Ancient Benin Kingdom & Edo State
Where Modernity And Tradition Meets In perfect Harmony
(Benin City Nigeria Local Time)
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Like other festival celebrated in various parts of Edo state. Ivbamen is celebrated annually for a week in April or May by Ozalla clan in Owan to initiate young men between 28 and 30 years of age into manhood. It also marks the end of one year and the beginning of another. The festival is as old as Ozalla clan itself. Each celebrant participates in it for three consecutive times so that by the time a man of 28 reaches 30, he must have completed the full turn. No young man is allowed to participate in the festival less than twice and if any celebrant dies after performing the ceremony only once, for instance, it is regarded as bad luck for the person.

The date of ceremony is announced five market days earlier by the clan head with the co-operation of the chief priest of river Orhuen. The celebrants then start physical training to enable them run the eight-mile distance from the town to river Orhuen. They also make public announcements about their intention to participate in the festival and promise to bring to the elders information about any obstruction that comes their way. As they have not been given a name they announce that ‘Isikhien’ is the next age group for the ceremony. On the day, women sing in praise of the families  of the celebrates, boys hold whips, sing war songs and dance while the men hold raffia poles and bells, also sing in praise of their families and heroes. The practice of beating women who sing in praise of other competitors by the boys has now been abolished and whips are nowadays held for formality.

The two most important of the eight villages that make up Ozalla clan are Ivbihere and Igbidi. Representatives of these two villages as well as other celebrants from other villages wrestle or even fight, among themselves during the festival and one is fined for the act. The celebrants neither wrestle nor fight during the five market- day period which they regard as a period of preparation---Ighalegbe

Three days before the actual celebration, the celebrants who are always in three groups block the highway leading to the town with sticks to which budding palm fronds are tied. This is done to tell strangers that the festival is on and collect offerings. Celebrants from Igbidi or Usuame are the only people who can lead the group on road block. Such leader is called ‘Ukaro’.This privilege is not extended to those of Ivbihere.

On the second day, two shrines are prepared for the celebrants by the preceding age group called ‘Ulokhio’. These are also the people who act as scouts and guide the celebrants to the shrine. A day before the celebration, each celebrant take an artistically designed calabash to which a rope has been tied to a stream approved for the purpose. There he fetches water with which he bathes the next morning before the race to Orhuen River. Water for this purpose is always kept with the most senior member of the celebrant’s family.

On the eve of celebration, each of the three groups of celebrants approaches the clan head for a name. The clan head then call many names and when he mentions such name as has been agreed upon by the group, they all answer. That group is automatically identified by that name. The name of an existing group cannot be bestowed on another group until the last man in that age group until the last man in that group dies. But if any member of the group laughs or coughs while the clan head is mentioning names, there is a stop and the name mentioned last before the cough or laughter be it a good name or a bad one, becomes the group’s name for ever. A group which has a bad name can however change its name on the way to Orhuen River and report back to the clan head, Names can be changed but once.

For the proper celebration the sound of the drum tells all celebrants at about 10 am on the day of celebrations at all is set for the race to Orhuen River. The celebrants smear their faces with white chalk around the two eyes, the nose and mouth, drawing a line with it from each eye to ear. Each carries an empty calabash, a bell and a rod; wear his best dresses and they assemble at a junction, which is one-mile distance from the town.

On getting to the junction each of the celebrants removes everything he has brought with him leaving only a towel which is wrapped at the waist. Such towel is usually a gift from a beloved one or a well wisher. Calabashes are also handed to the celebrants’ favorites mostly brother- in-law at mile one to  be taken to river Orhuen while the celebrants led by ‘Ulokhio’-men from the next higher age group set on the seven mile race to river Orhuen. The leader who carry guns and cutlasses to ward off any obstruction run, trot and walk with the celebrants to river Orhuen stopping only at already cleared spots where the celebrants wrestle and rest.

The last lap of the race to the river is none-stop. The pleasure or exhaustion in this last lap depends on the Ulokhiose who make the distance long or short for the celebrants. No celebrant is allowed to overtake his comrade in the race and if any celebrant falls it is regarded as bad luck for him.

On reaching river Orhuen, the first of the three groups of celebrants, each of whom has now received his calabash, go into the river. They close their eyes and rise up their various calabashes into the river simultaneously. As water goes into the calabash each celebrant’s rubs bottom of his calabash with the right, still closing his eyes and asking whether is filled. The leader who watches all the calabashes are full. He then announces that they are full and orders the celebrants to raise them up. The order is obeyed in union. Meanwhile, the celebrants’ relatives and well-wishers sing and beat the drum at the shore.

The process of fetching water is continued until the three groups in turn fill their calabashes. But as soon as any group has fetched water, each celebrant gives his calabash to a beloved one--- mostly a brother-in –law who carries it home to announce that the celebrant’s water has arrived.  From river Orhuen all the celebrants accompanied by women and well wishes dance home in joyful mood.

Wrestling which forms a vital part of the ceremony is held at the market place between representatives of the villages in the evening. Here they choose his champion of the year.

At the end of the wrestling contest, each celebrant goes home to distribute the water he has fetched from the river Orhuen to relatives, friends and each celebrants rest for at least three days before engaging in any work.