The New Yam Festival of the Igbo People (known as Iwa ji, Iri ji, Ike ji or Otute depending on the dialect) is an annual cultural festival by the Igbo People that is held at the end of the rainy season in early August to October.
The Iri ji Festival (literally “new yam eating”) is practiced throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana) and other African countries and beyond. It symbolizes the conclusion of a harvest season and the beginning of the next farming work cycle.
The celebration is a cultural occasion tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
Usually at the beginning of the festival, the yams are offered to the 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 yam to the gods/deities or ancestors by showing gratitude to the supreme deity 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 their god, they eat the first yam because it is believed that their position bestows the privilege of being intermidiaries between their communities and the gods of the land.
The rituals are meant to express the gratitude of the community to the gods of the land for making the harvest possible and they are widely followed despite modern changes due to the influence of Christianity in the area.
This therefore, explains the three aspects of the Igbo world view that they are pragmatic, religious and appreciative. The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season and the plenty is shared with friends and well wishers.
A variety of festivities mark the eating of the New Yam and parties create a wonderful experience for participants. The colourful festival is spectacle of exhibited joy, thanks and community display.
In Asaba the Delta State capital, the New Yam Festival was celebrated in grand style by the Igbo Community resident at Bonsaac area of the town, as the Igbos used the occasion to welcome one of their own and national president of Igbo bu Igbo group, the highest Igbo socio-cultural umbrella body in Nigeria, High Chief Henry Uzozie who visited them recently.
Chief Uzozie was received by the Delta State chairman of Igbo bu Igbo at Bonsaac in a well attended ceremony by friends and well wishers.
The national president, Igbo bu Igbo Chief Henry Uzozie, thanked his people for the show of love, saying that his visit was to celebrate the New Yam Festival with them and assured them of government interest in the Affairs of people of the Igbo extraction.
Chief Uzozie advised them to be law abiding and to cooperate with their host communities and the state government, noting that it remained the only way peace and development could be achieved.
He used the occasion to call on the Delta State government to fast track the speedy completion of ongoing projects in the area.
Earlier in his address, the Delta State chairman of Igbo bu Igbo group thanked Chief Uzozie for finding time to visit the state and celebrate with them, adding that they would continue to adhere with the rules of engagement between them, the host community and the state government.
Highpoint of the event was the official eating of the New Yam and partying with friends and well wishers.