EZZA MARKS OKE-AKU (Nééwhi-Oha) -NEW YAM FESTIVAL. 4th, August 2020. By Amb.Simon.I.Peter.
“Anyi Abooo! Awha L’aburu Añyi Awha Oma.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS UNIQUE FESTIVAL.
The New Yam Festival of the Igbo (Iwa-ji in Igbo language) is an annual harvest festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season between July and August every year.
The Iwa-ji Festival (literally called “the eating of new yam”) is practised throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana), some African countries and beyond, symbolizing the end of a harvest season and the beginning of a new planting season.
The festival is culturally inclined, uniting individual Igbo communities together.
Traditionally, the eating of the first yam is performed by the oldest man in the community or the king (Igwe). This man offers the yam to the gods of the land, deities and ancestors. It is believed that this practice bestows on the Kings the privilege of being intermediaries between the people and the gods of the land. The rituals are meant to express gratitude to the gods of the land by the people, for making the harvest bountiful.
This exercise is widely adopted; Christianity and modernization notwithstanding.
The day is characterized by series of events. Varieties of events in marking the eating of new yam includes Folk dances, masquerade parades etc. These activities creates an experience that some participants characterize as “art”. This colourful festival is a spectacle of joy to the people.
Iwa-ji festival also shares some similarities with the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are based on the cycles of the moon and are essentially community harvest festivals.
In recent times, the celebration; which used to be the greatest festival of the year in most community in Igboland, has become endangered. In fact, some individual have stopped celebrating it due to reasons blamed on the adoption of western education and Christianity, hence to them the festival is seen as a traditional belief/engagement.
However, in the land of EZZA EZEKUNA, the New Yam festival known as Oke-Aku Festival is still revered and celebrated with pomp and grandeur. The festival marks the commencement of a new calendar year for the EZZAS. It signifies the end of the planting season, especially the planting of yam and the ushering in of the new yam. Yam is so much celebrated in all EZZA land and other Igboland culturally because yam is regarded as the king of crops.
EZZAS, the descendants of EZEKUNA and his wife, ANYIGOR is one of the most populous clan in Nigeria with twenty-two (22) traditional communities and over 10,000 villages in Ebonyi, Enugu and Benue state respectively, having her ancestral headquarter at ONUEKE in Ezza South LGA of Ebonyi state. They live virtually in all the three senatorial zones of Ebonyi state and beyond, but are concentrated in Ezza South, Ezza North, Onicha, Ohaozara, Ivo, Ishielu, Ohaukwu & Ebonyi LGAs of Ebonyi state, Enugu East, Nkanu west, Nkanu South, Aniri LGAs of Enugu state and Ador LGA of Benue state.
The twenty-two (22) traditionally recognized communities before the Great OKPOKU EZEKUNA irrespective of government presence are as follows:
As a matter of fact, EZZA-EZEKUNA people all over the world have their lineage traced back to the above mentioned communities, hence the Oke-Aku Festival takes place in all their towns, villages and homes.
The EZZAS in those areas mentioned above still offers sacrifices at the shrine of Ezekuna (Nguji Ozo Ezekuna) at Amana ONUEKE. The shrine is known to be the grave of Ezekuna their progenitor. This exercise is performed to solicit for a death-free and prosperous New year.
Note; no one dares to harvest, sell or eat NEW YAM anywhere in Ezza land until the Oke-Aku festival is observed or else there will be fatal repercussions (People will start dying gradually with many unusual things happening in that person’s family).
To avert these, Sacrifices are offered to the gods to appease their anger against those who through hunger had eaten the New yam before the day of the festival.
The sacrifices are also for those who as a result of unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances had planted yam after the first day of the festival.
On concluding the sacrifices, the elders gather and deliberate with each other, the day of the festival, usually on Orie market day in July/August. The resolved date is communicated to every Ezza communities. Just like the elders at ONUEKE (Amana), every elder in each family offers sacrifices to his ancestors and other deities for a death-free and prosperous new year in his home. This is followed by the general cleaning of compounds, roads and playgrounds done on Afor and Nkwo market days respectively. The Eke day before the Orie Oke-Aku festival day also called Eke-Uwhu-Awha-Lunaa-Awha is for making purchases, while the night before the feast is a double night, a holy night (the old is said to be driven away, while the new is said to be welcomed by the beating of any available instruments like drum, accompanied by shout of “Ejo-Awha Laaoo! This action is performed at about midnight. On the day of the feast: Ishi-nééwhi-oha (Oke-aku day); a place sited in front of a compound where all yam peels are deposited, head of unripped palm kernel and a little chicken and pepper are all hung there for all family members who died childless (Ejo-maa).
On Orie Oke-Aku day, the elders among those living in Ezekuna’s compound in Amana in ONUEKE who over the years are entrusted with the task of looking after the palm farm of Ezekuna will bring all the kernel and oil for the year to share among the sons of Ezekuna.
The representatives of all Ezza communities, usually come to collect their share of the kernels and oil. On returning home, these elders representing their communities are being welcomed by the family members by presenting the Kola plate (Ukpara, old yam, Aku-Ńsuaku(kernel), Kola, Coconut and Meat for the ritual that begins the Festival proper. The representatives prays and blesses the rest of their family members. After this, he divides the old yam in Small slices to his wife or wives, neighbours and well wishers. The kicking off of the celebration is done by the father of each family while sitting on his okpoku (an outside sitting place that has seats made of logs of wood where elders in the olden days rest and welcome visitors after a day work.)
After this ritual, the distributed yam is cooked.
Normally for rich people, meals for the ceremonies are prepared with these yams. This festival is characterized by visits to in-laws, relatives and friends. It’s a time of great reconciliation when old enmity is forgotten and no debt recovery is expected on that day. On that day, greetings are freely exchanged with traditional slangs “Anyi abooo! Awha L’aburu Anyi Awha Oma.” Meaning, we have survived, this year will be for us a good year. This is a time of worship of peace; it’s a time when squabbles and abusive words are forbidden.
The time of sacrifice to the dead ancestors is normally on Eke day which is popularly recognized and respected by pagans as “Eke Ogbeja”. The aim is to enable even the dead in a family to participate in all the goodies of the New Year.
SIGNIFICANCE OF NÉÉWHIOHA (OKE-AKU FESTIVAL):
- it is a time we bid farewell to the old year with all that is attendant to it.
- It is a feast that enables friends to come together to make merry.
- It is a time when old enmity is forgiven and forgotten
- It is a time for visits to families, in-laws and the normal slangs are used for greetings.
- It paves way for those having financial difficulties to start harvesting and eating the New yam. It also marks the end of yam-planting season. However, the remaining old yams used for the celebration are eaten that day with palm kernel. This special food that symbolizes famine/hardship is eaten on Orie day as a remembrance of difficult time that is ushering in a time of plenty, a time of harvesting.
After the last day of the feast, families goes for weeding on their farms for few hours. This weeding exercise is famously called the MBIÈKA (touch-hand) day. The reason for this exercise is to show gratitude to our parents for all the food eaten during the four days of the Festival. On the last day, the ritual called OYÈ-ONU is performed, whereby some cooked yams are mashed with oil and placed in small bits on the farm (crops and shrubs). This is done with a prayer intention that the yields in the coming year shall be bountiful.
These food crops, along with other accessories like wares are bought and sold in the Eke Imoha Market which holds every four days. Other markets in EZZA land includes: Awho, Nkwo and Orie. Eke Imoha is considered the first and biggest market in Ebonyi state.
Historically, EZZAS celebrates Oke-Aku festival before any other clan in Ebonyi state particularly the old Abakaliki bloc; this is because EZEKUNA their progenitor is believed to be the eldest of the five sons (Ezza Ezekuna, Izzi Nodo, Ikwo Noyo, Ngbo & Ezekome otherwise known as Agba) of Anakiwhaliki/Ekumenyi.
According to EZZA traditional Elites, “the celebration for ages has never failed since it was instituted by EZEKUNA, the ancestral father of EZZA people centuries ago.
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