The people of Ibeku, aborigines of Abia State capital city of Umuahia, annually celebrate the New Yam festival like any other part of Igbo land where its maiden harvest is celebrated with pomp and pageantry.
According to Ibeku land folklore, celebration of the king of crops in the area as yam is known in Igbo land is an ancient thing that dates back over 1500 years.
Although modernity appeared to have made them to do away with few things that were done during the new yam festival, but that its entirety has not changed anything. Last year, the people of Ibeku celebrated the New Yam on August 25, 2019 with the razzmatazz which attends the celebrations over the years.
However, this year’s celebration was without the usual funfair as the organizers decided to abide with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, all the rites associated with the commencement of the New Year festival in Ibeku land was performed at Egwu Ibeku located at Umuajiji, Isieke, Ibeku, the traditional ground of all Ibeku people, by Prince Benjamin Apugo, Ochiagha/Oparaukwu Ibeku (War Commander/ First Son of Ibeku land) assisted by other custodians of Egwu Ibeku. Equally, he performed the traditional cutting of the new yam.
It was preceded by the traditional gun shots, which informed the
whole of Ibeku land of the commencement of the New Yam Festival. Performing the rites, Prince Apugo said, “I perform the traditional rites for Ibeku because I inherited it; the New Yam Festival cannot commence in Ibeku land without my performing these rites.
“From what my parents told me, in the olden days before our people went to war, they always come to our compound to take the blessing and they would go and conquer and come back.
“So, you can see, my name is Ochiagha Ibeku because of the rites that I perform which is also inherited. I am also the Oparaukwu Ibeku, it is not a title, it’s not from any traditional ruler, its inherited, and so, I have to perform all these rites for the New Yam festivals.”
Apugo, a Board of Trustees (BoT) and national caucus member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) stated that performing the new yam traditional rites have been in existence over the years even as he revealed that it was not an all comer’s affairs.
“In our own land, it is sacred and not everyone can come here and perform it no matter how wealthy you are. It’s for descendants of Ibeku.” Apugo informed that the New Yam festival in Ibeku is significant in Igbo land due to the rite they perform which is not common anywhere.
With the rite, the coast is now clear for the seven communities that make up Ibeku land to commence their New Yam festivals which will last for eight days. “Our own is significant.
This ceremony marks the declaring open of new yam celebrations across the communities that make up Ibeku land for the next eight days,” he said.
The Ochiagha/Oparaukwu Ibeku had days before the date of the New Yam festival went on air to appeal to his people to observe low keyed celebrations this year as a result of the coronavirus. He urged them to conduct themselves during the eight days period of the New Yam celebrations in Ibeku land.
“Despite going on air and using town criers who went round the villages to warn on the need to respect the NCDC protocol, there may be miscreants who would disobey.”
Previous years, Ibeku sons and daughters in the Diaspora have had occasions to come home to join their kith and kin in the celebration of the New Yam festival, but there was none of that this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the few people who were at Egwu Ibeku for the rites expressed joy that despite the effect of the coronavirus, they were able to celebrate the new yam this year, albeit in a low key.