Magnus Eze, Enugu
Ihajioku simply means New Yam festival in some parts of Enugu state. Last Saturday, the ancient Igbo cultural practice pulled the high and mighty to the sleepy community of Ezema Olo in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu state, when the Chairman of the state’s traditional rulers’ council, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu staged a carnival in honour of the new yam.
The array of dignitaries, especially traditional rulers at the event, from various parts of the state, practically ignored the bad and snaky road leading to the Awene, Ezema Olo to honour Agubuzu, a former Nigerian ambassador and one of the most respected monarchs in Igboland.
The event began with a holy mass at Christ the King Parish Catholic Church, Ezema Olo before the attention shifted to the arena at the Onuigba palace, Awene village.
At the arena, there was the royal appearance of Igwe Agubuzu; a lover of culture and tradition; he was ushered in with Ufie Ndi Ozor, a special traditional music for titled people played with wooden drums. He took spectacular dance steps to the admiration of the crowd who cheered him with shouts of “Igweee” before sitting on his royal seat.
The programme was well choreographed; immediately the history of the Ihajioku was presented, the cutting and eating of roasted new yam by the Igwe took place. Once Igwe Agubuzu dipped a piece of yam in the oily sauce on display at the arena, there was a loud acclaim from the crowd. He then ate the piece of yam, before Ndi Nze N’Ozor, chiefs, cabinet members, town union executives and the invited dignitaries followed suit in eating the new yam.
The celebrant took time to dance round the arena and eventually settled down to make the Ihajioku 2019 proclamation where he challenged Information Communication Technology experts to include Igbo calendar in cell phones to display the four Igbo market days on their screen. He decalred that any person who was able to come up with the app would receive a special traditional award.
The Ogbunechendo of Ezema Olo said: “This proclamation is an offer of a special traditional award to anyone in the field of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to develop an application that can include Igbo week days of Nkwo, Eke, Orie and Afor in cell phones globally, such that when one opens a cell phone, one sees, for example, “Sunday, Nkwo, 27 October”.
Igwe Agubuzu’s pronouncement was indeed novel. Even though the monarch declined to name the award for whoever that would achieve the feat, he told Daily Sun that it was strictly aimed at further promoting Igbo culture.
President General of Ezema Olo Town Union, Chief David Akpu commended the traditional ruler for sustaining the culture and tradition of their people. Like the diplomat he was, he noted that Igwe Agubuzu has continued to make his people proud since he ascended the throne.
Chief Akpu disclosed that farmers in the area had better harvest than the previous year, adding that 2019 had been favourable to the community as they had witnessed less number of deaths: “All these are enough reasons for us to thank God as we did at the Christ the King Parish; we went to God in thanksgiving. Our harvest has been rich; deaths reduced in the community this year. So, we’re thankful to God”.
He dispelled the misconception that New Yam festival was fetish, pointing out that it was a season of good tidings for his Ezema Olo people: “Before the Ihajioku; the Igwe prepared the grounds by sending goodies to various groups and organisations. He gave our road some facelift; took care of the youth and assisted the church; all these things come with the festival”.
However, he lamented that the usual mass homecoming was not witnessed this year because of the hardships in the country but prayed that condition of living improved next year.
One of the guests, Executive Director of Hoo! Haa!!, a Non-Governmental Organisation committed to the promotion of Igbo Language, Mazi Bismarck Oji said the traditional ruler has shown that new yam festival should go beyond mere “yam eating”.
He described the monarch’s proclamation as novel and laudable; adding that it has further portrayed Agubuzu as a man who has dedicated the rest of his life to the promotion of Igbo Language.
According to him, it has introduced a new dimension to the promotion of Igbo Language: “By so doing; the royal father, drawing on his decades of experience as an accomplished diplomat has embarked on the digitisation of the Igbo lunar calendar in particular and Igbo Language generally. It underscores the point that Igbo cultural festivals like Iri Ji should be reorganized to become goal oriented by focusing on specific areas of concern to the Igbo society rather than just occasions for eating, merriment and masquerade displays.”
He then, tasked electronics/computer engineering departments of tertiary institutions in Igboland to key into this initiative to develop, not just the above mentioned app but also other Igbo based apps that can be used both in business and as teaching aids.