When Ibeku people celebrated New Yam festival in style

Despite the sit-at-home order by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the people of Ibeku ancient kingdom in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia state, celebrated this year’s new yam festival in a joyous mood, reports MIKE UBANI.

Monday, August, 30, 2021, will remain a memorable day for the people of Ibeku Kingdom in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia state.

It was the day the people celebrated this year’s new yam festival in a colourful style. The time was 9.15 a.m. An unusually large crowd made up of youths and elders of the land had gathered at the legendary ‘Egwu Ibeku’ located at Umuajiji Isieke Ibeku.

The ‘Egwu Ibeku’ had for several years remained an important site for Ibeku people. Besides housing the shrines of all Ibeku people, it serves as a place where all major issues concerning Ibeku people are discussed, and decisions taken.

Beyond that, ‘Egwu Ibeku’ serves as the venue for the celebration of the yearly new yam festival. The site is also said to be the final burial place of the founder of Ibekuland, late Mr. Ibeku.

And as scores of people trooped into the newly refurbished ‘Egwu Ibeku’, the locally made guns known as ‘kurutu’ boomed – sending the mammoth crowd into a state of ecstasy.

A villager who spoke to The AUTHORITY said the guns were fired to announce the arrival of the custodian of Ibeku custom and tradition, Prince Benjamin B. Apugo to ‘Egwu Ibeku.’

According to him, he (Prince Apugo) comes to the site early in the morning of every ‘Iri ji’ day to perform various traditional rites after which the people can begin to cook and eat the new yam.

The AUTHORITY learnt that it’s sacrilegious for any Ibeku family to cook, roast and eat the new yam before the performance of these traditional rites.

“The performance of these traditional rites is an inheritance,” says Prince Apugo, adding that “when I am no longer there, the rites will be performed by any of my children, or any member of my family.

“No matter how rich you are, you cannot come to ‘Egwu Ibeku; to perform the rites to herald the new yam festival. This responsibility is reserved for only the descendants of Ibeku land.’

The traditional rites includes beating of the ‘Ikoro’- a wooden instrument used in Igboland to summon the entire community in periods of emergency; breaking of kolanut, and pouring of libation to the gods for keeping the people alive to witness the celebration of another new yam festival, and for having given them a bountiful harvest.

The ‘Iri ji’ festival is a celebration of survival from hunger and it marks the beginning of abundant food supply. The festival is usually celebrated on a joyful note throughout Ibeku land to venerate yam – famed as the king of crops in Ibeku kingdom, and indeed all communities in Igboland.

Many festivals exist in Ibeku ancestral kingdom, but ‘Iri ji’ (new yam festival) is the most prominent probably due to the importance attached to yam.

According to the authors of ‘Ibeku in Igbo History,’ “whenever the Ibeku people celebrate their new yam festival, people publicise the event by announcing Igbo ‘Eriele ji’, meaning that the Igbo people have performed the rituals of new yam.

“The deduction from this is that the rituals performed by the Ibeku people for the ‘Iri ji’ festival is on behalf of themselves and other Igbo people.

“The indication is that this is a carry-over from the days of Ibeku kingdom when the Ibeku people were in control of much of Igboland. It is also an indication that the Ibeku are among the early settlers of Igboland.

“The land occupied by Umuahia-Ibeku Township was an Ibeku farmland known as Alaocha-Ibeku. It was farmed by the people of Ndume, Afara, Ugba na Nkata, Ossah, Emede and Amuzu.

“Yam ‘ji’ is regarded as the king of all farm crops – a man’s crop, not only in Ibeku ancestral kingdom, but also throughout Igbo land. It is accorded a respect amounting to adulation.

“Apart from demonstrating his prowess in war, an Ibeku man was not fully recognized by people until he married a wife or wives, built his own home and acquired a large yam barn where he tied rows and rows of yams which he proudly exhibited and advertised to his visitors.”

Prince Apugo, who is a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and National Caucus of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), maintained that yam is venerated in Ibekuland, and indeed all communities in Igboland because ‘it is is the king of all farm crops.’

He had earlier urged the people of Ibekuland through a radio announcement to celebrate this year’s new yam festival devoid of the traditional bearing of cutlasses and weird dancing on major streets of Umuahia, the state capital.

This apparently explained why the youths and elders gathered at the ‘Egwu Ibeku’ were quite civil while rejoicing over the advent of the new yam. Even, the famous masquerade from Akwa Ibom state that thrilled the audience at ‘Egwu Ibeku’ did so in a most peaceful manner.

As the singing and dancing progressed, several Ibeku women busied themselves cooking yam in one part of the building housing ‘Egwu Ibeku.’

“There is much to eat and drink,” said one Ibeku woman,” who spoke with journalists.

Indeed, the eating and drinking lasted till the following day in many homes and familes in Ibekuland.

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