By Abubakar Sadiq Isah
The youth of the community came out under various age grades, adorned in their hunting garbs with locally fabricated guns slung over their shoulders. Their black hunting attire gave them a fierce look.
Chanting Egbura traditional songs, the youth filed out like ants from the bush to the playground, stamping their feet on the dusty ground as they proudly displayed their catches.
It was a dance of the brave and a display of gallant hunters to mark the popular Irewha Hunting Festival .The hunting festival observed yearly by the people, has its origin in Ikaka, one of the founding fathers of the community. Ikaka was said to be a great hunter, renowned for his great skills and bravery in hunting. As such, he was said to be given the nickname Ada-Ugbe, according to the traditional ruler of the community, (The Ohiemani of Emani Shafa- Abakpa, Alhaji Hussain Usman Kyafi).
He added that the story has it that Ikaka who was also a great warrior had instructed his son, Onda, to stage a hunting festival at his death, which should be accompanied with merriment.
He, according to the story, had warned that there would be no peace and animals would not be caught during hunting, if the festival was not organized to appease his spirit.
“And at his father’s death, Onda did as he was instructed ,and that was how the festival came into being,” the traditional ruler said.
Today, the community has taken the festival to a new level. The festival is the major factor that attracts natives of the community who are away from home, to come back every year.
Apart from the hunting dance and display by the young local hunters, there was a beauty pageant contest for Egbura maidens, known as ‘Soroniyya’ in the local dialect. At the end of the event, prizes were given to those who emerged first, second and third.
The Shafa-Abakpa community no doubt has a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to the area of having access to western education.
Our reporter gathered during the event that Shafa-Abakpa community was the first village where Christian missionaries came to settle during the colonial period, and this has placed the community above other communities in Nasarawa State.
The situation, our reporter learnt, has given opportunity to indigenes of the area to acquire western education, which has now produced prominent sons of the village at higher positions, that include, the retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Suleiman Galadima, Architect Jafaru Isah of the FCDA, who is now a politician and currently a house of representatives member, representing, Nasarawa-Toto-Umaisha federal constituency. A former Rector of Kaduna Polytechnic, Engineer Isah Danjuma, Architect Abu Sheze, a private developer, and also retired President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Nasarawa state, Justice Jibril Idrisu, chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the FCT among other prominent sons daughters of the community.
Speaking at the event, National President of the Shafa-Abakpa Community Association (SACA), Barrister Muhammed D. Zubairu, said the festival had helped encourage the indigenes, including those in diaspora to come home during the last week of December.This in turn has afforded them the opportunity to attend the annual general meeting of the association and public lectures which precede the festival.
He said the association has provided a forum for unity, peace and progress since its inception. He added that there have been modest achievements on issues of our common interest and a lot has also been achieved in the areas of developmental projects and socio-cultural developments.
He also hinted that the festival has provided a link for the living with their ancestral leaders of the land, saying the event is mostly significant in maintaining and sustaining discipline, respect, hard work and love for humanity.
He however called on the state government to urgently come to the aid of the people of the community in building an earth dam or alternatively, connect the community with Toto dam in order to reduce the perennial water problem at the community.
He said though the journey so far has been very fruitful and quite impressive, saying the association has been able to come together to unite among themselves, and made some remarkable achievements in the areas of socio-cultural, economic and political development.
According to him, the community was also appreciative for the peaceful coexistence amongst themselves, except for the recent worrisome menace posed by cattle rustlers, kidnappers and fraudsters.
“This development has greatly posed a challenge to our vibrant socio- economic activities in the area, as people fear to go to farms and attend to their normal trading and commercial engagements,” he said.
The SACA president, therefore, called on politicians to work in unity and create a platform or forum where they dialogue with constituents, for understanding and better performance at all levels.
“And there should also be synergy in our political development where local councils chairmen, members of the national and state assemblies and political office holders converge for a better understanding, political and economic gains,” he added.
Zubairu, further urged all the elected representatives and political appointees to rise up to the challenge, in order to ameliorate the neglect at the grassroot level and give the electorate a new lease of life.
In his speech, General Theophilus Danjuma, who was the chairman of the occasion, said it was a thing of pleasure and pride to be invited as chairman of this years Irewha cultural hunting festival.
He noted that it was some few years ago, he was honored by the Ohimegye of Opanda-Umaisha, Alhaji Usman Abdullahi, as (Ohireku), which he said was a rare honour.
He observed that the hunting cultural festival organized by the association, which he said was non political, was an organisation with members drawn from all sectors of the community without tribal affiliation.
Danjuma, promised to sponsor a project of their choice that would impact on the lives of people of the community through his wife, and he said his wife will soon visit the community to meet with the women to discuss with them.
Also commenting, the speaker of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdullahi Balarabe, noted that the Irewha hunting festival not only afforded the people of the community the opportunity to showcase Egbura cultural values, but also served as a vehicle for promoting peace, unity and understanding among various ethnic groups.
He therefore solicited for the support and understanding of all sons and daughters of the Egbura nation to continue to imbibe the culture and spirit of peace and unity, which he said the Egbura people are known for.
“To this end, I will like to call on you to continue to support the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, on their change mantra in order for them to provide democratic dividends in the country,” he said.
The Ohimegye of Igu- Kotonkarfe, Alhaji Abdulrazak Isa Koto, who came all the way from Kotonkarfe in Kogi state, to witness the event, said the annual cultural hunting festival was an avenue to show how Egbura love and unite amongst themselves and other ethnic groups.
He noted that the annual cultural hunting festival has come to stay, but that the major thing was how government would diversify petroleum, agriculture culture and tourism, of which he said the investors are needed most to come in.
The Ona of Abaji and chairman of council of traditional rulers in the FCT, Alhaji Adamu Baba Yunusa, who was among traditional rulers at the occasion, also hinted that the festival, which he described as a unifying factor, had granted the royal fathers the opportunity to see each other and celebrate with one another.
“I am the paramount chief from the FCT and I always come here every year December all the way from Abaji, to watch the festival. And apart from that, I and the paramount chief of this place have the same grandfather. So you can see the festival has brought us together. It is also good for the community,’’ he said.
Another guest who came to witness the festival, Mr. Muhammad Yakubu, told our reporter that he was at the festival in order to rejoice with the sons and daughters of Shafa -Abakpa community, adding that what he had witnessed symbolized peace, unity and understanding of different ethnic groups in the community.
Daily Trust reports that many women, including house wives and under aged children from neighboring towns and villages trekked to Shafa- Abakpa to watch the hunting festival.
A house wife, Salamatu Usman, who spoke with our reporter, said she resides at Toto town, and that since the festival started some years ago, she has never missed any of the editions.
She was always attracted by the cultural display among the youths who wield locally made guns, and go into the thick bush to catch animals.
“But what attracts me most is the procession by the under aged girls who compete in the beauty pageant and other cultural dances at the venue .Even if I don’t have money to transport myself, I wouldn’t mind trekking to Shafa- Abakpa, to watch the festival,” she said.
The festival which was celebrated with lots of gunshots and a show of strength and valour, also witnessed presentation of prizes to hunters that came first, second and third in the contest. Those that won were those who were able to catch big game.