From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
For the former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and ex-Aviation Minister, Chief Osita Chidoka, Igbo culture is not only good but should also be promoted in all parts of the world.
This was part of his views as he organised the 2016 Obiora ceremony to mark the new yam festival in his Obosi, Anambra State, community recently.
Since his installation as Ike Obosi (the strength of Obosi people), Chidoka has often marked his own Obiora amid funfare annually.
Obiora was a day set aside for Ndi Ichie to celebrate after the traditional ruler of Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iweka, had marked his own Obiora Obosi cultural/new yam festival.
Despite the fact that Chidoka is presently out of public office, this year’s celebration was not different as his country home swarmed with friends, well-wishers, traditional rulers and politicians, who came from far and near to celebrate with him and also pay homage.
Stepping out for the event after the sounding of the big bell to announce his presence amid thunderous ovation, Chidoka went round the various canopies to exchange greetings with the various groups and individuals before he settled down for the business of the day.
At the breaking of kolanuts, prayers were offered in gratitude to God for life, the safety, progress and welfare of Ndi-Anambra and all men of goodwill.
The cutting of the new yam and the symbolic feeding of small children from the dish of roasted yam with fresh palm oil followed immediately.
Speaking as the ceremony progressed, Chidoka called on Ndigbo across the globe to be proud of their cultural heritage and join hands for its promotion as well as the development of Igboland.
He maintained that, “Since our culture is our identity, we must always preserve and improve on it, irrespective of how educated or religious we think we are, because, if we allow our culture to die a natural death, then we shall be wallowing in the desert like sheep without shepherd.”
Giving more insight on the significance of the Obiora festival in the Obosi community, Chidoka explained that new yam festival was called Obiora in Obosi because it is a time of harvest, a time to bring the mind of all together, forgive enemies, remove all forms of violence in the land and regenerate things for the next planting season.
“Every human being has an identity and once you have an identity it means you have a culture. For me, I am an Obosi man, an Igbo man, and a Nigerian and all of these are what I call our various categories and I make sure that, at every time in my life, I try to identify with my own identity and consciousness.
“As an Igbo man, I’m proud to be Igbo and I want to accentuate all that is good about the Igbo people and show all that is positive about the Igbo people. In all our interactions with the rest of the country, I feel a certain generational burden to re-interpret Nigeria to Ndigbo and to interpret Ndigbo to Nigerians because there is a lot of misconceptions about who we are and why we are the way we are, but understanding our history and our culture will enable people appreciate the Igbo people better in Nigeria,” he said.
He also harped on the need to see the new yam festival as a great tourism potential and the need for government to make some adjustments.
His words: “I think that the whole idea of culture and tourism is something that we are taking for granted in the South-East. I think that Anambra State can actually restructure the new yam festival and synchronise it as something that happens simultaneously within the period of one month so that people who visit Anambra during this period will know that they will see masquerades and new yam festival at least for four weekends, beginning from September all through October.
“The state government should work towards establishing that event as a significant portion of our culture. So you know that if you are in Anambra this time, it will be a time to celebrate and visit various towns. Visiting home must not be during burials only or Christmas. When the new yam festival is synchronised, we will have a whole month of celebration in the state. Tourism is a critical factor to every society and the society itself needs to improve to offer something valuable to the tourists.”
Talking about yam and the whole philosophy behind the new yam festival in Igboland, Chidoka pointed out that yam was at the centre of the Igbo economy.
According to him, “the Igbo economy was at one time defined by yam, so every man that is strong is known by the size of his barn. You know the story from Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ and you know the story of how hunger rattled Unoka as the lazy man who did not go out to tend to his farm.
“We remember Okonkwo starting off his life, and the first gift he got was seedlings from his uncle so that he could become a farmer. And when he borrowed those seedlings, there was a great famine in the town and he lost a lot of yam that year.
“Yam has always been a defining ingredient between the rich and the poor, the hard-working and the strong. Yam is so essential in the quality of Igbo life, it was what made the Igbo people industrious very early, because to plant yam, you need to plant at the right time. You need to dig, and put a stick to manage the tendrils to grow well. When it’s time for harvesting, you need to be patient. You have to harvest it gently in order to bring it out from the ground. Any attempt at being fast, lazy or doing it haphazardly would lead to breaking the yam.
“So the process of yam farming by its nature makes the Igbo people have a natural instinct for industriousness, and that is why during the slave trade era, many Igbo were taken to those colonies where they planted tobacco. Tobacco planting is almost like yam planting. It’s something you have to tend very gently.
“So you find that the Igbo slaves were very adept at the plantation system and if you go through Virginia, South Carolina, Igbo slaves abound. This was because they were found to be the people who had the temperament, the industry and the hard-working ability to manage the tobacco crop. In the same way, yam has always been a defining crop for the Igbo. It is our estimation of wealth, and in today’s world, yam still symbolizes our hard work, our industry and our attitude to agriculture.”
Some of the traditional rulers that graced the occasion were Igwe Bob-Vincent Orji of Ezinifite Aguata community, Igwe Peter Ezeamama of Enugu-Umuonyia, Igwe Emmanuel Nnabuife of Isseke community, Igwe S. O. Uche of Ezira and Igwe Jonathan Okpalaezeocha of Akpo community.