Igue festival is a festival that is popular in the Bini kingdom in Edo State, Nigeria. It is known for bringing good luck to the people of the kingdom. The Igue festival started in Benin in the 15th century, 1440 AD.
The festival is celebrated yearly by every King that is on the throne and all citizens of the Benin kingdom both home and abroad. It is to mark the end of a year and to welcome a new one with hope for peace, unity, prosperity and all things positive in life.
British invasion of the Benin kingdom and consequent capture and sending into exile of Oba Ovonramwen saw the interruption of Igue celebrations in 1897. It was not until the restoration of monarchy in 1914 that the celebration of the festival was restored.
A festival which is now celebrated between the first fourteen days of December to coincide with the festival mood of that season usully holds in September to climax a series of ceremonies like Ugiodudua, Rhor, Ugioro, Ugi gun or Isiokuo and Ihiekhu before Oba Akezua II changed it to December.
Throughout their reigns, every year the Obas’ of Bini kingdom celebrate Ugie Ewere, the anniversary of the happy and prosperous marriage to Ewere at the Igue festival. Here the Ihogbes present symbolic Ewere leaves to the Oba. Igue festival, which is a period for the Oba to offer thanks to the gods for sparing their lives and to ask for blessings, is also used for offering sacrifices to some shrines in the palace. During this period, Chieftaincy title holders display their Eben emblem in the Ugie dance as they are seen in their traditional attire, according to the type of dress the Oba bestowed on each chief during the award of titles, while the Oba seats majestically in the royal chamber.
During the celebration of the Igue festival, it is forbidden to hold any burial or funeral ceremonies in Bini kingdom. This is because Igue festival is seen as a period of joy and not to be interrupted with any form of public mourning.
Confirmation and conferring of titles on deserving citizens by the Oba are carried out during the festival, although this could be done any time the Oba deems fit. While it is also a period to drive away evil spirits and bring blessings (Ewere) to every home in the kingdom, it is a period traditionally set aside by the Bini to thank the gods for blessings on the Oba, his palace, Chiefs and subjects. Ancestral gods are worshipped for protection and propitiation done in the various palace societies. The shrines are considered holy and therefore defied traditionally. The Oba pays homage at the shrines and he is accompanied by some of his chiefs. It is a period of merriment, rituals and dancing.
During this period of elaborate traditional and cultural activities, Bini chiefs are seen in their enviable traditional regalia, including the Iloi (Queens) in their Okuku (hairdo). It is a rare occasion of their public appearance, where the Oba’s stalwarts are seen in active service. Traditional dances like Esakpaide, Ohogho and above all the display of Eben by the chiefs while dancing and paying homage to the Oba in his chamber.
During the festival, Ugie dance is performed by all important chiefs, including the Iyase, leader of Eghaevbonore. When Chief Esoghan dances with the Eben, the Iyase follows with the Eben. After homage to the Oba as leader of his subjects or Eghaevbonore, nobody else dances with the Eben as homage to the Oba on that particular day.
The Ugie dance as typified is a ceremonial palace dance performed during the annual festival in honour of the Oba. It is also an ancestral dance by chiefs who perform sacrificial and priestly functions in the shrines at the end of a successful year while soliciting for a happy new year.
As the chiefs dance with the decorative Eben symbol of authority, they chorus incantations, and using Edo proverbs they communicate wisdom, pay homage and answer questions through gesticulations during the Ugie dance at the palace.
It is difficult for anyone who does not belong to any of the palace societies to understand.
The symbolic moments go into great conflicting details about the ritual dialogue between the dancing chief at the ceremony and the Oba. The monarch is seated majestically at Ugha Ozolua and arrayed in ceremonial robes amidst his retinue of chiefs, as he receives homage from his chiefs in the dance, which reassure him of their loyalty.
During the dance with the Eben by each chief, every effort is made to prevent its falling down during display. If it falls, there is a heavy penalty involving sacrifices to some shrines at the palace for profanity.
After it is publicly announced by the town criers, the festival kicks off with Otue, meaning greetings. Members of the Ihogbe (a palace society) together with important Edo chiefs pay tribute to the Oba, who presents a bowl of kolanuts. With the kolanuts, the chiefs bless the Oba and his family.
After this, there is a social gathering in the palace, during which members of the various palace societies and the public entertain the Oba with different dances. The Oba himself takes part in the dance. In other words, he entertains his guests lavishly.
The second day is for rituals. The Oba, dressed in ceremonial attire with all his wives and his young children assemble in the royal chamber. He is sanctified by the Efas (priests of blessings). After this, the Oba offers prayers before handing the sacrificial items to the Isekhure, who offers the last benediction before the Ehondor slaughters the animals.
Chief Isekhure anoints the Oba in the presence of Chief Ihama, other chiefs and members of the various palace societies. After the sacrifice, the chiefs dance to the Oba and his family with the Eben.
Every chief scheduled for Ugie dance leaves his home dancing with his followers. He dresses in his traditional regalia permitted by the Oba or granted him on the day of award of his title. No chief dresses in a way or attire not permitted by the Oba. As a chief moves from home to the palace, he dances with two men beside him among others holding his hand to and from the palace.
On the last day of the festival, that is, the seventh day, Chief Osuma of Benin collects the Ewere and then hands it over to the Ihogbe, who in turn hands Ebewere to the Oba in a dance procession and melodious traditional songs about Ewere. Bini history has it that the last day ceremony was incorporated into the festival by Oba Ewuare, to re-enact his fruitful and blissful marriage to Ewere.
The Igue festival has however endured and continues to keep its main features despite modernization in all aspects of political, economic, sociological and technological development. The Bini Kingdom still pays so much attention to traditional matters, hence, the continue celebration of Igue festival.