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Adah Festival—Age Grade Festival in Umuoba Anam Anambra State Nigeria


The age group festival of the anam people is locally called Adah Festival. It is done every two years. Children born within two years are in the same age group. The main age that the festival is for is 18-19 year olds, but smaller children within the same age groups form smaller dance groups during the festival.

To prepare for this occasion, The boys entering into the age grade go to the bush to cut a lot of long canes(anya achu).

Three to four nights before the festival a particular masquerade called "Ayaka" moves at night. Women are forbidden to see it. Every house is required to put off their lights from 10 o'clock at night till 5am. Anything left outside will be moved by that masquerade. It is known as a masquerade of mischief and disorganization. To this day, any child that is mischievous and disorderly is called "Ayaka" after that masquerade.

Another masquerade that moves at night at the same time is called Odumodu. This masquerade goes to the houses of old men and greet them. When they get to each house they are welcomed and given drinks and cash gifts after which they will depart for another house. They are not to be seen by women so they stop moving by 5am. Sometimes it stays out past 5am in which case women and children have started moving about their activities. When this happens Odumodu is seen walking very close to the walls of houses and in corners trying to hide from onlookers. This is usually a very funny thing to watch.

Different age groups gather at the village square


On the eve of the festival all 18-19year old males will gather in the village square. That is where they will sleep. They will cook and eat and perform some rituals. Early the next morning, all of them will start dancing from the village square round the community. All the while they will be flogging each other with those long canes they got from the bush, they do this to test their strength.

During this period, their parents will be preparing delicious meals at home and they'll invite people to the house to eat and celebrate with them because their child is entering into age grade. After the first exercise, they'll all go to their individual homes to eat. After eating, their parents will decorate them with multiple colors of fabrics tied round their waist. Their articles of clothing include a white singlet, a strip of white cloth tied round their forehead, little bells tied round both ankles and multiple colors of fabrics round their waist under which a little boxer is worn.

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They will convene at the village square again and resume dancing round the community. As they are dancing, they'll receive cash gifts from spectators. While they are dressed in this attire, they'll not flog each other instead, the next age group below theirs will be dressed in white singlet and shorts with a strip of white cloth tied round their heads. These ones will act as servants carrying the left over canes for the older age group while dancing and following them about. This signifies the next age group.
After dancing round the community they'll all gather at a spot and start eating and drinking till nightfall. When night falls, all age groups from 18 years upward will gather at the village square and spend the night there. The following day, every male from two years of age and above will come out to the village square. They will wear white singlet and tie a white strip of cloth on their head. Their bodies will be decorated with white clay. The little ones of two and three year olds will be carried on the shoulders of older men. Every man in the village comes out to sing and dance to many songs. The chorus of the main song is as follows:
"Je gwa ndi police na Adah a bia go"
"Mgbo mgbo"
"Okwanu odogwu Adah umuoba odili gboo"
This is roughly translated:
" Go and tell the police that Adah masquerade is here"
"The great Adah masquerade has been in existence from time immemorial."
This song is meant to keep the police away because during this festival they vandalise things. The claim is that the Adah masquerades are spirits not humans so they do things that seem impossible for humans such carrying a canoe from the river and hanging it on a pole. Anything left outside on the eve of the Adah festival will get missing because the masquerades will move to another location. While all this is happening, the police are not invited because it is all entertaining and part of tradition. Also, there is no form of violence or killing. There is order not chaos so the police is not needed.

On the day of the Adah festival, masquerades of all sizes will come out to the village square. Women and children as well as tourists come out to watch this beautiful spectacle. The display lasts for several hours then the crowd and the younger boys of age thirteen and below will go home. The age group from 17 upward will wear masquerade costumes and start roaming the village with followers made up of the immediate younger age group. This time women and children run away from them as part of fun. The masquerades hold a long cane and make as if to flog any young person that crosses their path.
Women and children are safe when walking with a much older person whether male or female as the masquerades neither chase no flog elders. This lasts for a whole month usually December.

After this festival, all those who entered into the age grade are regarded as adults. This festival is to iniate them into adulthood. They are now adult members of the community and can participate in all duties in the community.

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