Aro carnival: A smart tool to promote and reform Aro cultural music and dances for greater impact

Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi

About two weeks ago, I received an email from Aro carnival organizers requesting me to deliver a key note address at the unveiling of a mascot for this year’s Aro carnival event holding in December 2015. This year’s event, the second in series, is sure to be bigger and better because it is been preceded with a presentation today of a documentary on Arochukwu kingdom. Although I do not have any pre knowledge of the content of the documentary, I hope the content will reflect our culture, our history, our people and values; things that promote us and bind us together as one people of great Aro kingdom. Let me now acknowledge the honor bestowed on me by the founders of Aro carnival group for finding me worthy to be called to deliver this key note address. I also thank the founders for their wonderful creative ideas that led to the founding of the Aro carnival program, an innovative cultural event that holds every Christmas season. History will remember them for their roles in promoting Aro kingdom history, people and culture through this venture.

A carnival, being a festival of people marked by merrymaking and procession, usually has capacity to promote happiness in the community, unite people and usher in peace. Aro cultural values are founded on unity in diversity, building and developing community and people. I believe Aro carnival has great potentials to reform and revolutionize Aro cultural music, dances and masquerades. It may also become a smart tool for promoting our culture, empowering our people and for helping attract huge tourism attention and wealth inflow into Arochukwu kingdom.

The founders of Aro carnival are systematically carving their names boldly in the modern book of Arochukwu kingdom history as part of those now playing good roles in introducing a new cultural carnival calendar for the future Arochukwu. The Ikeji Aro and other Aro traditional annual events, that we still celebrate these days, started just like this by few Aro people of old who worked hard and entrenched the festivals into the cultural life of the people. Those men had long gone but their ideas remain valid and remain with us as people still gather every year to celebrate the annual Ikeji Aro festival but with some touches of changes been made on its practices and styles from time to time to accommodate civilization and varied interests of the people.

Aro carnival will surely outlive the founders because the carnival’s programs and its December events timing appear to be carefully structured to make the carnival very attractive to a greater number of Aro youths, the up mobile folks and many other civilized people of various age brackets, sex, beliefs and status. This alone may help make the carnival’s programmes self sustaining venture as they will always attract larger followers from within and outside Arochukwu. But the founders should endeavour to develop flexibility strategies early enough into the carnival’s programs which may help drive constant improvements and relevant changes into their activities from time to time in line with civilization and demands of the people. More so, any cultural programme that fails to move in tandem with civilization of the people and technology of the time are anti-progress and it is bound to fail. Aro carnival being a creative festival of Aro cultural music, dances and masquerades has a brighter future for success.

Culture revolves and reflects on everything about a particular group of people, their language, custom, beliefs, music, dances, characters, lifestyles, etc. It is a total way of life and a mirror of a particular set of people. The character of Aro people is founded on good morals, integrity, enterprise, wisdom and fear of God. Aro culture embodies attributes of good cultural values; it does not encourage evil, like killing people and destroying of properties. Any culture that promotes evil, indecency, destruction, and killing of people does not possess good cultural values, and so can never be attractive to people at all. Such culture should either be reformed or allowed to go into extinct.

Every good culture is dynamic and attractive; culture is never static. Cultures move with trends of time. Although our culture tends to remind us of who we are, our past and our history, it should not be allowed to push us back to dwell the present as if we were still in the dark past. We cannot be living our today’s 21st century lifestyles as if we were still in the era of 15th century. No people would want their culture to remain backward anymore. And so every aspect of our culture that resists tonic of civilization should be jettisoned. Civilization is not static either; it is also dynamic. It resists and rejects any aspect of cultures that becomes static and out of tone with modernity. Civilization changes and modifies peoples’ life styles, habits and enterprise in line with changing trends of needs and demands of the global society. Civilization carries every good culture along with it through the path of change from ancient to modern. Aro culture cannot be an exception. Our culture must embrace civilization and modernity. Therefore, any part of Aro culture that rejects such trends of change will be discarded. Change is now a way of life everywhere in the world.

The whole world has become a global village of various people competing with each other, exchanging and sharing knowledge through Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) network. Every culture is today striving to showcase its beauty and values to other cultures of the world through ICT in order to attract wider attention for its political and economic developments. Arochukwu cannot be left out. Our culture is important to us. We love it; we must project and promote it; but we must also be ready to reform it and modify any aspect of it that is found unfair to civilization in order to make it more attractive to the younger ones and all others including those yet unborn.

Any community of people with good and attractive culture has a great future. And so, certain aspects of our culture and tradition as a people of Aro kingdom, including our cultural dances and masquerades must be reformed and made attractive and dynamic in form and style in order to keep them relevant to the needs of the people at all times. For this reason, I keep congratulating the Aro carnival team led by Barr Ndionyenma Nwankwo for driving this initiative of Aro kingdom annual carnival shows. I urge them to keep working very hard on their strategies and help reform and improve the quality of Aro cultural dances, music and masquerades so that ours may become very attractive and competitive in the global marketplace of African cultural shows.

Therefore, Aro cultural music, such as Odu-mgbede, Ugbani, Ojojo, Ojorima, among others should be properly repackaged, better equipped, costumed and marketed to the world. They could be made more attractive and very entertaining as some Owerri cultural music does in the marketplace of Igbo cultural music today. Aro shall forever remember the likes of late Mary Kanu of Odumgbede fame and late Mazi Harbour of “Onye-ukwu yiri kente, onye-nta yiri kente,..” which made waves in the 1960s and which later was used to coin the Aro Okeigbo (AROSON) club anthem of “Onye-ukwu bri na udo, onye-nta birina udo, umu-Aro Okeigbo biri na udo ….” which has become Arochukwu national anthem of today.

Similarly Aro traditional dances like Abaa, Amaraigwe, etc could also be re packaged, better improved, and made very competitive with the likes of Nkpokiti and Atilogwu of Anambra State and Nkwa Omu-agbogo of Afikpo clan in Ebonyi State; both are still making waves in African global cultural shows. Also Aro cultural masquerades like various ‘Ekpo’ of Obinkita, ‘Inyankpe, Mboko and some other Okonko of Ekpe’ cult, ‘Nmuo or Nmaa’ of various Aro shrines in Asaga, Amuvi, Amoba, Ugbo, Ugwavor villages can also be reformed, modernized, better costumed and trained to perform in special ways of dancing styles that may be very unique in form; completely devoid of violent and fetish practices. We can repackage all of these in similar forms as to what the Calabar people of Cross River state have done with theirs which their state government showcases to the world every year.

If Aro carnival team can try all of these, then they can become a powerful tool to drive and take Aro cultural dances, music and masquerades shows to a top level. And when they add a blend of similarly reformed and repackaged various cultural music, dances and masquerades from some of our Aro Diaspora communities, and regularly invite them to participate in the new Aro cultural carnivals which are devoid of any fetish and violent acts and practices, we shall be having huge annual cultural shows that will be able to attract global tourism attention to Arochukwu with all its associated economic benefits and development agenda. This may motivate some Aro leaders to work with Aro carnival team to jointly seek support and assistance from the state government, corporate organizations and NGOs to part-take in sponsoring and organizing the Aro carnival shows in Arochukwu annually to the joy of our people. That can also help take the Aro carnival shows to a much higher level as one of the best cultural carnivals in Africa.

To further achieve this goal, Aro carnival team should strive to make all their shows very entertaining and safe to watch by ensuring that the social behaviors of all the participants, especially the entertainers, performers, and their followers are thoroughly sanitized. Emphasis to reform the social behaviors of our various masquerade bearers like Ekpo and Abaa dancers should not be ignored; they should be counseled and stopped from performing under any influence of dangerous drugs and charms that tend to darken their sense of good judgment. Suitable costumes and technologies that could help make our cultural music dancers and masquerades look unique, harmless and special without losing much of their original traditional form should be recommended and provided for. We must avoid any form of costume and tools that may tend to abuse our sense of decency or pose a threat to life and property. The era when some of our cultural dancers like ‘Ekpo’ and ‘Abaa’ used to dance and parade themselves half- naked, brandishing cutlasses and axes, intimidating and harassing people are outdated. The days when some masquerades like “Nmuo” were been feared, seen and regarded as spirits and semi gods parading dangerous fetish tools and ‘powers’ are also outdated. The times when “Ekpe” cult used to be the government and court of the people are also gone. Not many people in Arochukwu today will allow themselves to be subjected to the jurisdiction and administration of Ekpe cult. Time has changed all that and time changes everything.

However, a lot of the Ekpe cult’s beautiful songs, music and drum beats including some of its masquerades and dances are very entertaining and interesting to watch. They may be reformed much better to provide a special brand of Aro socio-cultural music tunes and dances that could be showcased at Aro carnival shows. Similarly, the tantalizing songs, drum beats and dancing styles of our Ekpo masquerades, similar to what Nwankwo Kanu used to display in football fields after scoring a goal is a marvel to watch. Also the Abaa Isinkpu cultural dance songs, drum beats and dancing steps and styles are all very captivating and beautiful to watch. They can be repackaged better, made worthy and attractive for Aro cultural carnival shows, without adding any fetish and violent practices in them. The pictures, videos and films of the carnival events are treasures and may also become a huge source of wealth to the people.

I am confident that Aro carnival will eventually succeed in improving Aro kingdom’s rating as one of the best African national tourism centers with great potentials for attracting social and economic developments to Arochukwu kingdom. Therefore Aro carnival has great potentials to turn Arochukwu into emerging destination of African cultural carnivals by promoting and projecting Aro culture through cultural music, dances, and masquerades carnivals to the joy our people and to the glory of God. Thank you very much.

A key note address delivered at the unveiling of Aro carnival mascot and presentation of a documentary report on Arohukwu kingdom. On 26th September, 2015 at Amaikpe square, Arochukwu.

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Chima Onuoha Dike

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