Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Significance of Yam and New Yam Festival in Igboland

Today is Igbo day in Awka, Anambra State. It is celebrated by Otusubakwa Igbo. As a result, we want to take you through the importance of Yam and new yam festival because that is one of the most sought out celebration among the Igbos of Africa.
Enjoy it.
There are many accounts as there are old men (in relating the origins of both the yam and the New Yam Festival in Igbo land. One account says, the yam was the reincarnation of the first son of an Afikpo woman sacrificed on the orders of the oracle, Ibu Ụkpabi.
The woman first sacrificed a slave and the community quite appropriately got a bastard yam, "ji abana"; when however she sacrificed her own son, an "amadi ji" a man's yam, sprouted up, a gift of the god to his starving people. There are variations on this story, and they all remind us of similar stories told about staple crops in other civilizations. Wheat, amongst the Romans, was an incarnation of Ceres herself, the goddess of agriculture.
Perhaps the most familiar of the stories about the origin of the rituals surrounding the eating of the new yam is the one that tells how, when it was first brought into our communities, yams were an untested food item. In fear of the entire community dying from food poisoning, domestic animals, slaves and bonded men (in that order) were forced to eat the yam first. Not until it was thus established as a safe food item, did the leaders of the community allow the generality of the public to partake of it. Even then, according to some accounts, the new yam was eaten in a fixed sequence, beginning with the youngest of the most junior lineages.
These stories must be regarded as re-constructions, pure and simple. For one thing, they presuppose a more recent date for the introduction of yams into our region than the available scientific evidence would support.
The large-scale introduction of iron in West Africa dates from about 300 A.D. At least four hundred years before that, several species of yam and oil palm were already firmly established in the forest and woodland regions of West Africa, long before the introduction of other species of yams (or yam proper), plantain, banana, maize and cassava. It, of course, needed the advantage of the metal hoe and machete to make the large-scale cultivation of yams possible.
Nor must we forget the place of "ede" and "akpụ" in the scheme of things." Ede"( cocoyam), is now regarded as the women's crop for which there is an appropriately modest "Ima Ede festival". The cocoyam must have been an early staple crop among the Igbo people, not only because of the many uses to which it is usually put and the many ways it can be eaten, but also because even in competition with cassava, it appears to have been relegated over time to a very secondary position. In fact, it is the cassava that has revolutionalized traditional food habits. From being a poor man's meal, it has over time made famine easier to avoid by making the failure of the yam harvest a less decisive event than it used to be.
New Yam Festival is not an exclusively Igbo phenomenon. There is what has been called the West African Yam Belt which stretches all the way from the Camerouns to the Ivory Coast. The New Yam is celebrated throughout this zone. That this Festival is celebrated so extensively over much of West Africa would suggest that all local explanations for the
Festival, including the Igbo version must be taken advisedly. It would perhaps be simpler to believe that the seasonal year, coinciding with the first Yam harvest, made July and August the true beginning of the season of plenty - or at least, the end of the season of scarcity.
The yam is a most un economical crop to cultivate. For one thing, there is only one harvest a year. For another, cultivating yams is truly a man's job: "ọrụ okorobia": only the able bodied and persevering can successfully do it. Moreover, unlike the cassava, the yam depends on its own tubers for propagation. This means that a substantial part of each harvest is earmarked for the next year's planting - a rather heavy literal wastage of both capital and profit. In consequence, the yam has become a very precious plant, indeed; and if, for any reason, its harvest failed, the community was doomed, as it were, to starvation.
As the Igbo's will say ;Our harvests, then, can only be as good as our labour. Only when we have worked like men can we hope for a proper harvest and for a stock of yams with which to celebrate Ahịajọkụ. Annual celebrations and propitiations make sense only against the background of all full and thorough season's labour of both hand and brain.
Igbo people - differ from many of the communities of the West African coastlines which celebrate the New Yam Festival. The Igbos unlike the Yoruba or the Bini , or the Ashanti and Fante in Ghana in political organisation. Whereas these other societies are imperial aristocratic or hierarchical in their traditions, the Igbos are (as they say) egalitarian and democratic. In this respect, the one West African community within the Yam Belt which shares this tradition with the Igbo people are the Ewe people of Ghana.
The Igbos are perhaps the only major ethnic group in West Africa that lacks the monolithic cohesiveness that is usually the characteristic of people with a long history of communal interaction. All the earlier travelers who visited the Igbo part of the world never failed to comment on the fact that there did not appear to be any kind of central pan-Igbo authority among. Every man, they said, was a god in his house; every village was an autonomous community; federations and alliances, were exactly that: affiliations of convenience which did not pretend to be new political entities capable of transforming the primary pattern of political sovereignty in the federating units



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