The new yam festival is an event that takes place every year and is mostly celebrated in the South, Middle belt and East of Nigeria. The event takes place at different times in various villages around the country at the end of the rainy season between August to October.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NEW YAM FESTIVAL
For some villages the new yam festival starts when the planting season begins. The planting season starts around March and the yams are planted by the elders and chief priest of the village.
The harvesting season is the major reason for the new yam festival as the harvesting of the new yam is a more elaborate affair than the planting season. The harvesting season occurs after the rains have stopped and the crops are ready for harvesting.
When the day for harvesting arrives, people of the village go their farms with a lot of joy and happiness especially if they are expecting a great yield and dig out the yams. After digging the yams out some of them are brought back to be blessed. In some cases where there are a lot of yams available, they are stored so they can be sold later or can be consumed locally.
The festival is characterized by a lot entertainment and colorful appearances. We see people dressed in their best outfits, lots of good music which is usually mixed as bands from outside the community and bands locally treat the people present to great sounds.
The great aspect of the new yam festival is that it brings an opportunity for friends and families who have not seen each other in a long while to come back home and meet each other.
A lot of indigenes within and outside the country, come back home to celebrate the festival and use the opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
In some villages, a day before the new yam festival, all old yams must be eaten or thrown away. The day of the festival only meals made out of yam are prepared and served for people to eat.
The eldest man in the village eats the first yam and offers the new yam with prayers to their ancestors, deities and gods.
In Igbo land, the new yam festival is a very old tradition and is usually done to present the newly harvested yam to God and give thanks for the successful harvest, keeping the lives of the farmers and also allowing the people of the village to experience a successful farming season and seeing the new yam.
The new yam festival is seen as the end of a successful farming and harvesting season and the beginning of the preparations for a new planting season. A lot of people consider yam to be a very important food crop and is usually the first crop to be harvested. The new yam festival is one of the largest festivals in Igbo land and is usually attended by a lot of people from within and outside the village that is celebrating. The event is colorful event with a lot of food available to eat. The new yam festival is also celebrated in a big and colorful way in Umueri, Anambra State.
HOW THE NEW YAM FESTIVAL IS CELEBRATED IN UMUERI, ANAMBRA STATE
In Umueri, Anambra State, the new yam festival plays an important role in the lives of the people as they view it with a lot of pride. The new festival is a period between the planting season and the harvest season.
This is a period where the people are very grateful to their gods and ancestors for giving them a bountiful harvest and for guiding as well as seeing them through the farming season.
The event and festival is held right after a three month period where much work is not done on the farm as people anxiously wait and pray for a successful harvest. The event is immediately followed by the harvest season where the yams are cultivated.
As stated earlier, yam is considered as a very important food crop which is also the same view shared by the people of Umueri. For this reason, the people consider the new yam festival as a way of showing their gratitude and respect to their gods and ancestors.
In Umueri, the festival is known as the “feast of the ancestors”. This is taken very seriously because people in the village believe that their ancestors are also their gods and therefore it is very necessary and important to give thanks to them for a successful harvest.
HOW THE FESTIVAL STARTS
Preparations for the new yam festival begins in Umueri when the moon is cited by a person known as Onowu, who is the traditional prime minister of the town and is also the person in charge of the festival.
The moment Onowu sees the moon, he goes ahead to announce to the people that the moon has been seen. He then goes on to announce to the people in the village the date the new yam festival will take place. This announcement is done in the presence of the elders in the village at the palace at Mgbago in Umueri.
The Onowu will then go ahead to formerly announce the day the festival will take place. The date for the festival is usually set within the next three market weeks which is twelve days but fall on what is known as Eke market day.
As the people patiently and eagerly await the day of the festival, on the eight day, which is the last Eke day before the festival, the Onowu will start the event in his palace which is characterized with a lot of activities and entertainment.
A day before the festival, as tradition dictates, the Ezi of Umueri would start celebrating the event before other people in the village. On the same day, people will go round the town and make visits to some important deities and offer sacrifices to their gods.
It should be noted that in Umueri, every family is expected to kill a sheep or goat to their various gods so that they can receive guidance throughout the farming period.
The festival is usually a very big affair and is celebrated along family and kindred level. The celebrations are characterized with good music, singing and dancing as people move from one place to another around the village.
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New Yam Festival
The New Yam Festival is one of the most important and glamorous festivals in Igboland, southeast of Nigeria. It is celebrated between August and October to thank the gods for a good harvest. It also heralds the harvesting season and provides an opportunity for a social gathering of the tribes. It is culturally rooted in ancient agrarian Igbo society, where wealth is measured by yam. Yam was the king crop. It’s shade of importance spread to ownership, a large barn or barns was definitely an indication of wealth, commerce; likewise a big yam trader and in lifestyle; yam fufu instead of cassava or any other kind of fufu was a sure sign that the visitor was considered important or the host, rich. To a large extent, this association lingers till today in lifestyle. A prestigious party or occasion will have pounded yam fufu on its menu
The new yam is harvested earlier than August, but anyone who considers himself a true son or daughter of Igboland will not eat it before the festival which is the cultural approval or signal to begin consumption.
The festival begins with a the public ceremonial roasting of whole yams by the chief or titled elders of the community, after the yams have been first offered to ‘Ohajoku’ or the yam or earth gods, the rest are shared and the community can then feel free to consume new yam without incurring the wrath of the gods. In modern times, this festival provides an opportunity to call home sons and daughters abroad to renew and reaffirm brotherhood and a sense of belonging and to plan for community development.
It is characterised by elaborate personal and communal preparations and competitions; new masquarades, dances and performances vie to outdo the other, new clothes and designs on parade vie to outshine the last though the duration and grandure differ from one community to the other.
In recent times it has begun to attract national and international attention. The Offala of the Obi of Onitsha and Iriji of Arondizuogu are two of the notable ones thatI can easily call to mind. It is a great occasion to meet up with relatives and friends and perhaps a future partner as one young person confided.You don’t get to see such a rich and divers crowd everyday, so we make the most of it.