Southern Nigeria and the Culture of New Yam Festival

By Kalu Uma Kalu

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“In recent times this cultural celebration has began to attract national and international attention. It is surely a cultural celebration everyone should experience both Igbos and non-Igbos.

New Yam Festival is an age long cultural practice common among Igbo speaking tribe of Nigeria, the Igbo’s from South East Nigeria cuts across 5 states and all the Igbo speaking people of Nigeria including middle belt and some South west Nigerian communities like Iwaro Oka in Ondo state, celebrates New yam festival which is one of the most prominent annual celebrations in Igbo land.

It began in Arochukwu community several centuries ago. Each year every genuine indigene of the Igbo tribe travel from far and wide down to South east Nigeria to celebrate such rich cultural heritage.

In the ancient days the new yam festival must be celebrated before any adult of Igbo origin will eat a new yam. This means the event must precede the eating of any new yam.

The traditional name for Igbo new yam festival is known as “IRI JI.” which translates “Eating new yam.”

The idea of four market days (Eke, Orie, Afor, Nkwo) that make up the four days of the week in Igbo culture emanated from the four days that our igbo ancestors typically celebrated the new yam festival.

Eke market day is the first day of the new yam celebration and it is referred to as the first day of the week in Igbo culture. It is the day the new yams to be used for the new yam celebration are gathered. The Eke market day is expected to be filled with people who meet to buy and sell things, for example, kola-nuts, new yams, rice, cocks, goats, fishes and host of other neighborhood sauces.

Orie Market day is the second day of the new yam celebration and furthermore the second day of the week in Igbo culture. It is the day of the new yam celebration proper. Palm wine tappers make enormous deals as palm wine is unreservedly purchased, shared, and enjoyed by loved ones both male and female.

Orie day of the new yam celebration is a day of incredible cheerfulness, animals such as, goats and chicken are killed depending on the wealth capacity of the family. The new yams are prepared in different forms (roasted, cooked as pottage, pounded, broiled, fried and so on) drinking, moving, and socialization is allowed on the said day in Igboland. Masquerades parade round the villages in groups or in company of people requesting yams and cash from individuals on this day.
Women appear beautiful and colourful on that day wearing beautiful removable local tattoos. During the evening, the moonlight play (Egwu Onwa) which implies “the moon light dance” happens at the group square and endures till sunrise.

Afor market day is the third day of the new yam festival and the third day of the week in Igbo culture. On this day, certain sacred parts (such as: blood, head, intestines etc) of the animals killed on Orie day are brought to the house of the eldest surviving male member of every clan for prayers, preparation and consumption by all members of the clan. Prayers are offered to the ancestors and gods of the land for cleansing and also prayers are made for journey mercies for those people travelling back to their base.

Nkwo market day is the last day of the new yam celebration and the last day of the week in Igbo culture. On this day, the sculpture that represent the images of the ancestors are returned back to the traditional houses of prayer. It is additionally the day all Igbos who returned home (Igbo arrive) for the new yam celebration are permitted to go back to their places of residence

It is equally a time and a great occasion to meet with family and friends and to be truthful, the crowd is always massive to behold. Some people even meet their spouse in the new yam festival. In recent times this cultural celebration has began to attract national and international attention. It is surely a cultural celebration everyone should experience both igbos and non-igbos. This culture has brought unity and oneness among the Igbos and Nigeria at large. It has aided marriages because people come from far and wide and meet and sometimes it ends in marriage, it has gone a very long way to reduce communal crisis in Igboland. It also promotes tourism and culture in Igbo and in Nigeria as a whole.


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