Aloysius Attah, Onitsha

Just as the Bible recorded it that there is time for everything under the sun, time to plant and time to harvest among others; the coming of the first major rain within the months of March and April signifies the era of planting for the Igbo. This period is usually preceded by the harvesting of the dry season and passing through the harmattan.

An Igbo cultural revival group, Mbido Igbo Association has instituted the annual ritual of the official commencement of planting season in Igbo land at Igboukwu in Anambra state.

Known as Iba Ubi, in Igbo language, it is a ceremony symbolic in many ways as the group re-enacts the activities of the Igbo of yore even before the coming of Christianity. In those days, the farmers invoked the spirit world for blessings on their toil and sweat believing that if the gods did not accept their sacrifice before the planting season, they will have a very poor harvest thereby leading to famine with severe consequences.

At the National Yam House, Igboukwu, venue of the ceremony, many traditional rulers were in attendance. Igbo cultural displays spiced with spectacular masquerade performances added colour to the event.

Yam seedling known as the king of all crops were also provided while other seedlings like pumpkin, maize and melon were given to the women to accompany the men to the farm.

Presented with items of sacrifice like goat, yams and kolanuts, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese represented by Rev Fr. Hillary Okwunalu invoked God’s blessings on the land. Reminding God of His words after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden where He said that of out the toil of man’s hands shall he eat henceforth, the priest also asked for God’s mercy on the land that the plants may produce in abundance for the people to eat. He blessed the crops, the people and the land and the people responded with a resounding amen. With that, the journey to the farm commenced immediately.

From the mounds already cultivated behind the premises of the Yam House, the priest, elders, traditional rulers took turn to plant the yam seedlings in the mounds. The women followed suit and also planted maize and other accompanying seedlings with high hopes of returning in the month of August for the harvest and New Yam festival.

Chairman of Mbido Igbo Association, Chief Okafouzu Ugochukwu in an address said the Igbo ancestors believed that Chukwu Okike blesses human effort from which one reaps bountiful harvest.

He said the Iba Ubi Igbo festival is the official New Year Day for the Igbo race.

“Sequel to this, we are asking God to bless our farmland and its seedlings because Igbo people are very industrious and agrarian people. There is no blessing that supersedes farm land blessing which manifests itself in bountiful harvest at the right time of the year.

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“Yam being the staple food of the people stays in the land for six months before maturity and today is the day we bless our yam as a point of contact with other farm seedlings and beg God to bless our efforts. The High Priest of God has led us in prayers, both for us and the nation because we are a chosen race and holy people of God. Igboukwu where we are now is the ancestral land and melting pot of Igbo culture and its civilization, therefore a holy land,” he said.

The ceremony also featured the ground breaking ceremony for the erection of a pavilion and international art exhibition centre within the premises of the National Yam House.

Ugochukwu disclosed that the pavilion ground-breaking was courtesy of the Director General, National Gallery of Arts, Abuja, Chief Abdulahi Muku. He recalled that the Igboukwu royalty had years back conferred the chieftaincy title of Akaekpuchionwa Ndi Igbo Global on Muku.  Describing the pavilion and exhibition centre as a great feat, Okafouzu said the structure when completed will protect the teeming tourists, who visit there in their thousands during traditional festivals from bad weather and other elements,

He disclosed that the traditional rulers had resolved that the pavilion will be named after Chief Muku who initiated the project in conjunction with Mbido Igbo Association.

The National Gallery of Art boss in his remarks, paid homage to the late traditional ruler of Igboukwu, who passed on last year, Dr. Martin Ezeh.

He described the late monarch as a charismatic, passionate and caring leader, who took it upon himself to market Igbo-Ukwu as a repository of culture alongside his Council of Chiefs.

Unlike most traditional rulers, he said that Ezeh led from the front and it is no wonder that today, Igboukwu boasts of the presence of federal parastatals such as the National Gallery of Art and National Commission for Museums and Monuments among others that have in their employment indigenes of the ancient city of art.

He also prayed that a new traditional ruler of Igboukwu when elected will not only carry on in the same way the former did but will surpass his footprints in that direction.

Eze Ndigbo Akwa Ibom State, Dr Cyril Umeaga while speaking, applauded the cultural revival programme of Mbido Igbo Association noting that Igbo culture will never die.

The event also featured the fourth edition of Bishop Jonas Benson-Okoye Igbo language and culture quiz competition where secondary school students displayed their knowledge of Igbo culture to the delight of the audience.