Posted by Amanda Ibironke on Thursday, March 6, 2014 Under: Fashion, Tradition & Culture

The Igbo people are found in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. They speak the Igbo language, which has various dialects. Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The yam festival is not only celebrated amongst the Igbos; it is celebrated by different cultures all over Nigeria and West Africa. But we would be focusing on the Igbo way of celebrating new yam festival.

The New Yam festival is an annual harvest festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season in August. It is one of the esteemed cultural festival and it is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season; harvest abundance is shared with friends and well-wishers. The Festival is tribally called "Emume iri ji ọhụrụ", "Ịwa ji", "Ife ji ọkụ". The unique purpose is to officially present a newly harvested tuber of yam to God Almighty and their ancestors, as an act of  gratitude for a new year harvest, earth fertility, protection and sustenance of the people through a successful agricultural season.

Two special delicacies (meals) are usually prepared on the ceremonial day; boiled white yam tubers (boiled whole) with red oily sauce (Palm oil soup) and Yam Porridge. The white yam tubers are boiled unpeeled served with the palm oil sauce is called "Ji Mmanụ" among the Igbo people. For the Yam Porridge, the yam tubers will be peeled, sliced and cooked along with its ingredients. It is called “Ji-awayị” by the Igbos. The two delicacies are prepared because some special guests may request for either the boiled white yam (Ji Mmanu) or Yam Porridge (Ji-awayi). Roasted yams, coupled with red oily sauce, may also be used in a New Yam Festival ceremony. It is an ancient way of eating a tuber of yam among the Igbos. The festival is usually accompanied by lots of eye pleasantries, ranging from Royal Parade, Acrobatic displays usually called "Ịda- Ịya", "Ịku-Ụgba", "Ịgha-Ụgba" etc in Igbo terms, Cultural Dance (Egwu Ọdịnala), Masquerade Parade and Dance (Ịgba mmanwụ or Iti mmanwụ).

The festival is usually held at the Igwe’s palace (Igwe is the king), or at any other venue preferred by the Igwe and his cabinet of elders. The ceremony kicks off with the opening prayer by the king. Alligator pepper (Ose Ọji) is used by the Igwe during the opening prayer. The king also offers the yams to deities and ancestors. An official presentation of the already boiled White Yam tuber with red oily sauce (Ji Mmanụ) and Yam porridge (Ji-awayi) is made to the Igwe and special guests. Traditionally, the role of eating the first yam is performed by the Igwe. He tastes the delicacy in the presence of the special guests, cabinet members and his people. Once tasted, the Igwe approves, and then it is shared amongst the special guests, cabinet members and the community members to attest the eating of a newly harvested yam from the community’s farm. After which the celebration, masquerade presentation and dance begin. This would then followed by a Royal Parade which involves the Igwe, his Cabinet members and other titled holders dancing to the tune of the instrumentals. After this, the Igba-Eze dance, cultural dance, acrobatic displays, masquerade parade and masquerade dance, take the stage..

Masquerade acrobatic display and dance are the two of most fascinating scenes in the Festival and it lingers on until the Igwe calls for a closing prayer. The closing prayer is usually done with an Igbo kola-nut (Ọji Igbo), to thank God Almighty for His infinite mercy, protection towards mankind and for a successfully concluded New Yam Festival. After the prayer, the masquerade parade continues until everyone departs the ceremonial ground up to two days after the New Yam Festival has been celebrated. This time, the masquerade parade will not hold at the ceremonial ground, but at the market squares and tourist areas of the community. The ceremony can go on for as long as the community members want but these may not be the same for every community in Igbo land. The end of the masquerade parade/display is signifies the end of the New Yam Festival for that year. 
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In : Fashion, Tradition & Culture 

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