Ikem-Ivite, an agrarian community in Anambra-east local government area of the state recently celebrated her new yam festival in a grand style. OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU was there and reports.
Indeed, New Yam festival remains the topmost celebration among the Igbo- speaking people of South-eastern Nigeria. It is so because Igbo nation recognises yam as king of crops whose period of cultivation and harvest must be ushered in with offering of thanksgiving and prayers to God, creator of the universe.
The internationally- recognised festivity equally observed by Igbo in the Diaspora including those who reside in Europe, South and North America and Asia, is an annual event known to communities with different names such as Iriji, Ilo nmou, Ifejioku, Igu Aro, Iwaji, and among others. In most communities, it’s usually the duty of a traditional ruler usually called an Igwe or Eze to perform the rite before new yams could be eaten or used for any official purpose by any native or resident of a community. To that extent, it is often regarded as a taboo for yams to be eaten by an Igbo person until this solemn and sacred rite is performed.
However in Ikem-Ivite, Anambra-east local government area, no Igwe dares celebrate this festival until Akajiofor, a traditionally recognised ruler has done that. The community still regard Igwe as a warrant chief. Historically, British imperialists introduced and used warrant chiefs to indirectly govern the Eastern Protectorate due to their republican nature. Upon Nigeria’s independence, governments at all levels retain them as traditional rulers and often certify them after their respective coronations.
The government-recognised traditional ruler or Igwe of Ikem-Ivite is His Royal Highness, Igwe Aaron Uchenna Obiora, while the traditionally-crowned ruler or Eze Akajiofor of Ikem-Ivite is His Royal Majesty, Ideh Ignatius Adireajani. Both exist for different purposes and accord respect to each other as custom demands.
Why celebrate New Yam festival?
Speaking in an interview during his Ilonmo (New Yam festival), Adireajani said, “I am Eze Akajiofor II. I am the original king in Ikem-Ivite. Igwe is under Akajiofor. I am the owner of the whole land. I am the one that crowns Igwe. Akajiofor is the most powerful institution in our community. The tradition empowers Akajiofor to crown or dethrone Igwe accordingly. I rule with other kingmakers. After me, comes Okpala, then Ndichie which include the ancestors. It is followed by Ojiani.”
According to him, Igwe is not hereditary but Akajiofor is hereditary, exclusively reserved to the most elderly or spiritually chosen son of Ihekwuiro family. He further maintained that, “In Ihekwuiro family, it used to be the most elderly man that can ascend the throne of Akajiofor after the demise of one. But later, we found out that it is spiritual. My father had some people above him, but they refused to take over, stressing that they were not chosen by God. My father was ordained by God and he accepted it and led for 60 years before his death.
“After his death, the most senior and other elders in the family rejected the offer to lead us as Akajiofor. I was told that I am the one chosen by God to lead. I tried all I could to turn down the offer, but everywhere I go, I would be informed that I either take it to bless our land or leave it to allow evil to visit us. I had no choice than to accept it even though I am a Christian. That has changed my life and our dear land. That is why I said it is very spiritual. But it is not idolatry.”
He posited that having Akajiofor and Igwe in Ikem-Ivite is why the community and her people are peaceful and prosperous in their various eandavours because they follow laid down rules and regulations inherited from their forefathers. To him, this equally acts as checks and balances because whoever commits evil would be killed by the God of their lands unlike many communities where warrant chiefs empowered by government sometimes engage in abominable acts like land grapping and selling, killings, etc.On New Yam festival, Akajiofor revealed that, “Our people are great farmers. We cultivate yams in quantum. We are also great fishmongers. Our rivers, Ezu is also blessed with oil and gas. You can’t eat or use yam traditionally until I pronounce it free to be eaten in Ikem-Ivite. If not, whoever eats it will die. It is usually performed on Afor market day in the fifth month (of Igbo calendar). It’s a blessed day in our land. I use the occasion to share God’s blessing to all in the form of health, longevity and others. Whatever you desire in life you will gain for participating.
“This is why our sons and daughters from all over the world send in messages. Those who could afford to come return to participate fully. Others who may not due to one thing or another send in greetings (gifts). We also use it to receive guests from our neighbouring communities, friends and associates from all over the world. It takes one full Igbo week, after that, kindreds would cerebrate theirs. Then, Igwe would celebrate his,” he noted. The event which was also attended by Igwe Aaron Uchenna Obiora and other illustrious sons of Ikem-Ivite including visitors from far away, featured cultural displays like Ijo, Nkponani (gunshots), Mgba (wrestling by youth), onya (special dancing by women), and others.
Another royal highness corroborates
Collaborating Akajiofor’s positon, his second in command, Okpala (the eldest), Chief Eziolisa Ekwunife who is 80 years old equally enjoined Igbo to always uphold their cultural heritages as it is not only a means of identity, but gateway to receiving God’s blessings.
“I am his second-in- command. We celebrate yam because it is king of crops. Akajiofor is holding unto our staff of authority. He is empowered by our God to lead us. We are under him and we would keep supporting him as God directs us. This is time for him to pronounce blessings upon us. After this, all farmers would enjoy bounty harvest,” he added.
Contributing, a chief priest and youth, Chukwuma Aneke, argued that a man without knowledge of his culture and traditions would find it difficult to succeed or learn others ways of life.
“New yam festival has nothing to do with idolatry. It is a cultural practice. If you don’t know your culture, you will find it difficult to learn other people’s own culture,” Emeka noted.
Earlier, the traditional ruler of Ikem-Ivite, Igwe Aaron Uchenna Obiora, who confirmed that his New Yam festival would be held in later days, thanked God for bringing bountiful harvest upon their land this season.
He further clarified that the festivity was not idolatry adding that his would end with thanksgiving in the church.
The New Yam festival is usually an annual cultural rite that distinguishes the Igbo nation from other ethnic group in the country.