Cultural festivals have been an integral part of human beings for a long period of time and have been practised in different parts of Africa. Such festivals are meant to celebrate some deities or ancestral gods to bring rain, prevent drought, bountiful harvest, to protect death fertility and among others (Banjoko, 2009).Despite the fact that, many of these festivals have religious origins they entwine cultural and religious significance in their practices. Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and Eid al-Adhaare some of the most prominent religious festivals observed annually. In some parts of Africa, the end of the harvest is also celebrated for joy and abundant blessing (Robertson, 1992).Cultural festivals started as a religious celebration and evolved into celebrations of a specific theme usually as repeated events in one specific time of the year or an agreed season in a community. African traditional art in the social set up in African society, is characterised by ceremonial activities such as dances and festivals, in which the mask, costumes and body decorations are featured prominently (Saliu, 2010).
In Nigeria, there are three ethnic groups which are regarded as the majority due to their evident numerical size and these are; the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa ethnic groups. According to Sale, Barry, Mark and Umar (2011), studies have been conducted on the three major cultural groups (Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa), while fewer studies have been carried out on the minority groups like the Tal, Gwari, Pyem, Ngas and Afizere of Plateau State. Oral tradition has it that, the people of Afizere are dispersedly settled on the Plateau.
The tradition of the ethnic group can be viewed in the way they live in the community and need to be documented.
In Nigeria, festivals date back to the period before the coming of the two major religions (Christianity and Islam) in the eighteen century (1800C). These festivals display dance, masquerades and beautifully adorned costumes, all which possess visual artistic features. The festivals cover enormous range of events from harvesting of crops, initiation, hunting, fishing, coronation of chief and funeral ceremonies. Most of these festivals are celebrated annually, while some have intervals of four to five years as the occasion or tradition may demand (MacDonald, 1992). Some of the most celebrated cultural festivals include Argungu fishing festival, Eyo festival, Osun festival, Sharo and Shadi festival, harvest festival, Durbar festival and many more. Despite Nigeria‟smany ethnic groups, there are similarities in the practice of traditional dance. There are however, stylistic differences between one ethnic group and another. Language texts play an important role in dance as such tends to influence musical style and texts belonging to different ethnic groups (Omojola, 2006). According to Magaji in Samuel (2015):
…Atyap engaged in several ceremonial activities, some of such were social activities during the dry season believed to be resting period. This necessitated the production of various musical instruments used by various age grades, the young, middle aged, the palace praise singers and religious Abwai cult for diverse cultural events.
Cultural festival is a special occasion organized and observed by people to commemorate certain aspects of the culture of a community. Festivals which are culturally related are usually embraced by every member of the community, and are referred to as traditional or festival theatre. This is because it involves the employment of dramatic methods and conventions in achieving the desired purposes. Nasiru (2009) states that, such methods and conventions include rehearsals, use of costumes and props, dances, stylized movements, rituals, gestures and displays. For Banjoko (2009), he opines that “cultural festival is to create an opportunity for people to celebrate, worship as well as perform different cultural traits of the society”.
Nigerian cultural festivals, owned origin from the traditional religion, however, before any festival takes place in Nigeria, there are rituals performed by the chief priest, some of which are monthly, annual and seasonal. Various cultural festivals in Nigeria, are celebrated with reasons to meet the needs of the society. Drumming and dancing are common features in every ethnic group during such festivals. The Yam festival of Igbo of Enugu for example, is usually organised for one celebration or the other, the chief priest makes some sacrifices to the gods of the festival before any festival takes place.It is also around this time that the members of the community will invite friends and relations from other communities to come to the feast (Omojola, 2006).
Oshun is another festival that is held at the end of the rainy season at the Oshogbo sacred forest usually in August. The festival is a weeklong celebration in honour of the river goddess Oshun, which is an important Yoruba deity.During the festival ceremonies, the priest seeks protection for the communities through sacrifices to the goddess (Robin,Monica and Cole, 2008). Another Nigerian festival, according to Ademola (1970), is the Orisapopo festival dance that is held annually. The festival of Orisapopo is not only celebrated by the Orisa worshippers alone, as the non-worshippers too enjoy the glamour of the occasion.The author further states that, the festival brings about the assembly of many celebrants from different parts of the country.
Similarly, the cultural festival is a traditional festival of the Afizere of Jos East, Plateau State, which is celebrated with laid down rules and regulations of the customs and traditions guiding the people. Though the festival is not widely recognised as the other festivals mentioned above, the ancient tradition and culture of the people still plays a major role in the festival. The cultural festival showcases similar activities like dances, songs, display of masquerades and costumes of the Afizere.
Background of the study
The Afizere, like most African ethnic groups, do not have any written information of their migratory history. This as to when and where the people originated from to the present location, because most historical origins are based on oral traditions. These claims are backed with artifacts, religion, culture and customs of the people.According to Azi (1976), the name Afizere is derived from “Izere” which is a yellow flowery and highly scented edible herb that grows around their households, usually around the month of September. The people are called Afizere, while the Hausanick named them as Jarawa because of the feet dragging movement while dancing.
AN APPRAISAL OF CULTURAL FESTIVAL OF AFIZERE (JARAWA) PEOPLE OF JOS EAST PLATEAU STATE, NIGERIA