You’ve probably heard of some of the major Nigerian tribes like the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa. But did you know Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups, many with unique cultural traditions? One custom many tribes share is the New Yam Festival, held at harvest time to celebrate the year’s yam crop. Yam is a staple food in Nigeria, so the New Yam Festival is a big deal.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to 5 Nigerian tribes that celebrate exciting New Yam Festivals. Nigeria’s diversity means there’s a new cultural discovery around every corner. These New Yam Festivals offer a glimpse into the vibrant traditions of tribes you’ve probably never heard of. Get ready to be wowed by the colorful celebrations of Nigeria’s rich heritage.
What is the New yam festival?
The New Yam Festival is an annual cultural festival held by many tribes in Nigeria to celebrate the harvest of yams, a staple crop. For these tribes, yams are a source of wealth and prestige.
During the festival, the new yam is offered to the gods and ancestors first before anyone is allowed to taste it. Prayers are said to thank the gods for a successful harvest and to ask for continued blessings in the coming years. After the religious rites are completed, the celebrations begin! People gather to rejoice, feast, dance, and make merry. Locals adorn themselves in colorful traditional attire and jewelry. Cultural dances are performed to the beat of drums and gongs.
The New Yam Festival is also an opportunity for young people to find love and marriage partners. Matchmaking is an important part of the festivities.
If you attend a New Yam Festival, get ready for a vibrant cultural experience you won’t soon forget! The infectious joy, rhythmic music, dramatic dances, and delicious yam-inspired cuisine will stay with you long after the celebrations end.
5 Different Tribes in Nigeria that Celebrate New Yam Festivals
Historically, Yam is considered one of the main or most significant crops in Nigeria because it is produced in almost all of the states, and anyone in a community who has a barn of Yam is considered wealth; it is more than just a food source. It is highly regarded in Nigeria and is one of the most common foods used for bride price when a guy seeks a woman’s hand in marriage.
The New Yam Festival is celebrated by many tribes in Nigeria to mark the harvest of yams, a staple crop. Here are 5 major tribes that observe this important festival:
The Igbos New Yam Festival
The Igbos of southeastern Nigeria celebrate the New Yam Festival, known as Orureshi in Idoma, or Iwa ji, Ike ji, Iri ji, or Otute, depending on the dialect, every August. This festival marks the end of the rainy season and the harvest of the yam, a staple crop. For the Igbo people, yams are more than just a source of food; they are a sacred symbol of life, longevity, and prosperity. The New Yam Festival is a time to give thanks for a successful harvest and to honor the gods.
During the festival, the Igbo people gather to feast on pounded yam, grilled fish, and palm wine. They dance, sing traditional songs, and perform cultural dances like the ‘Atilogwu’ and ‘Ikpa Nku.’ The elders gather to pray and make ritual sacrifices to Ala at her shrines.
The ritual is performed either by the oldest man in the village, the king, or an eminent titleholder. The high priest blesses the new yam, then also offers the yams to god, deities, and ancestors as a way of thanking the supreme deity for his protection and benevolence in leading them from a time of famine to a time of rich harvest with no deaths from hunger. They eat the first yam after praying to their god because it is thought that their position grants them the privilege of acting as intermediaries between their people and the gods of the land. The rites are intended to express the community’s appreciation to the gods for making the crop possible.
After that, everyone can join the feast. The yam used in the festival’s main rite is roasted and served with palm oil (mmanụ nri). The arrival of the new moon in August heralds the start of the “Iri Ji Ohu” festival, but the date and style of preparation vary by community. Before the new yam celebration begins in some Igbo villages, all old yams must be consumed or dumped, and only new yam is prepared during this event.
The New Yam Festival reinforces the Igbo people’s cultural identity and connection to their ancestral lands. It is a unifying event, bringing together families and communities to celebrate their rich cultural heritage. For the Igbos, the New Yam Festival is the most important festival of the year.
Yorubas New Yam Festival
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. Their new yam festival, called ‘Odun Isu,’ is one of the most prominent cultural celebrations. Some places in Yoruba call it ‘Eje,’ tribes like Ekiti, the new yam festival is called ‘Odun Ijesu.’
The Yoruba new yam festival dates back centuries, with origins in the traditional Yoruba religion. Yam is a staple crop for the Yoruba, so the harvest is a time of giving thanks and honoring the gods and ancestors who made the harvest possible.
The Yoruba new yam festival is celebrated at either the end it July or August at the start of the yam harvest. Festivities span several days and feature traditional dances, songs, drumming, and costumes. Yam dishes like pounded yam, amala, and jollof rice are prepared and shared with family and friends.
The high priest of the village sacrifices a goat and spills its blood over a harvest deity emblem. The carcass is then cooked and turned into soup, while the yam tubers are boiled and mashed. The New Yam Festival feast would be declared open by eating the pounded yam and soup after the priest or traditional ruler had offered prayers for a better and bountiful harvest in the next year.
Then everyone joins in the revelry that comes with the fresh Yam Festival, after which the people are now traditionally permitted to begin eating fresh yam. The divination ceremony that determines the fate of the community is a feature of the New Yam Festival.
The divination rite that determines the fate of the community and the chance of a large harvest is a feature of the New Yam Festival, particularly among the Yoruba people. One of the recently harvested yam tubers is divided in two. The two portions are thrown into the air, and if one lands face up and the other face down, it is a very good sign. If both fall face up or face down, it is considered a terrible omen.
The new yam festival highlights the cultural and religious traditions of the Yoruba people. It brings families and communities together to celebrate the harvest, honor their ancestors, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year.
Ogidi New yam festival in Kogi state
The Ogidi people of Ijumu local government in Kogi state celebrate the New Yam festival to mark the harvesting of the new yam crop. The festival usually takes place at the beginning of August, after the harvest. For the Ogidi, yam is a stable food crop, and the New Yam festival is a time to show appreciation for a successful harvest.
In Ogidi, yams are regarded as miracle plants that symbolize fertility; therefore, a plentiful yam harvest indicates that other plants will prosper. The new yam festival is observed in conjunction with the ogidi-Ela day, the land’s cultural day, which begins a few days before the festival week.
During the festival, the Ogidi people come together to feast, dance and celebrate. The Onu Ogidi, or the king, will offer the first yam to the gods and ancestors. The yam is usually roasted before being shared among family and friends. Traditional dances like the Atilogwu, a vigorous dance involving acrobatic moves, are performed. The festival also features cultural events like wrestling matches, masquerades, and singing competitions.
For the Ogidi, the New Yam festival signifies the end of the rainy season and the start of a period of relative abundance. It is a time for the community to renew social ties, promote cultural traditions, and give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. The festival reminds the Ogidi of their cultural heritage and identity. It brings families and friends together to eat, make merry and celebrate their rich cultural history.
Igede – Agba festival
The Igede people of Benue state celebrate the Igede-Agba New Yam festival. This festival marks the end of the rainy season and the harvest of new yams. Yam is referred to as the king of all crops in Igede land.
Igede-Agba is celebrated annually in the month of September. September is the seventh moon “Oya” in the Igede calendar, a particularly noteworthy number. Igede Agba Yam festival includes eating pounded yam, cultural music, dancing, and other sorts of cultural displays. The occasion also witnesses the use of locally brewed drinks made from millet and guinea corn, known as Apio, Ogbete, Oburukutu, Ogene, and others with varying alcoholic content.
Yam, the king of all farm produce, is used to commemorate harvest and the start of the plating season. As a result, harvesting young yams before they are designated ready for harvesting is prohibited. Every Igede man is required to celebrate the event using yams grown on his land rather than purchased from the market. Families are required to consume solely pounded yam during and immediately after Igede Agba, rather than the typical fermented cassava, popularly known as Akpu (fufu).
Igede Agba is celebrated by all male children assembling at the father’s round hut called Ugara, while all man’s wives congregate with all female children in the most senior wife’s home. The father is usually the first to wash his hands, followed by the oldest son.
During the celebration, farmers with the largest fields, the largest yams, or the greatest quantity of yams in their barns receive trophies and honors. This is a completely open, free, and fair competition that encourages hard effort and advancement.
Igede Agba is seen as a period of peace, reconciliation, and sharing. On Igede Agba, no one eats alone. You must have a friend or someone come to you. As part of your preparations, you must clear the footpath between your house and your neighbor’s house. This means, “You are welcome to visit or stop by for a meal.” The exchange of gifts and food is done with zeal and excitement.
The festival also attracts many tourists who come to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Igede people.
Okpe New yam festival
Okpe is a town in Edo state’s Akoko-Edo local council. The town is well-known for its large celebration of the new yam festival, which takes place in July. About thirteen days before the festival, Olokpe (the King) and his Chiefs, who serve on the festival committee, advise the people of any new enhancements or reductions to the festival.
Following that, the King conveys his greetings to the entire realm by gunshots heard far and wide by the people. The noises convey the phrase ‘Wasigbeenile,’ which translates as “thank you all for taking such good care of me in this last year.” Throughout the day, people greet themselves with this word.
As a gesture of respect for the king’s throne, people visit the palace on the first day of the ritual with presents such as bush meats, goats, yam tubers, and so on. On the major day, the King and his chiefs leave the palace clad in white. They go to four Shrines (known as the Ancestral sites) to pray for a better harvest and more profitable years. The celebration continues later in the town plaza with a speech by the Olokpe, as well as other dignitaries and reputable citizens of the town, addressing municipal issues. The Okpe king presides over the festival and cultural activities like wrestling matches, acrobatic displays, and masquerades.
The New Yam Festival is significant because yams are a major part of Okpe history, culture, and economy. The festival celebrates the community’s agricultural heritage, brings families together, and promotes cultural traditions that have endured for generations. It is a time for the Okpe people to express their gratitude for nature’s provision.
So there you have it, a glimpse into some of the most prominent yam festivals celebrated in Nigeria. Yam is life in these tribes, so much so that they dedicate days of dancing, eating, and coming together as a community to honor the harvest. As an outsider looking in, these colorful and vibrant festivals seem like a perfect way to learn about Nigerian culture, support local communities, and of course, eat delicious food. If you ever get a chance to visit these states, try and time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals. You’ll experience the state in a whole new way and make memories that will last a lifetime.