To the ordinary Esan, the literary meaning of the word “IHUEAN” being the proper noun of “IHUELEN” is “I RESTED” . ihuelen is therefore the act of resting or relaxation. The festival is the celebration of a rest or the “Ihuelen” after a heard year’s work.. One would have expected “IHUELEN” if it actually means to rest, to take the form of relaxation or rest as we all know it, by either sitting down in one place doing nothing, or even sleeping. However, the word “FESTIVAL” here explain the form which this sort of rest or Ihuelen takes. The meaning of the REST or IHUELEN as applied in this case is therefore the abstance from the usual daily occupation of the people i.e the going to the farms and all other forms of work, are set aside for the duration of the period of the Ihuelen. Usually, at the end of Ihuelen, the celebrants are usually worn out and tired, thus Ihuelen here is having a lot of fun but not relaxation as such. In Ekpoma tradition, Ihuelen festival is also set aside for the celebration and commemoration of the life and death of some one, who is very dear to the people of Ekpoma; in this situation, the Eguare/Ekpoma and to celebrate and remember the reign of one of their Enijie. In the whole of Esanland, people celebrate different types of festival like Ihuelen but with different names. Ihuelen is known to be the annual festival of the Eguare – Ekpoma people. It is known as Ighele in almost other villages of Ekpoma.
I Uromi, it is known as “Ilukpe”. Some other town like Irrua and Ewu celebrate the Muslim SALAH. What is clear therefore in this regard is that Ihuelen is a time set aside for this sort of celebrated “REST”. It has been said that the people adopted this legacy in different forms by associating the festival to an Ancestor, Hero or deity.
For example, in Uhiele Ekpoma – the Ighele festival is known to be a celebration of one of their deities; “EREMENU”. It is linked with ‘EKEJOKHOR’ in Emaudo Ekpoma, with ‘EFAE’ in Ukpenu – Ekpoma. While in Idumebo – Irrua, their festival is called ‘ILUNOKO’ which as the name suggested, is to commemorate a once existed IROKO TREE that must have played very vital roles in the lives of the people. The Illeh – Ekpoma people celebrate the Ighele festival in remembrance of their god “ELOMOJEMENE”. At Opoji, the Eguare people celebrate ILUORO; Iki – Opoji, celebrates INOKHIO while Ujosanlen-Opoji, celebrates the Oloh as their annual festivals, in commemoration of their ancestors; in ikiewanlen- Opoji, they celebrate Eliki.
The Eguare – Ekpoma’s Ihuelen festival is similarly linked with the celebration of one of her Ancestorial hero Enijie – by name UDA. Though there were some other Enijie that reigned before UDA, there was no record to show that the ‘Ihuelen festival’ was celebrated before that time. There must have been periodic festivals like Iluobo, Izughele, Iluoro, Emaoro etc. It was said that this particular Onojie UDA, did so much to up lift the average life of his subjects, by his simplicity, kindness, bravery and fairness. Thus after his death, the people of Eguare – Ekpoma decided to immortalize him by celebrating the remembrance of the life of their beloved Onojie -Uda, annually, since then. It has been said that these various festivals takes different forms and shapes in different towns and villages. Many of them are religious in nature ie they are performed for gods of different historical interpretation and significance. These types of festivals usually take the form of Ighele which involves the offering of sacrifice or worshipping of some gods, but the Eguare Ihuelen festival has no link. It is purely to celebrate and commemorate the reign of some one who actually lived. He is not god. He could be likened to a Hero. Uda was an Onojie who lived and ruled Ekpoma. To the Ekpoma people, Uda is a saint, as the Catholic would have regarded HIM in the Christian way. He reigned in the 15th century and was a great traditional ruler. He loved his people and lived for them. He was never selfish and never like monopoly. Hence he created and gave recognition to other towns within his clan and appointed his brothers as independent chiefs, some of which were later exalted to the status of enijie, to take charge of other towns. It is said that the existence of Egoro, Opoji, Ukhun and Idoa as semi-independent towns, with separate rulers, came into being during his reign. These facts re-emphasize the fact that UDA was a human being and not god. This must have been responsible for the festival being called “ihuelen” not “Ighele”.
PREPARATIONS FOR IHUELEN.