New yam festival is one of the most prominent annual celebrations in Igbo land. It began in Arochukwu community several centuries ago.
In the past, the new yam festival must be celebrated before any adult of Igbo origin will eat a new yam. This means the event must precede the eating of water-yam.
The traditional name for Igbo new yam festival is “IKE JI” which literally means the “Strength inherent in Yams.” However, the actual occurrence of the festival is known as “IRI JI OHURU.” That is, “Eating new yam.”
The idea of four market days (Eke, Orie, Afor, Nkwo) that make up the four days of the week in Igbo culture emanated from the four days that our ancestors typically celebrated the new yam festival.
Eke market day is the first day of the new yam festival and also the first day of the week in Igbo culture. It is the day the new yams to be used for the festivity are harvested. The Eke markets are expected to overflow with buyers and sellers who meet to trade a variety of items such as kola-nuts, new yams, rice, cocks, goats, fishes and host of other local condiments.
The Eke day of the new yam festival usually gets children excited due to the anticipated merriment that will take place in the days that follow. On this day, women and children are charged with the responsibility of sanitizing the entire environment around the home, and in the night of the same day, all women are expected to have communion and offer sacrifices to their Chi i.e spirit guides.
Orie Market day is the second day of the new yam festival and also the second day of the week in Igbo culture. It is the day of the new yam festival proper. Palm wine tappers make a huge killing in sales as palm wine is freely bought, shared, and enjoyed by friends and family both male and female.
On the Orie Market day, every animal tagged for use during the new yam festival is butchered with the belief that the animal will die to avert impending sicknesses and deaths that may occur in individual families and the entire community as a whole. This day is called the “Ubochi Ori Anu” which literally means “day of he that eats meat.” It is typically assumed that all the animals that were butchered are sick, even when they are certified healthy and strong.
Orie day of the new yam festival is a day of great merriment – eating of new yams prepared in various forms (roasted, cooked as pottage, pounded, fried etc) drinking, dancing, and socialization. It is permitted in Igbo land that masquerades parade the nooks and crannies of the community soliciting yams and money from people on this day. Women are expected to appear beautiful with local removable tattoos on the faces and skin. At night, the moonlight play (Egwu Onwa) takes place at the community square and lasts till dawn.
Afor market day is the third day of the new yam festival and the third day of the week in Igbo culture. On this day, certain sacred parts (such as: blood, head, intestines etc) of the animals butchered on Orie day are brought to the house of the eldest male member of every clan for prayers, preparation and consumption by all members of the clan.
The ancestors of the clan represented by sculpted figures or pictorial images are brought out of the traditional chapel where prayers and other spiritual rituals take place, and offered new yams, meat and alcoholic drinks in libation. In fact, it is a day of special thanksgiving to God through the ancestors for a successful yam planting and harvesting season.
Nkwo market day is the last day of the new yam festival and the last day of the week in Igbo culture. On this day, the sculpted figurines that represent the images of the ancestors are returned to the traditional chapels. It is also the day all Igbos who returned home (Igbo land) for the new yam festival are allowed to go back to their places of residence within and outside Nigeria.
That was how the new yam festival used to be celebrated in Igbo land many decades ago. But, these days, the culture of new yam festival seems to be done in reverse. For instance, the Arondizuogu now celebrate the new yam festival in the month of March when yam seedlings are sowed instead of August when new yams are harvested.
Let’s get back to our roots….
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