Yams are very important to the healthy living of human beings. They are high in potassium and manganese, which help to support heart function, metabolism, and bone health.
It is very obvious that Yam is the most cherished crop by the Igbo people of the eastern part of Nigeria.
Even the famous Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, described yam as the king of all crops.
The Igbos take the culture of preservation and cultivation very seriously. This culture did not die, it has lived on, from the time of their ancestors to this very day.
The “Orureshi, Iwa ji, Iri ji, Ike ji, or Otute (depending on the particular dialect) festival, is a festival that is conducted yearly by the people of Igbo land, which is usually held during the end of the rainy season of every year, which is usually around August, September or October of each year.
This festival is one of the notable festivities that is practiced by the people of the Igbo tribe. In their culture, if the festivals are not performed, no grown up man in the Igbo land can eat a new yam, because it is forbidden.
The new yam festival is done in different levels and categories. It kicks off with the community festival, where the members of the community, all gather together to celebrate, after which it is done at a family level, with every family celebrating the new yam festival according to their financial capacity.
The women of Igbo land can start eating new yam before the festival, but the man will not join them until the festival is done, because they believe that it is an abomination for them to eat the new yam before the festival. They believe that they have to celebrate it with their ancestors first before they can eat the new yam.
There’s a new yam festival in Ebonyi that’s known as the “IKE JI” festival. It’s a festival that tops all other festivals in Afikpo, and Ebonyi state in general. This festivities go on for weeks before the final main event.
The council of elders first of all hold a meeting, which is called the Ngidi-Ngidi, this meeting is to decide the date of the festival.
There’s a sequence of activities that will be held in preparation of the main festival. These practices are in order with the age long old practices.
A ceremony that’s known as the “Ichu Acho” is done on the eve of the main festival. In this ceremony, the youths practice some rituals to chase away the old year, by lighting torches and other materials, which symbolises clearing the road for the new year to emerge.
As the day of the ceremony begins, prayers will be offered and lots of feasting will be done throughout that day.
Most families will begin to entertain visitors and their extended family members that usually pay them a visit on the day of the festival. People usually come from far and wide to experience this festival.
The day of the festival is mostly filled with exchange of gifts and visits, people doing some catching up, eating and drinking. Some groups use the opportunity of this festival and meetings, to host fund raisers for their various projects in the community.
In Abiriba kingdom, they also hold their Abiriba yam festival, which is very colourful. In this festival, the maidens, who are still virgins, perform a sacred dance. The young girls that are old enough to get married, showcase their beautiful figures and dancing skills, to young men and their future husband’s in the kingdom.
Young men are always very excited about the dance, because it’s time for them to choose their brides. This festival symbolises a bountiful harvest for the year.