New Yam Festival:
New yam festival – the major means of survival for the occupants of my community is farming. It was through farming that they were assured of their daily meals. This explained the high level of commitment they have in farming. Farming therefore, is a holistic family business; no member of any family exempts himself or herself. In some cases, people stays away from their homes and spend days in their farms. This effort gears towards obtaining a successful harvest output at the end of each farming season. Though, a successful harvest output is really not anchored on one’s effort but on the benevolence of the god of Ala (god of farming). This is the view of the traditionalists in my community. Nonetheless, this notion differs from that of the churchgoers.
The name of god of Ala is Aha Njoku. This god as presumed by the traditionalists is responsible for the blessing and multiplication of crops planted in the ground. For this reason there is the need to mollify Aha Njoku and grovel for its blessings before and after harvest. The failure to do this will consequently result into scarceness of foodstuff or famine in the land. The act of appeasing the god of Ala is spiritual because it requires that sacrifice is accompanied with it. Though so many individual families identifies with this ritual but on a larger scale it’s seen as communal events that involves lavish form of celebration. Among these events is The New Yam Festival. The yam festival was a celebration build around yam.
New Yam Festival The Reason Behind It:
The notion which is highly acceptable among the people is that yam is the chief of all crops. As a result, there is so much importance and respect attached and given to this particular crop. The men in our community compete in yam farming and any of them that produce the largest quantity of it is crowned and given the title Ezeji. The title Ezeji means King of Yam. For one to be crowned Ezeji he must have at least thirty barns of yams. The harvested yams are kept in the yam barn where they are stored for a period of time.
On the day of the New Yam Festival, the Eze (king) will crown the highest yam producer the Ezeji of the year. This title comes with great honour from the people of the land. The Ezeji enjoys so much respect from the people. And mostly he is exempted from participating in many community odd jobs and certain levies.
The Market Square:
Tomorrow is an Eke market day and that is the day our New Yam Festival falls. My mother has asked me to go get some spices for her from Eke Obollo market square. I deemed it right to go with Bato. Immediately he agrees to go with me. We went with our bicycle wheels. Here owing and rolling a bicycle wheel is a pleasure among children. On arriving at the market square, we notice that the market square is wearing a new look. The civic ground at the market square is where the New Yam Festival is going to take place.
The Eze and his cabinet will be present to kick off the celebration. It was unlawful for any man of marital and taxable age to eat new yam before the traditionally institutionalized date. Anyone man caught eating new yam before this date, will be asked to appease the land. And the penalty will involve some rituals. The rule is very strict and it was monitored by some village heads and TaskForces.
Christians And The New Yam Festival:
However, there has been a paradigm shift since the arrival of missionaries in our community. Many who are churchgoers do not abide by this rule and as a matter of fact do not deeply participate in the traditional New Yam festival. This was coming from the backdrop that most of the rituals performed during the New Yam Festival are fetish and a display of act of idol worship. While the traditional setting of New Yam Festival goes on with those that have opted to be traditional, there are many churchgoers that have decided to celebrate the New Yam Festival in the churchly manner. It implies that this category of people will not slaughter any animal and sprinkle the blood on the Aha Njoku shrine in their compounds. In fact they do not have any shrine in their compounds anymore.
The Anger Against Christians:
As the New Yam Festival is being celebrated in the community, the churchgoers are found in the church praying and offering their farm produce to God. This attitude has gradually and latently creates an inherent division in the community. People in the community who are of the traditional settings are accusing the churchgoers of bringing calamities in the land. And according to them, the god of Ala is angry with the community. This is because there is no holistic involvement in the celebration.
Therefore, the outcome of this is that farm produce have reduced severely. This claim on the surface isn’t true but the issue is that traditional people are very upset because the custom of the land has been neglected by the churchgoers. The churchgoers’ idea is that their farm produce is being blessed by God not the so called god of Ala. Many of them are of the opinion that the so called god of Ala is a powerless god.
New Yam Festival In The Church:
As we returned from Eke market square, my mother have gone to our farm and uprooted some tubers of yam. The harvest is good, because they yams are of good size. The implication of this is that we will start eating new yams tomorrow being Sunday. This will not happen until we have gone to Church, and offer the farm produce to God. And then when we have come back from Church the new yam will be prepared. Yams can be cooked in different ways but I like it when it is roasted and eaten with red oil and slice oil bean.
It really makes a good taste. In the morning I have to help my mother convey the yams to church. After prayers have been offered to God for blessing our community with great farm output, each village in our community was called up to come and make their offerings. It was a thrilling and unique moment because each village was coming and singing their particular songs.
So as they sing and dance, they tried to express themselves in a manner that was very exclusive. These scenarios made our New Yam Festival service very entertaining and embracing as well. It was so enticing that nobody wanted to leave the church service in a hurry. It actually showed that in the presence of God there is fullness of joy. However, our village was the last procession and we really took the show away from the other villages. And being the last, it was displayed in away it glued in the memory of the people that even after the service they talk about it was much.
The Expression In The Church:
One exceptional thing that took place was that while the processions were going on, the displays involved signified that the people forgot the pains they went through during the tilling and cultivating of their farms. It showed that their thought wasn’t like, “it was out of pains and hard labour we were able to come up with these massive harvests from our respective farms.” But in all they channel their gratitude to God not to their strengths. This however, establishes the fact that the “race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the strong.” And definitely, there were many who toiled much and at the end, they came out with less harvest.
As we dismissed from the service, there was this joy radiating on the faces of all the people. While exchanging pleasantries, they were doing that with much laughter. As I was going home with my mother, I began to ponder over the activities that took place in the church and how people are glad to have offered their harvest offering to God. This made me think about how churches came into being and in particular how our church was established. The church environment was very different from what was obtained from the community as we saw the activities of those who were traditionally inclined not showcasing anything that worth emulating.
When we got home that late morning hours, my mother slaughtered two cocks and we used them to cook ji nmiri oku (watery yam potage) and it was delicious. We prayed over the food and asked God to bless our harvest much more next year.
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