Iwaji Abba: Ancient Festival Made Modern


Master story teller and literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe, depicted the grandeur of New Yam festivals in Igbo land in his epic novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ thus: “Men and women, young and old, look forward to the New Yam Festival because it began with the season of plenty-the New Yam…..The New Year must begin with tasty, fresh yams and not the shriveled and fibrous crop of the previous year….Yam foo-foo and vegetable soup was the chief food in the celebration. So much of it was cooked that, no matter how heavily the family ate or how many friends and relatives they invited from neighbouring villages, there was always a large quantity of food left over at the end of the day. The story was told of a wealthy man who set before his guests a mound of foo-foo so high that those who sat on one side could not see what was happening on the other, and it was not until late in the evening that one of them saw for the first time his in-law who had arrived during the course of the meal and had fallen to on the opposite side. It was only then that they exchanged greetings and shook hands over what was left of the food”.   The picture painted by Achebe above shows that New Yam Festival has lasted as long as Igbo people discovered yam and that picture is also true of Iwa Ji Abba last Friday during the ‘orira’, eve to the main festival that took place on Saturday at the palace of the traditional ruler of Abba. But apart from that, so much has changed about New Yam festival of Abba Community in Njikoka local government of Anambra state. Before now, the traditional ruler, Igwe Leonard Eze, usually celebrated the new yam to mark the end of farming season and beginning of harvest for the year; after which every family roasted its own yams and celebrate the new yam too. But about four years ago a new idea came in and this has changed the face of Iwa Ji Abba permanently.

On the year in question, a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Obimma Chukwuma conceived an idea, which it sold to the traditional ruler. Instead of Abba people celebrating the New Yam individually, they suggested, why don’t the town make it a community event. According to Mr. Obimma Chukwuma, a lawyer, this idea was sold to the traditional ruler in the company of his cabinet chiefs and they adopted it. Then, the town union got involved too and adopted it.  After the idea was bought, according to Obimma Chukwuma a nine man planning committee was set up with his wife and he being appointed Media Consultant and Coordinator respectively. With the cooperation of the people the festival has been growing from strength to strength. Obimma Chukwuma explained: “the magic behind the success of the Iwa Ji Abba (Abba New Yam Festival) lies in the transparency with which we managed the events. All winners in the numerous competitions usually lined up to spice the festival acknowledge that they were assessed correctly and all winners were adjudged the true winners that emerged. Secondly”, he continued, “there is something our people look for in people and they found out that we are not doing it for our personal interest or gain but to project the name of the town. They have tried us in all these past four editions and they found that we always deliver. We have always made them see the use to which monies raised were put”, Obimma Chukwuma concluded.

His position was reinforced by the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial district, Chris Ngige who was Special Guest of honour in this year’s edition that held on Saturday, August 9. Ngiege said: “. It is very nice they have diverted people from other events. And the competition of who produces the fattest yam has a lot of modernization, a lot of improvement to stimulate agriculture. I welcome everything about this occasion and the farmers here are encouraged because of the first, second and third prizes. I will soon endow my own prize here”.

The modernity has to do with these: past editions have witnessed celebration of mass  by Abba indigenous priests; a lecture has also been delivered by  an Abba indigenous academician; prizes ranging from  refrigerators, modern television sets, power generating sets, prizes for students who excelled in their classes, scholarship schemes, a computer school built, the oldest man and woman in Abba are honoured with cash gifts and wearing apparels, traditional wrestling matches were introduced this year,  and so on.

Chairman of the planning committee for this year’s festival, Mazi Alfred Chikelue Amasiana in his address at the occasion said evident of improvement in the organization of the could be seen in the statistics of yam farmer of the year competitors. From four farmers that exhibited their yams in the competition in 2010 the number rose to seven in 2011, nine in 2013 and 30 this year. Also, Amasiana continued, the prizes staked for the competition continues to increase. Hour for the oldest man and woman was also added as a triennial event. Prizes were also instituted for traditional Okika and Ukwe dance steps, he said. But he noted that the success achieved in the last four years did not come by happenstance. Instead, it “was made possible by progressive- minded Abba sons and daughters who have not relented in their support to the project. This is not to say that the desired result has been achieved, Amasiana complained. Instead, like in every society, some members of the community who are in a position assist still shy away and he pleaded with them to come on board.

Igwe Abba in his address to the people nevertheless appreciated that this year’s festival was greater than the previous year’s and thanked God for the large turn-out. He prayed God to bless the people and increase their wealth next year. Earlier the ceremony which was chaired by Chief Joe-Billy Ekwunife, Managing Director of Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) began with prayers said by the parish Priest of Abba Rev. Fr. Okoye Bonaventure and Resident Priest of St, Stephen’s Anglican Church, Rev. Samuel Okeke, a native.

As the sun set, the tempo of the event ascended with all activities racing after one another. Over 20 pupils who excelled in various primary schools in the community got prizes of books and cash with Chief Ekwunife promising to give each of those who came within the first three bracket N2000 each and the rest N1000. Little Miss Chidiogo Nweke who recited new yam festival also got a prize.  In the yam competition, Mr. Christopher  Nduka of Ire village whose yam weighed 14 kilogrammes came first and was presented with the star prize of a refrigerator, while Ichie Oba and Samuel Nwoye both of who hail from Amabo village came second and third and won a plasma television set and power generating set each.

Source: Daily Independent


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