By Vincent Ujumadu
AWKA- IT is another season of New Yam festival in Igboland, with leaders of traditional institutions in the various communities spearheading the celebration in their domains. In fact, there is no other crop celebrated in Igbo land as yam such that even Igbo people in Diaspora have joined in the annual ritual.
Yam is usually planted around December and January and harvested in most communities in August. That is why the month of August usually witnesses the celebration, which is done with pomp and pageantry by the various communities.
Usually, the traditional ruler kick-starts the celebration by performing the Iwa Ji (Cutting of Yam), followed by the traditional prime minister and eventually, the entire community. While some communities use the period of their New Yam festival for mass return of their indigenes during which development projects are planned, others use the period for just merry- making.
For instance, the traditional prime minister of Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, who is a US-based surgeon, used the occasion of his celebration of the New Yam festival, to commission a multi-million naira state-of- the-art water production factory that employs about 50 workers in his community.
Also, where the factory is located is an integrated farm owned by Anakwenze. The farm has sections for piggery, fish pond, maize, vegetables, cucumber, as well as the almighty yam. Part of the 2018 New Yam celebration by Anakwenze was a concelebrated mass officiated by the parish priest of St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Abagana, Reverend Father Paul Chimezie. Commencing the celebration with church service shows the importance attached to yam in Igbo land.
In the words of Fr. Chimezie, because of the processes that yam goes through before it is harvested, it is necessary to thank God before eating the new yam. According to him, Igbo people appreciate yam so much and that is why it is regarded as the king of crops.
He said: “Dr. Anakwenze has lived for so long in the United States, but he never forgot his roots. That is why he is investing so much at home and using the annual new yam festival to gather people together.”
Speaking after cutting the new yam in the presence of the traditional rulers of Abagana, Igwe Patrick Mbamala Okeke and the traditional ruler of Ifitedunu, Igwe Emeka Ilouno, as well as other cabinet members of the traditional institution from various communities in Anambra State, Anakwenze said he would continue to celebrate yam as his forefathers did, despite his long sojourn in the USA.
He said: “We are keeping with the tradition of our people. When our forefathers planted yam, they celebrated the harvesting. That is what we are replicating by thanking God for giving us good harvest. New Yam festival is part of Igbo culture, which our ancestors were celebrating hundreds of years ago.
“My grandfather was a chief and my uncles were also big chiefs. I watched them when I was young and I don’t want to forget those memories or allow that tradition to go into oblivion. We have to maintain our culture so that our ancestors won’t feel ashamed in their resting places. We will also pass it on to the younger ones so that the torch would not extinguish in my hands. I will make sure it continues to shine brighter in this community and in Igbo land in general.”
Speaking in the same vein, Igwe Emeka Ilouno, who also studied medicine in the USA and practised there for many years before returning to mount the throne of Ifitedunu Kingdom in Dunukofia Local Government Area, described New Yam festival as a great event in Igbo land.
Ilouno said he was happy that a great Nigerian, who is the leader of the Igbo worldwide, has not failed to return home to celebrate the New Yam in his community since he was crowned the Onowu (Traditional Prime Minister) of Abagana by Igwe Mbamala Okeke and urged other Igbo in Diaspora to emulate him.
“Our prayer is that God will keep us alive and give us the strength to celebrate the New Yam every year because this is one festival Igbo people cherish so much,” the royal father said.