The Ikeji is an annual festival of thanksgiving, merriment and propitiation, which comes up either in the month of March or April every year.
It is a group of sprawling communities, spreading across three local government areas in Imo State.
Its origin dates back to over five centuries and it is acclaimed as the biggest pan-Igbo cultural community festival with strong heritage, international recognition and is witnessed by thousands of people on a yearly basis
The festival is very rich, in both historical and cultural festivities, filled with wonderful performances from masquerades, memorable sights, comic acts and magical dances from different dance groups.
It is a four-market days’ (out-izu uka) festival, which is equivalent to one week in the English calendar. Each of these market days: Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo, has its own significance and represents a particular aspect of the Ikeji festival.
Eke which happens to be the first day of the festival allowed sellers in the market like; farmers and individuals bring the best of their farm produce and livestock to the market and are sold at reduced price.
Orie is the second day, which is set aside for feasting and slaughtering of livestock in advance preparation for subsequent days.
Afor day which is the third day of the festival, is more merriment and display of small masquerades and small dance groups’ performances.
Nkwo is the day for the grand finale. This day marks the end of the festival and, as such, it is the most colourful of all the days.
The colourful day showcases dance groups from different places. Each masquerade moves the great panache, attracting people’s attention in different ways. Some of the masquerades and their followers are seen carrying water in baskets, which defies the rules of science.
The juju contest, which is one side attraction at the event, is a particular spot at the central venue, where the act of ‘ito-ebule’ takes place. Here, a big ram is usually tied to a tree with a tiny rope, which ordinarily, the ram could break loose from but cannot achieve that due to some magical (voodoo) power.
A man is summoned among the audience to go and untie the ram. This can only be done or achieved by a man with the strongest or most powerful protection from any powerful ‘dibia’ (native doctor).
He is expected to walk confidently to the ram and loosen it. As he does this, he is confronted by spiritual attacks from other participants, aimed at knocking him down, preventing him from achieving his aim, or even killing him.
At the end of the day, whoever unties the ram wins the juju contest for the year. The winner takes the ram home for feasting.