It was an exciting afternoon as the people of Asaba gathered to mark the Mgba Aja (Local Wrestling Contest) festival, recently. The annual festival saw both men and women from the five quarters of Asaba including non indigenes come to cheer one of their own or enjoy the event at the arena in Ogbe-Eke Square.
The contest, keenly participated by youths of Asaba also had non indigenes displaying their strength, skills in wrestling and competing for the grand prize.
Mgba Aja is part of the activities lined up to celebrate the Aja Festival. Aja, which means sacrifice. It is celebrated annually in August to mark the beginning of the harvest season. Originally called Aja Oka, which means festival of maize when translated; this is in readiness for new yams to be harvested in September.
Ji Nkwo Aja, which is the first in the line up of activities for the festival usually comes up on the last Nkwo day of August. It precedes the Aja Day. This is the day Asaba people go to their farms to harvest their maize and some yams in readiness for Aja.
Aja usually takes place on the last Eke day of August, which is the day after Ji Nkwo Aja. This is at a period when the River Niger is flooding and is at its full capacity. This year’s Aja as usual saw the Red Cap Chiefs (Ndi Eze) bringing out their ushe and drum sticks to inform the people that the new yams are at hand. The killing of goats by the Ndi-Eze and the killing of fowls by others for as many as they can afford for the celebrations followed suit.
In years past, Mgba- Aja was celebrated for five consecutive days, starting from the Aja day proper. Virtually all the five quarters had its wrestling ground and each took turns beginning with the Omanwele wrestling arena on the Aja day. This is followed on the second day by Mgba Ogbe-Eke (Wrestling at Ogbeke arena) and on the third, the arena moved to Ogbe-Olie Isieke. On the fourth day, it was the turn of Mgba Umuaji and on the last and fifth day, it was Mgba Aji, Umuezei, which used to mark Igbaji Eke, the end of the Aja festival.
As years rolled by and western civilization began to gradually erode some aspects of the people’s culture just as it affected others too; the youths began to lose interests in local wrestling. Local wrestling which was the test of a man’s strength in battle was no longer regarded as important as other issues began to occupy them.
Consequently, in the last one decade or more, the wrestling contest has been restricted to the grand finale (Mgbaji-Eke) at the Ogbe- Eke square ground. With the support of some business organization in the last couple of years, Mgbo Aji has become an annual event that many people now look forward to watching.
Speaking on the need to take the festival to another level, Mr Peter Okwuniezor, the coordinator of the match said that although the match does not live up to its initial objectives, it could still be used to channel the energy of the youths into something useful.
“The youths should not be left to idle around otherwise their energies would be channelled to something negative. This is one competition that can help to redirect them and make them to have something to look forward to. If more corporate bodies can key into this, it would help to empower more people than what we have done so far and we will all stand to reap the benefits”. He said.
While thanking the Asdev 81 Club for sponsoring the programme said “we celebrate 20 years of pursing the dream of transforming Asaba into a first class tourism flash point as we seek to turn around our customs and tradition into carnivals that will generate revenue for the state, local government and the community and above all create employment for our youths”.
Expressing delight at the event, the Chairman Asdev 81 Club Asaba sponsors of the event, Barr Afam Nmali noted that events such as this are a feeder place for national sports where young able bodied men can be selected to compete in national games to win prizes and be empowered.
Barr Nmali further urged more corporate bodies and individuals to key into the festival by way of sponsoring in order to increase the scope of the festivals to boost tourism in the state which would eventually make people have more reasons to look forward to it.
This year’s event had the youths wrestling to get the star prize of a motor bike. Other prizes included television, fridge, fan, DVD and other consolation prizes, with the star prize going to Mr Akara Iwe in the men’s category and Dumebi Ndah in the women’s category.