UNIZIK Performs New Yam Rituals 

Raymond Ozoji, Awka

Director, Directorate of Igbo Village and Centre for African civilization (IVACAC), Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Very Rev Fr Prof. Bonachristus Uchenna Umeogu, has advocated for a unifying celebration of New Yam (Iwa Ji) festival in Igboland as a way to internationalize the celebration as a cultural exchange.

Prof Umeogu called on South-East Governors to collaborate with the  Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other Igbo renaissance groups to decide on a day for that celebration and institute events or competitions around the Iwa Ji festival for the five states in the South-East.

Umeogu spoke during the two day new yam festival by Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra state, called Iri Ji UNIZIK and Ezi-na-Ifite Igbo heritage conference, 2018 at the faculty of Arts of the University.  The conference ended in style with a call on all Igbos to do all within their powers to promote Igbo language and culture to save it from going extinct as earlier predicted by the United Nations.

He noted that if governments of the South Eastern states and other Igbo intelligentsia take the challenge, New Yam Festival will be elevated to come at par with other highly esteemed festivals in the other parts of the world.

The Director, Igbo Village and Centre for African Civilisation, UNIZIK, who took the audience to the path of the etymology of yam and its families of dioscorea, described new yam festival as a very important festival in Igboland.

According to him, “New yam festival is the king of all festivals and includes a lot of Igbo cultural things like thanksgiving, kola nut breaking, masquerades performance, theatrical and dance exhibition among others.

The fiery preacher, and internally acclaimed Philosopher who is also the Spiritual Director, Communio Sanctorum  Ministries Awka Anambra state however debunked the insinuation that new yam festival is a pagan activity, arguing that people are no longer bound to give their thanksgiving to ‘ani; or ‘Ifejioku’ but to the God of their religion.

He also established that yam in Igboland is not only used for food, sacrifice and commerce but also used to solve the health needs of mankind, such as blood pressure, regulation of blood sugar level, digestive system and flourish of certain vitamins in the body. He acknowledged the medicinal value of yam ,called on Ndi Igbo to embrace the new yam festival.

Father Umeogu also maintained that IVACAC was established to preserve the order of Igbo spirit amidst the progress of Igbo civilization as well as foster Igboness among the people that think and speak Igbo language and maintain her culture.

He noted, “IVACAC is concerned not only with fostering and preserving Igbo civilization in the world, but also using Igbo spirit  to measure and maintain the order and homogeneity of Igbo civilization amidst the changing and heterogeneity of the Igbo times.”

The leader of the Chinese representatives, who identified himself as Zjang Ifeanyichukwu said Igbo culture is second to none in the contemporary world, revealing that they attended the festival to get acquainted with Igbo heritage, culture and tradition.

“We are living in the age of globalization and we all have same challenges to maintain and uphold our economy, politics and culture. So, people like us believe and identify with Igbo people because they maintain their language and culture very well.

“I am from China and the world is striving to become one in certain areas, especially Asian and African countries and aside from that, we all belong to the big family of human race. Every nation has its own unique and special culture but we share certain things in common in the spirit of global unity. I personally like Igbo people’s cultural practices because one’s culture is his identity and prosperity,” says Zjang.

Speaking at the event, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof Joseph Ahaneku said the new yam festival was aimed at deepening the Igbo consciousness against food insecurity since the university community is domiciled in Igboland, describing new yam festival as part of Igbo culture that is sacred.

Prof Ahaneku noted that the festival is a way of showing gratitude to God for a successful planting season before the yam can be consumed by humans, saying that propagation of Igbo values and culture to be in line with African civilization is the mandate of the directorate of IVACAC, even as he eulogized the Director of the centre, Prof. Bonachristus Umeogu and his deputy,  Prof. Okodo Ikechukwu for living up to the expectation.

Unizik’s VC said, “What to my mind is of great significance is to identify the philosophy and core values inherent in a people’s culture and to adapt the outward expression of these to contemporary times, to make the culture organic and enable the people to cope with the demands of the ever-changing world”.

Wife of the Vice chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka,  Prof. Gladys Ahaneku on the second day expressed delight that the Igbo language and culture has begun to take its rightful stand within the Igbo communities. Prof. Ahaneku told the directorate of Igbo Village & Centre for African Civilization (IVACAC), to keep up its good work in ensuring that the igbo culture does not fizzle out.    While pointing out that cleanliness was an igbo identity, he admonished the igbo people to ensure that their surroundings are kept clean.

In the major lecture, Prof. Cecilia Eme described unity as a trade mark of the Igbo society and Africa at large and called on the Igbo communities to lend their support to the culture for it to stand the test of time.

She also thanked the management of Nnamdi Azikiwe university Awka,  for providing such platform to elucidate on Igbo rich culture. She advised that Igbo intellectuals and South East Governors should make the New Yam festival an interesting international festival.

Delivering a lecture titled Igbo Language Amidst Civilization, The Way Forward, a lecturer in the department of Igbo, African & Asian Studies, Dr. Chinweude Ugochukwu, stated that the wind of globalization is currently blowing off some languages and lamented that globalization is on the verge of eroding the Igbo language. He expressed sadness that if care was not taken, the Igbo language would wane, even as he encouraged the Igbo society to strive and ensure that their language is retained.

In his talk on the significance of iri ji, Dr. Austin Ofodile  described the new yam festival as a pedestal, through which communities sit and discuss some problems affecting them.

Others who attended the event include the traditional ruler of Okpuno, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Sunday Okafor; the traditional ruler of Awka, Obi Gibson Nwosu and their Dunukofia counterpart, Igwe Chukwuemeka Ilouno; His Royal Highness Igwe Sir Bennett Emeka of Umueri kingdom and over 40 students’ traditional rulers, Ndi Nze na Ozo from various tertiary institutions in the south east.

Also in attendance were a Professor of General surgery, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching hospital, Ile-Ife, Ezeji Elugwaraonu Augustine Agbakwuru; a College Librarian, Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, Chief Cliff Nwogwugwu; Executive President, African Export-Import Bank, Cairo Egypt, Prof. B.O Oramah; Chief Ramas Okoye Azuzu; the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ahaneku; DVCs academics and administration, Profs Charles Esimone and Carol Umeobi among others.

One of the guest speakers at the event a professor of general Surgery, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife, Ezeji Elugwaraonu Augustine Agbakwuru, said that New yam festival is the best cultural practice of Igbo nation, stating that IVACAC in UNIZIK is taking the bull by the horn in preserving Igbo culture and identity.

“It is a time of harvest and thanksgiving to God for leading us successfully through the planting  season. Nowadays, it’s not everybody that engages in farming, therefore, new yam festival is symbolic in the sense that it represents general thanksgiving in Igbo land, despite what one does for a living.

“At OAU, we formed a group called ‘Umunna’. The group was formed by all Igbo lecturers at the institution. There, we do new yam festival bi-annually. So, it is very significant because it will make the younger ones understand the fact that Igbos have a culture,” he noted.

To the Acting College Librarian, Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, Ezeji Clifford Ngozichi Nwaogwugwu, (Ezeji Nnanyelugo of Itu, Ezinihitte, Mbaise in Imo state) yam is an important staple crop that deserves respect in Igbo land.

To him, “It is important that Igbos remain steadfast in the new yam festival because yam is the king of all staple foods. When I was a student and even now that I am working, I cultivate yam, knowing its importance, especially now that the economy is bad.

“Anybody that prioritises farming will not find it difficult to train his children. It is unfortunate that children of nowadays do not want to toe the path of farming. They all want manner to fall from heaven again, thinking that farming is meant for uneducated and that is why we still import yam from the North for Igbo survival. So, I call on the management of other tertiary institutions in Nigeria to emulate this practice of new yam festival in their various institutions as demonstrated today by UNIZIK”

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