The Ofala Festival, is an annual ceremony practiced by the indigenes of Onitsha, and of recent years by other neighboring Igbo communities such as Nnewi in Anambra State and Ukpo in Dunukofia Local Government Area. It serves as a rites of renewal of the king or Obi and it is similar to the Igue festival in Benin and the Ine , Osi or Ogbanigbe Festival in many mid-West Igbo communities of Nigeria. The term ofala, is derived from two Igbo words - ofo (English: authority) and ala (English: land).
The Ofala Festival which is described as the most important surviving traditional ceremony of Nnewi indigenes is celebrated within two days mostly in December and January in honour of the Obi (English: king).
According to some oral history sources, the Ofala Festival can be traced back to the 16th Century when Onitsha people emigrated from Benin to the Eastern banks of the River Niger presently known as the city of Onitsha and brought with them among other customs, the tradition of monarchy. Some historians also believe the festival is related to the New Yam Festival in Onitsha and devotion of the King to the safety of his people.
The festival marks the end of a period of retreat sometimes called Inye Ukwu na Nlo when the Obi remains incommunicado and undergoes spiritual purification for the good of the community. At the end of the weeklong retreat the Obi emerges during the Ofala to bless his subjects and say prayers for the community. Ofala is celebrated annually beginning from the coronation of the Obi to his death, the latter of which is called “the last Ofala”
According to oral history, It is originally celebrated twice - a day after the coronation of the Obi and after his death which is called “the last Ofala”. Due to external factors like civilization, social and political issues, it is now celebrated annually.
The festival usually starts with twenty-one gun salute followed by all night Ufie music and other cultural activities. In the afternoon, the Obi’s cabinet of chiefs, guests from other communities, age groups, women and youth of the community usually throng the palace grounds or Ime Obi dressed in traditional attires befitting the festival occasion. The royal music or Egwu Ota is played during the entrance of the Ndichie or red cap chiefs who arrive after the gathering of the crowd and bringing along a few of their friends and family members their procession to the palace. The highlight of the festival is the emergence of the Obi in his royal regalia to the cheer of the crowd, a cannon shot announces the entrance of the Obi who is usually dressed in ceremonial robe and carries a bronze sword on his hand, he walks to the sides of the arena or a third of the arena acknowledging the cheers of the gathering. The Obi then retires and subsequently, the red cap chiefs pays homage to him according to seniority, thereafter both the Obi and the chiefs reappear after the firing of another cannon shot. During the second appearance the Obi dances in the arena, something that is rarely seen and his steps cover more distance than the first appearance. Then the visiting chiefs and guests pay homage to the Obi.
During the ceremony, songs and different styles of dance are performed by people dressed in colorful traditional wears. The festival which is also an occasion for the Obi to honour individuals with chieftaincy titles is celebrated as a way to keep the heritage of the land alive, It is described as the most prominent cultural festival in Igbo land that celebrates the rich culture of the indigenes. An array of masquerades and wonderful parades is a sure way to spend the end of the year.