Why We Celebrate
New Yam festival in Igboland of Nigeria or among the Igbo and their friends in Diaspora is always marked with pomp and pageantry. The occasion of Iwa Ji and Iri-ji Ohuru or new-yam eating festival is a cultural feast with its deep significance. The individual agrarian communities or subsistence agricultural population groups, have their days for this august occasion during which a range of festivities mark the eating of new yam. To the Igbo, therefore, the day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season. Yam culture is momentous with hoe-knife life to manage the planting and tending of tuberous requirements. Yam farmers in Isu Njaba of Igboland know this well.
Drawing from Nri, the ancestral clan of Igboland, Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani states that “?WA JI” (to break new yam) is observed as a public function on certain appointed days of the year. It is the feast of new yam; the breaking of the yam; and harvest is followed by thanksgiving. An offering is put forward and the people pray for renewed life as they eat the new yam. An offering is made to the spirits of the field with special reference to the presiding deity of the yam crop. In the olden days, fowls offered as sacrifice must be carried to the farm and slain there, with the blood being sprinkled on the farm. Yam is cut into some sizes and thrown to the gods and earth with prayers for protection and benevolence. When the ceremony is completed, everything is taken home; the yams are laid up before the “Alusi” (deity) together with all the farming implements, while the fowls boiled and prepared with yam for soup (ji awii, ji mmiri oku) are eaten at the subsequent feast. Everyone is allowed to partake in this and those who are not immediately around are kept portions of the commensal meal.