ew Yam Festival is one of the traditional and cultural festivals that Igbo people take seriously, and no full-fledged or mature man in Igbo territory eats new yam until he participates in it as a group or individually. The concept that yam is the “king” of all crops has deep roots in traditional Igbo culture.
To demonstrate its importance, “The New Yam Festival” is held to thank the gods of a plentiful harvest.
The festival begins at the community level, and then well-placed individuals join the queue to celebrate their own with family and friends, kicking off the eating of new yam in the families who participated in the ceremony, regardless of whether or not they have money to celebrate with others.
Traditionally, the festival starts with the King or titled elders of the village ceremonially roasting whole yams, as it is an important occasion in the calendar of Igbo people all over the world.
During this time, the celebrant pours libations to his ancestors and forefathers, as well as participating in some traditional customs such as tossing a portion of the new yam on the ground for the ancestors to consume.
Pieces of the yams are first dedicated to the gods of the land as a token of appreciation to the supreme God for his protection and benevolence in leading them from sowing times to times of abundant harvest. The remaining yam is shared, allowing the community to taste new yam without fear of incurring the gods’ wrath.
Despite the fact that the methods and style of celebration vary from one village to the next, the festival’s key components are the same.
The event traditionally comprises a variety of entertainments and ceremonial, including rites performed by the Monarch (Igwe), or eldest male, and cultural dances performed by Igbo men, women, and children.
It also includes contemporary shows, masquerade dances, and fashion parades, all of which are Igbo cultural practices.
The festival, famous in its glamour, takes place between August and October, is as old as Igbo heritage.
In recent times, the festival not only serves as a platform for calling home sons and daughters who are stationed overseas to renew and reaffirm the bonds of brotherhood, but it also serves to instill a sense of belonging and to make plans for communal development.
Contrary to popular perception, the new yam festival has nothing to do with demonic practices. It is just an Igbo way of thanking God for allowing them to grow enough yams.
How the New Yam Festival came to be (the Mythology)
A catastrophic famine once struck, according to an old Igbo legend. A peculiar king (Eze) of a place called Nri pondered the best course of action.
To him, as was the practice back then, he thought the gods were angry with the land, and what better gift to give the gods other than a sacrifice. Without thinking twice, he gave up his own son as the sacrificial lamb, severed his son’s carcass, and buried the fragments.
Surprisingly, yam tendrils were seen growing in the same spots where the body’s severed parts had been buried. The King of Nri dug up nice huge yams from his son’s burial several months later. He cooked it and found the taste to be way dissimilar (deliciously yummy) to any yam he had ever eaten before.
Hence, it is still believed that this slain son of King of Nri, Ahijoku, as he was fondly called, is the god of yam.
The consuming or dumping of old yams before the festival day is another fascinating and intriguing part of the ceremony.
This is due to the concept that the New Year should begin with delectable new yams rather than the old dried-up ones of the previous year.
The new yam celebration, however unique to communities, can be held in far-flung places such as Europe or America as long as a high chief blesses the yam and Igbo residents provide yam samples, as well as elaborate cultural dances and masquerades.
Although the New Yam Festival is a well-dominant celebration among the Igbo tribe that dwells in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria, it is also a well sort out festival among the tribe in the Middle Belt of the nation, and among other tribes in Nigeria whose stable crop is yam.