By Dennis Agbo
ENUGU– CUSTODIANS of Igbo tradition and culture have revealed that the reason Igbo give prominence to celebration of new yam festival in all of their communities was because harvest of new yams in the year marks the end of food scarcity and insecurity in Igboland.
It was also noted that celebration of new yam festival marks the beginning of Igbo year calendar; provides platform to thank God for provision of rains, fertile land and sun for farming. New yam festival is equally celebrated for sparing the lives of farmers and the people.
It was also stated that new yam festival was not essentially an occasion for worship of yam god known as Ufejioku, but an occasion for thanksgiving for preservation of farmers and the entire people to witness another harvest season.
Traditional Ruler of Ikem-Uno autonomous community in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State, HRH Igwe Okechukwu Ogbodo made the disclosures in agreement with other traditional rulers of Ikem-Asokwa heterogeneous town – HRH Igwe F. O. O Okwor of Ikem-Umuaram and HRH Igwe Felix Ogbuke of Ikem-Etiti.
They made the disclosure when their communities celebrated Orurueshi, new yam festival of Ikem-Asokwa, last weekend.
The festival which witnessed free medical treatment, prayers, cultural performances and graced by dignitaries from neighbouring communities, was also celebrated with visit by their brethren from Asokwa-Invosi community in Ishiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State.
Both Ikem-Asokwa in Enugu State and Asokwa-Invosi in Abia State had traced their common origin before the Igbo pre-colonial dispersion of communities to their present and respective domains.
Igwe Ogbodo stated that his community and indeed, the entire Igbo, celebrate new yam festival, not just because yam is the chief crop in Igbo tradition, but more because the festival marks the harvest of other crops, indicating a season of bounty and freshness.
“Orurueshi (new yam festival) simply means the revival and refreshing of the body, to keep body and soul together after the long period of cultivation and famine. It is an annual event celebrated traditionally and culturally,” Ogbodo disclosed.
He noted that Ikem-Asokwa is one of the foremost communities in Igboland that celebrates new yam festival early enough in July, along with their brethren in Ikem-Nando, Aguleri and Umuleri communities in Anambra State.
Ogbodo said that “since yam is regarded as the king of all food crops and is highly respected by our tradition and culture, during this ceremony, a farmer has to purify himself before he can taste or eat the new yam, lest, the spirit of his yam will protest and next year’s yield will not be substantial.
“Certainly, he is not worshipping his yam but apparently he is only respecting the gods of the land and the tradition of his people. It is also believed in Ikem land that the more a farmer honours his yam, the more the yam honours him by giving him more yield the following year by multiplying its yield during the next harvest.”
President-General of Federated Ikem Improvement Union, FIIU, Prof. Sam Ugwu while appreciating the dignitaries and communities that attended the festival said that new yam festival was an old tradition bequeathed to the present generation by their forefathers.
“It was handed over to us and we have to sustain it. All the sons and daughters of Ikem are all here and everybody is happy participating in the celebration. We believe that our town has to be united and we are using the festival as an instrument of unity,” Ugwu said.