Have you ever been to a Nigerian event? It’s usually loud, with the music playing non-stop while guests in brilliantly coloured clothing called asoebi and glittering head gears (gele) eat, dance and make merry. That is what we Nigerians call owambe and it’s hardly a solemn affair, even if it’s a funeral.
Owambe is Nigerian, and Nigeria is owambe. Originating from the Yoruba tribe of the South-West, the term comes with culture, flair and, of course, excellent foods. Don’t forget the gifts or souvenirs too. Every Nigerian loves owambe because it’s a time to have fun, especially if you’re not the host. Keep reading if you want to know more.
Owambe is a Nigerian event or party which marks the celebration of a milestone. It could be a wedding, child naming ceremony, birthday, marriage anniversary, graduation party, housewarming, retirement or even a funeral. The term originated from the Yoruba tribe of the South-West and has stuck for all Nigerian parties.
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Owambe party is loud, really loud. The music is non-stop. There are guests brilliantly adorned with uniform clothing and styles. The food is usually plentiful and delicious, and guests are gifted souvenirs at the end of the event. It is anything worth celebrating in grand style. As in, if you don’t have money, don’t bother doing it. What’s the essence of doing an owambe without excess food and drinks as well as the asoebi with the live band or DJ playing Nigerian music so loud it can bring down aliens from mars?
Apart from relaxing and having fun, it is a great environment to connect and network with people from all walks of life. To enable a fun party, the date is usually fixed on weekends, particularly Saturdays, when people are not mandated to be at work. Another aspect of this type of party is the spraying of money on the celebrant. It is a means of showing appreciation, but most people see it as an opportunity to show off and outdo others.
Then again, an owambe is not complete without the “Mogba-Moyas”, aka party crashers. You can usually spot them with their odd outfits, and shifty eyes only meant for the food. You might find your purse, cash, or phone missing if you’re not careful because these people are always on alert for everything. But they have mastered the art of blending in and tend to enjoy the party as much as the guests.
Owambe is a word that originated from the Yoruba people in the 1960s. A hilarious story has it that a typical Yoruba woman used to accessorise with Ilẹkẹ (waist beads) for a party. During the event, Yoruba men usually look out for women wearing Ilẹkẹ to dance with them. Once a man feels a woman’s Ilẹkẹ around her waist, he would look in the direction of his fellow men, and they would ask in unison, “Ṣowanbẹ?” meaning, “is it there?”
The man would reply, “Owanbẹ.” That was how the word, Owambe, became synonymous with Yoruba events or parties that gradually extended to other parts of the country.
Another version is owambe is simply a lavish party and has nothing to do with beautiful Yoruba women wearing Ilẹkẹ. The word originated when a famous person in an event is asked, “nje PearlyAkin wa ni be?” The response will be, “ O wan be.”
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Food is one of the major components of a typical owambe. It must also be in excess for the term to be applied to an event. One thing to note is dishes are served based on your status and personality. Some dishes are served to ordinary guests totally different from what is served to the VIPs. Let’s look at the common foods you’ll see at this type of event.
- Jollof and fried rice with chicken and coleslaw: Jollof rice is a must-have dish on any Nigerian menu at events. There’s no question about it. However, most owambes now pair jollof rice with fried rice and garnish with fried chicken and coleslaw. Some will replace coleslaw with moi moi or fried plantains. Either way, it’s absolutely delicious to have in an event like this and pretty much served to everyone.
- Amala and ewedu: This is the basic swallow you will find at a typical Yoruba owambe. Amala and ewedu is a popular Yoruba swallow and a hot cake among guests. This dish is served to everyone with meat as big as a baby’s head.
- Egusi and semo or pounded yam: This is another popular dish you’ll find in a Nigerian owambe. Unlike amala and ewedu which are restricted to Yoruba parties or events, egusi and semo or pounded yam is served in virtually all Nigerian parties. It’s also food for everyone. So it’s a hot cake among swallow lovers.
- Efo riro and semo or pounded yam: A very delicious vegetable soup that you’ll usually find at Yoruba events. It’s also served to anyone who is interested.
- Ofada rice and stew: A typical Yoruba event will serve ofada rice and stew, but it’s not for everyone. Only special guests have access to this dish. If you’re not one at an event, you can enjoy this dish if you know how to lobby the servers.
- Peppersoup: Again, not for everyone in an owambe. Only VIPs get to enjoy this light and spicy dish. But if you’re a real hustler who is not a VIP, you know what to do.
- Drinks: These can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Also, water, preferably table bottled water must be there.
When we talk about owambe style, we talk about the asoebi. What’s an owambe without an asoebi? It is usually an expensive uniform outfit made from ankara or lace and sewn into gorgeous styles for selected people. Of course, the celebrant gets to choose the asoebi style and outfits and distributes them to selected people months or weeks before the event.
Ashebi is usually glittering and forms part of the entertainment of the party. Combined with expensive shoes, bags, and pieces of jewellery, with gele for women and fila for men, and you will understand why Nigerian owambes are so lavish.
The basic components that make a Nigerian owambe are asoebi, music, food, dance, money spraying, and souvenirs. Without these, there is no owambe, period.