GBEKEBOR-The ancient Gbekebor community recently was agog and the town painted colourful in Burutu local Government area of Delta State as they re-awakened the dwindling Ijaw rich beautiful culture in its annual ‘‘Pelekoro-owu’’ festival.
Neighbouring Ijaw towns joined with their kins in partaking this year’s masquerade festival. The festival lasted for seven days with series of events marked to celebrate the masquerade festival. ‘‘Pelekoro-owu’’ otherwise ‘’Ogrumasibuo’’ is an Ijaw deity of peace and prosperity being worshipped by the Ijaws of ancient Gbekebor community which is handed down from generations to generations.
The Pelekokoro-owu festival is an annual celebration in honour of its traditional religion and of the cults associated with it. ‘‘Pelekoro-owu’’ deity is found in the river in ancient time by a fisher woman who informed the men the Gbekebor and the strange object. They took it and and invited a good wood carver to carve an exact shape of what was found in the river. This becomes the saviour of the Ijaw people Gbekebor till date.
The Ijaws of Gbekebor and neighbouring communities in this period is set aside to adore the gods during the ceremony and thousands of adepts, traditional chiefs and fetish priests gather here to perform fascinating rites and rituals. This is an amazing opportunity to witness the traditional culture of the people, where devotees assume the identity of gods and spirits and the realm of the magical is close at hand.
‘‘Pelekoro-owu’’ festival is much more than dancing a mere masquerade for the purpose of entertainment. Although, the masquerade festival which is being celebrated with a priest who represents the people as a messenger or intermediary.
What is surprising is the fact that an era where Christian religion has compelled millions of traditional worshippers by throwing away their traditional religion. But in Gbekebor, the story is different as the seven days Pelekoro-owu festival revealed with hundreds of believers kept their faith in their traditional religion. The youths, men and women surrounded the young highly respected Chief Priest, Mr. Godday Smith, the man at the center of the festival who stands as an intermediary between the deity and the people of Gbekebor community. What surprises first timer is multitude of worshippers converged at the festival, paying loyalty and homage to the Pelekoro-owu deity with all enthusiasm.
Chief Priest of Pelekoro masquerade, Mr. Godday Smith (aka gods of Niger Delta/King of the forest )
The Chief Priest
The Chief Priest, Godday Smith, a former warlord who is also addressed as king of the forest or gods of Niger Delta is a key personality in Niger Delta who according to closed sources was being chosen by the deities as a messenger in his mother’s womb. He becomes the center of attraction by both the living and the deity. He is connected deeply to the emancipation struggle of the Ijaw nation as one who interprets the language of the deity for the living. He is handsome with an innocent look. His young look may give you the wrong impression as to how he receives honour and royal greetings from people above his father’s age in the community.
He is a peace ambassador, trailblazer, team player who has used his wealth of experience to maintained peace in both Bayelsa and Delta state governments with the portfolio as special adviser to the present governors of the two states. He is a man of peace. His footsteps are calculated like that of the cat. The way the cat walks in comfort is not the same way its walks in time of action. That is an apt description of the Chief priest, Mr. Godday Smith . A man who has passed through a lot of travails for people of Niger Delta. He is the king of the forest. His innocent look and slow walk may deceive the eyes as the ‘‘Ogrumasibuo’’ or the ‘‘Atamgbakolo’’ walking in human form. That is why he answers the deity’s appellation which no human ever does.
The chief priest of ‘‘Pelekoru-owu’’, Godday Smith has a track record of being empowered single-handedly by the popular Ijaw Egbesu deity to fortify warriors in times of danger through invocation of the deity by consecrating and initiating able-bodied youths.
When contacted shortly after the festival, the Pelekoru-owu Chief Priest, Godday Smith, said ‘‘I am the Chief Priest of Pelekoro-owu, by that I am the messenger between the people and the gods. I never give myself this position. I was not elected. The gods have chosen me from my mother’s womb. I never knew how it happened. I am a messenger of the gods. What you see us doing for the past seven days is a pure spiritual thing.
There were strange signs where the people of my community do not understand. Two strange fishes were caught by fisher women during the feast. This specie of fishes is found only in the high ocean, not in our type of river. But they came to celebrate with us during Pelekoro-owu festival. They drew my attention and I directed that the fishes should not be hurt and returned to the river alive. I called the women and prayed for them for long life and prosperity for sparing the lives of our guests.’’
According to the Chief Priest ‘‘Those who believed in the Pelekoro-owu deity in the Gbekebor community are blessed in different ways, they will not die by accident, prosperity, fertility for both men and women, free from spiritual attack, good harvest as farmers and fishers, for the students, examination luck follow them and so on’’ he enumerated the benefits of the adherents to the annual festival.
The facts remains that adherents of the deity were being graciously blessed from time immemorial before Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal. The first mission of the Church of England was, though, only established in 1842 in Badagry by Henry Townsend. In 1864 Samuel Ajaiye Crowther, an ethnic Yoruba and former slave boy who was elected Bishop of the Niger and the first black Bishop of the Anglican Communion, Lagos became a diocese of its own in 1919.
So, what was blessing the Ijaws of Gbekebor and other traditional believers when there was no Christian religion? Our reporter probed further.
How Christianity destroy Ijaw culture
The Chief Priest said ‘‘that is where the Ijaw people lost their focus and threw away her root by accepting the Whiteman’s religion. It destroyed the Ijaw rich culture. Any tribe without a culture is like a tree without a tap root. The powers that were guiding our ancient fathers before Christianity are still real and are guiding us till today, if you obey the dictum of the gods. The secret of the ages are shown to those who want it and those who fervently keep to it are blessed. We are worshiping the same God, but not the God of the Whiteman. Our deity is the creator of the universe and what you see in the photograph is just symbolic of the deity of the universe that has been protecting us from generations to generations before the arrival of the whiteman God in Nigeria.
‘‘We worship our deity in our own way as it pleases us. For those our Ijaw brothers who threw away our rich Ijaw culture and accepted foreign God are lost children. They have lost their origin. They were brainwashed to abandon their rich cultural values, their language, marriage, dressing, food and everything about Ijaw people. What you see us doing is not mere entertainment. But we are doing what our forefathers used to do that was protecting them from danger and untimely death ’’ he said.
Female worshipers on sacrifice mission in the middle of the river
There were series of eye attracting events followed one after the other as aged women in their numbers danced in procession lined up to make sacrifices as directed by the Chief priest to the deity in the riverbank. While others, especially women paddled canoe to the middle of the river to carry out sacrifices to the gods.
In every morning, the men and women at different times sang and danced round the entire community in white clothes as symbol of peace and celebration while drumming followed as expected in traditional festivals in Ijaw land.
The last day was the peak of the festival where the Chief priest lined up the various adherents of Pelekoro-owu festival where he went to the water front, allowing half of the river to consumed part of his body to carry out his incantations of fruitfulness and blessings for all worshippers who converged at the festival.
The Pelekoro-owu masquerade is despite being controlled with a rope tied against its waist, often got out of control and forces himself to the deep river to return to the deep ocean. It was said that the masquerade is from the river and that if not guided carefully by able-bodied young men, the masquerade may go to the river and disappear. This was an oral account told in ancient Ijaw traditional masquerade where the masquerade disappeared into the river with its human carrier forever.