demand and supply.

This has implications on our level of consumption of foreign goods and services and by extension, our val­ues.

Given the proven capacity of the cultural sector to contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Prod­uct, most nations of the world are developing strategies to integrate and mainstream cultural products into the process of economic development.

Edo State is probably the most cultur­ally diverse state in Nigeria, rich in various cultural products.

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