Society and Culture

The Sacred Festival of Iri Ji Ohuru in Igboland, Nigeria

Title: The Sacred Festival of Iri Ji Ohuru in Igboland, Nigeria
Author: Ukachukwu Chris Manus
Published: © Nordic Journal of African Studies Vol. 16(2) 2007, 244-260
Language: English
Keywords: Igbo, Ahianjoku, ancestors, libation, masquerades, eschatological, epiphany, Igbology

Abstract:

 

This article examines the religious significance of the New Yams Festival (Iri Ji Ohuru) among the Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria. Secondary data for the study was collected from ethnographical information on the origin of the custom by some well-known Igbologists. An analysis of a major extant etiological myth about the revelation of yams in Igboland is provided. A phenomenological description of the Emume (festival), the primary datum as it directly presented itself to my consciousness when I observed one such festival in my village of birth, Umueze, Uzoagba in the Ikedururu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria, in 2004 is presented. Interview schedules with some elders and a ritual master of this kind of traditional custom was conducted in the village on 12 April 2004 and 1–7 February 2006. To anchor the findings on the place of yams on solid ethno-history, a brief sketch of the migrations of the Igbo people, their religion and the legend about their progenitor, Eri, is discussed. The aim is to provide the socio-religious background for understanding the divine origin and the sacred nature of yams in the traditional belief of the Igbo people. Popular views on the value of yams as principal staple in Igbo gastronomic life as attested in contemporary literary works are related. Matters of great interest to phenomenologists such as the descriptive account of the festival, its ritual acts, the oral nature of the incantations, and the age of the participants are discussed. An effort is made to suspend critical judgment on the phenomenon’s value and truth claims from the perspectives of my own present religious experience and tradition. In other words, I have permitted the structure and morphology of the ritual acts of the ceremony to manifest themselves for possible comparisons and contrasts by other Black and African scholars of a religious phenomenon like this in their own areas. In addition, the iconoclastic attitude of Western missionaries in nineteenth-century Igboland to customs and practices as Iri Ji Ohuru is discussed. The study counsels the Igbo to regard the cultivation of yams, even be it potatoes for those in the diaspora to work their gardens annually as a religious obligation. The socio-religious lessons of the ritual acts of the festival call upon leaders of Igbo Christianity to welcome the ritual stages of the rite in the Church’s effort in contemporary liturgy as a means to boost the inculturation of African customs in the Church.

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