Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

New Yam Festival; Climate Change Call

New Yam Festival Part 2

My husband Clem said I should have told you more about the meaning and celebration of the new yam festival. I don’t always do what he recommends, as he could tell you, but this time I’m following his advice.

You may have tried the link to the newspaper article about the Igbo Ukwu festival in my last post, and found that it didn’t work. I apologize. I’ve fixed it. Here it is again. You can read about Igbo Ukwu’s festival if you like, or read this description written with the help of my husband.


Masquerades are said to emerge from the ground for important festivals and go back into the ground afterwards.

Yam, the first crop of the agricultural year, is harvested in mid to late August near the end of the rainy season. I asked Clem who decides the day for the festival. He said people just know. The Igbo Ukwu Festival that was described in the article went on for five days and I’m guessing the chief and his counselors decided when to hold it.

Clem says that in his town of Nanka there may be several festivals. Each of the four or five clans that make up a village may have its own celebration. Then each village – Clem’s is one of seven – will have its own festivities. Then the final and largest event, with the most masquerades, dancers, and crowds, is the town’s festival.

The yam festival is the time to honor and give thanks to the gods and ancestors for the successful harvest. Today Christian prayers are interwoven among the Igbo praises of the ancestors. For the festival yam is either boiled or roasted, but not pounded. It’s eaten with palm oil, with the chief or the oldest man present being the first to partake.

Yam is not only a staple food for the Igbo but also a symbol of wealth. A full yam barn is a source of pride and a sign of prosperity.

Yam barn

Very full yam barn constructed from bamboo poles

A couple of years ago Clem was in the village for the new yam festival. He was asked to provide a cow for the clan’s celebration – that is, to pay for the cow – that someone else went to market to buy. A man was hired to butcher the cow and the meat was cooked as part of the feast, along with the yam, the most important element.

Clem said he’d looked forward to the festivities. But the celebration started so late in the evening that he didn’t even take part. “Why?” I said.

“Two men were quarreling – I don’t even know what about – and the quarrel had to be settled before the celebration could begin,” he said. “I was too tired to wait.” So instead of sharing the food and drink with others, he stayed in his room and his share was sent to him.

He can sleep through most anything, so I’m sure the music and dancing that followed the feasting didn’t even keep him awake!

Climate Change Call

I was pleased to see this call for action from a Nigerian writer. He reminds us that the Nigerian government said gas flaring – burning off the gas that is released from oil wells – should end in 2008, and it’s still going on. The practice is not only incredibly wasteful, it is also harmful to the people who live nearby.

gas flaring

Gas flares in Nigeria

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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