By Bashir Adefaka
THE Achalla community in Anambra State wore a new look recently, when eminent people from across the eastern states thronged the Awka North Local Government headquarters to celebrate this year’s Iwa-Ji, New Yam Festival.
Achalla, a kingdom ruled by the Uthoko Na Eze and a paramount ruler, Igwe Ezeoba Alex Nwokedi is one of the communities that observe the new yam festival.
Iwa-Ji is a very big annual event that people of the kingdom have set aside as a forum for rekindling peace, unity and charting the way forward for the community and this year’s celebration was not an exception. The king’s own day of the week-long event was the grand finale, held at the event arena of the 200-year Uthoko Palace, on Thursday October 3, 2013, the entire community burst into its loudest as guests, other paramount rulers, government officials, friends and in – laws trooped in for the celebration of the 16th annual yam festival of Uthoko Na Eze and the 23rd king of the Achalla community, Igwe Ezeoba Alex Nwokedi.
Very early in the morning, the entire community was 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. Yam, as a staple food, is consumed by many in Nigeria at any time. But to the culture and traditions of Achalla people, before the eating of new yam begins, there is procedure that must be strictly adhered to. The main procedure is the celebration of arrival of the new yam, which comes in form of a festival known in the kingdom as Iwaji.
Explaining how the yam festival is celebrated, a palace staff told Sunday Arts that Oganachi masquerade was usually the first to come out four days to the king’s 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, the living title holders called Ozo-dindu do their own festival and the dead title holders (the Ozo-nwulaun) do theirs the next day.
“After the king’s yam festival, people kill goats for their respective dead fathers and mothers who were title holders but are dead. It is a must for everybody to do so. This is general sacrifice that every affected person does and it 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 (husbands) during the planting season” he said.
After the preliminaries, the main occasion which was 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 were served no other food than the meal. Thereafter, cows were slaughtered to prepare pounded yam which was served in the afternoon. The festive period was at its peak as the entire community was agog with all kinds of performances.
On ground to receive homages was the king, Igwe Nwokedi, assisted by his heir, Mr. Akan Nwokedi, a lawyer and a line-up of senior red cap members of his cabinet. It was a day packed with all sorts of amusements, cultural performances , masquerade dance, offerings of yam by titled chiefs, here four tubers each by each title chief and any amount by non-title members of the community. Many of them, in addition, came with well-fed ram, others wine and others, money.
It then got to the last leg of the festivity when different types of masquerades came to the arena each at its own time. They respectively danced and traditionally the king would come down from his high seat to share in the dance and give them money.
The event was well attended with Governor Peter Obi ably represented by the Anambra State’s Secretary to the Govenment, Mr. Henry Osieloka Obaze. Nearly all traditional rulers in the state attended. they include the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe, who could not make it, sent very heavy representation. The Eze Uzu Awka; Obi Gifson Nwozu; the Igigo of Aguleri vice chairma, Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, Igwe Christopher Eze; and Igwe Iweka of Obosi Kingdom were among prominent monarchs present at the event, co-sponsored by Krisoral Group of Companies, makers of Omega.