Yam is a staple food of an Igboman and New yam Festival is one of the most prominent annual celebrations in Igbo land. The aim of the New Yam Festival is to officially present the newly harvested yams to God and the ancestors of the land.
The festival is also an avenue to thank God for sustaining the life of the farmers, the indigenes of the land and the farm product (yam) through a successful planting season. It was an occasion celebrated in glamour in Awgbu , in Orumba North Local Government of Anambra State.
The occasion brought togethersome illustrious sons and daughters, friends and well-wishers of the community to witness as the traditional ruler, Igwe Michael C. Okechukwu, performed the rite. Present at the great occasion were; Igwe Dr. CNN Nwajagu JP of Akpugoeze, Enugu State, Igwe Godwin I. Ezilo, Igwe Nanka, Awgbu Ambassadors forum led by Mr. Izuchukwu Nwankwo ,Romanus Obi, former House of Assembly Member, representing Orumba North, Igwe Sylvanus Chika Uchime of Uvume, Chief Walther Chigbo, Igwe C.O Okeke of Amaokpala, Igwe Fredrick C. Okoye of Ndiokparaeze, Chief Patrick Nwankwo, chairman APU, Port Harcourt branch, amongst many others. In an interview with CHIDIEBERE ANYISIA, Igwe Michael C. Okechukwu (Eze di Oranma ll of Awgbu) discussed the town’s strengths and challenges.
What is the significance of new yam festival in Igboland?
In Igboland, yam is regarded as the chief crop and any Igbo man who is worth his name must have a yam barn, and back in the days, the size of your yam barn determines the much or type of respect you will receive in the community.
It is the staple food of an Igbo man and the highest regarded crop in Igboland that is why it is celebrated and its celebration marks the beginning of the harvest season, which is how we met it or at least, how it was handed down to us by our fore-fathers.
The celebration is not done at the same time in all communities because the Igbo calendar and town traditions and market days differ in each community. Like in my town, Awgbu, we now celebrate the new yam in the modern way unlike in the days of my fathers where the festival is being carried out in three categories which comes in order of occurrence.
Ufiejioku; this is a one day celebration where yams are cooked and some are offered to the gods. Itu-Nshi; is the second one and it also comes with its own celebration/ceremonies, then comes the Isi-Iji which is the big ceremony where a wealthy farmer will invite all his friends and relatives both outside and within the community. They will eat and drink for two days and will also have some foods to take home whenever they are ready to go back.
Do you think it will be possible to harmonise the New Yam Festival so it could hold in all the communities in Igboland at the same time?
We are already on it. For example, we at the Traditional Rulers Forum in Anambra South Zone which comprises of about more than 70 communities have already planned to celebrate a unified New Yam Festival on 2nd November, 2019. It is our maiden edition and I strongly believe it will go well. Anambra State Government is also gearing a plan towards harmonising the festival, so, I believe it will be possible but each individual king must go back to their place and do their own according to their tradition, market day and customs.
How best do you think we can boost our culture and tradition, especially with respect to the language?
The best way is to teach our people our language. Some of our Igbo elites don’t teach their children Igbo Language. I do teach my children not just Igbo language but our Awgbu dialect while we were in Port-Harcourt.
They speak it very well and when they go to school, they will be taught the popular English language and when they come to the village, they will mix and interact with everybody because they understand the language spoken there.
But our elites prefer to speak English to their children, some unschooled ones even speak pigeon English to their kids who will later learn the proper English in school. Every Igbo person should know that he or she is not doing their kids any favour by training them only on English language, because when they come back to their father land (village), they will be lost amongst their people because their parents fail to make them understand their language.
The Igbo man is the only tribe that is not serious about the growth of their language and I don’t know why. Training our kids or people with English language does not add anything to our lives , rather it devalues our Igbo language and culture. I believe that if we all learn to teach our children our language, our culture, our tradition even in diaspora, in that way, we will be able to build a better society for the future Igbo generation.
What is your view on the recent increase of disharmony between the town union administrations and the traditional rulers in many parts of Igboland?
I am now on my third or fourth president general (PG) now and I don’t have any problem with them because if you are a president general and you want to cooperate with me, we will cooperate very well but if you feel you don’t want the co-operation, its your business and I will be on my own.
In my town, a PG’s tenure is only but three years and another comes in. So in that way, I save myself the stress that is not needed and the government, mostly in Anambra State is trying to demarcate the line between them.
For me, I won’t have any problem with my PG. If he doesn’t want me, so be it, but if he wants me, the better for both of us and for the town. Some traditional rulers don’t know how to handle or accommodate other human beings. Everybody will not behave like you, so you must learn to tolerate and manage people and their characters, that’s my own view on the issue.
Can you give us an insight into your background and your emergence as the traditional ruler of your town?
Well, I was a one-time businessman of my own. I never thought of becoming the Igwe of Awgbu and I didn’t even believe that Awgbu will have a traditional ruler before I die because we had two once and they were not recognised by the government and that my town will never reconcile due to the Igweship tussle which led to a very serious disunity in the community.
Then in 2006, the then president general reconciled the community and it agreed then that Awgbu will have a King which will be rotational according to the seniority of the villages in Awgbu, and it came to my village as the most senior.
My people chose me to be their King. I insisted, but after about two or three years when their pressure was much on me, I accepted the mantle and they built this palace here, got me recognised by Anambra State Government and gave me some necessary things they think I deserve as their King. That was how I became the traditional ruler of my community.
What have been your challenges and strength since you took up the mantle as a traditional ruler?
The challenges I am facing is mostly from the elites. You just won’t know what they really want. Some of them crave for one community position or the other but they won’t want to go by the rules. But I am lucky that since I became the Igwe, I have not had any quarrel or problem with my people because I try to accommodate them.
The only problem I had and still having is development of the community. We have the problem of erosion which is threatening most parts of Awgbu, bad roads and some others. As for me, I will say I am lucky and blessed to be the King of Awgbu town because they don’t give me trouble which shows that I am well loved by the.
How best can you define the relationship between your community and the government of Anambra State?
We are for the government of Anambra State, working in partnership with them and we are praying for them not to faulter. Neither I nor my PG is having any problem with them and I pray we remain so. What we really need from the Anambra State Government as a strong tie to strengthen this relationship is development, employment and empowerment to the Awgbu Youth. We are also pleading with them to come and complete the road project that linked us to Amatiti, Okpeze and Ndiukwuenu community which they started some years back.
In what specific areas do you think frictions are developed in the relationship between the traditional rulers and town union administrations?
If the traditional ruler and the president general are not the greedy types, they should be able to sit down, look at their problems and then find a way to solve it. Quarrelling will not bring progress into a community and nobody knows it all. They should be able to find a way to settle their differences for the interest and positive growth of their communities like in my case. I have been very lucky with all my PGs and so Peaceful with my people that the town union contributed the lion share of our expenses during our last New Yam Festival.
What would be your advice to some of the traditional rulers who see some of the Igbo cultures and traditions as fetish?
There must be a line where fetish stops and our culture starts or vice versa. I am lucky to live with my parents who are pagans. They practice traditional religion which is not bad per say. The only thing is that Christ has come.
Before Christ, that traditional religion according to my people was helping to make peace and maintain law and order in the community. It was also helping to save the less privileged, the poor and the weak from oppressors mostly on land issues. Although I am not a pagan anymore, but I believe that there’s nothing fetish about our Igbo traditions and cultures rather, they strengthens us and gives us value as a tribe.
Although there is idol worshiping where one will see those fetish stuffs, but it’s not only practiced in Igboland but in other tribes across the world. The whiteman adopted the same-sex marriage and pet marriage which are a great taboo and the offenders can never go scot free.
The problem the Igbo man had is that we never documented our religion and traditions. That is why anything we do seems fetish, and because of the non-documentation of our cultures, language, religion and lifestyle were all relegated and looks like something inferior. You can’t go to tell a Chinese man such things because through that their way of life, they read medicine, engineering and so on.
What part of the Igbo cultures and traditions do you think must be retained against all odds?
Well, there are so many cultural rites the Igboland inherited from our fore-fathers which depicts our heritage, cultures like our marriage rites, burial rites, festivals, etc. We should look into them, imbibe it in our children so it will be retained for posterity.
I believe in the future, people will love to study about the Igboman alusi’s origin and potency because we have failed Christianity by pretending to be Christians but we are not doing the right thing- forming churches for commercial purposes, not talking about morality and the real purpose for being a Christian. One day the real truth will come out about Christianity and our cultures. The good ones will be picked and be married together though I might not be alive then.
What is the history of your town’s origin?
Awgbu, according to history, was begotten by one man called Ezekanu, who hailed from Otuocha area (though not certain. He had six children –five males and one girl. The third and fourth among the children were twins. The name of his children in area of seniority are; Ugwu, Abbor, Osikwu, Uzuamuko are the twins and are still addressed as such till date, then Nbruko.
These are the children and the first settlers and indigenes of the present Awgbu community. We are basically farmers, hunters, wine tappers (the best raffia wine tappers in Anambra State), the minority of Awgbu indigenes practice traditional religion while the others practice Christianity and majority are of the Catholic faith.
We have about six secondary schools and 13 primary schools. We have five Catholic parishes, three Anglican parishes and other Pentecostals. We also have functional Primary Health Centers and health posts in all the villages.
We have Eke as our main market day but it’s almost like a daily market now due to the incoming development. We have good road and electricity and when this Awgbu, Amaetiti, Okpeze road project is completed, we will be well connected.