Africa’s leading poets will this weekend make the first bold effort to resurrect one of the continent’s greatest poets, Christopher Okigbo, in a colourful festival of poetry, song and dance in his idyllic village of Ojoto, Anambra State.
The poetry festival, wittily tagged The Return to Idoto will be headlined by enchanting poet, Chijioke Amu Nnadi, winner of the 2014 Glenn Luschei Prize for African Poetry and Tade Ipadeola, winner of the 2013 Nigerian Prize for Literature. The two frontline poets shall be supported by a cast of powerful poets led by Prof. Nduka Otiono (The Night Hides with a Knife), first African Professor of the Institute of African Studies at Calrton University, Ontario, Canada. The other poets on the bill are Chuma Nwokolo (Diaries of a Dead African,) Uche Umez (Dark through the Delta) and Iquo Diana Eke (Symphony of Becoming).
The Return to Idoto is an initiative of the Awka Literary Society in association with the Christopher Okigbo Foundation which seeks to honour the memory of the great poet who died fighting on the Biafran side of the Nigerian Civil War.
Okigbo, a member of the first generation of Nigeria’s prodigiously gifted writers which includes novelist Chinua Achebe, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and Prof. J.P Clark made an unforgettable entry into the world of poetry with Heavensgate (1962) which contains The Passage, his timeless invocation the river goddess, Idoto. He followed it up with Limits (1964) and Silences (1965). His slim volume of extremely seminal collected poems titled Labyrinths was published posthumously in 1971 and easily established his reputation as an outstanding poet.
Labyrinths has influenced generations of African poets, creating what might be effectively referred to as the Okigbo School of poetry and stimulating passionate conversations between poets across the generations.
The Return to Idoto is the first notable effort in recent memory to honour the fallen poet in his native Ojoto among his own people. The two-day event with its high ceremonies also marks the return of Okigbo’s poetry to its very source; the Idoto River which he famously invoked in his most anthologized poem – HeavensGate The Passage.
According to the Awka Literary Society, “The Return to Idoto is a symbolic effort to celebrate Christopher Okigbo on what would have been his 85th birthday. As writers who understand the importance of preserving memory, we consider Christopher Okigbo too important to be ignored. We cannot carry on as though Okigbo never lived amongst us and perhaps more importantly, as though we can ever forget his phenomenal impact on African writing. To that extent, The Return to Idoto is therefore a homage to memory; an acknowledgement of debt by one generation of writers to its forebears.”
Awka Literary Society further revealed that the two-day event would start on Saturday, August 15, 2015 with a special Dinner to be hosted by the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano for the visiting poets and the Okigbo family in the Governor’s Lodge, Amawbia. Thereafter, the Train would relocate to the Okigbo Compound in Ojoto for a segment called Word over Bonfire which will feature a long interlude of poetic tributes that will mark Okigbo’s artistic resurrection and his mythical return as a literary ancestor.
On the second and final day of the festival, the poets shall undertake a pilgrimage to River Idoto, the childhood river from which Okigbo drew his first artistic awakening. There, on the banks of the river, phenomenal talent, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi will read his monumental poem – Shrine to an eclectic audience of fellow poets and writers, literary artists and cultural enthusiasts. All the guest poets will perform samples of their works to the audience. There will be folkloric dances and special performances by local griots, itinerant craftsmen and wandering minstrels in a colourful display that will finally reposition the late poet in recent memory.
Chijiokoe Amu-Nnadi is the author of four highly successful volumes of poetry who has built an impressive cult following among young poets across Africa. He was lavishly applauded by the judges of the Glenn Luschei Prize as a “truly original voice that creates new metaphors, new spaces of being and new cartographies of the African soul.”
Tade Ipadeola’s reputation was built on a solid body of works spanning three great volumes of poetry. Interestingly, Ipadeola was born in Fiditi, a town in Oyo State where Okigbo had worked as school teacher before the Biafran War broke out. Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments was described by the Chairman of the NLNG Prize judges as “remarkable epic covering the terrain and people of Africa from the very dawn of creation, through the present, to the future.”
The Return to Idoto enjoys the support of the Government of Anambra State, the Christopher Okigbo Foundation and Brande Aristotle Limited, a frontline marketing communications firm that recently sank its roots in Awka, the Anambra State capital.