Ighele festival is one of the most important festivals in Ishanland . It is celebrated annually in Ewu in the month of June and is significant to the inhabitant of Ewu because of the belief that Ighele brings peace and prosperity. Beside this idea, the festival appeases the ancestors of Ewa.
Very little is known about the historical background of Ighele. The only legend available is connected with traditional heritage that the forefathers of Ewu inhabitants celebrated the festival for years; therefore the growing generation must also celebrate it in order to preserve the cultural heritage of Ewu. In the ancient days, the festival was a great occasion but with the emergence of Christianity and its impact on other religions the liveliness of the festival is diminishing. There are fears that the festival may cease to be celebrated.
About a week to the festival the area which encloses the shrine is cleared and well decorated in the traditional norm of Ighele. The festival begins with gorgeous dressing. Young girls and adults appear in their best. The wearing of gold trinkets is commonplace and those who can afford coral beads also put them on, this young girl in company of the adult women dance round the town.
Some of the songs of Ighele are also very much like Awankere festival song of Okere (warri) and Agiele festival song of Uzairue (Etsako). As the dancers’ thong along in procession, some women deliberately show their beauty. Men are, by the norm of Ighele not allowed to challenge the women. This norm of ‘women’s day’ is not new in many part of the country or other parts of the world.
In most cases, men take delight in such Ighele songs and, to show their traditional approval gift is handed out by the men folk of the society. In order to bring a balance in human nature, the second day of the festival is declassed ‘men’s day’. On this day, men of all age-grade who are able-bodied dance round the town and also show their handsomeness as they dance. The festival ends up its dancing scene by a joint communal dancing and procession to the shrine of Ighele. There, a special homage is paid by all participants.
Ighele festival also features some thrashing. There is lavish feasting during the festival and men who feel they are ‘pain proof offer themselves for thrashing. Those who participate in the festival, swear themselves with charcoal at a certain stage of the ceremonies.
Though there are various meaning attached to charcoal smearing it is an indication of the vanity of men. Since Ighele festival is also a festival of ‘evergreen memory’. Charcoal smearing indicates that the dancers themselves are potential ancestors.