Edet Effiong Okon

Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene

Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.


The advent of western civilization had a downturn on many important cultural practices of the people of Africa. Understandably, a form of reawakening has led to people going back to their roots to discover what their forebears venerated and did with passion. Festivals are celebration of important periodic events which bring together people from various walks of life in every society. In Usakedetland of the southwest Cameroon, traditional water festival of Onuo was observed by the adherents of the water gods/goddesses called Ndem mmuong to mark the appeasement and appreciation of their protection upon the people and their businesses. This important religious, social and cultural event usually culminated in series of entertaining performances, water rites and rituals among others. Also, Onuo water festival existed for years and was celebrated to immortalize memories of the past kings Umuo, great warriors, fishermen and priests of Onuo called Oku-Onuo. This paper argues that despite the influence of western culture, the Onuo water festival continued as a traditional and cultural celebration of the Usakedet people. The study made use of the primary and secondary sources of information.

Keywords: Onuo, water, festival, Usakedet, Culture


One of the characteristics of Usakedet traditional society is the periodic festival of Onuo and the veneration of ancestors. Onuo is the traditional and ritual feast of the Usakedet people who inhabit the coastal areas of Asiantum (now Rio Del Rey) or Akpa Usakedet estuary, Ndian and part of Meme rivers of Ndian Division, southwest Cameroon littoral.

The Onuo was originally a cult of sea-going people who would transform themselves to sea-animals, mermaids and other sea elements with spiritual aspect capable of unleashing pains on their victims and rewarding loyal adherents with wealth and protection. It was also originally a medium of spiritual communication between the water and land.[1] Before colonialism Onuo was a cult used by the people to defend their rights, fight aggressions against the coastal people of Duala and other Oroko territories. Also, fertility and wealth from the gods were reasons for membership of the societies, and was equally part of Ukpafot cult in Usakedet.[2]

Onuo festival consisted of other lines of event such as wrestling competition among the villages in Usakedet, vigil night which took place a night to water event and processions by women or Ebani Onuo, youth Mkparanwa Onuo who were members of the Onuo cult. However, water rite was usually the highpoint of the festival which witnesses the immersion of the sacred boat loaded with ritual items into the Asiantum River. The purpose of this was to show a deep relationship between the visible world and those in the marine or water world.[3]

The Onuo as celebrated in Usakedet strengthened the bonds of unity and peaceful co-existence among the villages of Oron paramount chiefdom, Amoto, Aqua or Akwa in Usakedet and Efut, Balundo or Oroko neighbouring villages of Massaka and Bateka (Efut Inwang). It equally helped in the promotion of cultural identity of the Usakedet people while also making viable the authority of Usakedet traditional institution and practices despite the western or modern influences.[4] The Onuo festival celebrated bi or tri-annually is an attempt by the Usakedet people to relate with the spirits of the gods called Ndem mmuon or mamy water and has been celebrated for years but was instituted as a well-organized festival from 1947.[5]

The most fascinating thing about Onuo festival is one spectacle or display by Ukpafot cult which makes the event similar to Ngondo festival of the Duala people. As a result, the Ukpafot cultists well decorated and adorned by the Oku-Onuo (Onuo priest) would dive and disappear into the deep Asiantum river where they stayed under the water for about two hours and later emerged without their bodies and clothes or attire getting wet. Children are not allowed to attend this particular ceremony because of its spiritual implication, sacredness and secrecy which had to do with human sacrifices. Consequently, the Cameroonian government banned the festival of such magnitude in 1981 but was lifted in 1991 after a period of ten years.

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