Nguru Aboh Mbaise cultural festival.

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Being a discussion at NGURU UBOMA AHIA ISE DAY AND IRI JI MBAISE 2018 organized by Nguru Development Union, Lagos Branch
on Sunday 16th September 2018.
Nde k’anyi na nde obia, Ndewo nu. I welcome you.
Ji (Yam in English, botanical name Discorea opposito) is generally agreed to be a crop native to Africa. In pre-colonial Nguru Society, Ji na Ede (yam and cocoyam) were the main sources of food. Cassava was a later entrant. I remember my father telling us that yam and cocoyam were in contention and cassava came to separate them and became the main victim (ji na ede no na ogu, japu abia iga ogu gara iwe alaa la).
Yam was the king of crops. It was the prestige crop. Every man’s worth was measured by the variety and quantity of yams be had in his yam barn (oba ji).
The following varieties of yam are known to have been cultivated in Nguru and the other surrounding clans in Mbaise, even though some of these yam species may have become extinct now:
1. Apu Ji
2. Ji Aga
3. Ji Abala/Ji Avala
4. Ji Igwe
5. Ji Ikpa
6. Ji Mgbada
7. Ji Myaghara/Ji Nwanyaghara
8. Ji Ngwugwo
9. Ji Nkuokpuagwa
10. Ji Nwagba
11. Ji Nwaigbugbo
12. Ji Nwaliga
13. Ji Nwanyieri
14. Ji Obia-Oturugo
15. Ji Ocha
16. Ji Ogbaga
17. Ji Oke Imoro-ocha
18. Ji Oko
19. Ji Okoloma
20. Ji Okpa/Ji Opa
21. Ji Okpuzu
Cultivation of Yam (Iru Ji) is a very tedious process. I believe that this was why successful farmers were revered in Alaigbo. You had to have staying power to be a successful yam farmer. The cultivation process of yam is as follows:
i. Bush Clearing and trimming of tree branches and dressing of palm trees (Isu Oru/Ibi Elu Oru). Clearing of the bush liberates the land on which yams will be planted while the cutting of tree branches will allow sunshine to reach the leaves of the planted crops.
ii. Burning of the cleared bush and cleaning up the of the farm (Isu Ahiahia Oku/Ivocha Oru).
iii. Slashing of the yams into seedlings, the spacing for mounds and the planting of yams in mounds (Iwa ji/Ima Ube ji/Iko ji). “Traditionally, yam is cut or sliced vertically or lengthwise and not horizontally or widthwise” – Aguwa page 31. The yam seedlings for planting are cut in such a manner that each slice will have a bud for germination. Yams are planted in a straight line. The men use the “ube” to make appropriately spaced marks on the ground in straight lines to indicate where the mounds will be made and where the yam seedlings will be planted. Usually, yams are interplanted with Okro, Ugu(fluted pumkin) and oka(maize).
vi. Cutting of shrubs for Yam Stakes, putting the stakes in place by the yam mounds and the tending of the yam’s climbing stems (Igbu Osisi Ji/Ima Osisi Ji/Igba Ugne Ji)
vii. Initial Weeding of the farm (Ibo Ubi Isi Mbu). This is usually done between May and June to remove weeds and unwanted vegetal growth.
viii. Second weeding of the farm (Ibo Ubi Isi Abuo). This happens around August and September and is a process of removing weeds and other unwanted plants that would have sprouted since after “ubi isi mbu”.
ix. Preliminary Harvest of Yam (Ike ji). Some species of yam are harvested twice, the first harvesting happening around the period of July and August. “This process is a careful slicing off of the yam tuber from the Yam plant stem without cutting off or destroying the fibrous roots. Once the sliced off tuber is dug out, the head Yam Plant stem is reburied in the ground to produce another tuber…” – Aguwa page 11.
x. Harvest of yam (Igwu Ji). Yam is harvested between November and December. This involves digging up the yam tubers, scrapping away sand from the harvested tubers and transporting them to the Yam Barn (Oba Ji) for storage. Yam is usually transported in “Abo” and not “ekete/nkata”.
xi. Storage of Yam in the Yam Barn (Ike Ji n’ Oba Ji).
“Harvested Yam tubers are preserved in the Yam Barn a place, well-constructed so as to secure the yam tubers and to prevent undeserved elements from entering the barn. After cleaning the tubers of soil, or sand, they are tied on Yam Stakes (Ekwe Ji) for preservation, support, protection, mark out and security. The same species of yams are stored together on the yam stakes. “These stakes are usually constructed with OGIRISHI tree stem, NKPAKU stem, UHA stem, RAFFIA-PALM bamboo and RAFFIA-PALM rope”. – Aguwa page 11
The Law of the Farm which is a key rule for success, states that, “ for one to be a success he or she must first clear the bush, then plant and nurture before he or she can harvest success”.
The yam cultivation process is the clearest illustration of the law of the farm, a basic rule for success. No person who follows this process in his/her area of endeavor will ever fail.
Ahianjoku is the Yam Deity. Yam was perceived to be a gift of the Yam Deity, Ahianjoku. “As the gift of the deity, yam cultivation, maintenance, harvesting and replanting were dependent on the whims and caprices of the yam deity, Ahanjoku” – Ihenacho page 425. The shrine of the Ahia Njoku was inside the Yam Barn(Oba Ji).
The EMEUME IRI JI OHURU (New Yam Festival) was an Ahianjoku feast to celebrate the beginning of the first harvest and eating of new and fresh yams. “The sacrifices of Ahianjoku feast included killing of a fowl and sprinkling its blood at the Uha, Abosi, Ogiri Isi or Okoroko tree marking the shrine of Ahianjoku deity in the barn” – Ihenacho page 427. The Ahianjoku Festival was also called “MGBAJIRI ONYE AKA OKU” and was used by successful yam farmers to feast, entertain and reward those who assisted them during the planting season.
This is a Christianized version of the Emume iri Ji Ohuru. On August 15 every year, Mbaise people all over the world celebrate this thanksgiving event individually or collectively with friends and well wishers. They come together to celebrate their achievements and accomplishments over the last year with special thanksgiving to God.
According to David Asonye Ihenacho, ‘The Ezeji title was a mark of great distinction among communities of pre-colonial Mbaise.” “The title was conferred only on desiring and deserving members of pre-colonial Mbaise communities who had reached an acceptable benchmark that would make them distinguished and accomplished in yam farming”.
A desiring Ezeji must have in his yam barn in the year of his initiation as Onye Ezeji at least 100 Ekwe ji each containing between 40 and 60 yam tubers properly tied with raffia palm ropes on 10ft high stakes.
The individual must have no less than five different species of yam tubers in his barn.
The process of initiation into the Otu Ezeji Society is known as Ikwa Ji. Once admitted after the fulfilment of all the necessary conditions, the farmer becomes an Ezeji (King Of Yams).
There are two ways of becoming an Ezeji
1. By initiation
2. By Isa Mbazu which is the process through which Nde Ezeji who are admitted by initiation now initiate their own sons into the Ezeji Society.
The Ezeji Association (Otu Nde Ezeji) is the body of Nde Ezeji. In Nguru, the Ezeji Associations were organized in Market Areas until the formation of Ezeji Mbaise Association which is an association for all Nde Ezeji Mbaise. Ezeji Mbaise Association is not just a club of farmers; it is in fact an institute dedicated to farming excellence and accomplishments.
Njoku Ji is the person who the yam deity Ahianjoku has chosen to serve him as his minister. Njoku was both a title and a name. The office usually fell or manifested on people randomly. Njoku had special rights and privileges in his father’s household. Njoku when he died was buried in a special way such that his head will not touch ground and after the head fell off from the rest of the body, it was harvested and displayed on the Ahianjoku shrine.
Mmaji is the wife of Njoku. She is usually the daughter of an Njoku. It was believed that any Njoku that married any other woman but Mmaji always encountered a lot of difficulties in his life. Where an Njoku married many wives, at least one of his wives must be an Mmaji. The role of Mmaji was to help her husband, Njoku, in yam cultivation, feast and other matters that would need the help of a beloved wife.
Cultivation of yam in Nguru and indeed in the Mbaise Nation has lost preeminence. We can no longer cultivate enough yams to feed us. Most of us now have our Yam barns at Ama Awusa. Yet we celebrate the new yam festival. People wonder why we celebrate if we no longer produce yams in great quantities.
In my opinion there are two reasons why we will continue to celebrate the new yam festival. First it reminds us who we were in the past and the attributes that made our ancestors great. Second, it reminds us that in every area of human endeavour, if we follow the law of the farm, we will achieve tremendous success.
Thank you
Ano Anyanwu
Onaka Nguru Uboma Ahia Ise.
For Further Reading
1. Ezeji Hon Dr Anamelechi Aguwa – Ikwaji and Iri ji Mbaise – Good Samaritan Enterp. Owerri 2012
2. David Asonye Ihenacho – Mbaise, Who We Are As A People – EduEdy Publications- Owerri 2012