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New Yam Festivities and hopes for Igbo cultural revival



FESTIVALS abound in Igboland but the New Yam Festival, arguably, is the most common. It offers communities opportunities for reunion. It is often a hilarious festivity usually celebrated by ndi Igbo.
IT is one cultural festival that is not only celebrated by almost all communities in Igbo land but the only one that can be said to have defied condemnations of various religious groups as a pagan festival or a form of idol worship.
It is even gradually becoming part of yearly programmes of some orthodox churches and institutions.
SOME weeks ago, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Ezeokafor, marked the 2018 New Yam Festival at St Patrick’s Cathedral Refectory.
The bishop, who introduced the event some years ago, with priests and religious in the diocese in attendance clad in different typical Igbo traditional attires, performed the traditional breaking of kolanut, cutting and eating of yam and danced to traditional music played at the event to the admiration of all present.
The spectacle was not different from what is usually obtainable in the various communities that mark the festival. Ezeokafor went further and encouraged ndi Igbo not to allow their culture die.
ALSO at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, last week, the school marked this year’s new yam festival with gusto. Led by the institutions, vice chancellor, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku, the event attracted monarchs, traditional rulers, chiefs, other schools and students from various universities within the South East zone.
As in UNIZIK, it was so in several Igbo towns this month. Majority of communities celebrate the festival with special church services conducted by priests from various religious organisations in recent times.
NEW yam festival, called Iri ji, Iwa ji, Iri ji Ọhụrụ, Ike ji, Okpotu, Onwa Asatọ and so on, is regarded as a thanksgiving for bounteous yields in harvest and a successful farming season. It is usually celebrated between the first week of August and October every year.
THE festival is so esteemed in Igbo culture that it is celebrated even outside Igbo speaking climes as Igbo sons and daughters in Lagos, Kano and other places outside Nigeria make out time to celebrate the new yam in their various places of abode because yam, regarded as the king of crops in Igbo corpus, is not eaten by an average Igbo person for the first time without being celebrated.
NEW yam events are therefore not just a symbolic family reunion fora and enjoyment of bountiful harvest after a hectic season of cultivation but periods of mass return in which sons and daughters meet to affirm brotherhood and a sense of belonging and plan for community development among others.
WHILE some communities observe the event within a space of a day, two days, three days to one week, others may celebrate longer with monarchs awarding chieftaincy titles amid display of various masquerades, dances and farm produce, among others.
AS the celebrations continue in communities that are yet to celebrate, National Light congratulates communities that have celebrated for sustaining the age long culture that has kept the Igbo identity intact and distinguished ndi Igbo as a people that cherish their heritage.
WE also appreciate governments, private individuals, institutions and religious bodies who have adopted the celebration of yam, thereby promoting Igbo culture, particularly the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Ezeokafor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University and other faith-base missions in Igboland that support the culture.
WE DEEM their participation very commendable and something that should be emulated by other church leaders as it is not only a way of promoting Igbo culture but preaching love and Christ, as well as praising God with something original and indigenous to our people. It is also a testimony that the church has come to realise that culture is quite different from idol worship.
IT is our view that traditional rulers, community leaders and well to do individuals should use the occasion of the festivities to sensitise farmers in their communities on the need to embrace mechanised farming and aggregate into co-operatives to enable them source funds and other improved farm seedlings from government and relevant support agencies for better yields in the coming years, even as more side attractions like lectures and symposia on Igbo culture and tradition should be included in the programme of events during celebrations.
This becomes necessary given the big challenge Igbo culture currently faces. Hence opportunity to tout it should be utilised.
MEANWHILE governments of South East states should evolve ways and means of absorbing new yam events in state program.
WE feel that government of each state in the zone should coordinate all the communities in their states to coverage at the designated location for a grand finale where each community or local government will showcase their agric yields with prizes given to best community or LG as a way of encouraging and rejuvenating interest in agric.
This will help food sufficiency, especially now that the nation’s economy is dwindling.
IT is our belief that celebrating new yam at state levels will over time, make the festival be recognised as a unique Igbo festivity by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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