Wednesday, 17 August 2016

(IGEDE AGBA) NEW YAM FESTIVAL: AN EMBLEM OF IDENTITY RENEWAL IN IGEDE NATION By Comr. Egbodo Benson


One of the most distressing concomitants is the loss of the sense of self. What makes a person identical through life is the accumulated set of identity he carries with him. Identity is an important concept from the perspective of cultural development and heritage. Renewal of Igede cultural identity emphasizes the need to preserve, protect, restore, revive, observe and honour all forms of inherited cultural diversity which are reasons among others for Igede Agba New Yam Festival.



Participation in Igede Agba New Yam Festival among Igede people is a strong means of identity formation and produces a collective consciousness.

The Igede nation is an ethnic group united by Agba progenitor, culture and language inhabiting the territory of Igedeland and in Diaspora. Igede is the language the people speak, and the name of the ethnic group found majorly in Oju and Obi Local Government Areas of Benue State. A number of them are also found in Gwer and Konshisha Local Government Areas of Benue State; and Cross River and Ebonyi States.

The Igede Nation is a composition of fourteen primeval clans including Ada (Ada), Anchim (Ọchẹchẹ), Oye (Ugbodu), Ụkpa (Amọnọ), Ọbọrụ (Ọgbagba), Owo (Ochim-Aadu), Ibilla (Ugbeyikum), Ainu (Ada-Ainu), Ito (Ada-Oto), Uwokwu (Ololẹga), Idelle (Anyị-Odum), Ịgabwụ, Itakpa and Oju (Ọnyị-Okpogo) at home and in Diaspora.

Though there is trivial dialectical inconsistency exists in a few clans but the slight variance in tongue entwine does not affect the intelligibility of the language. The people collectively commemorate Agba, their ancestral father via the event of New Yam Festival as a way of perpetuating and propagating their heritage.

Education and agriculture are the most viable industries with little business activities in Igedeland hence schooling and farming accommodate the largest population of the youths and adults. The area occupied by Igede people of Oju and Obi situated in the middle belt region of Nigeria.

The area lies between latitude 6.8590 North and longitude 8.3820 East with annual temperature of about 270C (870F), and the Time Zone of WAT (UTC + 1).

Igede Agba New Yam Festival is also called Igede Day or Igede Agba. Whatever the name among the three means the same thing having equal cultural connotations. It is celebrated with background knowledge of its significance which rekindles the heritage, etiquette and strengthens beliefs of the people.

The New Yam Festival is such a highly appealing event to the extent that all other neighborhood tribes do aware and pay visit.

This is a development that shows how dynamic cultures are embraced for change and continuity. It is a forum for the people to unite to contribute in spheres of cultural, educational, economic, social, moral and political developments.

It is celebrated in commemoration of the progenitor of the Igede people just as the celebration of Christmas, Easter Holidays by the Christians and the seven sacred annual feasts of the old covenant in the bible including Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Weeks Pentecost, Trumpet, Days of Atonement and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16: 1-16 and Exodus 23:14-17).

It is in the like of these events that Igede Agba festival is being celebrated. Yam (Iju) is the chief crop in Igedeland identified with a rich Igede cultural identity and heritage. That is why it is being used as the fundamental crop to celebrate Igede Agba.

But why New Yam Festival is highly pronounced in Igede nation even more than other yam producing communities is best explained to mean how the people cherish, treasure, adore and farm the crop as a key staple commodity with a masculine fanfare.

Igede Agba New Yam Festival involves a plethora of complex ideas, thoughts, religions, culture and experience of Igede history and activities over a long period of time. The festival is observed annually on the first Ihigile market day in the Month of September.

The date alternates between the 1st and 5th of September. Consequently, Thursday, Ihigile, September 1st, 2016 is the Igede Agba day of this year. According to Professor Agogo, Ihigile market day is a very good day, a peaceful day when matters are best handled.

Additionally, the Ihigile market day is the most remarkable day among all the rest of the market days (Ihio, Ihiobilla, Ihiejwo, and Ihiokwu) in Igedeland.

This explains why only significant events and proceedings such as community meetings, funeral and burial rites, marriages, child naming among others are held on this day.

Igede Agba is highly respected by the Igede people. In the day in which the communities celebrate the new yam festival, meetings and marriages are withheld as well as funerals. Serving food during the new yam festival is lavished on dishes of yam since the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce. Enough yam is cooked such that no matter how heavily guests and family members may eat, there is always enough at the end of the day. It is in this sense, a season of merriment, generosity, exchange of gifts, awards, displays, commensalism, abundance and hanging out together.

Today, culture diplomats from Igede residing in urban centers celebrate new yam with equal amount of curiosity and zeal to re-engage their life-world and cosmological values. The feast is nicknamed as hoot at Hunger (Hulahu jwimi) festival. Here the people lavishly mock against famine and apparently hope for a good harvest so that no famine will hit the people in the coming year.

There are certain disciplines, rules and procedures for doing the Igede Agba festival. By adopting such disciplines, an Igede man is tuned up with his physical and mental capabilities in line with the heritage and etiquettes of the traditional beliefs.

Obeying festive rules is a tool to keep the body and mind actively engaged in some noble pursuits. Accordingly, harvesting of new yams before its free declaration is a big taboo in the region under the tradition of Akpang divinity. The rites of the new yam eating express the people’s appreciation and renewal with God (Ohe) for making the harvest of farm yields possible and successful.


Various villages make yam declaration earliest about a month or latest a week prior to the Igede Agba celebration. Thereafter new yams can be harvested freely. It is important to obey the avowal of Akpang, and in this case a new yam deserves a respect for cultural heritage achieved through dedication, disciplines, rules and purification performances.


The main essence of this practice is to prevent the people from eaten up their yams before there are fully mature. It is also believed that Akpang has the power to thwart and avert evil doers and their activities in the society so that they would not live to see the new yams. This performance marks the harvest of the new yam and as such new yam is not eaten until due rite is accorded and performed. The rite of this deity is carried out in the month of August when the new yam might have matured for commerce and consumption.

As a young man, my own grandfather, a former Priest of Akpang, had never allowed any of us in our village to eat new yam without first of all observing the performance rites of the land. These are employed to create a sacramental space and contact with the Earth Ohe to cleanse, bless, protect and keep the land as well as prayers for buffer yields. Nowadays, it is shocked that this aspect of Igede traditional discipline is being acutely eroded by influence of globalization and westernization.

The event of New Yam Festival uses yam, often produce, as its central and fundamental food. Yam which is the most important crop item in the locality is iconic which makes the celebration colourful. The pounded yam dish is being used as the core food of the festival, as the festival is emblematic of the abundance of the produce. Fowls, goats and cows are slaughtered and prepared with delicious soup precisely, Egushi to transport pounded yam to the abdomen destination. Slaughtering of festive animals is done at the junction to appease to the gods for bountiful harvest as well as prayers for bumper yield in subsequent cropping seasons.

The Festival is a time of peace, reunion, reconciliation, share and cleanliness. No one eats alone on this day. With the coming of the month of August, marks the preparation for the grand Igede Agba Festival; and the time and mood of preparation is uniform from one autonomous village setting to another.

Friends and well-wishers come together to dine and wine together on this cultural day. For this reason, as part of the preparations, it is mandatory to clear the foot path that links to neighbour’s house. Compounds, pathways, and grimy sites are cleared and kept clean for indigenes and visitors to have a feel of the geographical beauty of the community.

The whole community arenas experience the best of its cleanliness and physical features as an important part of the meaning of the festival also. This implies you are welcome to visit or branch and eat. Exchange of gifts and food is done with enthusiasm and joy.

The rite of new yam is to re-enact a bounty harvest and wealth for the celebrants.
It is customary that family members wash hands in one basin or calabash and eat together on the Igede Agba day. The tradition of washing hands mutually in one basin or calabash by the family constituents is a long-established promise which is an agreement or pledge to remain united, and not to harbour bad feelings against each other.

Eating together gives Igede people the chance to communicate and build relationships. It is also a great chance for children to learn the art of making conversation and listening to others.

Other benefits of eating together regularly in Igede are that teenagers are less likely to use drugs, smoke, and alcoholic drinks; and have symptoms of depression and waywardness.

The relevance is captured in seeing the new yam festival as a tradition, and one of which culminates the end of a yam farming cycle and the beginning of another.

That is perhaps why in Igede cultural setting, invitation to the festival is open to all and sundry-friends, neighbours, kins, relations, acquaintances, in-laws, etc.

The carnival mood and graciousness at extending invitations and welcoming every visitor, means that there is plenty of food to enjoy as opposed to lack of food in the past months.

Celebrating the New yam feast is common with men, women and children’s cultural dance, in addition to group eating (epwedii), fashion display, role reversals, masquerades, beauty contest (Adiya), drinking of wine, folklores, commensality and reciprocity all of which are synonymous with the Igede Agba in Igede life and culture.

Typically, Igede Agba Festival provides a heritage of dances, feasting, renewal of kinship alliances, as well as marks the end of one agricultural season with a harvest to express gratitude and thanksgiving to the society, gods, friends and relations.

This festival has always been a means of uniting Igede communities through celebrations of harvests and giving thanks for a plentiful growing season. Igede Agba serves to meet special needs, as well as to provide entertainment.

The time of celebration offers a sense of belonging for religious, social and geographical groups. It focuses on ethnic topics seek to inform Igede youths of their traditions.

It provides means of unity among Families (Ugbiyegwu), Lineages (Imwuahu), Village settings (Epweji), and Clans (Upwuma). It is also a forum for the youths to fine mates. The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation of season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers. The festival is a pageant of displayed jubilation, exaltation, gratification and community apparition.

The annual new yam culture offers the Igede people a wonderful opportunity to exhibit their hospitality with enough food and drinks. It enables them to enjoy merriment and spiritual rebirth together.

It instills the spirit of love, charity, generosity and good-will among the people. Its significance lies in the beginning of yam harvest to prevent shortage of food. This is because having food in abundance gives hope for survival.

Furthermore, new yam festival reminds Igede people of their cultural heritage which promotes spiritual rebirth.

It is imperative to inform the readers that Igede Agba New Festival is not a fetish event but a thanksgiving ceremony to the Sky-God (Ohe Oluhye and the Earth-god (Ohe Oleji) for a good harvest and further prayers for next farming season.

Our heritage should be embraced, renewed, conserved, preserved and revitalized in the most efficient way for tourist attraction, national and International recognition.

Globalization is brain washing. There is discernible change in attitudes among our youth due to globalization. More so, the atrocities happening these days are as a result of people abandoning culture and traditions that checkmate evil doing in the society.

Today, people marry their relations because they are ignorant of cultural and traditional implications. The younger generation now feels they know more than the elders. People have deviated from our culture, our ways of life. Taboos and sacrileges are no longer observed as they were in the past, our dress codes are in question. Millennium child-rearing and upbringing has taken a different dimension.

When culture and traditions are observed, it brings sanity, blessings for the people; boosts crop yield, sustainable development and people now live happily and hopefully.

Culture and traditions promote peace and unity in communities and that is why leaders, youths and adults in any society must understand the culture and traditions of the people. There are a lot of benefits following it. First, organizing carnivals will attract people from different works of life where Kings, Chiefs, leaders and individuals with outstanding achievements will be invited for Chieftaincy Titles and Awards. Politicians, diplomats, ambassadors and philanthropic persons will come to make Igedeland a centre of attraction that will create opportunities for the people especially youths.

Some of them will be privileged to study in abroad; others will gain skill acquisition for self reliance.

Most of them will be taken to some part of Africa for excursion that would promote their interest in culture and traditions of the community. This will also help them to develop their personal lives and as well sustain the culture and traditions of our people.

This will definitely attract tourism and development. A lot of developed countries practice their culture and traditions. In Igede nation for instance, we have different kinds of cultural dances like Aloyi, Oboche, Abakpa, Ayita, Ogbete, Ikperikpe, alihi, akatanka among other entertaining dances and music that can be showcased around the world  using the event of Igede Agba.

These are wonderful traditional dances and music the world would like to see in display that can impact on youths positively.

Igede Agba Festival is a remarkable New Yam culture in Igedeland as it brings life, faith, identity renewal, commensalism, generosity, thanksgiving, merriment, purification, pageantry, entertainment, solidarity, progress and lot more. Let conserve and promote our heritage to sustain it values and significance by giving the heritage a remarkable celebration.


From the foregoing, I enjoy all Igede Politicians, Engineers, Doctors, Lecturers/Teachers, Businessmen/women, and all illustrious sons and daughters in all sphere of life to adopt the inner meanings of Igede Agba New Yam Festival to be patriotic and diplomatic; and prioritized our ancestral homes and heritage as well as imbibing the spirit of hard work, team work, selflessness, sacrifice, love, unity and forgiveness that are essential ingredients of growth and development; and eschew all forms of fall-down attitudes and curses inimical to progress of individuals and our nation. This is baneful to a developing community akin to ours! Instead, we should rather fervently pray for one another’s elevation, promotion, well-being, prosperity and opportunity doors.

Culture makes us know where we belong culturally and traditionally, so that no matter how long one spends in a place, he could still know his origin. Our leaders and well-to-do individuals are also urged to recoil from ugly thoughts of neglecting ancestral home when get to the top. As we commemorate Agba, our founding progenitor, all blessed Igede indigenes at home and in Diaspora are encouraged to spare a thought to identify challenges at the grassroots and reflect on the workable formulae for the development and future of our ancestral village; and Igede nation in general.

Additionally, our people are encouraged to deduce from the cultural meanings of Igede Agba to revive the culture of agriculture among our people to boost the economy and create jobs. They should start intense preparation for next cropping season as to ensure sustainable food security; also learn handiworks, crafts and skill acquisition since it is not logical to depend solely on white-kola jobs in Nigeria!

_Renewing heritage helps communities to retain identity. Let use the occasion of Igede Agba New Festival to revive every encroaching aspects of our cultural heritage initiated by globalization and westernization in order to emblemefy and showcase our identity internationally and globally. Our culture is our identity, let keep it alive!



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