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Saturday, 27 October 2012 00:00
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Iri Ji Ohuo in Lagos

TRULY, this year New Yam Festival (Iri Ji) held on October, in Lagos was a cultural tourism that if properly harnessed can become an international festival.

The beautiful attires of the Igwes present at the festival were a great tourist delight, and the host Eze H. N. Ohazulike, Eze Ndi Igbo of Lagos State and the Natonal President, Association of Ndi Eze and Ndi Igbo N'uzo Uje was at his best.

The IrijiQxew yam) festival was described by the late Dim Odumegwu- Ojukwu, Eze gburu-gburu and the number one Igbo citizen, as the "culmination of a work cycle and the beginning of another."

This festival is celebrated at different times within the various Igbo communities, varying from August until October every year. Probably that informed the fixing of October for Iriji-Ohuo in Lagos. The atmosphere took one back to a typical Igbo villages/towns   where such festival is held annually.

It is one of the most significant festivals amongst the Igbo tribe in Nigeria and it is celebrated across the globe. Apart from the African delicacies served on that day, yam was auctioned. Indeed, the masquerade and cultural display is a great spectacle to behold.

The most important food crop in Igboland is yam and this is evidential at the cultural significance attached to Iri jiin Igbo land. The traditional Igbo society is mainly agrarian. The traditional Igbo man takes pride in showing off his yam barn neatly stacked with yam tubers from top to bottom which signifies wealth and success.

In the days of old, a common question asked by a bride's father when a young man signifies his intention to marry his daughter is "how big is your yam barn?" In those days, the bigger the yam bam, the better for the suitor, as it means that he is prosperous and can take adequate care of the bride.

Princess Adaeze Obi said that, "the festival was in fulfillment of God's law in the Bible which enjoined the Israelites to celebrate this festival. He commanded that the harvest festival should be celebrated when you begin to harvest your crops.

That can be seen in Exodus 23 verse 16, Chronicles 8 verses 12 and 13, Deuteronomy 16 verse 9 and Leviticus 23 verses 15 to 21." She affirmed that the new yam festival is not fetish but a thanksgiving period.

Mazi Ephraim Nwosu cast his mind back to the days of old when during the celebration, prayers and libation would flow ceaselessly unto Ahiajoku, then a referred god of farm crops especially yam. He spoke further, "Before the advent of Christianity, our parents, our great grand parents had Ahiajoku shrine in every household where food and drinks were offered to the Ahiajoku god. Fowls, Goats, Sheep were used as sacrifice.

They had the notion of mini gods and one supreme God, the Almighty and Creator of all things."This God", he said the Igbo call "Abiami or Eke Kere Uwa".With time Christians and people realized that the one God that created man also created the universe. The Ahiajoku ceremony faded away and was replaced with Christian Festival of the "fruit of harvest according to Exodus 23 verse 16".

Ori Martins noted that Irijiis sustained and nurtured by Ezeji title holders. He said,"the Ezeji title holders regard Irijias their particular ceremony, the event is for every person big and small. In the modern age, yam which is the head of farm crops has come to symbolize among other things in our lives— accomplishments, jobs, productivity in your field, celebration of overcoming adversity, birthday, and so on".