Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Early morning rain showers heralded this year’s new yam festival of the Awka-Etiti community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Regardless, various people from the seven village quarters of the community defied the rain, which they termed “showers of blessing” and thronged the palace of Igwe Michael Ezeudenna (Okagbado) for the ceremony.
Traditional 21-gun salute rent the air earlier in the morning signalling that a new season of harvest had dawned on the people and a time to thank God for the bountiful harvest through the yam widely acclaimed as the king of all crops in Igbo land.
The traditional Ushie music set the tone for the cultural event as various Ndichies sauntered into the palace in their flowing white robes. As the Igwe, wife and some cabinet chiefs made the first grand outing into the arena; there was loud ovation and exchange of friendly banters among the crowd.
An Anglican priest, Rev. Ajaefobi who led members of his parish to pay homage to the Igwe was asked to lead in the opening prayers. He thanked God on behalf of the Awka-Etiti people. The cleric described the new yam festival as a mark of God’s faithfulness on his people.
Breaking the kolanut, Igwe Okagbado called on the Almighty God to bless the people across the four Igbo market days of Nkwo, Eke, Orie and Afor so that there would be all round celebration of goodness and bounties among the people.
At the new yam festival proper, freshly roasted tubers of yams were presented to the Igwe’s table accompanied by a rich sauce of oil bean (Ukpaka) with red oil. The traditional ruler prayed over the feast again and broke the yams before dipping his hand into the sauce taking a mouthful of the delicacy.
Thereafter, representatives from the villages of Nkolofia, Umunneocha, Ejighinnandu, Iruowelle, Umudunu, Nnaba and Ogunzelle all proceeded to the Igwe’s table to take on behalf of their villages. Igwe Okagbado said this year was better than the previous and expressed optimism that things would continue to get better. He opined that agriculture and education for self-reliance were the two ways to go for the emancipation of the Igbo:
“In the face of the economic hardship we face in the country today, agriculture is the way forward but it is also a fact that those into farming encounter different challenges. If the government invests more in education, many people will be self-reliant. The scientists can build drones while those in information technology can advance our communication process. They can stay in Nigeria and provide information technology solutions in America. I want the Igbo man to be so resourceful that they can be sought after anywhere they are.”
The monarch stated that the Igbo nation could be the Japan of Nigeria noting that Japan has no natural resources but uses its intellect to develop various machines. He urged the Igbo to be the best in whatever they do, disclosing that his being a traditional ruler does not prevent him from practicing his profession as an engineer who specialized in electric power transmission.
The Ikenga Awka Etiti, Chief Jasper Okpalafuluaku, said the commencement of eating the new yam meant that old yams have finished in the barn. He disclosed that before now, people were forbidden from eating new yam even when offered in social outings unless the traditional ruler had performed the new yam festival rites.
He described Igwe Okagbado as a knowledgeable and an indefatigable leader. He disclosed that his village, Ejighinandu, Amaeke kindred will proceed immediately to mark their own new yam festival immediately the Igwe drew the occasion to a close.
He also prayed for abundance and surplus wealth for the people as stated in Psalm 144 in the Holy Bible, asking God to double their efforts in the coming years. He enjoined more people to embrace agriculture so as to engender food security in the society.
Ichie Ozurigbo Awka-Etiti, Chief Barth Eli, said people without culture were doomed, noting that such cultures and traditions were vital because they put the community in check against certain excesses. He noted that many people now fear going against the ethics and cultures of their communities because of the consequences, a trend he acknowledged has helped in bringing sanity into the Igbo society.
Traditionalists from the community were not left out in the celebration as the Otu Odinani cultural organisation group led by their chairman, Onyeka Ezeaku, presented a live ram to the traditional ruler. He told Daily Sun that body was out to promote the ancient cultures of their forefathers. He said the advent of Christianity presented a scenario where many traditions of the old in Igbo land were being eroded but vowed that the Otu Odinani would not allow such downward slide anymore.
The women wing of Awka-Etiti Improvement Union was not left out one bit. Led by its president, Dorothy Agbanyim, they also paid homage to the Igwe where they prayed for the Igwe to enjoy good health and longevity so that members of the community would continue to relish his leadership.
The Owelle Awka-Etiti and chairman of the community’s new yam competition, Chief Inno Anoliefo, disclosed that the competition would form the highlights of the Afia Olu Festival coming up soon. He said prizes would be given to those who presented the highest sizes of yams planted and harvested from the community.
The Catholic mission-owned hospital in the community, led by Rev. Fr Fabian Emeaso, provided health talks and free medical checks at the event.