From Okey Sampson, Umuahia
This year’s New Yam (Iri Ji) festival in Ibeku, Umuahia North Local Government, Abia State, on Monday, August 30, 2021, stood out as a remarkable event. It brought Ibeku Uran people in Akwa Ibom State back to their root in Ibeku Umuahia.
The Crown Prince of Ibeku Uruan, Akwa Ibom State, Michael Ekpo-Umonta, said he had the approval of their clan head, Mbosoko Ibonda, (Obong) Anthony Ekpe Asukwo, to come to Umuahia for the new yam ritual. He said the festival meant so much to them: “We regard yam as the king of crops in our community in Akwa Ibom the way it is regarded in Igbo land.”
He said the solidarity was made possible because of the cultural similarity and age long relationship between the two people dating back to 1781: “We are here to add colour to the event with some masquerades from the palace of our king and cement the bond that holds both people together.
“We came here to join our brothers in Umuahia Ibeku, Abia State, to celebrate this year’s New Yam festival with them. Our traditional ruler was aware and in full support of our coming. He allowed some masquerades from his palace to come with us as a mark of respect and solidarity.
“Uruan people of Ibeku tribe, Uruan-Inyan Akakpo in Ibeku Uruan have common relationship with Ibeku people in Umuahia. The custodian of the Ibeku customs and tradition, Prince Benjamin Apugo, endorsed our participation in the festival.”
The people of Uruan-Inyan Akakpo in Ibeku Uruan had stopped participating in the Ibeku Umuahia new yam feast over the years due to gap in communication. A source said this was the first time the people from Akwa Ibom State were coming with masquerades: “Our brothers from Akwa Ibom State used to visit us during the New Yam festival. But for some years, they’ve not come because from what I heard, they were not communicated with dates of the festival.
“However, this year, the Oparaukwu/Ochiagha Ibeku, Prince BB Apugo, sent one of his sons to officially inform their traditional ruler of the date of the festival. The traditional head of the Uruan clan in return sent a delegation along with masquerades as a mark of respect.”
Tradition demands that before the commencement of the celebration, Apugo would perform the rites including the cutting of the yam into seven places, representing the seven clans of Ibeku.
Like in previous years, Apugo performed this year’s rites at Egwu Ibeku located at Umuajiji, Isieke, the traditional ground of all Ibeku people.
This was preceded by the traditional gunshots and the sounding of the Ikoro (wooden drum) alerting the whole of Ibeku of the commencement of the New Yam festival. After performing the rites, Apugo said Iri Ji Ibeku was an ancient event spanning over 1,500 years:
“It is true that the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic could not allow for people to come out en mass to celebrate this year’s new yam, but I must say I am overwhelmed with joy that we performed the annual traditional rites to herald the commencement of the 2021 new yam festival of Ibeku people.”
He enjoined his people to be peaceful, avoid making trouble and embrace the celebration with all respect it deserved. He also cautioned them to abide by the rules of COVID-19, stressing that the pandemic was still ravaging.
The elder statesman said his joy was extremely high because of the massive support, respect and solidarity from his people and the visitors from Akwa Ibom State who came with their full cultural display.
The Oparaukwu Ibeku maintained that he was enjoying robust relationship with his people because he lives with them, share their problems and assist many of them.
Giving insight to the annual rites he performed at Egwu Ibeku, he said it serves as official permission to every Ibeku man or woman, old and young, to commence the eating of new yam. Apugo added that the tradition he performed at Egwu Ibeku was part of the culture he inherited from his forefathers and that whenever he dies, his son would take over since it is hereditary.
The ceremony featured cultural performances from the Akwa Ibom masquerades and others from Ibeku Umuahia people.