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Okpudo: Saving Ehugbo, Edda New Yam Festival from extinction

The tradition

All over Igbo land, new yam festival (Iri-ji) is celebrated yearly between July and September. It ushers in orderliness in the community and sustains the bond of harmony between the people and their ancestors. The celebration is a culturally- based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam, the king of crops. It is an important way of marking the beginning and end of the farming season. In Afikpo North and Afikpo South known as Ehugbo and Edda, Ebonyi State, the festival is known as Ikeji. It was facing challenges with the people almost getting not interested in the festival.

Prior events

This accounted why an annual lecture series, Okpudo Ikeji annual lecture series was introduced by the member representing the Afikpo North/Afikpo South federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Iduma Igariwey to reawaken the culture and preserve it. This year’s lecture was titled “Aho Je Ngeje: The nexus of language, culture and dynamics in Iriji Afikpo and Edda festivals. It brought the people together as usual with the clans showcasing their culture and traditions to the admiration of all. Investigation into the history and culture of Afikpo and Edda unveil that a woman Orienta Imomo, nwa Imomo Otuo scarified her child for the people to have yam, the crop that has remained highly regarded in the area and Igbo land in general. According to the tradition of Afikpo and Edda, the celebration of Ikeji starts with the activities of women in the farm land. The festival is not only prominent; it dominates and permeates all aspect of their engagements. Apart from the fact that the festival is linked to the agricultural calendar, philosophy and economic structure, it also involves a celebration of existence and paying homage to the ancestors.

Significance of festival

Chief Anigor Agwo, a cultural expert in the area asserts that the Ikeji festival is a period to sow love, show love and live love as well as reverence to God with an open show of gratitude for his protection and kindness in leading them from lean periods to the time of bountiful harvest without deaths resulting from hunger, of the previous year. A Lecturer in this year’s lecture series, Professor Ngozi Emeka Nwobia, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Ebonyi State University (EBSU), said unlike other communities in Igboland where the Kings or the oldest men in the community moderate in the celebration of the festival; in Ehugbo, the date and the celebration must be announced by the Yam Deity Priest called Eleri. According to her, no community in Ehugbo celebrates the festival or eats the new yam until the Priest performs the rituals associated with the celebration of indigenous specie of yam called Akiri.

Great celebration

“The celebration of the new yam festival by Eleri is an occasion of great significance to the people of Ehugbo. It attracts people from all parts of Afikpo and beyond. The people regard it as the greatest feast of their land. “On the eve of the Eke market day, the young maidens (girls) of Enohia Nkalu, aged between 7 and 20 years troop to the bush where they spend the night at a deity called Imo,practicing songs and dances associated with the celebration. About 11 am to 12 noon on the fateful day, the girls herald their coming from Imo with a melodious song rendered in voices akin to heavenly bodies. “The girls dance round a well-mapped out ring in the centre of the playground, Ogo. They usually render seven different songs. The most interesting aspect is the rendition of a song inviting Eleri to come and show why he is called Eleri. The climax is the dancing of Eleri himself in which he demonstrates in dancing the answers to every question asked him in a song. “At the end of the last dance in the seventh song, he throws into the ring, many pieces of kolanuts which the maidens pick for presentation to their parents and well-wishers. Immediately after throwing in the kolanuts, Eleri races quickly to his Obu along two rows of ablebodied young men who line up the route to Obu. These men will bear him up in case he falls down in the event of his race to Obu. Thereafter, the feasting, which consists mainly of pounded yam ( utara ji ) with sumptuous Ohe sarara, and assorted drinks, are served to everyone around.

“Whenever festival especially Ike ji is mentioned what comes to the mind of everyone is masculinity and gender segregation. However, Ikeji festival in Afikpo is not an all male affair as the role the women play even surpass that played by the men even though they are unsung. The unsung role of women in ikeji festival can be divided into three; the pre-ikeji roles, the ikeji roles and the post ikeji roles,” she stated.

Enormous effort

The Chairman, Planning Committee of the event, Dr. Arua Oko, said the lecture series as a platform was intended to re-enact the cultural heritage of the people and strengthen the bod between Afikpo and Edda “It was not enough to eat, drink and dance without creating room for a critical reflection and reassessment of our deep past, hence the intellectualization of the ikeji cultural festival,” he stated. He described Ikeji as a cultural festivals that has been present in the lives of the people of Afikpo and Edda, adding that it marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new year. “It is a ritualized cultural performance that reproduces our system of beliefs and mythol ogy. It is a veritable institution whereby the bonds between members of our society are maintained, regenerated and reproduced,” he said.

Core values

In his remarks, the member representing Afikpo North/Afikpo South federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Iduma Igariwey, said the core utility of the lecture series, is to document, educate and deepen the knowledge of Afikpo and Edda people in appreciation of their culture which he said was necessary for the present and future development of the people. “It is also aimed at highlighting the common bond, identity and heritage of the people of Edda and Ehugbo,” he said. He noted that the book titled “the bond: a study of intergroup relations between the people of Ehugbo and Edda” which was presented during the event and which he also contributed, was aimed at documenting the culture of the two clans. He commended the organizers of the event and called for preservation of the Ikeji festival.

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