Egbara Emmanuel

To the Yala people of Cross river state, celebrating the new yam is thanksgiving to God for good yields and a successful farming season and not idol worshipping.
Some call it Ihi onipipe, or ihi obule, depending on the dialect; it is an annual new yam harvest festival by the Yala people, August 30th is the real day yearly.

The celebration is a cultural- based occasion, binding individual Yala communities together as essentially farmers and dependants on yam.
Ihi onipipe or new yam festival is a cultural feast with deep significance. In some communities, it is always marked with spectacle and pageantry. To the Yala, the day is symbolic of family reunion and the enjoyment of a bountiful harvest after a tedious season of cultivation.

The new yam festival is as old as tradition in Yala but can trace its origin to Wogada (Ebo) Kingdom, the land of brave warriors.

This festival has its unique purpose and aim. It is the formal presentation of a newly cultivated tuber of yam to God Almighty, the ancestors of the land and also thanking God for protection, and also for sustaining the life of the farmers, the indigenes of the land and the farm product (the yam) through a successful season in agriculture.

Yams are the first crop to be harvested and are the most important crop of the Yalas. In some parts of Yala land, 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 (Ogabor). Roasted yams, coupled with red oily sauce may be used in a New Yam Festival ceremony but mostly pounded yam is best suitable.

This is because it is an ancient way of eating a tuber of yam among the Yala people.

Prior to the celebration or what may be referred to as the D-day a traditional offering must be offer, any new yam harvested must not be eaten until the Sacrifice is done, an offering is made on behalf of the people as they pray for renewed life as they eat the new yam.
New yam also shares some similarities with the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are are essentially community harvest festivals.

In the olden days chief priest also offers the yams to gods, 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 in some communities despite the influence of Christianity in the area.

A variety of festivities mark the eating of new yam celebration, some of them include but not limited to Royal Dance and Masquerade Parade.

The colourful festival is a spectacle of exhibited joy, thanks, and community display.

One can ask, why is it that despite the fact that Yala people plant and harvest varieties of crops, why are they given so much priority in celebrating only yam? Providing an answer to this, a titled man, who is the Current Director general for Due diligence and price intelligence Beareu Barrister Alphonsus Ogar Eba, said that the yam is given such priority because it is regarded as the main crop of the farmland. “Yam is the king of the farm land that is why it is being celebrated.

Have you seen us celebrating cocoyam or maize, no, yam is the king of all crops in the farm”.

A shortage of yam supply is a case of genuine distress. For no substitute gives the same sense of satisfaction. This preference for yam and the time and labour necessary for its production are some reasons why yam is a very important Yala food. It was the most serious occupation for the yalas.

It is very important to note that this festival has an important impact in the lives and culture of the Yala people.
Elaborating on the significant, the Chairmanship aspirant Hon.Ogar Declan said that the festival is very important as it help to harness the culture of the Yala.

“It is very significant because it is a celebration that takes place before an annually before any yala person eats yam. It is very important for us to harness our culture, so that our children that are coming up can appreciate the culture that we have, the culture we learnt from our forefathers and tradition of the Yalas”.

The important significance of the special day is to preserve old cultures and traditions that have to do with the ancient practices and to offer the new generation an insight into such practices, so that the culture lives on with the next generation.

However, some believe that this new yam festival is evil. It is seen as another form of worshipping idol.

Clearing the air, Hon.Declan, continued, that the new yam festival is a way of thanking God Almighty and has nothing to do with worshipping gods or any deity.
“New yam festival is only a thanksgiving to God, I also want to use this opportunity to say that it has nothing to do with traditional or devilish thing, it only has to do with thanksgiving, in other word, I can say that it is a thanksgiving day for our people, we are thanking God for giving us the opportunity to cultivate enough yams this year and you know yam is very important food in Yala land.

So we keep thanking God for what he has been doing and asking him to do more for our people”.

However until the last few years, it might be legitimately affirmed that the life of the people was bound up with the supply of yams. It is the staple food of the Yala people.

The new yam festival is celebrated by the Yala people of Northern Cross river as a cultural festival that brings together people of that region during harvesting of the new crops as a way to unite them.

The festival is rich with culture- traditions, local menus, acrobatic masquerades, brilliant parades, fun, dance and ethnic music.

The new yam festival is not limited to the different villages and ethnic groups but can be celebrated in far away countries even in Europe or America. So, as long as there is a high chief to bless the yam and the Yala residents bring yam samples including rich cultural dances and masquerades, the event is accepted.

When a New Yam Festival had been officially celebrated in Yala, each ,, kindred and family can now hold their respective New Yam Festival in different cities.

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