From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
The melodious tunes from Uhie and Ogene, the traditional wooden and metal gongs, sounded and reverberated at the arena beautifully adorned to depict the mood of the people.
The elders and traditional chiefs were radiating in their full regalia.
The Ichies, Obas and Nze na Ozos were already seated in their designated positions while the women, Iyom, the highest decision making body of women folk were not left out.
Soon the atmosphere was charged as young men dressed in local regalia, many wearing war clothes, showcasing their strength took positions as they waited for the commencement of the 2016 wrestling competition, (Mgba) as part of activities marking the 2016 Ili Ji (New Yam festival) of Nri ancient kingdom.
And shortly, the bell rang, signaling the entrance of the Eze Nri, followed by a loud voice, announcing the arrival of the custodian of Igbo culture and civilization, Eze Obidiegwu Onyesoh, Nrienwelani II, to the venue of the 2016 Iwa Ji festival.
Before the entrance of His Majesty, the world had gathered at the Obi Eze, the kings chambers, to be part of the event which is usually an annual event that ushers in a new Igbo calendar and the consumption of new yams across the Igbo land.
It was the 1017th Ili ji Ndigbo ceremony happening in the 2016 AD.
The 2016 festival, according to Eze Onyesoh, was captured in the story of how an Igbo king sacrificed his son before yam could be introduced into the Igbo agricultural circle and Ifejioku.
The Eze Nri went down memory lane to recount how yam was discovered and introduced into Igbo agricultural circle which was hitherto not in the circle.
He said the festival derived its essence from that sacrifice made by Nri when he sacrificed his son in order to get yam which he said has not been contested by most writers and scholars in Igbo history.
According to him, the late Prof Chinua Achebe in his Ifejioku lecture of 2009 in Owerri captured the event thus: “The King who sacrificed his son so that Ndigbo would have yam, that would halt the threat of famine in Igbo land then is Nri, this is clarified in Prof Elizabeth Isichie’s book.”
Eze Onyesoh pointed out that the Igbo culture has been politicized unlike in the 1930s when elders told the truth as it was handed over to them by their forbearers.
He said the festival comes with the proclamation of Igbo lunar calendar from year to year, which he said is exclusively the prerogative of Eze Nri, being the custodian of Igbo culture and tradition and keeper of Ofo Ndigbo in the ancestral home land of the Igbo.
Before the grand ceremony of Onwasato, Nriekunie age grade, an emerging age group in Nri, had early in the morning observed the sacred festival through pouring of libation to the ancestors in a special prayer session led by the Chairman of Nriekunie Age Grade, Obumneme Odenigbo.
Speaking during the festival, Odenigbo said the youths must play active role in the revival of the Igbo culture and tradition, adding that without aggressive revival of these norms, the Igbo Language and customs may go into extinction in no distant time.
He said the age grade when fully operational would work with relevant groups across Igbo land towards reviving the dying Igbo culture and tradition which he said were panacea to rediscovering Igbo identity in any part of the world.
Oriental News gathered that during the period, Eze Nri proclaims and ushers in the beginning of Igbo planting season by re-enacting a ritual.
It was said that Chukwu, Eze Nri sacrificed his first son and yam sprout from his grave, grew and matured in three Igbo weeks as Chukwu directed him to use it and feed his children (Ndigbo).
The crop, it was said, ritualized as Ifejioku, yam medicine or god of yam of Nri and in obedience to directive, Eze Nri re-enacts this order by holding communion of breaking the yam for all Igbos into good health till the next planting season.
In his speech, the President General of Nri Progress Union, NPU, Frank Oraeki, said that the 2016 new yam festival was the best in recent times, adding that the community celebrated many good things aside the yam.
“On this day presented by tradition and law of Nri town, marked by ceremony, we celebrate the durable wisdom of our tradition and recall the deep commitment that unites our town. As we celebrate this Onwasato festival, let us together see it as a new beginning and a renewal of our commitment to Nri town and invocation of Nri spirit of being our brothers’ keepers,” he said.
Mr Oraeki commended the organizers of this year’s event for choosing the right things at the right time, saying that “being mindful of sacrifices born by our ancestors, let us rekindle that hopes and dreams and values that transcend any man and generation. Therefore, we must remain faithful to the ideals of our forbearers.”
He used the occasion to urge the people of Nri ancient kingdom to put an end the various incipient divisive politics which he said had been the bane of the community and called for collective efforts to unite the community and bring it back to her pride of place.
His words: “From today, I urge everybody to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our town, Nri. It is time for us to set aside childish things to reaffirm our enduring spirit.”
Also the Chairman of the 2016 Onwasato Organizing Committee, Chief Kelvin Tabansi expressed satisfaction with the success of the festival, attributing it to proper planning and free hand to put everything in place by both the Eze Nri and the leadership of the community.
In her goodwill message to the Eze Nri and the entire kingdom, Senator Uche Ekwunife commended the ancient kingdom for maintaining the Igbo culture and tradition which she said would become a basis for proper training of children in future.
Senator Ekwunife who also hails from the town reminded them of the need to remain united as a people with common purpose as well as to live in peace, mutual understanding and develop within themselves.
She used the new yam festival to call for the abolition of some harmful cultural practices that are against the dignity of women, urging the women to rise up and play their own part in the sustenance of Igbo culture and tradition.
“The occasion of this year’s new yam festival has presented to us once again an avenue to dialogue as a people with common interest and ancestry. As Ndigbo, we must rise above primordial sentiments to look inward and rediscover where we got it wrong. It is therefore an opportunity for us to go back to the basics and uphold the tenets and values for which our ancestors led successful and long life. If we must forge ahead, we must amend some of the outdated harmful cultural practices that tend to harm the women most and to do that, Ndigbo must embrace peace and unity,” she said.
At dusk young men demonstrated their strength through wrestling competition where Urorji village defeated Obeagu village to win the coveted trophy before Eze Nri danced to Uhie music, signaling the end of the festival before he retired to his chambers where he is expected to commune with the gods for the rest of the period.