Significance of New Yam Festival in Igbo Society of Nigeria
The New Yam Festival of the Igbo people (Orureshi in the idoma area, Iwa ji, Iri ji or Ike ji, depending on dialect) is an annual cultural festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season in early August.
The Iwa ji festival (literally “new-yam eating”) is practiced throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana and other African countries and beyond, symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
The 2019 Iriji Mbaise Festival scheduled for Thursday August 15, 2019 at Mbaise Secondary School Playground. The Special Guest of Honour is His Excellency Rt. Hon. Chukwuemeka Ihedioha, Executive Governor of Imo State who is a culture ambassador. Iriji Mbaise Cultural Festival is a way the people express and promote their culture, translate the work in their hands in which all parts of the Social System work together for the benefit of mankind.
The cultural fiesta has enormous potentials to attract infrastructural development, huge socio-economic benefits, promoting tourism and local contents inform of crafts cultural and artistic talents as well as opening trade and commerce while building bridges with other emerging societies.
Speaking to journalists, the Chairman Central Working Committee 2019 Iriji Mbaise, Chief Austin Onwubiko, stated that the yearly festival celebrates the culture, unity and developmental strides of the three local governments that make up the Mbaise Nation. “It is a way of expressing our custom, culture, tradition and values to the outside world,” Onwubiko stated. “This year’s focus is to ensure that we propagate and develop the rich cultural uniqueness of Mbaise people, which could be exported.”
Many side attractions took place to give glamour and intellectual spice to the festival. As a prelude to the event, Mbaise People’s Congress holds a colloquium on Wednesday August 14 with a theme ‘Financing the Mbaise University Project’ while a rally to create awareness on the benefits of a drug and cultism free society is also in the roadmap. Other cultural effects are traditional dances (Nkwa ji), locking and unlocking of the Yam ban (Ile Obaji), Mbaise Cuisine where different dishes is showcased.
Meanwhile, the Anambra government has taken steps to unify the celebrations in the state. The Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Lady Vera Queen Okonkwo, stated this in Awka recently. She observed that the current practice is such that each royal father organises his own new yam festival, a situation, she noted, that makes it a monthly affair especially from July to December every year.
The traditional rulers make inputs towards having a joint new yam festival at the state level and even beyond, to be followed by each individual royal father’s in his community.
“I think it is better to have a uniformed, joint festival. With the unification, all the traditional rulers from the 179 communities in the state attends the joint festival after which, each royal father as picked a date to organise his own event in his domain. There is also move to involve the Southeast as well as South-South zones in the universal new yam festival.”
The evening before the New yam Festival ,old Yam must be consumed or discarded and on the day of the festival only dishes made out of yam is served. Palm oil is used to eat the yam .The oldest Man in the community eats the first yam offering the yam and prayers to the gods, deities and ancestors .
The harvest symbolises the abundance of produce, rituals are performed to express gratitude to the gods of the community for making the harvest possible.