BY BASHIR ADEFAKA
Yam is one of the staple food in Nigeria, though it is consumed by some at all times but to some it has a procedure which must be followed especially new ones before it is eaten. The celebration of the arrival of new yam is followed by a festival known as new yam festival.
Though many communities in Nigeria have abandoned the festival because of the influence of western cultures on Africa especially Igbo land, but few are still doing that and one of such community that has resisted that and is still doing that is the Achalla community in Awka North Local Government, Anambra State.
The community through the able leadership of the paramount ruler, Igwe Alex Nwokedi, a man who has traversed many places, held many positions in the country and values the importance of culture has demonstrated to people the need to preserve their culture.
His love for the culture was demonstrated last week when the entire community, paramount rulers, government officials, friends and in laws trooped out for the celebration of the 15th annual Yam Festival of Uthoko Na Eze, the 23rd king of Achalla community at his palace.
Achalla, a serene community in Awka North Local Government, has beautiful cultural values which distinguishes her from others in the East of Nigeria, an attribute they traced to Igala, in the present day Kogi State of the North that flaunts its cultural assets.
The Yam Festival is a very big ceremony held annually as a forum for rekindling peace, unity and charting the way forward for the community and this year’s own was not an exception. Very early in the morning, the entire community was already agog with festivity as youths held massive demonstration to herald the new Yam Festival. It was glamorous with different kinds of masquerades like the Isaka (the like of Lagos Igunu ko); Jele, Oganachi and others moving around the community.
According to Sir Peter Mbonu Nwokedi, the Nwaezeatu Esu (meaning, the prince that never fears) of Uthoko Kingdom, the Oganachi masquerade was usually the first to come out four days to the king yam festival calling on the people of Achalla and the eight sub-communities under it that it was time for people to begin to eat yam.
“Oganachi took place four days before Igwe festival that is taking place today. It happened in a big way calling on Achalla people that they can now eat new yam. After that living title holders called Ozo-dindu do their own festival and the dead title holders (the Ozo-nwulaun) do their own the next day.”
After that, people kill goat for their dead fathers and mothers who were title holders but are dead. It is a must for everybody to do. It is general sacrifice that every affected person does. This is followed by another event when all men go and buy Ogodi-Igbaoku (gifts) for their wives showing appreciation to them for taking good care of them during the planting season.
After the preliminaries, the main occasion which is the celebration of the king’s yam festival took off with prepared roasted yam meal served with thickly vegetable soup. All occupants of and visitors to the palace are served no other food than the meal. Thereafter, cow is slaughtered to prepare pounded yam which is served in the afternoon.
Thereafter, people trooped into the palace in groups each bearing big tubers of yam for presentation while paying homage to the paramount ruler. The Owelle Achalla, Ogbuefi Joseph Ani, in the absence of the Igwe received those visitors and their offerings.
Later, the Igwe arrived at the main palace escorted by his security men and members of the vigilante group and upon arrival he walked into the meeting of the elders forum said to be the most senior of all group meetings in the community. There he was welcome and he addressed the meeting briefly and then moved unto the open place where the chiefs and visitors are already seated expecting the main celebration to start.
Then various masquerade came each at its own turn and it was all festivity all through as the Igwe stood with the appearance of the each masquerade, he dance to the Ikolo drum to the massive applaud by the people and the entire community joined him. It was indeed a celebration well deserved as the various villagers danced and entertained their visitors.