Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
New Yam festival is one of the most important and glamorous festivals in Igbo land. The maxim, “Yam is the king of all crops,” is deeply rooted in Igbo culture.
In acknowledgment of this, the new yam festival is celebrated annually by the Igbo to thank God for giving them the opportunity to have bountiful harvest of yam and other crops.
Adorned in different colorful traditional attires, even the intermittent drizzling of rain could not deter the illustrious Igbo sons and daughters in Ogun State from trooping out to be part of the annual festival.
The open field adjacent to the Palace of Eze Ndigbo, in the state, located in Ifo, Ifo Local Government, was agog with the allure of Igbo culture and traditions.
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The 2018 festival, however, coincided with the installation of Ogbuehi Austin Egwuogwu as the Onowu Ndi-Igbo in the state and other new chiefs. The Onowu title is the traditional Prime Minister; the second in command to the Eze.
In what could best be described as a show of ethnic camaraderie, the Yoruba indigenes, led by the Ifo-in-council were on hand to identify with their Igbo natives.
Also present was government delegation led by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Taiwo Adeoluwa and a member of the Federal House of Representatives Abdulkabir Adekunle Akinlade.
The festival proper started with the usual pomp, glitz and razzmatazz highlighted by the beating of traditional drums, singing of folk-lores amid chants of “Igwe.” It came alive as Eze Willy Ejimnkeonye, dressed in his full regalia, walked majestically into to the open field, acknowledging cheers from the crowd.
After the recitation of the national anthem, followed by that of Ndigbo, activities such as cultural dance, followed suit. The subjects of Eze also took turns to pay homage to him and donated gift items such yam tubers, goats and even cash.
Indeed, more significant to the festival was the presentation and breaking of kolanuts by the monarch, his chiefs and the government emissaries, who offered prayers for the continued peace and prosperity of the Igbo community and the host state.
The new yam cutting ritual was jointly performed by Eze Ejimnkeonye and Adeoluwa to the delight of the crowd. The Eze said the festival was another opportunity to showcase and preserve the richness and depth of the Igbo culture:
“All over the world, wherever we are, we, the Igbo maintain our culture. In Igbo land, yam is the king of all crops. We value yam as one of the best crops. So the new Yam festival is our tradition in Igbo land. It is the tradition of our ancestors. We are only following their footsteps. We are also thanking God for a good harvest.”
Adeoluwa described the New Yam festival as a monumental event in the calendar year of the Igbo people, noting the festival was equally accorded the same importance by the state government. He lauded the Igbo for their peaceful coexistence with the Yoruba:
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“We want to place on record and state publicly that most of our brothers and sisters from Igboland, living in the state have conducted themselves peacefully and responsibly.” He stressed that the recent appointment of a Special Adviser to the governor on General Duties from the Igbo community, demonstrated the huge admiration and support of the Eze Ndi Igbo traditional institution:
“Because we are Yoruba and the most important of the Yoruba ethos is the Omoluabi ethos. We are always anxious and desperate to show gratitude to our helpers of destiny. The Igbo community, especially our Igwe, have been helpers of destiny to this administration and to Governor Ibikunle Amosun.
“We are thanking you for your tremendous support over the years. This new yam festival, our prayer is that we will continue to have bountiful harvest.” He appealed to them to be active players in the electoral process, as the 2019 elections draw nearer, noting that electoral apathy could have consequences.
Akinlade who addressed the Igbo in Igbo language singled out the Igbo’s enterprising trait for special praise, noting that their commercial activities in the state have given a boom to the state’s economic profile.
While reiterating his commitment to the annual ritual, Ejimnkeonye promised to preserve the age long culture of the Igbo. He urged them to continue to promote peace in their respective communities: “We are preaching peace. We shall continue to behave well even in Yoruba land because we love and want peace.