And Igbo community insists that yam remains the king of farm crops

The people of Ibeku in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia state, on August 25, rolled out the drums to celebrate this year’s New Yam Festival, with a call on Ndigbo not to abandon their customs and traditions, reports MIKE UBANI.

Sunday,August 25, 2019, was a memorable day for the people of Ibeku in Umuahia NorthLocal Government Area of Abia state. Shortlyafter sunrise, several hundreds of ecstatic youths from the area, children, menand women poured into the streets of the state capital to celebrate this year’sNew Yam Festival.

Amid thevociferous singing and esoteric dancing, the celebrants expressed profoundgratitude to God and their ancestors for seeing them through the famine season,and bringing them to the period of abundant supply of food symbolized by the harvestingand eating of the new yam.

Undoubtedly,many festivals exist in Ibekuland – which houses Umuahia, the statecapital. But the new yam festivalappears to be the most prominent apparently due to the importance attached toyam not only in Ibekuland, but also in the entire Igboland.

Indeed, inIgboland, yam is regarded as the king of all farm crops. Whereas women plant crops such as cocoyam,maize, okro, and pepper, yam is a man’s crop. It is accorded respect amounting to adulation.

According tothe authors of Ibeku in Igbo History, “apartfrom demonstrating his prowess in war, an Ibeku man was not fully recognized bypeople until he married a wife or wives; built his own home, and acquired alarge yam barn where he tied rows and rows of yams which he proudly exhibitedand advertised to his visitors.

“And themore yams a man had in his barn, the higher his status in the society. In Ibekuland, and indeed, the entireIgboland, yam titles such as “Ezeji” (king of yams), “Nnaji” (father of yams),were created to encourage the planting of yams.”

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The time was9.30 a.m. Prince Benjamin Benedict Apugo,the Ochiagha Ibeku (war commander of Ibekuland), and custodian of the people’sculture and tradition, arrived ‘Egwu Ibeku’, in Umuajiji, in Isieke-Ibeku, in acavalcade of limousine.

‘Egwu Ibeku’ is the venue of the annual ‘Iriji Ibeku’ (New Yam Festival). It was theliving and burial place of Ibeku Ukwu, the founder of Ibeku ancient kingdom. The “Egwu Ibeku’ also houses all the shrinesof the people; the legendary wooden ‘Ikoro,’ drum which is sounded when somethinggrave happens in the town. It also announcesthe end of the farming season, and the commencement of the celebration of NewYam Festival.

“Only a reputableand bona-fide son of Ibekuland is allowed to enter ‘Egwu Ibeku’ and the ‘Ikorohouse’ said Prince Apugo, as he beat the woodoen Ikoro drum with gusto.

He hadearlier performed all the traditional rites necessary to herald the celebrationof the New Yam Festival, and most importantly, the eating of the new yam.

“You have toperform the traditional rites before you bring the new yam into your compound,not to talk of eating it,” he said.

According tohim, the celebration of New Yam Festival in Ibekuland has a history spanningover 1,500 years.

He explainedthat in the olden days, it was mandatory and customary for Ibeku warriors tocome to his family house to receive blessings from his forebears before goingto battle, adding that on each occasion, the warriors come backvictorious.

Againstthis backdrop, the performance of the traditional rites as well as the title of‘Ochiagha Ibeku’ is vested in his family.

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“You can seethat my name is ‘Ochiagha Ibeku.’ Thetitle was not given to me by any traditional ruler; rather it is a familyinheritance. I also inherited the right to perform the traditional rites toherald the New Yam Festival, hence I also bear title of ‘Oparaukwu Ibeku’[(first son of Ibekuland).

He expresseddisappointment that Christianity seem to have eroded some Igbo customs andtraditions, stressing that no society can make meaningful and impactful achievementwithout observing and sustaining its customs and traditions, one of which is thecultivation and veneration of yam.

He appealedto Ndigbo to emulate the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani, who according to him havegiven their customs and traditions pride of place.

“Each time Iwatch the television, I see the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani celebrating andpromoting their culture. The Durbarwhich we watch on television is part of the culture of our Northern brothers. Also, the Yoruba don’t joke with their ownculture, hence the numerous Yoruba festivals you watch on television.

“So, whilewill the Igbo demean its culture and tradition on the altar of Christianity? For me. Christianity begins and ends with respectfor the people’s customs and traditions.

On whetherhe is satisfied with thelevel of participation of Ndigbo in agriculture, hesaid:-

”Inanswering this question, I want to use Abia state where I come from as anexample. There is nothing likeagriculture in Abia state. The governorhere doesn’t even know the meaning of agriculture.

“Both theNorth and the West have embarked on agriculture to boost their regionaleconomies. For them, they understandthat agriculture can offer jobs to thousands of their people, especially theyouths.

“But here inIgboland, especially in Abia state, nobody cares about agriculture, whereasagriculture is the cheapest and easiest enterprise one can embark upon.

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“If you embark on agricultural pursuits fromUmuahia Ibeku to Arochukwu, you will have enough food crops to feed the wholeof Nigeria, but that is not happening because our people have no regard foragriculture.”

He wascritical of Igbos who celebrates New Yam Festival abroad, saying that “thosepeople are not Igbos.”

According toHigh Chief Emmanuel Ejikeme Emmanuel Uwaezuoke, culture and tradition inIgboland, predates Christianity, “and, therefore, our people should allow eachof them to exist side-by-side.”

“If you go to Israel where Jesus Christ wasborn, you can see the traditionalists living happily with Christians, No onecriticizes each other. But if you cometo Igboland, some people have abandoned their cultures in preference toChristianity. For me, that is not good for the healthy development of oursociety.”

Apparentlyto demonstrate their continued commitment to the sustenance of the customs and traditionsof Ibekuland, the singing and dancing on the streets of the city continued tillnate in the night, especially around the ‘Egwu Ibeku’ situated along Bende-UmuahiaRoad.

It was a daythat several heaps of yams were cooked by Ibeku women to entertain theindegenes and their visitors – A day of merrymaking- a day of singing andaccording to Prince Apugo, , a day to demonstrate that “yam is the king of thefood crops in Igboland.”