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Commentary: Celebrating New Yam Festival In Igboland

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WRITTEN BY ABUCHI NWOZOR
All roads lead to Umudioka Arts and Cultural Centre, Neni, Anaocha Local Government Area tomorrow, Saturday Oye, August 12, for the 2017 New Yam Festival of

the Traditional Prime Minister of Neni, Onowu Sir Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukume (OON).
The epoch making event, which will commence by 12 noon, will showcase the rich cultural heritage of Neni. It will feature masquerade displays, live cultural music presentations, presentation of gifts and cash awards to practicing farmers in the community that performed creditably in this year’s harvest.
Chief Anthony Enukeme, Ezeana-Akuvom, who is the Chairman and Managing Director of Tonimas Nigeria Limited, has been celebrating the event annually as a way of reviving the rich Igbo cultural heritage, in addition to encouraging practicing farmers and boosting agriculture.
Historically, the New Yam Festival, otherwise known as “Iwaji, Iriji or Ike Ji”, depending on the dialect, is an annual cultural festival by Ndigbo. It is usually held in August. Iwaji festival is observed throughout West Africa, especially in Nigeria and Ghana, symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next farming cycle.
Naturally, yam, being the king of crops, is celebrated, depicting its prominence in the socio-cultural life of Ndigbo. As a first step to the celebration, all old yams from the previous year’s crop are either consumed or discarded in the evening prior to the day of the festival. This is because it is believed that the New Year must begin with tasty, fresh yams instead of the old dried ones of the previous year.
The celebration lasts a whole day in some communities, while in others, it may last a week or more. These festivities normally include variety of entertainments and ceremonies that include the performance of rites by the celebrant. Roasted yams are offered to ancestors at the beginning of the festival; first before distributing them to the villagers to eat with palm oil and prepared oil bean. The ritual is performed either by the oldest man in the community, the traditional ruler, traditional prime minister or the Regent.
After the prayer of thanksgiving to God, they eat the first yam because it is believed that their position bestows the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and gods of the land. As a matter of fact, the rituals are meant to express the gratitude of the community to the Almighty God for making the harvest possible. They are widely observed, despite more modern changes due to the influence of Christianity in Igboland.
By and large, New Yam festival is given high premium in the Igbo calendar because there is no substitute for yam. This preference for yam, as well as the time and labour necessary for its production, are some of the reasons yam is very important in Igbo food. For example, in the predominantly traditional Igbo society, it is a capital offence and a taboo to rob a farm of its yams, whether they are newly set or are mature. Until the last few years, yam was paramount in the life of an Igboman. For many generations, it was the staple food of Ndigbo. That is why, even in traditional marriages, yam plays very enviable role after the payment of dowries. However, the great aspect of the New Yam festival is that it offers opportunity for friends and families who have not seen one after a long while, to come back home and meet.
New Yam festival is one of the largest festivals in Igboland and is usually attended by a lot of people from within and outside the village. It is marked with pomp and pageantry. It can therefore be a source of foreign exchange for the Igbo speaking states.  Thus, it is pertinent to call on all tiers of government in the country to give priority to agriculture, which was the mainstay of the nation’s economy before the advent of oil. They can do this by emulating the Onowu Neni, Chief Sir Anthony Enukeme, who, through his philanthropy, has given a big boost to farming in his community.
Tomorrow, many farmers in Neni community will be empowered by Chief Enukeme, who is the President of Lubricant Producers Association of Nigeria (LUPAN) to increase their productivity in the next planting season, which will remain an indelible legacy in the annals of history in Igboland.

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