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Unizik marks ‘Iri Ji’ festival amidst jubilation

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By Gabriel Chy Alonta

Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, through its Directorate of Igbo Village and Centre for African Civilization (IVACAC), celebrated the ‘Iri Ji’ (New Yam) festival of the institution. 

The event, which took place at the Faculty of Arts complex of the institution on Thursday, attracted custodians of rich Igbo culture and tradition together amidst jubilation. 

In an address, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Charles Esimone, reminisced that in the native Igbo society, yam was regarded as the king of crops, a symbol of muscularity and a measure of a man’s wealth, which, he said, was often revealed by the size of his barn. The vice-chancellor said the occasion was to celebrate the prominent position of yam in the pristine agrarian communities of the Igbo people.

“Today, the religious rituals associated with the new yam have changed significantly, but the core value: thanksgiving to God remains valid. This is the spirit in which the new yam festival is celebrated in Nnamdi Azikiwe University”, Esimone said.

On his part, the Special Guest of Honour and Gubernatorial Aspirant for the Zonal Labour Party, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo commended IVACAC for preserving and fostering ‘Igboness’ through its programmes and activities. 

Okonkwo decried that the cultural values of Ndi Igbo was being eroded as a result of westernization, noting that the relationship between town and gown would ensure that the cultural norms and values were maintained and transcended from generation to generation.

Also speaking, the Director of IVACAC and a member of the 9th Governing Council of the university, Very Rev. Fr. Prof. Bonachristus Umeogu, emphasized that the cultivation of yams in Igbo world begins in ‘Onwa Olu’, which, he said, comes between the ending of March and the last weeks of April, and harvested in ‘Onwa Ifejioku’, after which some are staked and others used for the new yam festival. 

“Yams are medicinal as the potassium and sodium content of yams like ‘Ji Ona and Ji Anunu’ regulate blood pressure in the human body, while the Vitamin C content increases the well being of the human hair and the skin”, Fr. Umeogu added.

Earlier, the chairman of the occasion, Prof. Joseph Brian Adinma, described the new yam festival in Igbo land as the king of all festivals which requires thanksgiving to God for a successful farming season. He pointed out that yams in Igbo land were not only used for food, commerce and sacrifice but also play a symbolic role in healing process. 

Visitation to the proposed site of the Igbo Village, cutting of the roasted yams, traditional dance and cultural displays, were the high points that spiced up the occasion.

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