New Yam Festival
New Yam Festival
The New Yam festival of the Igbo is an annual harvest festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season in early August. The Iwa ji festival (literally "new-yam eating") is practiced throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana) and other African countries and beyond, symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
Yams are the first crop to be harvested, and are the most important crop of the region. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous year's crop) are consumed or discarded. The next day, only dishes of yam are served, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce.
Traditionally, the role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man in the community or the king (igwe). This man also offers the yams to God, deities and ancestors. It is believed that their position bestows the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. The rituals are meant to express the gratitude of the community to the gods for making the harvest possible, and they are widely followed despite more modern changes due to the influence of Christianity in the area.
The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers. A variety of festivities mark the eating of new yam. Folk dances, masquerades, parades, and parties create an experience that some participants characterize as "art"; the colorful festival is a spectacle of exhibited joy, thanks, and community display.
Palm oil is used to eat the yam. Iwa ji also shares some similarities with the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are based on the cycles of the moon and are essentially community harvest festivals.
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