August, September and October are three special months in the Igbo cultural calendar. Each year, thousands of Igbo sons and daughters troop out enmasse to celebrate the annual New Yam Festival. This age long festival, which is as old as the Igbo culture itself, is usually held between August and October with the date determined by each community.
The aim of the Enugu New Yam Festival is to officially present the newly harvested yams to God and the ancestors of the land. The festival is also an avenue to thank God for sustaining the life of the farmers, the indigenes of the land and the farm product (yam) through a successful planting season.
The festival, also referred to as ‘Emume iri ji ohuru’ or ‘Iwa ji’ or ‘Ife ji oku’ is a unifying factor within various communities in Igbo land. It begins with the breaking of kolanuts by the traditional ruler of the community and later the slicing and consumption of roasted yam tubers with palm oil.
The condiments usually used to cook the tubers of yam for a New Yam Festival are usually Fresh Palm Oil, Salt, Utazi, Pepper, Onions and Crayfish, among others. Two special delicacies usually prepared on that ceremonial day include: Boiled White Yam (with its tubers) coupled with its red oily sauce; and Yam Porridge (Ji-awayi).
This is followed by the Royal Dance, Igba-Eze Dance, Cultural Dance, Masquerade Parade & Dance and musical rendition by various groups in the community.
The New Yam Festival is indeed a colourful event which is fast becoming a major tourist attraction. Visitors from far and wide have been thronging these communities to partake in the celebrations and also enjoy the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo people.
Last August, the Ibagwa-Nike community in Enugu participated in the 2015 New Yam Festival celebration. Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the significance of the event, the community’s monarch, His Royal Highness, Igwe (Dr) Emmanuel Ugwu submitted that the festival is a highly regarded traditional event in Igboland, but more importantly were its spiritual connotations. According to him, “the mystical nature of yam is that you sow the head in the ground but God will take that; it will die, and another will sprout and produce a yam in the size that only God determines.”
A tourist from the Netherlands at the event enthused “I am very honoured to be at this celebration to mark a successful planting season. I have never really taken part in a festival like this, and I can say that it’s a very impressive and robust event.” He added, “You don’t get this sort of festival or masquerade displays in any other part of the world”.
The tourist was also quick to point out that although this was not his first visit to Nigeria, he found the people of Ibagwa-Nike peaceful. According to NAN, “They and indeed the people of Nigeria are peace-loving; and that is one message I will take home.”
Nkem Owoh, popularly known as Osuofia, is one of the various Nigerian celebrities that graced the Ibagwa-Nike New Yam Festival. Speaking to NAN, Osuofia noted that though this was not the first time he was coming to the community, the festival is indeed one of the most traditional and the most grounded cultural export obtainable in Igbo land.
According to him, “anybody who wants to have a first-hand information on the foundation of the Igbo culture must recognize the Iwa ji or New Yam festival in Igboland.”
New Yam festival is not only celebrated in Enugu but across Igbo land including states such as Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Delta. So if you need a reason to visit Nigeria’s south eastern region, the colourful New Yam Festival is one. You can thank us later. Enjoy!
– Afro tourism