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CULTURAL FESTIVALS IN AFRICA: NIGERIA

NEW YAM FESTIVAL OF THE IGBO

The New Yam Festival is otherwise known as the “Iri ji”, Iwaji or Ike ji (depending on dialect) is synonymous to the South-Eastern people of Nigeria, as well as Ghana and several other West African Countries. The Iri ji is an eventful annual Cultural festival celebrated by the Igbo people usually around August and September.

Iri ji (otherwise known as “New Yam eating) symbolizes the climax of the harvest season and marking the end of a farm work cycle. The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as primarily agrarian and dependent on Yam.

THE TRADITION

Yams of all the farm crops occupy a prominent place among the Igbos in South-Eastern Nigeria.  And as such the New Yam Festival is a celebration depicting the position of Yam in the socio-cultural life of Igbo people. The evening before the day of the festival, all old yams in the Yam’s barn (from the previous year’s crop) are either consumed or discarded. This is because it is believed that the New Year must begin with tasty, fresh yams instead of the old dried-up crops of the previous year. On the day of the festival, only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce.

The duration of the festival lasts between a day in some communities to a whole week in others across the region. The activities marking the celebration include a variety of entertainments and ceremonies, including the performance of rites by the Igwe (King), the eldest man or chief priest, wrestling matches by the young Igbo men, dances by the women and children. It is a show of unique Igbo cultural activities in the form of contemporary plays, masquerade dances, and fashion parades.

THE CEREMONY

The festival usually commenced with the Igwe or chief priest offering yams to the gods and ancestors as an expression of gratitude for the protection throughout the farming period as well as leading the people to a period of a bountiful harvest. After the prayers of thanksgiving to God, the Igwe, chief priest or the eldest man eat the roasted yam first by their position as intermediaries between the gods of the land and the community. The yam after that distributed to the people. The yams are usually eaten with the traditional local sauce of fresh red palm oil.

In Ghana, a similar event is also held at the same time of the year. Ghanaians call theirs “Homowo” or “To Hoot at Hunger” Festival, the people hope for a good harvest so no famine will hit the people in the coming year.

The harvest of yam and the celebration of the God of the land through the New Yam festival is an epitome of the people’s religious belief in the supreme deity. The coming of the new moon in August marks the preparation of the “Iri ji ohu” festival, but the time and mode of the preparation differ from community to community. The colorful festival is a visual spectacle of coherence, of dance, of joy and feasting, an annual display for community members, to mark the end of the cultivation season, a festival where the people express their gratitude to those that helped them reap a bountiful harvest.

REFERENCES

  1. Yam festival. Retrieved 24-10-2016. Archived.
  2. Daniels, Ugo. African Loft. 06-11-2007. Iwa ji ofu (New Yam Festival) In Igboland. Retrieved 24-10-2016.
  3. Onwutalobi, Anthony – Claret. “New Yam Festival – The Official Nnewi City Portal; www.nnewi.info. Retrieved 24-10-2016
  4. Omenuwa, Onyema. The Week 22-11-2007. Republished by Philip Emeagwali. Igbo Festival In Honour of New Yam. Retrieved . 24-10-2016
  5. The Maiden New Yam Festival (Okuka Iri ji ndi Igbo) at Igbo Ukwu.nacd.gov.ng Retrieved 24-10-2016.
  6. www.wikipedia
  7. www.google.com

CULTURAL FESTIVALS IN AFRICA: NIGERIA

OSUN OSOGBO FESTIVAL

The Osun Osogbo festival is believed to be the oldest known festival in Nigeria and indeed Africa that still exists in its original forms and practices from inception till date without adulteration or modifications.

By Amogunla Femi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54366959

The history of the Osogbo people is largely surrounded by mystical and spiritual beliefs along the lines of the traditions of the Yorubas in the South-West of Nigeria. History has it that the Osun river goddess was responsible for the founding and establishment of Osogbo town. Some accounts described her as the Oso – Igbo, the queen, and founder of Osogbo town; hence the Osun Osogbo festival, which has been celebrated for about six hundred centuries, was built around the relationship between the river goddess Osun and the first Monarch of Osogbo kingdom, Oba Gbadewolu Laroye.

The Osun Osogbo festival epitomizes the sacredness of the African Cultural traditions when one considers how the people of Osogbo have carefully guarded and preserved the norms of this festival since 1370 when their forefathers bequeathed the age-long tradition to them.

The Osogbo people gather annually every August to celebrate what they called their ‘Founder’s Day’ as a mark of the bond that was established between a river goddess, Osun and Oba Gbadewolu Laroye inside the Osun Grove, where lies the origin of the Osogbo ascendancy and kingship institution, since over six centuries ago.

The event is perhaps the grandest and colorful festival organized at the ‘Osun’ sacred groves in Osogbo. It draws tens and thousands of believers and tourists from both within and outside Nigeria. The custodian and priestess of this grove is a German-born devotee of the Osun deity, named Susan Wenger in her early eighties, and popularly called “Aduni Olorisa” or “Iya Osun” by the believers. The Osun devotees dress traditionally in white cloths during the period of the festival and hold the belief that the river goddess brings divine favor and has healing and fertility powers.

Despite the proximity of the forest to human habitation, the grove is traditionally maintained and protected by the indigenous people using the myths and belief system. This prevents any form of encroachment regarded as blasphemous and offensive to the gods and the goddess. Osun Grove first gained recognition by UNESCO in 2005 as a World Heritage Site and this was linked to the consistencies the festival has enjoyed over the years along with the protection of the values of the Grove by the Osun people.

Justifying the recognition of the Site by UNESCO, Oluremi Funso Adebayo, Co-Coordinator of National Museum stated, ‘the reason why UNESCO recognized this site, inclusive of the festival is because of the authenticity that is involved. It is the only festival that since 1370AD has remained what it was originally despite modernity; there has not been any adulteration; everything has been in its original state and structures that were put in the place that forms the foundation of Osun Osogbo kingdom are still in existence in the grove.

The two weeks long festivals usually commence with traditional cleansing of the town called “Iwopopo”. This is followed by the lighting of a Five hundred-year-old sixteen points lamb called “Olojomerindinlogun” three days later. The lighting is followed by “Ibiroriade”, an assemblage of the crowns of the past rulers (Ataojas) for blessings rite led by the Ataoja, the ruler and votary maid (Arugba) propelled by Yeye Osun, and a committee of priestesses. The Arugba bore the people age-long prayers to the grove in a calabash of effigy which can only be carried by a virgin signifying purity.

The osun Osogbo festival having gained international recognition makes it about the best time to see people of different races and coming from different continents to parade the streets of Osogbo in their different colors. The period of the festival is usually characterized by a procession, dance, art exhibition, and colorful carnivals.

References:

  1. National Institute for Cultural Orientation, 2016
  2. Adebayo, Oluremi F., National Museum, 2007
  3. Ogunfuyi, Kunle, Nigeria: Osun Osogbo – Honoring the river goddess, This Day, Sept 6, 2008
  4. http://www.allconferences.com/conferences/2006/20060724103901
  5. http://www.osogbocity.com/
  6. http://www.expertscolumn.com/content/osun-osogbo-festival