ARTS & CULTURE

Origin Of Iwaji Festival In Onitsha

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ORIGIN   OF   IWAJI   FESTIVAL

Tradition is an oral unwritten constitution of a people handed over from generation to generation.  It is the religion was founded on experience. Doctrine is a dogma of a religion. In the 17th century when Onitsha crossed  over to the eastern part of the Lord Niger ,yam was not in vogue among them. A nuclear family Umuasele Village “the Obamkpas” discovered  a seed call “Adu”. Adu is a slave yam seed that grows on the surface of the earth produced by a creeping stem plant. The head of the family plucked the seed ,cooked it for food and ate with the nuclear family.

Not too long after consumption, the entire family  develop stomach problem. The much alkali substance in the seed turned toxic. All of them died of food poisoning.   Adu is edible mostly when there is famine. But must be cooked overnight like coco yam “Akasi”to diffuse it of the poisonous akali.

When the real yam was founded, people already have been intimidated by fear of the dead family at Umuasele  Village.  No one wanted  to  be second victim. The king of Onitsha and his council of chiefs held a meeting seeking for a solution to eat the yam. As human with common sense they delegated a village known by their cerebral power in clairvoyance, the Umuikem people to find a solution to eating a suspected staple food. The Umuikem people consulted their oracle which directed Onitsha how to eat the yam.

Umuikem with their second sight directed as follows:

That a leaf called Nnaedi should be collected in a reasonable quantity. Put into a mortar and pounded to pieces. The liquid in it pressed out. Four pieces of broken clay   pot “Mgbankele” put  into the burning fire used in roasting four pieces of yam tubers. The Mgbankele  will allowed to get real hot. When well heated, four of them will be  dropped into the mortar containing the Nnaedi leaf, stirred to produce steam. It is imperative to note that Nnaedi is a normally  eaten by a cat called Edi.

This cat is beast of prey that belong to the family of leopards. After Edi has eaten the leaf, no hunter can shoot at it when it is defeating and kill  it. The  animal must disappear into thin air.  “Onwu ada egbu Edi na  unyu ”. Death cannot take the life of Edi cat while defeating. Clairvoyance or soothsayers use the faeces of his animal for a charm that make people disappear whenever there is an accident unhurt. It is called “Odu una”

The four pieces of yam tubers roasted are scraped clean and cut into bits and pieces, put into same mortar containing the Nnaedi and four pieces of clay “Mgbankele”. Add oil salt and mix for taste. Before carrying it to the Diokpa, the four pieces of clay “Mgbankele” is removed and discarded or kept somewhere for the coming year. No one takes any piece for taste until Diokpa prays to God, the ancestors and Deities. Today, it is tasted for salt and oil without harm or spiritual offence.

  1. Diokpa with the Nnaedi in front of him prays to God, Ancestors and Deities for a safe eating of yam. When that is done, a seat is placed outside in front of the house for the Diokpa to perform the ritual eating the yam first.
  2. Two sticks of Akpu tree measuring about 1/2 “in diameter,30 inches long is provided with palm frond. Also a fork like stick from grove tree “Egbo “ or “Ogilisi” measuring about 3/4 inches in diameter and 30 inches long is made available. The two sticks of Akpu are dug into the ground upright about 6 inches deep, 24 inches apart. The palm frond is tied across the sticks. The Diokpa then sits backing the house. A matriarch (Nwada) will pick up the fork stick and a piece of the yam prepared and stuck the yam to the fork stick (see picture in front cover). With all the members of the family around the Matriarch (Nwada) will attempt to feed the patriarch (Diokpa) with the yam, the crowd shouts Olie! Olie!! Olie!!! And in fear the Nwada withdraws. She goes  back again second time and as Diokpa  opens his mouth to eat, the crowd shouts again   Olie! Olie!! Olie!!! The third time the Nwada mops up sufficient courage to push the yam into the Diokpa’s mouth while the crowd shouts Olie-e-e.
  3. When this is over, the partriarch (Diokpa) moves into the house and takes his seat for prayers to the Almighty God, Ancestors and Deities with kolanuts, palm wine, gin cockerel and goat if the celebrant can provide goat. The head and legs of the fowl go to the youngest one when cooked. The left hand of the hand of the goat goes to Diokpa while the waist “ukwu” goes to Nwada. If the incumbent Diokpa is in  disput, point the meat towards the sun call Diokpa “Ife Nru” and take it back to the house fo consumption

Diokpa does not mean an Ozo caste or Ndichie but the head of the family:

As the Diokpa has survived the acid test he calls on his wife or wives, the children and relations to offer them the delicacy of the new found yam. All and sundry now rush to have a taste of Nnaedi. Obi in council having considered the prescription by Umuikem clairvoyance now came up with the question “who would bell the cat”? the elders and the leaders of the community deciced that the smallest village with the smallest with the smallest number of people would eat first. Ogbe Ozoma village was mandated to eat first. They ate and nothing wrong happened. After   two days,the next village Ogboli-Eke ate theirs and so it continued till Ikpala Eze the royal family celebrated theirs. The yam eating of Ikpala Eze was a celebrationg for the entire Onitsha hence the song “Owiwaji Ikpala Eze, onyeobunae  yili obante we bia ”by dance band. Owiwaji festival in Onitsha tops all other festivals. It marks the beginning of harvest. In the primordial era all Onitsha indigenes were farmers. All married people celebrate owiwaji asking God, Ancestors and Deities for a more bumper harvest the coming year.

Following Iwaji next is Ifejioku which usually come up in the month of January. For this ceremony, farmers take cock to the farm’s “Ugbo Oyolu” at 33 and Ugbo Akatakpo Onitsha to slaughter and spill the blood of cock “Okpa” in the farm prayiny to God for the successful eating of the yam by  ogbe ozoma village, people of other villages like Ogboli-Eke etc to celebrate theirs before it came to their turn. This day where we work is our farm, every gainfully  employed person in Onitsha should celebrate New yam festival in his house to show gratitude to God for all he has achieved and what he failed to achieve. “Onye gbaa aro . ogwa chie.” Hew who loses hi tradition becomes a stranger. Iwaji festival is free for all male adult viz Nwilo, Iregu, Ozo castes and Ndichie. It is thanksgiving to God at its best. The much you give to people is the much you receive.

By : Akunne Amuta

InlandTown! 2016.

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