Significance of New yam festival, the Ngboejeogu angle in Ebonyi State

Ngboejeogu Itsukwe otherwise known as the new yam festival of Ngboejeogu has a commendable significance on the people, a Cultural Enthusiast, Martins Chinonso Nwede writes.

Decades ago, abominable act were utterly prohibited with a severe consequences that awaits the perpetrators. Unwanted pregnancy was a tabbo, as those who do that used to be tied and thrown in the den of solider ant for commiting a sacrilege. Oath-taking was an instrument to prove that one is innocent of any allegation. Man's inhumanity to man were folk tales. Death, illness, land dispute, diabolic act against another was not rampant.

 Friends gives out their land free to others to settle down; our culture, and tradition were respected, reverend and attached great importance in Ngbo. Kingship was based on who possessed a good qualities and conversant with the norms and tradition of the land. Nation and nation exchanges emissaries to strengthen peace and unity.

Amidst the daunting challenges, we were living happily and accord maximum respect to the principles, customs and traditional norms guiding our land before the advent of christianity came from strangers. Hence, our cultural heritage became obsolete. We were hitherto, bamboozled to throw our cultural heritage to embrace borrowed life. By so doing; our ancestors, powerful dieties that protects from perilous illness and in the warfare abandoned us. And our culture left to be decomposing with vultures infesting on it like a dead animal. 

Ngboejeogu from the ancient time is widely known as a nation that has much value for their culture and traditions. Despite the advent of Christianity which suppressed some cultural practices adjudged to be obsolete, Ngboejeogu New Yam Festival, otherwise known as Itsukwe remains outstanding among festivals that survived Christianity and are still being celebrated with vigour in Ngbo Nation. This, perhaps is as a result of great importance attached to yam, the king of crops in Ngboejeogu. The date for Itsukwe feast which was formerly called JI-OHA is been fixed by Ndu Anmegu in Umuezeaka Ngbo who are traditionally saddled and vested with the power to make announcement and fix a date for feasts in Ngbo. 

However, New Yam is celebrated in almost in all Igbo Lands, though in different patterns, month and season. The people of Ezzaekuna call it Oke-aku, while Izhi call theirs Ojiji, but in Ngbo, it is called Itsukwe. Itsukwe festival is celebrated annually in the ninth month of Ngbo calendar, which usually fall within July and August at the fourth Ekoshi market day of the month. It is celebrated to mark the end of food scarcity and to announce the beginning of food abundance in Ngbo. The festival is usually a historic event in the annals of Ngboejeogu Nation because of the glamour and fun associated with it. Itsukwe festival is heralded by the appearance of significant moon which is called "Onwa Itsukwe". Children always make loud excitement echoing Koo-kooo at night whenever the moon is sighted. As a celebration of a populous Nation known for its outstanding farming skills, especially in yam crop, Itsukwe festival enthrone a healthy competition among men, on who would produce the best new tuber of yam for the year, both in size and quantity. In Ngbo, there are three types of yam with different varieties: White yam, Yellow yam (Ogomodu) and water yam (Mbala). Among the white yams, Obela and Opoke is the best for making pounded yam (Utara Ji). 

As this year's Itsukwe festival will hold on Thursday, 29th July, 2021 (Fourth Ekoshi). It is expected that all the sons and daughters of Ngboejeogu both at home and in diaspora will return home to partake in the fun-filled festival as culture demands. In-laws, friends, well wishers and admirers of Ngboejeogu Nation from all walks of life are also expected to come and share in the joy of the celebration.

Accordingly, the Itsukwe new yam festival is accompanied by a protocol of lined up activities and preparations to make it attractive and memorable. Those lined up activities marking the feast usually commence with the tradition driving away of illnessess in Ngbo. On Okwo Market day, people are expected to buy items that will be used for the celebration. On the proceeding day being Azuokwo market day, two days to the festival is designated as a thorough clean up exercise in all  compounds and paths leading to multifarious villages, while women scrub their houses with cow dung. Children on their part, gather in their numbers to knock the elephant grass called "Ekperyma" been smoked  on firewood or dried palm frond. All these are geared towards  welcoming the new yam, the chief crop of Ngbo land. Unugwe market day, a day before the feast is "Nfioji Day." On this day, both Bachelors and married men who are yet to wed officially, harvest their own new yam for the feast. At the night of Unugwe, children keeps night vigil with the use of Ekperyma (Elephant grass) which its sound is akin to gun, among other activities marking the feast. The climax of the Itsukwe festival therefore holds in grand style on Ekoshi market day following a declaration by the elders of Okposhi Nkwolu who are saddled with the responsibility of performing a ritual called Sacrificial eating of yam and pounding of empty mortar. Indeed, Ituskwe festival is momentous in the life of an average Ngbo man irrespective of sociopolitical and religious background. Ngbo people attach more value on yam and that is why yam peels are not poured in the compound nor broom used to pack it. As culture demands, anyone who march his or her foot on yam in Ngbo must definitely embrace the yam immediately to appease it.

It is important to note that yams are not harvested in Ngboejeogu before Itsukwe festival. Such early harvest if found is viewed as a breach of the tradition and the person involved is being regarded as a poor man. The amount of yams one has in the farm or barn determine how industrious one is. At this period of festivity, people would invite their in-laws, friends, and well wishers to celebrate the feast with them. The festival offers women the golden opportunity to encourage and give praises to their husbands for their industriousness in the season. 

The significance of Itsukwe new yam festival in Ngbo land cannot be over emphasized. It is a period where all the kindreds settle their differences and embrace one another to propel development, engender peaceful coexistence and harmonious relationship. Kindred units also use the period to determine their population and as well allow all the men to choose where to plant yam in the next farming season. The festival promotes unity and peaceful coexistence among (10)Ten autonomous communities that make up Ngbo Nation. It is a period for exchange of gifts items with friends, relatives and well wishers. More so, Itsukwe festival encourages sense of cooperation among children as they go in unison to gather Ekperyma in the bush, knock it together with folk songs, and go for Itsukwe Night coral (Nmbia Ahuu) without altercation.

To this end, it is pertinent to note that the festival discourages social vices like cultism, stealing, rape among others. Most importantly, Itsukwe is a period where those who did the second funeral ceremony of their parents slaughters ram to Chukwoke gods ( Barn gods) to give their loved one a full fledged burial rite in line with Ngbo tradition. Delicacies like: Pounded yam, meat, melon soup (Ohve Ahuu), Palm wine and porridge yam are been enjoyed by friend's, in-laws and well wishers during the feast.

However, it is momentous to note that yams are not sold in any market across the ten autonomous communities in Ngboejeogu (Akpa Ngbo Iyri) until after the Itsukwe festival. Pronouncement and ceremonial sales of yam in the market is been done and performed at Obodo Anmaubwi by the Okposhi Eshi Community.
As the 2021 Itsukwe new yam festival will be celebrated with funfair this day, Thursday 29th July, 2021 being Ekoshi market day, it is another opportunity for all the sons and daughters of Ngbo Nation to come together, eschew all divisive tendencies and unite in love for optimum development and directional growth. 

As we invite all and sundry for this year's Itsukwe festival, it is our pride to sing the song of abundance: Ngboejeogu!, efo tsa mputu le nyri abia!!

Happy Itsukwe Festival to Ndu Ngboejeogu Ochi Mgboro le Ishi Nwa-onye Ozo.

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