Indigenous to Onitsha, the Ofala which usually falls due early to mid-October, is the highpoint of the Onitsha ceremonial cycle. The celebrant of this spectacle which is rooted in deep spirituality is the Obi of Onitsha and is an occasion for the monarch to fulfill certain obligations. It is primarily a celebration by the monarch and his subjects of the monarch’s annual emergence from seclusion, during which period the monarch has successfully negotiated the fortunes of the kingdom. The Ofala is also a reenactment of the joy which the monarch shared with his subjects, at the discovery that yam is non-toxic, and a valuable source of food. It is equally an opportunity for the monarch, following his seclusion to review his army and obtain the assurance of loyalty from his generals: redcap chiefs (Ndichie). Given that in the bygone days , the monarch was rarely seen in public, the Ofala provided an opportunity for his subjects to catch a glimpse of him, which is why they gathered in large numbers at the Ofala to pay homage to the monarch. They still do today.
The Ofala experience
This is a display of royal dances, tributes, parades and music which runs over two days. The first day Iru Ofala is primarily for the monarch. Attended by the Ndichie, the monarch wearing his full regalia parades the arena of his palace on three different occasions, in full view of all present, and dances to the war drums. In between the rounds, his subjects, visitors, and stakeholders in the greater cosmopolitan city, pay him their respects. The second day, Azu Ofala is an elaborate display by his subjects usually made up of age grade societies in their very colourful uniforms. Each society dances past the throne room paying homage to the monarch. All these leads to entertainment which give expression to a rich cultural heritage based on sacred values.
The Ofala in Recent Times
The annual Ofala has grown steadily over the years in terms of its scope, social glamour, and intrinsic meaning for us ndi Onicha. An international art exhibition, a lecture series, a youths’ carnival, and a post-Ofala banquet have enhanced the content and attractiveness of the festival. The Onitsha City Marathon is also ancillary to the Ofala.
With the strides that the Ofala has made, it continues to receive both national and international recognition. The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has endorsed the Onitsha Ofala Festival as a major Nigerian festival and issued a specific mandate in its support. The Ofala has also received a Certificate of Recognition for Excellence in Culture from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. This is in identification of its corporate contribution to the development of culture.
The Ofala is on course to achieving its objectives of attracting considerable national, West African, and international attention, and attaining the status of a major event in the Nigerian, by extension in the West African cultural/tourism calendar.