THAT yam is considered King of root crops in Nigeria is not in doubt. Apart from some procedures that are usually observed when the root crop is being planted and the care given to it until it is harvested, there are also procedures that must be followed before newly harvested yams are eaten. This procedure varies from community to community especially in Southern Nigeria.
This tradition is referred to as new yam festival. Although many communities in the country may have abandoned the annual celebration of the new yam festival due to the influence of Western culture, but one community in Edo state which has held on tenaciously to the ancient festival is Utese in Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State under the leadership of the Enogie (Duke), HRH Idahosa Agidigbi 1.
Enogie Agigigbi, a graduate of the Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, demonstrated his love for the propagation of the culture and mores of his people when he celebrated the new yam festival recently. At the event,Utese sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora trooped home to partake in the celebration of the festival, which they said was the first under the reign of the present Enogie (Duke) since he ascended the throne of his fathers about a year ago.
Utese is a bilingual community in Edo State. They speak the Bini and Yoruba languages fluently and history had that the town was founded by the younger brother of Oronmiyan, Irado on his way from Ile-Ife to Benin in the 11th century. He said to have stopped over in the town and was crowned the 1st Enogie.
This year new yam festival in the community started one bright early morning with dancing and rejoicing. The community already agog with the festivity marched through the entire length and breadth of the town with the youths displaying several acrobatic steps. The elderly were not left out as they followed the Enogie as he moved from one shrine to the other.
Highlights of the day was the formal peeling and cutting of the new yam by the Enogie who was the first to taste of it as tradition demanded. This was followed with thunderous clapping of hands and dancing.
Apart from the display by several dancing groups, visitors to the community were entertained with assorted foods and drinks. Indeed, it was a festival worth celebrating. Speaking in an interview with Vanguard Arts on the significance of the new yam festival, Enogie Agidigbi said, "The new yam festival is an enactment of our tradition, and so every year, my community celebrate the festival as it is done in most indigenous communities in Southern Nigeria. The new yam festival is a festival that is peculiar to the Western Zone of Africa and Africans by tradition are farmers.
"Yam is a primary product of every farmer; hence it is important that every community that is agrarian in nature celebrates one of his/her best product annually. In Utese, we celebrate the new yam festival in accordance with the culture of our people".
He insisted that as the custodian of the culture and tradition of his people, the influence of Western culture do not pose a challenge to the cultural practices of his community, adding that "our culture and tradition remains firm in spite of the challenges posed by Western culture".
On his advice to Utese people, he said," as far as the annual festival is concerned, our people should sustain the tempo of agricultural productivity as it is today. I want them to continue to practice their farming because if they abandon it, the aim of the festival would be defeated. They should not see the festival as idol worshiping because there is nothing like idol practice associated with the festival".
Enogie Agidigbi also used the occasion to appeal to the Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to assist the community with the provision of a transformer, even as he said that the bore-hole sank by the administration has become unhygienic. He therefore appealed to the government to help provide a water treatment plant for the bore-hole so as to prevent outbreak of water borne diseases in the community.