THE STORY OF THE 2014 NEW YAM FESTIVAL IN CAPE TOWN
September 21, 2014 | Uhuruspirit
His Royal Majesty Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyesoh, MFR, left, speaking during the 2014 New Yam Festival in Cape Town.
Two weeks ago on Sunday, 7 September, thousands of people filled the main hall of the majestic Good Hope Centre in Cape Town in a colourful celebration of African culture.
The event was the 2014 New Yam Festival organised by Umunri Welfare Association – an Igbo cultural group founded in 2006 in Cape Town by some people whose progenitors were the founders of the renowned ancient Nri Kingdom.
Since its birth, the group has been doing humanitarian work, like visiting various orphanages and homes for the sick and other less-privileged people around the Western Cape Province of South Africa. They have used their partnership with various traditional institutions in South Africa to promote peace among different African communities in the area. On many occasions, they intervened to help settle disputes between feuding traditional leaders in South Africa. In 2010, they held their first New Yam Festival in Cape Town, and since then, the event has become a popular annual event in the area.
It was therefore not surprising that thousands of Africans of different races, tribes and nationalities had joined the Umunri Welfare Association for this year’s edition of the New Yam feast. Guests at the event included representatives of various government institutions, representatives of different South African traditional leaders and delegates from the powerful Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA). Uhuruspirit learnt that His Royal Majesty Nkosi Zwelonke Mpendulo Sicau, the king of the South African Xhosa tribe, who was already in Cape Town for the event, had to fly back to Eastern Cape to attend to some urgent business.
However, other two top traditional leaders, from Nigeria, had graced the event as the special guests of honour. One of the leaders, His Royal Highness Igwe Osuofia II Chijioke Nwankwo, is the traditional ruler of Nawfia in Anambra State. The other is His Royal Majesty Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyesoh, MFR.
Furthermore, many other prominent Igbo leaders in South Africa had journeyed from their bases outside Cape Town to take part in the festivity. Among those who were sighted by Uhuruspirit included, Chief Jonas Udeji (Onowu Ndigbo in South Africa), who is the founder of the South African chapter of Ohaneze Ndigbo; Chief Onyekachukwu Onyeka (Ebubedike Ozubulu), the current Vice President of Anambra State Association-South Africa and Prince Chucks Okoye (Ohamadike), a Life Patron of Nzuko Ndigbo in Pretoria and others.
Chief Jonas Udeji (Onowu Igbo),right, the founder of Ohaneze Ndigbo South Africa, at the New Yam Festival in Cape Town.
Chief Onyekachukwu Onyeka (Ebubedike Ozobulu), extreme left, and Chief Prince Chucks Okoye (Ohamadike), extreme right, during the event.
ANC MP Hon. Dumisani Ximbi, 2nd from right, with other guests at the event.
Among the leaders of the Cape Town-based Igbo community at the event were: Chief Bestman Uzobuife (Nnanyelugo I of Attah), Chairman of the Western Cape chapter of Imo State Union South Africa; Nze Vincent Nzekwe (Ise na Ise), Chairman of Abia State Progressive Union in Western Cape. The Enugu/Ebonyi delegation at the event was led by Chief Okey Onwe, while the Anambra delegation was led by Barrister Chukwuma Anazodo. There were also delegations from local government meetings like Nnewi South, Idemili, Mbano, Aguata, Ideato and Anaocha, among others. Communities like Oba, Anam, and Osumenyi were very conspicuous, while various social clubs like the Dynamic, Enyimba Enyi, Elites and Da Merit were among those who made their presence felt.
From Left: Comrade Joachim Obiajunwa (Vice Chairman, Imo State Union South Africa - Western Cape Chapter, Chief Bestman Uzobuife (Chairman) and his wife, Madam Gold.
Barrister Chukwuma Anazodo (middle), sitting with other guests at the event.
Chief Vincent Nzekwe (Ise na Ise), Chairman, Abia State progressive Union - Western Cape, leading a delegation of his members to pay homage to Isi-Igbo SA
Some members of the delegation from Enugu/Ebonyi States led by Chief Okechukwu Onwe (Anukenyi), left, pose for the camera with Isi-Igbo South Africa Ozo Peter Chukwurah and Ichie Obinna Obiorah (Onowu Umunri).
Chief Uche Anigbogu (Onowu Mbanabo), middle, with other delegates from Aguata.
Some of the delegates from Nnewi South.
Some of the delegates from Mbano Progressive Union. In the picture from left: Nze Jude Osondu (Chairman) and Mr. Charles Nwachukwu
Proceedings got underway after an opening prayer by Prophet Lawrence Ukpabi. This was followed by the welcome read by Mr. Austine Val Okafor, Chairman of Umunri Welfare Association, who used the opportunity to recount the organisation’s journey since its formation. He also reiterated the commitment of Umunri Welfare Association to continue promoting the Nri ideology of peace and kindness. While praising the efforts of his team members and all members of the organization for their dedication and hard-work, Mr. Okafor also thanked well-wishers for their support.
Mr. Austine Val Okafor, Chairman of Umunri Welfare Association reading the welcome address.
Breaking of Kolanut
The reading of the welcome address was followed by the breaking of Kolanut – a very important prayer used to kick off the main business in every Igbo gathering. Kola is seen among the Igbo as a symbol of life and unity. Hence the common saying by the Igbo that he who brings kola brings life. Kolanut is the first thing served in every Igbo gathering. Blessing of the kolanut that is “ịgọ ọjị” is the sole right of the eldest person in any gathering, or that right may go to the Eze/Igwe (King) as the case may be. The principle behind the kola nut culture is that it cannot be eaten without saying of prayers or incantation in a gathering. The eldest in addition to his wise sayings normally request for peace, prosperity, long life, protection from all ills among other things.
The rule of breaking kolanut is that the presenter of kolanut has right to break it, but not absolute right. Tradition has it that a man must break the first kolanut in his house, no matter his socio-cultural status. In the presence of Nze/Ozo titled men, the man can break kolanut, provided that he has not done so in the morning. At a larger gathering of Ndigbo of diverse culture, someone from Nri or Umunri shall as of right break the kolanut. In Nri, kola nut is broken according to the hierarchy of Ozo title among the people present at an occasion.
So, at the 2014 New Yam Festival in Cape Town, the ceremony of the breaking of kola-nut was performed by Eze Nri, after which it was shared and served to all the people present.
Eating of the New Yam rites
In the past, the New Yam Festival was an important annual event in the calendar of many African societies, especially those found in West Africa (mainly in Ghana and Nigeria). The festival is called the New Yam Festival because yam, the first crops to be harvested after the planting season, is the most important crop in most parts of the region. In the case of the Igbo, yams signified the deepest sense of Igboness. In Igbo communities in Nigeria, the carnival is usually held at the end of the rainy season in early August and the role of eating the first yam during the New Yam Festival is performed by the oldest man in the community or the king, after leading the people of his community in offering gratitude to God for the blessing of bountiful harvest.
His Royal Majesty Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyesoh, MFR, performing the New Yam rites.
Apart from providing a platform to give thanks to God and to remember the ancestors, the event also provides an opportunity for the celebration of hard work and spirit of enterprise.
As one of the most important events among Igbo people, the festival is celebrated with pomp and pageantry. In the past, the New Yam Festival was celebrated collectively by people who would gather at the village square where they were entertained by masquerades and folk dancers. These days, people do their best to measure up with those standards that were set in the past.
At the 2014 New Yam Festival in Cape Town, the eating of the New Yam rites was performed by Eze Nri. Thereafter, guests had so much to eat and drink, while the newly-unveiled traditional musical orchestra, Igba Eze Umunri, supplied a festive and distinguished atmosphere. Guests were also entertained by the bare-breasted young men and women from the Siyatshisa Traditional Dancing Group - a traditional Xhosa group from Langa in Cape Town.
Siyatshiba Traditional Dancing Group performing at the event.
Igba Eze Umunri entertains at the New Yam Festival.
Coronation of Isi-Igbo South Africa
Another major highlight at the 2014 New Yam Festival in Cape Town was the coronation of Isi-Igbo South Africa.
Uhuruspirit was informed that the move to install Isi-Igbo South Africa was motivated by the need to tackle the historical misconception of “Igbo Enwere Eze” (Igbos have no king). Umunri affirm that such a misconception that was introduced by the British colonialists has not only led to the bastardisation of Igbo culture, but has helped to sow anarchy among Igbo people. Umunri believe that those that partake in giving currency to such a historical falsehood are merely ignorant of the unique nature of Igbo political leadership before the dawn of colonialism.
It is therefore clear that the coronation of Isi-igbo South Africa is part of the movement to deal with the cultural, moral, historical and psychological consequences of the damages done by the colonialists.
To start with, no one is better placed than Umunri to deal with this matter. As one writer puts it, “The Nri were the ‘first Igbo’ for a number of reasons. They were said to be the descendants of the oldest ancestors (Ndi Ichie), or the elder brothers of Igbo, whose sacred king, the Eze Nri, owned the old ancestral staff of authority (ofo). They were connected directly with the introduction of such essentially ‘Eboan’ things as nso and the ideology of abominations; yam cultivation and ifejioku; the ofo; the multitiered ozo title system, with its ichi marks and other insignia of exalted rank; and the drum. The Nri, in short, were the arbiters of Igbo custom (Omenala).”
Ikechukwu Mozie and Oguguo Ochoifeoma in a paper they presented during the dedication of Igbo Farm Village at Staunton, Virginia in USA in September 2010 observed that, “A general acclamation among most of the Igbo is that Nri are the head of Igbo tribe (Nri bu isi Igbo).”
The Nri civilization dates as far back as the ninth-tenth centuries. Several archeological sites excavated in the early 1960s revealed large caches of intricately decorated pottery, ivory tusks, forged metal objects, bead ornaments, and other regalia and burial practices that strikingly resemble royal Nri material culture. The one human face object from Igbo-Ukwu, of bronze, shows facial scarification that mirrors the distinctive hachure of Nri men.
Douglas B. Chambers made the following observation in his book, Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia:
“Nri was both a place and a culture. As a place it was a union of several villages located between two small lakes in the Anambra River Valley. As a culture it was centered on a priest-king who claimed a special relationship with the deified Earth Force (Ana). Therefore, he was associated with the founding or introduction of crops, and with practices that defined institutional culture, such as yams and title societies (with their ennobling facial sacrificition), and the system of ‘abominations’ (or taboos, nso), as well as with the cult of achievement (Ikenga) and most importantly, a pacifist ideology that abhorred the shedding of human blood. Nri were in effect the first Igbo, seen in central and northern Igboland as the eldest brother, the most senior community that controlled the most ancient ofo (staff of ancestral authority).
The Nri gospel of peace was propagated throughout Igboland and beyond by priests and diplomats who were agents and officials of Eze Nri. As a result, the kingdom of Nri gained the allegiance of other communities and its influence expanded throughout Igboland. These facts were well summarized by the pioneering Nigerian ethnoanthropologist M. Angulu Onwuejeogwu in one of his works as follows:
“The concept of peace, harmony, and truth was ritually symbolized and enacted in the ceremonies of ozo-titled men, who were also the political elite. Nri men who had taken the ichi title always carried in their hands the spear of peace called otonsi. With the spear of peace in their hands and the ichi marks on their faces, they were identified as the ‘sons’ of Eze Nri, Nwa nri, who controlled the mystical force. They travelled generally unmolested from one Igbo settlement to another as agents of Eze Nri to perform political and ritual functions associated with the removing of abomination, the dissolving of codes of abomination, and the enacting of new codes, the ordaining of ritual and political officials, the crowning of chiefs, the making of peace and the creating of markets and shrines. In the performance of these activities Nri people spread into different parts of Igbo land and Eze Nri held some degree of control over the external and internal politics of the older Igbo settlements.”
At the apogee of its civilization, Nri placed a high premium on human dignity and the sanctity of human life. It banned the ancient practice of abandoning “deformed” babies and twins, as well as the ritual sacrifice of slaves, who they saw as unfortunate people that were “being held in captivity.” Nri thus became famous as a humanitarian society that provided refuge to run-away slaves and all kinds of oppressed people and others whose lives were in danger. Eze Nri forbade the shedding of blood, yet had no army to enforce his will. He used threats of mystical sanctions to maintain law and order.
However, Nri would eventually see the decline of its hegemony as a result of the combination of many factors including slavery, British colonialism and the impact of Western civilization.
Between 1907 and 1913, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches began to establish churches and schools in Igboland. The Catholic Church saw Nri as a citadel of Satan and made frantic efforts to convert the Nri people to Christianity. By 1906, there were 70 Catholic children at Isingwu, 80 at Umuoji, and 130 at Nri.
Onwuejeogwu had also observed that “by 1907 the British had taken over the administration of Igboland. To them the Nri system was an anachronism to be dissolved.” But the simple truth is that the Nri ideology had posed a serious obstacle to the British colonialists because of its powerful hold on those under its influence. Unlike the other kingdoms that easily acquiesced to the British supremacy, the Nri ideology was instinctively incongruous with injustice and so nothing on earth would make it subordinate itself to the imperialists. As a result, in 1911 the British colonialists disgraced Eze Nri Obalike by forcing him to travel outside his seat of power and attend a native court in Awka.
“He (Eze Nri) is the spiritual potentate over a large extent of the Ibo country, and so great is the awe which he inspires that recently, when, probably, for the first time in history an Eze Nri entered the native court in Awka while a sitting was going on, the whole assembly rose and prepared to flee,” wrote Thomas Northcote Whitridge, the then colonial government’s anthropologist, while describing how the people reacted when they saw Eze Nri in person for the first time.
In dealing a death blow to Nri hegemony, the colonialists had at gunpoint demanded that he annul all the codes of taboo and abomination which were still binding the towns to Nri, which he did. The British then followed that up by instituting the warrant chief system. Those that denounced Eze Nri were allowed to continue as warrant chiefs – puppet-like leaders who were used by the British to execute their colonial mandate in the captured territories. They were told that Eze Nri had been banned from their settlements and they should obey the white man and not Eze Nri.
But since independence, there has been a movement to revive the Nri ideology of peace. Nri people and descendants have been at the forefront of efforts to promote those values that made their ancient kingdom famous throughout Igboland and even beyond. No doubt, the coronation of isi-Igbo South Africa during the 2014 New Yam Festival in Cape Town is part of the nascent movement for the revitalization of the glorious Nri ideology.
During his coronation as Isi-Igbo South Africa, Ozo Peter Chukwurah was charged by Eze Nri and Igwe Nwankwo to champion the cause of peace among the Igbo community in South Africa. He was also called upon to always promote good brotherly relationship between the Igbo community and other African communities in South Africa. The Isi-Igbo will be assisted in the discharge of his duties by a cabinet that consists of the following people: Ichie Obinna Obiorah (Onowu Umunri), Chief Charles Eze (Ide Umunri), Chief Ifeanyi Muo (Isi-Obu Umunri), and Chief Emma Nwosu (Patron Umunri), among others.
During an interview with Uhuruspirit, the newly-crowned Isi-Igbo South Africa disclosed that he never aspired to the position but had no choice as he could not turn down a call to serve the Igbo community in South Africa.
“I never for one day aspired to become Isi-Igbo South Africa. I have always done my best whenever called upon to serve my people. I want to thank all the people who helped to make the festival a success. As Isi-Igbo South Africa, I will strive to justify the confidence that our people have put in me,” said the former chairman of Umunri Welfare Association.
“What we are embarking upon is the Igbo cultural renaissance from the Nri ideological perspective. As such, this is about peace-building in order to help to make the world a better place like our ancestors did in the past,” he added.
His Royal Majesty Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyesoh, MFR, hands over the ofo Nzu staff of office to Isi-Igbo SA Ozo Peter Chukwurah during the coronation.
His Royal Highness Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo (Osuofia II na Nawfia/Umunri) crowns Ozo Peter Chukwurah as Isi-Igbo SA.
His Royal Majesty Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyesoh, MFR,raises his ofo stick as he prays for the newly-crowned Isi-Igbo SA.
Isi-Igbo SA Ozo Peter Chukwurah and Ichie Obinna Obiorah (Onowu Umunri) pose for photos with some of the guests.
From Left: Chief Ifeanyi Muo (Isi-Obu Umunri) and Chief Charles Eze (Ide Umunri) during the event.