– David Diai
Abonnema town, the home of late business mogul, oil Titan and philanthropist per excellence, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, was agog with carnival celebrations both on land and sea, as men women, youths, dancing groups and black robed Chiefs with black bowler hats, turned out in full, glowing splendour, to receive the body of the phenomenal elder statesman, as he arrived home after over two years of of an unexpected delay, denying him a long over due homecoming and a befitting funeral rites of passage to his final testing place, worthy and deserving of a outstanding man and one of the greatest personages of his generation.
The joyous and pulsating rhymes of drums and gongs, the throbing music of trumpets and trombones, the exhilarating songs and dexterous dances and a breathtakingly colourful boat regatta parade all blended in seamless panoply, as vibrant young men paddled decorated war canoes with the rhythmic rippling of elbows and biceps, sailing in consonance with ancient war songs, across the glimmering surface of the legendary River sombreiro.
They evoked the beauty and heritage of rich Kalabari cultural displays, all captured in a kaleidoscope of colours, as the pastoral ambience of the riverine community, Abonnema celebrated the return of Opu-da, a beloved scion of the Iniikeiroari dynasty and a warrior and defender of the pride and quintessence of the Kalabari essence in contemporary, post-modern epoch.
The body arrived Port Harcourt Airport around 9am and the majestic and magisterial Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, the very carbon-copy spitting image son and Chief mourner of the late great Opu-da, decked in resplendent white etibo with studs, a red and black checkered George wrapper which was the family (aso-ebi) ceremonial attire for the event, complemented with a Covid-19 compliant customized face/nose mask, which had been produced and distributed in thousands and his brownish camouflage like felt hat, raised once in a while to dab the glistening droplets of sweat on his clean shaven head, received the remains of his father, ferried into the airport premises, inside a beautifully decorated funeral cadillac hearse.
The procession on foot by the Lulu-Briggs family to the exit point of the Airport, accompanied by the rousing brass band display of OMC undertakers and it’s nimble, hot stepping dancers, set the tone for the day, Friday, March 12, 2021, which was billed in the funeral rites program for Christian and traditional wake.
The long motorcade journey from the Airport was a sight to behold, and as folkloric tradition demanded that a great chief and warrior of the riverine stock, never goes home on his final journey by road, but by sea, the procession went to Buguma town first, which is the homestead of the mother of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs and straight to the water front, from where the remains was brought home to Abonnema, accompanied by the exciting boat regatta display from the various war canoe houses, for his final home coming.
Abonnema town exploded in cascade of unfettered joy, laughter and exuberant celebrations with the arrival of the body of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs in his golden casket on the Shore Front, which was heralded with the booming release of several well loaded cannons that shook the ground to it’s very foundations to signify that indeed a great man has returned home victoriously.
The great procession from the waterfront to the compound of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs was a wonderful journey with colourful dancing groups, traditional ceremonial masquerades, brass bands and trumpeters and the black robed Oruwari House Chiefs leading the Lulu-Briggs family to their home as Abonnema people brought out chairs and sat in front of their house waving, clapping laughing happily as they welcomed Opu-da home.
The Lulu-Briggs compound was already a bustling, buzzing festive beehive of carnival activities, glittering with criss crossing neon lights as townsfolk and guests, already hand satized as they entered the playground and all wearing the mandatory facemasks, awaiting the arrival of their patriarch, occupied all available seats in the four corners of the vast playground..
The Oruwari Briggs hall and all the high rise buildings shone brightly with freshly painted coatings in the glowering rays of soft evening sunshine and as Opu-da’s procession hearse entered through the gates booming cannon shots exploded with resounding satisfaction to herald the arrival of the great man.
A magnificently built stage hosted the mass choir for the christian wake keeping which featured a full church service, the 200 man choir and other harmonious groups from the community. Tearful Tributes were given by the Staff of Monipolo and from the Children to round off the Christian wake.
And then the live bands took over with the ubiquitous good old time MC Sagastus, and several entertainers of yore who reigned in famous hangouts like Orupolo, Copa Cabana, Lido night club and the golden era of highlife music in old Port Harcourt town, took the stage.
They included Sir Perry of the the Ozigizaga fame; Rastaman Bob Kelly, the reggae master who rolled out Bob Marley tunes including the famous ‘One Love”; Baba Tony Grey who sent the audience down memory lane as he thrilled with his konga and rendered some famous Rex Lawson tunes; Chief Elenwa of the garden city band; positive man and Captain Hart, who belted out several old Ghana classics made popular by JB Danquah and Henshaw, amongst others.
There was definitely no doubt in anybody’s mind that the great Opu-da himself, High Chief (Dr.) O. B. Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, the Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari Kingdom. Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema and a man of excellent style and debonair sophistication, who enjoyed life to the fullest, must have had a satisfied smile on his face, as he listened to these good old guys who brought so much joy in his days when the garden city was truly the home of fun and entertainment. He had arrived home finally, in his compound war canoe and was going home with a blaze of celebration, in grand style.