Monday, 6 February 2017

Uku Itu Cultural festival: Celebrating an Ancient Trade route

Uku Itu Cultural festival: Celebrating an Ancient Trade route

Tourism enthusiasts will agree that Akwa Ibom State is filled with natural, cultural and historical sites with exciting tourism prospects. Nevertheless, while every community in the state has something remarkable to show, Itu Local Government Area is unarguably an epic.

With its beautiful hilly landscape, undulating vegetation accentuated by cascading waterfalls, thunderous rivers and crystal clear streams and ponds, this magical place paints a picture of biblical Eden.

Its people are, from time immemorial, welcoming, hospitable and innovative. Little wonder early European traders established a large trading post here. 

According to a version of historical records, Itu got its name from large aquatic mammals – manatees that colonized its fresh water creeks.

The entire area, spanning current day Itu, Ibiono Ibom, Ikono, Ini was a meeting place between the aboriginals, from the hinterlands, and their alien trading partners, whether from Arochukwu, Efik or Europe.

In essence, Itu was the potpourri of cultures, languages and alien civilization.
However, despite cross cultural influences whether from pre-colonial traders in slaves and other goods to missionaries and British colonialists, who forced western civilization on subjects, or the secessionist Biafran war lords and brutal Nigerian soldiers, who collectively took a heavy toll on Itu people during the Nigeria Civil war.

Astonishingly, Itu people managed to maintain their distinct culture in cuisine, dance, folklore, songs and craftsmanship.

Indeed, Itu Local Government Area has a unique place in the history of Akwa Ibom State and its people worth celebrating. As a matter of fact, if Ikono is called the birthplace of Ibibio ethnic nationality then Itu is its cultural citadel and market place. There is therefore no better way to celebrate this exceptional destination than to package a comprehensive tourism event such as ‘Uku Itu’.

‘Uku Itu’, translated as the pride of Itu, is an annual cultural festival initiated in 2015 by Honourable Okon Etim Okon when he was the transition committee Chairman of Itu, it was in partnership with the State Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

This brilliant enterprise went back in time to reconvene most of trading partners of Itu ancestors from present day Cross River and Abia states to the ancient Queen’s beach, Esuk Itu ( Millers Brothers) market.
Only this time, rather than exchange human beings and palm oil for cowries, they exchanged love, goodwill and merriment in cultural displays, cuisine, arts and crafts exhibition, colourful boat regatta and aquatic sports.

‘Uku Itu’ has since become a brand that celebrates Itu nay Akwa Ibom state as an ancient trade route. It is a platform that should take tourism in the state to the next level if supported.

Areas of interest should include encouraging participation by neighbouring states – Cross River and Abia, provision of infrastructure and expansion its current features to include guided tour of cultural and historical sites.

Some of such sites include ancient slave routes and slave markets, Mma Mary Slessor’s legendary missionary trail, Mary Slessor homestead and courthouse, first post office in Eastern Nigeria built in 1907 and first concrete bridge built by colonial masters & European missionaries in 1908.

Other must see historical sites and artefacts are ‘idim nsek eyen’ – babies stream, where Mary Slessor washed rescued twin babies and their mothers, 400 year old slave chains, Mary Slessor cooking utensils, over 100 year old tomb stones, her private chapel and many more.

Today, tourism trend worldwide is focused on promoting local potentials that have wide appeal and enhance cultural integration. That is why Cross River Carnival cleverly dubbed the ‘biggest street party in Africa’ attracts huge patronage across the country, Africa and other continents, creating a major source of foreign exchange.

It is believed that ‘Uku Itu’ cultural festival has equal potentials to attract similar patronage and become a tangible revenue earner for both state and local governments.

All it would take is concerted efforts of the State Tourism Ministry and its agencies to partner promoters of this remarkable tourism product to deepen its content, give it needed packaging and promote it as an annual state tourism event.

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