Ikeji (New Yam) Festival in Afikpo
The yam festival marks the end of an abundant food-producing harvest. African people have always had festivals at the time of the harvest. In Afikpo the Yam Festival (Ikeji or Iriji) lasts three days. The festival begins with a cleansing ceremony to honor family members who have died. Farmers give thanks to the gods who ensure a good harvest.
This festival is held once a year, usually in August or September, just as the rainy season is coming to an end, and crops are ripe and ready to harvest. There is plenty of maize (corn) as well as other vegetables, such as okra, beans, cassava, and yams.
Yams are usually the first fruits of the harvest, the staple food of many peoples of western Africa. The yam is a large tuberous root related to the sweet potato, but not exactly the same. American sweet potatoes are usually orange, but African yams can be white, yellow, or orange inside (but they still taste sweet) and come in many shapes and sizes: some can be up to a few feet long.
Yams are very versatile and can be cooked in many ways: roasted, boiled, added to soups and stews, fried, mashed, or dried and pounded into flour. The traditional dish is called fufu. This is boiled, mashed yams, with a little butter or palm oil, often still eaten in the traditional way—with the hands.
At the Yam Feast, the local people serve yams with fish, chicken or lamb; or with vegetables, such as oil bean, pumpkin, corn, or African greens; or in a soup. Isaac remembers palm nut soup, and Teddy coco yam soup. One of Isaac’s favorites was yam porridge (pounded cooked yam reconstituted into a thick soup) topped with cooked goat. Dessert might be mangoes, guavas, pineapple or oranges. Drinks include fruit juices, palm wine and beer
On the first morning of the celebration, families make an altar in honor of their ancestors, the earth god , and the yam god, Ihejioku. Village men go out to the farms to dig up the new yams, and give thanks in the village square. Yams must be carefully dug up as they bruise easily. In their homes the men make an offering to the ancestors of new yams, some white chalk, and a chicken. The chicken is for slaughter, and the chalk symbolizes purity and well-being. Some of these traditions are changing now, as Christianity becomes stronger in the region. A feast with family, friends and neighbors follows
On the second day, the villagers gather to watch young men in wrestling contests. In the morning the wrestlers eat roasted yams, which they believe will give them strength, and village elders are chosen as judges. Drums welcome the wrestlers, divided into two teams, into the village square. When a wrestler wins a round, drummers beat their drums again, and young women come into the circle and dance. Eating, drinking, and talking also continue the whole day into the evening. It can be a noisy celebration with gongs, musket fire, calabashes, and flutes as well as the drums.
Economic Significance of Yam
Nigeria realized N56 billion (US$380 million) from yam exports during 2008 according to figures released by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC)
World production of yam is 51.4 million tonnes per year out of which Nigeria accounts for an average of 36.7 million tonnes, Ghana for 3.6 million tonnes and Cote d’Ivoire for 4.8 million tonnes.. The failure of exporters in Nigeria to meet strict sanitary standards in Europe is however one of the major issues holding back exports.
Yams export substantial proportions of nutrients from the soil with the harvested produce. Increasing tuber yields through breeding and selection will thus lead to soil nutrient depletion if not accompanied by soil and nutrient management strategies. We use an integrated approach to soil fertility management. Current activities include assessing the nutrient requirements of yams, establishing varietals differences in nutrient use and response efficiency, and evaluating the impact of including cover crops in yam-based cropping systems. We have also established variations in white Guinea and water yams for the extent of root colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in different agro ecologies. Studies are in progress to establish the contribution of AMF to mineral nutrition of yams.
Our social scientists assess the financial viability and adoption potential of the technologies being developed. They are also working towards a better understanding of markets and demand for yams and yam products. This includes studies on seed systems, yam consumption patterns, industrial demand, export, marketing channels, effects of trade and market liberalization, and general competitiveness of the yam subsector.