KING OF CROPS: New Yam Festival lights up Igboland

Yam is revered as the king of crops in Igboland. Usually planted between December and January, harvesting starts from August in some communities and lasts till December.

Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka, David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi and Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri

Ndigbo are once again in festive mood with the advent of another season of new yam festival. In fact, the month of August is usually memorable in the social and cultural calendar of the Igbo. While the women are engrossed in their annual home coming, christened “August Meeting”, the length and breadth of the South-East is gripped by the frenzy of the Iri ji (new yam) festival.

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Symbolic ceremonies are observed in towns and domains where Ndigbo reside including in the diaspora, even till next month.

Yam is revered as the king of crops in Igboland. Usually planted between December and January, harvesting starts from August in some communities and lasts till December.

Last week, the Iri Ji Mbaise in Imo State attracted so much attention because of the political connotation of the conferment of chieftaincy title on Uche Nwosu, son-in-law and Chief of Staff to Governor Rochas Okorocha.

The politics of this year’s festival in Mbaise virtually drowned the cultural significance of the event. Daily Sun gathered that the Eze Ji (Yam kings) had rushed out of the venue after the traditional opening of the barn and the ritual of yam cutting to avoid being part of the chieftaincy ceremonies while several sons and daughters of the area stayed away.

Being eve of election year, this year’s new yam festival is expected to become campaign ground for vote seekers.

That was the case as former president Goodluck Jonathan stormed Obinugwu in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo state to felicitate with his friend and the Obi of Obinugwu, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, as he celebrated on August 14.

Jonathan, who holds the title of “Chinaemeze of Igboland” from the Obinugwu palace, described the new yam festival of the community as “a well organised event with the capacity of being packaged as a national event.”

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He showered praises on Obinugwu people for remaining solidly in support of their monarch during his period of persecution, assuring that “the lost glories will soon be returned to the community.”

Former House of Representatives Deputy Speaker and governorship aspirant on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Emeka Ihedioha who accompanied the former president with his supporters turned the event into a political rally of some sort.

In his remarks, Ihedioha said: “We associate ourselves with what former president Jonathan has said. We made mistakes and have also learnt from our mistakes. We thank Obinugwu people for standing firmly behind our king, Eze Ilomuanya, during his tribulations. You are indeed, people of good character. It is contestable that Eze Ilomuanya remains the worthy face of Igbo traditional institution”.

Earlier, as he welcomed his guests, Ilomuanya described the new yam celebration as the dawn of a new era in the agricultural calendar of the community. He stated that August 14 every year is set aside for the traditional festival which he said, they inherited from their forefathers.

According to him, “Obinugwu is like the children of Israel; we are very peaceful and hardworking farmers. We are people of one mind, united by our common beliefs and always do things together as one family.”

READ ALSO: Ilomuanya elected chair Igbo Traditional Rulers Forum

Elsewhere, the traditional Prime Minister of Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, added colour to his celebration.

The American-based surgeon used the occasion to commission a multimillion naira water production factory which has already employed about 50 persons from the community. 

In a holy mass to kickstart the new yam ceremony, Parish Priest of St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Abagana, Rev. Fr. Paul Chimezie said due to the processes that yam goes through before harvest, it was necessary to thank God before eating the new yam.

The highpoint was the new yam cutting ritual performed by Anakwenze in the presence of the traditional ruler of Abagana, Igwe Patrick Okeke and his counterpart of Ifitedunu, Igwe Dr. Emeka Ilouno, as well as other cabinet members of the traditional institutions from across the State.

Despite his sojourn in the US, the traditional prime minister assured that he will continue the culture of his forefathers.

“We are keeping with the tradition of our people. My grandfather was a chief and my uncles were also big chiefs. I watched them when I was young and I don’t want to forget those memories or allow that tradition to go into oblivion. We have to maintain our culture so that our ancestors won’t feel ashamed in their resting places. We will also pass it on to the younger ones so that the torch would not extinguish on my hands. I will make sure it continues to shine brighter in this community and in Igbo land in general,” he enthused.

Igwe Ilouno thanked Anakwenze for not failing for once to return home to celebrate the new yam in his community since he was bestowed with the Onowu (traditional prime minister) of Abagana by Igwe Mbamala Okeke. He urged other Igbo in Diaspora to emulate him.

Akeme Izuogu agog too

Traditionally, Arondizuogu in Imo State is one of the ancient kingdoms to reckon with when it comes to promotion of Igbo cultural heritage. So, the 2018 new yam festival otherwise called Iti Ogidi in Akeme autonomous community of Arondizuogu was another opportunity to display their cultural richness.

As usual, the event started with traditional wrestling competition among the youths and other able-bodied men in the community who used the occasion to test their individual agility and strength as done in the olden days. At the end of the competition, winners emerged. Women dance groups in the same spirit to know the best took the stage and the best dancers were also selected for prizes at the grand finale of the new yam festival which was held at the premises of the community hall.

By midday, colourfully dressed people of the area both home-based and returnees had filed up in groups from the town hall to pay homage to their traditional ruler, Eze Dr Michael Nwosu, under the supervision of Akeme Town Assembly President-General, Chief Chukwudi Obasi.

The monarch sat in his palace with his Ugoeze (wife) while his subjects came in turn to pay homage with assorted gifts like goats, fowls, yam tubers and even cash. Local minstrels supplied entertainment to the admiration of all.