The Igue Festival is a cultural festival celebrated in the Benin Kingdom, Edo state, Nigeria. It is one of the biggest and most flamboyant festivals in the country. This festival marks the marriage between Oba Ewuare (a legendary king in the Benin Kingdom) to a woman called Ewere. The festival is celebrated in the first half of the month of December and it is been celebrated in seven days. According to Benin history, the Igue festival has been celebrated for more than 1000 years. It is a set of annual cycle of rituals and rites that are performed to purify and strengthen the Oba and the kingdom in preparation for the New Year. The festival was interrupted in 1897 as a result of the British invasion and consequent capture and sending into exile of Oba Ovonranwen. During the celebration, it is forbidden to hold any burial or funeral ceremony in the Benin Kingdom. This is because Igue is seen as a period of joy, and should not be interrupted with any form of public mourning.
The festival is a combination of different ceremonies in relation to the Oba. The festival celebrates Ugie Iron which is to re-enact the victories of the Obas. Ugie Erha’oba (father of the Oba) is also done in memory of the father of the reigning Oba, and all the ancestors. This is the most flamboyant of the ceremonies. The Oba is joined in this celebration by the people. He is dressed in full coral regalia and performs the ritual dance with the Eben (traditional sword) in honor of his father.
The Igue Oba is another ceremony which involves performances by various groups. This is held at the Ugha Ozolua, the point of social and traditional ceremonies in the kingdom. After the performances, the Oba then proceeds to pay homage to Oba Ozolua (the great warrior king of the kingdom). He then proceeds to offer prayers and ask for ancestral guidance during the ceremony, after which he is purified by the Ewaise guild. This ceremony is marked by a wonderful display of dance steps (Ugie, Esakpaide, Ohogho) by the elegantly dressed chiefs. This includes the symbolic throwing into the air and catching of the Eben (there is a penalty if the swords fall to the ground).
In the festival, animals are slaughtered and the blood used to anoint the head, hands and feet of the Oba. This is known as the worship of the Omo N’oba’s head. The festival is concluded with the Ugie Ewure ceremonies in honor of Oba Ewuare’s marriage with Ewere. This is a colorful and flamboyant event which involves the chiefs dancing in their attires to the palace along with their followers. The Ewere leaf is used as a New Year gift to all Edo people. The festival is mainly held to offer thanks for a previous year and to ask for blessings for the incoming year. The Isologbe (happy New Year) greeting echoes around the city after the conclusion of the festival.