The Beginner’s Guide to Owambes

What is Owambe?

Owambe: noun. a large, grandiose party thrown by Nigerians anywhere in the world, especially Yoruba Nigerians, which involves a lot of food, dancing, loud music, and spraying (the act of throwing money on a dancing person).

There are often numerous guests, and usually the guests are divided into groups according to their aso ebi. These parties take weeks and months and sometimes years of preparation, and have been known to block entire streets and roads (a sign of a successful owambe)

What is Aso Ebi?

Aso Ebi: noun. outfits made from matching fabric to be worn by a group of people as a uniform to owambes. It has its benefits, as it dictates the kind of treatment the wearer gets at the party especially with regards to food and souvenirs.

Woman dancing at owambe party

The owambe is no ordinary party, it is the very fabric of our society, the mandate our forefathers handed to us. It is the ultimate expression and celebration of life and love. It is where music meets cuisine, where colour meets dance, where culture meets continental.

To the uninitiated, these parties can look a bit flamboyant or extravagant. On the surface it may seem like just another party, where we’re celebrating two people getting married, or a life well-lived, but you must know it is much deeper than that.

You see, we are also celebrating the fact that through all the difficulties and harshness that Nigeria has dealt us with, we have lived to see each other at another owambe, and that is no small feat.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

On Aso-Ebi and Tailors:

If you’re a guy, getting an outfit for your owambe is not much of a struggle. You can show up to any owambe under the sun in outfits made of white textiles: Senator, Kampala, Atiku, the options are many. If you’re a connoisseur who’s experienced in the owambe game, you already have sets of these, washed and pressed, ready for an emergency owambe.

For ladies however, making your aso-ebi outfit can be a hardcore sport: from finding the right style for your body type to getting the right tailor. When you have found these, you must apply discretion when dealing with your tailor.

This is how: if your owambe is for May 17, you must tell your tailor you need the dress at least a week earlier than you do (i.e. May 10). If you tell your tailor you need the outfit by May 17 in the name of honesty, I only pity you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your outfit on the evening of the owambe.

On Food:

Getting food at an owambe is both an art and a science. You don’t want to leave without eating, but you also don’t want to be the person running after ushers to tell them food hasn’t gotten to your table.

Timing plays a huge factor when it comes to securing food. If you get to the party super early, when the MC is still saying “testing 1, 2“, congratulations. You have arrived before the rush and they shall soon set a table before you.

If you miss that first batch, that means you have arrived with other Nigerians who are also not in the mood to be finessed. A mother at a distant table has whispered into her son’s ear that he should not dull himself, but get food as quickly as possible. The game is afoot.

Now, you must exercise patience. Watching trays of food pass you by as you wonder if the food will finish before it gets to you, is all part of the thrill, and adds to the experience of the owambe. You can use that time to look around and appreciate the lovely decorations.

Besides, any owambe where you’re even getting food immediately is a pseudo-owambe at best.

On Party Jollof:

The foundation upon which any owambe is built. It is the theme food of every owambe, the star of the show. Though it is now being replaced by counterfeits in the form of Chinese Rice, Coconut Rice, etc., at the end of the day it all begins with and ends at Jollof.

Some scientists have postulated that the success of an owambe hinges on how memorable the Jollof rice is.

Be very suspicious if you’re at an owambe and they’re telling you there’s no Jollof rice on the menu. Take a second look around you oh. Is it a wedding reception or is someone trying to kidnap you?

In the wise words of my distant relative Olusegun Obasanjo: “an owambe without Jollof rice is merely a glorified get-together.”

On “food has finished”:

No owambe is complete without that moment when the menacing, ominous rumour flies in the air: ‘food has finished.’ But seasoned experts know that food never finishes at an owambe. Yoruba aunties derive joy in telling people food has finished when there are still two big brown coolers filled with steaming hot Jollof rice.

Use that time as an interlude to do other things: take selfies, dance like your life depends on it, and before you say ‘King Sunny Ade’, another batch of food has arrived.

On Mogbo-mobranch (I heard, I came):

Have you really lived life to the fullest if you have never attended a party where you didn’t know who was celebrating? I highly recommend you try this if you haven’t.

If for some reason you find yourself in a position where someone is starting to ask you how you’re related to the host, say with a very serious expression: “the wife’s uncle is mom’s nephew.” They will be utterly confused and return to minding their business.

Or say, “I’m Pa Rotimi’s daughter.” There is always a Pa Rotimi at every owambe. I promise.

On Souvenirs:

At the end of the day, you must return home with your souvenirs. It could be a sieve or a pack of salt or a bucket, or something you think you’d never you use, but you must collect it. You must collect it because this is the ultimate expression of owambe love.

Two of the souvenirs I have obtained in my owambe journey

Many will wear aso-ebi, many will eat party jollof, but only a select number will be given souvenirs. These are much more than gift items. They are similar to spoils of war, they are the testament that you have fought the good fight and you have emerged victorious.

You can be sure your ancestors are pleased, smiling down at you.

Tomorrow is another owambe day, go and make them proud.




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