This event is important event in the calendar of Igbo people all over the world.
Iri ji in English means yam. The Iri-Ji (new yam) Festival is a time of thanksgiving to the gods for making the farm yields possible and praying for good yields for the next planting season.Iri Ji History:
The most important farm crop in Igboland over the years is the yam. In precolonial times the Uhianjoku was regarded as the goddess of farm productivity exemplified in the yam and cocoyam as the major farm crops. Uhianjoku was worshiped as a deity (a Goddess) and homage was paid to this deity by the elders in appreciation of the role ascribed to her by our ancestors in sustaining farm productivity.
Uhianjoku has presently been modernized as Ahiajoku an acronym for bounty intellectual harvest of the Igbos East of the Niger. Ahiajoku is now celebrated by all Igbos to honour the crop yam which is the mainstay of arable farming activity in Igboland as well as the King of farm crops.
“Iri Ji” is mainly an activity to celebrate the new yam. This has become an important social event in recent times as it is being celebrated like the Kolanut. There is need therefore for an excursion into the ontogeny of the yam crop.Yam is a very important food crop in Igboland. Evidence of this is in the cultural significance attached to New Yam festival “Iri ji” in Igbo land. Emphasis is placed on farming and the cultivation of sufficient food to last until the next food harvest. Special emphasis is especially placed on yam cultivation.
The traditional Igbo man takes pride in showing off his yam barn neatly stacked with yam tubers from top to bottom. It signifies wealth and success. In the days of old, a common question asked by a bride’s father when a young man signifies his intention to marry his daughter is “how big is your yam barn”? A big yam barn means the man is hard-working and can take care of his daughter.
The Iriji festival is celebrated at different times within the various Igbo communities, varying from August until October every year.
The solemn role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man or Eze: traditional ruler – different Igbo communities have different names for their traditional rulers – of the community. It is believed within the traditional communities that their position bestows on them the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. Many traditionalists and title-holders in Igbo land will not taste the new yam until the day that is traditionally set aside for that purpose. At the Iriji festival, only dishes of yam are served. The oldest man or the traditional ruler is normally the first person to eat the new yam and thereafter every other person can eat.
The Iri ji festival is associated by feasting, dancing and merry making. There is also a spectacular display of Masquerades of all shapes and Sizes. They appear in all corners with the highest Intensity of dance and display in the market square to the excitement of the Crowd.
In primordial times, masquerades were believed to be spiritual elements that specially reincarnate into human forms for the purpose of celebrating the new yam festival. It signifies the approval of the gods in the celebration. Thus communities venerate and indeed fear these spirits for their own safety. Uninitiated members of the community are expected to run away from the masquerades on sight or risk being cursed by them with devastating consequences.
Stories are rife within Igbo communities of persons who were cursed by masquerades and suffered terrible diseases.The new yam festival is an event that should be seen by every Igbo son and daughter. It is an epitome of the beauty of Igbo culture. The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers.
A great Site to behold!
Iri Ji Festival Traditions
Yams are the first crop to be harvested in Igboland, and are the most important crop of the region. The New Yam Festival is therefore a celebration depicting the prominence of yam in the social-cultural life of Igbo people. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous year’s crop) are 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.The next day, only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce.Though the style and methods may differ from one community to the next, the essential components that make up the festival remain the same.
In some communities the celebration lasts a whole day, while in many places it may last a week or more. These festivities normally include a variety of entertainments and ceremony, including the performance of rites by the Igwe (King), or the eldest man, and cultural dances by Igbo men, women, and their children. The festival features Igbo cultural activities in the form of contemporary shows, masquerade dances, and fashion parades.
Usually at the beginning of the festival, the yams are offered to gods and ancestors first before distributing them to the villagers. The ritual is performed either by the oldest man in the community or by the king or eminent title holder.
This man also offers the yams to God, Deities and Ancestors by showing gratitude to God for his protection and kindness in leading them from lean periods to the time of bountiful harvest without deaths resulting from hunger.
After the prayer of thanksgiving to god, they eat the first yam because 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. This therefore explains the three aspect of Igbo worldview, that they are Pragmatic, Religious and Appreciative.