ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s getting nearer to that time of the year when every Igbo person gathers to celebrate the Iwa ji afo (New Yam Festival). For those who may want to know, Yam is the main agricultural crop of the Igbos and also the staple food of our people. The New Yam Festival known as Ã¢â‚¬ËœIwa-JiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœIri-JiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is a celebration depicting the prominence of yam in the social-cultural life of our people. I have missed the festival for 2 consecutive years, this year inclusive.
The Iwa Ji Afo is one of the biggest festivals celebrated by the Igbos. It is celebrated in the month August of each year. The individual Igbo communities each have their days for this august occasion. This day symbolizes the conclusion of a work cycle and the beginning of another. Invitation to the new yam festival is usually open to everyone. What this means, is that there is abundant food for not just the harvesters but also for friends and well-wishers. A variety of festivities mark the eating of new yam. These festivities include cultural dances, masquerades parades, parties, etc.
On the last night before the festival, yams of the old year are gotten rid of by those who still have them. This is because it is believed that the New Year must begin with tasty, fresh yams instead of the old dried-up crops of the previous year. Trust most families to quickly consume their remaining yams from old stock instead of getting rid of them.
Before the festival starts, the yams are offered to gods and ancestors first before distributing them to the villagers. The ritual is performed either by the oldest man in the community or by the king. They eat the first yam because it is believed that their position gives them the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. The rituals involved in the new yam eating are meant to express the communityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s appreciation to the gods for making the harvest of their yams possible.
At the new yam festival, only dishes of yam are served since the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce. So much of it is cooked that, no matter how heavily the family eats or how many friends and relatives they invite, there is always a so much food left over at the end of the day. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in fact a season of merriment and togetherness.
In Ghana, a similar event is also held at same time of each year. Ghanaians call theirs Ã¢â‚¬Å“HomowoÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“To Hoot at HungerÃ¢â‚¬Â Festival, the people hope for a good harvest so no famine will hit the people in the coming year.
The harvest of yam and the celebration of the God of the land through the New Yam festival is an epitome of the peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s religious belief in the supreme deity. The coming of the new moon in the month of August marks the preparation for the great Ã¢â‚¬Å“Iri Ji OhuÃ¢â‚¬Â festival, but the time and mode of preparation differs from community to community.
The New Yam festival is a highly captivating art event. The colourful festival is a visual spectacle of coherence, of dance, of joy and feasting, an annual display for community members, to mark the end of the cultivation season, a festival where the people express their gratitude to those that helped them reap a bountiful harvest.
You may never really understand what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m saying unless youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve tasted or experienced it