In Igbo land, of the south eastern Nigeria, yam is the most respected and honoured crop. Before its consumption in every year, it must be honoured and welcomed in a special way in this celebration of new yam festival.
The celebration takes place on different dates in different places but must be within the month of August.
Ikwo, the largest local government area in Ebonyi state is not an exception in this historical celebration. In fact, the people of Ikwo Noyo clan has a special way of celebrating their new yam (Nnesweoha) festival.
Thus, in Ikwo LGA of Ebonyi State, Nnesweoha (new yam festival) is an annual event that is highly cherished and celebrated by any true son and daughter of Ikwo, wherever he or she is. Inherited from our ancestors, the festival is the Passover Feast into the New Year, Ekenwanekwa (the first day to harvest the new yam of the new year), in the next four days being eke. Having survived the previous year, the day is heralded with joy, celebration and thanks-giving to God and the spirit of our forefathers and mothers, who lived a good life.
Nnesweoha festival is not only meant to celebrate survival from famine season, it is also very significant for other social, political and economic values for which Ikwo people are known, such as respect for elders, visits and exchange of gifts with fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, relations and friends, obedience to the rules that bind the society together and assessment of one’s performance for the outgoing year, with a view to improving for better, come new year.
Mostly exchanged during the period of Nnesweoha festival are tubers of old yam, dry fish, bush meat, palm wine, a bunch/leaves of tobacco with potash to mix, etc. Nneswoha season is also special to the newly married couples because it is a time for them to visit, father/mother in-laws, to take dates for initiation into womanhood (Ugvuegirima/Ugvuoguruenya) of young wives, come the subsequent year. During this period, married women cook the best of dishes and visit their parents, brothers and uncles. Young men and girls fetch firewood to grandmothers, grandfathers and other aged relation. Fathers, brothers and uncles also use the opportunity to shower gift to their visiting daughters and grandchildren, with assorted items such as tubers/pieces of yam, dry meat, coconut, money and abundant blessings.
The following items are used to celebrate on Nnesweoha day: Ngvuakpa (locally prepared ground maize) in the morning, Oji with Ose Ukpara (kola and well garnished pepper), Akpaka-ebebe/Akpaka atsutsu, Emma-Okponku/Anuokponku (dry fish) in the mid-morning; Inne akahu nji (porridge of the old yam) in the afternoon and Utara with Ophe-Akpuruta, Ophe-Ukpa, Ophe Onunji (pounded yam with different delicacies of soup) etc, may be preferred, in the evening. Mme mini (Palm wine) and Karama (hot drink) are also used to wash these delicacies down the throat along the day.
Traditional/cultural music and dances of various types, such as Okpuruegede, Edege, Odabara, Ode, Okowe Ogbodogu Ayita, Ekwemgba, Egvumme Ikpobina, Igbiri, Nwogbaego, are normally used to add colour to the celebration. They are displayed in the village square and streets for people’s admiration, throughout Nwanoyo settlements.
It is the duty of those traditionally assigned in Ekpeli, the ancestral home of Ikwo, to keep, read the calendar of Ikwo and direct when Nneswoha (the new yam festival ) and Ekenwanekwa (the first day to harvest new yam for the new year) are to take place, on annual basis. Usually, the appearance of Ekpeli in Igboji, known as Ekpeli afua le Igboji, announces and marks the counting of Nneswaoha day, for the year.
Between Nnesweoha day and Ekenwanekwa day, are two days:
Ukatafa and Unuafa, marked as transitional days between the old year and new year. These two days neither belongs to the old nor the New Year, that any event, including death is not counted as belonging to the outgoing year, but shifted to the New Year. This is why the corpse of any deaths within these two days must be preserved for burial after Ekenwanekwa, and recorded as having died in the New Year.
Ukata-afa is used to visit the yam farm, inspect the yams and do some weeding of grasses and thanks-giving to God, in preparation for harvest of new yam on Ekenwanekwa day.
Unu-afa the third day after Nnesweoha, is a day of rest and opening of yam ban, to welcome the spirit of new yam that would be harvested and eaten the following day, Ekenwanekwa.
Harvesting and eating of new yam by anybody, before this Ekenwanekwa day in Ikwo, is an abomination and attracts banishment in the land, for anybody caught, until he performs the cleansing rituals, as usually prescribed by the custodians of Ikwo culture of Ekpeli.
As the Chief Priest of Ikwo Noyo, the traditional rulers, the Ozo’s and the good people of Ikwo welcome all their sons and daughters at home and in diasporas to the yearly celebration, they also uses the time to encourage and foster peaceful coexistence, social development, friendly and brotherly political participation that will bring limelight to the people of Ikwo Noyo clan.
Most important of the areas of the identity of Ikwo, are peace loving, hardworking, love for one another and our neighbours, fear of God, respect for elders and constituted authority, mentoring and assisting the young to grow by the elders, brothers and sisters, mutual aides to each other and above all portraying cherishable exemplary life, for the imitation of our counterparts everywhere in the world.