Posted by Olaniyi Abodedele on Thursday, January 23, 2014 Under: Fashion, Tradition & Culture
Across Igboland in Nigeria and among the Igbo people in the diaspora, the month of August is marked with the celebration of New Yam festival called “Iwa ji” and “Iri ji ohuru”. The ceremony is best illustrated in Late Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, published in 1958. Achebe describes the celebration of the new yam festival as follow:
“The pounded yam dish placed in front of the partakers of the festival was as big as a mountain. People had to eat their way through it all night and it was only during the following day when the pounded yam “mountain” had gone down that people on one side recognized and greeted their family members on the other side of the dish for the firsttime."
The New Yam festival of the Igbo people of the eastern Nigeria (Igbo: Iwa ji) is an annual harvest festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season in early August. The Iwa ji festival (literally "new-yam eating) symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next farming cycle. The celebration is a cultural event uniting individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian society whose major cash and food crop is yam. The New Yam Festival is a celebration depicting the prominence of yam in the social-cultural life of the Igbo people.
Yam serves as the main staple food of the Igbo people. Yams are the first crop to be harvested and are the most important crop of the region. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous year's crop) are consumed or discarded. The next day, only dishes of yam are served as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce. Palm oil (mmanu nri) is used to eat the yam.
Traditionally, the role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man in the community or the king (Igwe). The man or King offers the yams to the gods, deities and ancestors. It is believed that their positions (the oldest man or king) bestow the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. The rituals are meant to express the gratitude of the community to the gods for making the harvest possible. The festival and its rituals are widely followed by the Igbo people despite modern changes brought about by the influence of Christianity.
The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season and the food and wine generously are shared among families and friends. A variety of festivities mark the ‘eating’ of new yam, such as folk dances, masquerades parades and night-long parties.
Iwa ji also shares some similarities with the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are based on the cycles of the moon and are essentially community harvest festivals. It is one of the biggest festivals celebrated by the Igbos. The individual Igbo communities each have their days for this August occasion.
The New Yam festival is such an integral part of the Igbo cultural live that the Igbo people in urban centres and in foreign lands celebrate the new yam festival with equal amount of fervour and zeal every year with so much similarity with the original festival in their native land in Nigeria.
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