It was a completely traditional affair penultimate Friday when the Hilton Hotel, Abuja celebrated the New Yam Festival with members of the Ibo community in Abuja amidst fanfare and traditional display.
The ceremony began with the breaking of the presentation of the kolanut to HRH Ezeudo Longinus Udeogu by the MD/CEO Transcorp Hotels Plc, Mr. Valentine Ozigbo who prayed for the organisers and offered it to all male present from the different Ibo states and guests.
Exotic variety of yam dishes were served accompanied with an array of sauces, meat, fish and poultry was the order of the day as guests and passersby were treated to the delicacies.
Guests who were waiting to go home at Christmas to have a taste of traditionally homemade cuisine with the right balance of ingredients, didn’t have to wait anymore as the evening came to their rescue with an abundance of yam, ugba, ayanra and plantain among others. In the words of one of the guests, Dr. Bathos Nwadike: “what we are doing here today is an equivalent of Christmas, New Year or Sallah celebrations. It is a day and time of merriment.”
This was well blended with the performance of dancers who displayed to the beats and rhythms of drums, eke and oja accompanying their steps as gaily dressed waiters in traditional Igbo costumes served them.
Ike Obosi, Chidoka Osita who carried out the official cutting of the yam explained the significance of the crop for Ibos.
Osita said: “It is the most important crop in Igboland because it is the one crop that requires a man to be strong, diligent and hardworking to produce. It is yam that is the seedling with which you have capital. Every Igbo rich man is recognised by the quantity of yam in his barn. It is the only crop that we eat and do not exhaust it because we must keep it for the planting of the next season. When a man has come of age, the father or uncles give him a gift of yam seedlings so that he can start his own life. If you handle the yam in a hurry, it will tax your patience.
Going down history, he said: “In the 1700s when slave trade was on, Igbo slaves were in demand in the state of Virginia, US where they plant tobacco because tobacco requires you to have extensive patience and capacity. The Igbos had this ability because of the yam farming. Yam is the only produce we have that if you steal from the ground is an abomination. It is the only crop that titled men will not eat until the community has given sacrifice to the gods to thank them for the season to do the formal cutting of the yam before a titled man can eat it.
“There are so many ceremonies associated with the yam but the most important is that it was a measure of a man’s wealth, of how the gods view him and he views them. Yam is a significant part of the Ibo economy, politics, hard work and expansion because the yams made us go beyond the frontiers of our land in search of fertile land,” he said.
On account of the hotel organising the event, he said: “We cut this yam as a sign of Hilton’s economic sustainability, durability that despite the season of famine that has come upon Nigeria like it did for Okonkwo in ‘Things Fall Apart’ cutting this yam will open up the business of the Hilton Hotel and all those who work in it.”
Hilton’s Public Relations Manager, Mr. Shola Adeyemo, said the event was an effort by the hotel to blend Nigeria cuisine with its culture.
Adeyemo said: “If you look at great civilisations of the world, whether French, Roman, Chinese, Indian you would see that their culture and food are closely interwoven. And so, Nigeria as a great civilisation, we believe that the culture of Nigeria and the cuisine, we’ve got to celebrate it. Yam is one crop that is so important within the cultural and culinary culture of Nigeria and this is why we felt that it is time to celebrate that cultural cuisine which is yam, in Nigeria. As a proudly Nigerian organisation we have a responsibility to promote Nigerian culture and that is why we felt the need to celebrate the new Yam Festival.
“The festival coincides with the celebration in most of the Ibo regions that is why we brought some life size tubers of yam from there to celebrate with.”