The New Yam Festival of the Igbo people (Orureshi in the idoma area, Iwa ji, Iri ji or Ike ji, depending on dialect) is an annual cultural festival by the Igbo people held at the end of the rainy season in early August.
The Iwa ji festival (literally “new-yam eating“) is practiced throughout West Africa (especially in Nigeria and Ghana) and other African countries and beyond, symbolizing the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
Yams are the first crop to be harvested, and are the most important crop of the region. The New Yam Festival is therefore a celebration depicting the prominence of yam in the social-cultural life of Igbo people. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams (from the previous year’s crop) are consumed or discarded. This is because it is believed that the New Year must begin with tasty, fresh yams instead of the old dried-up crops of the previous year. The next day, only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce.
Though the style and methods may differ from one community to the next, the essential components that make up the festival remain the same. In some communities the celebration lasts a whole day, while in many places it may last a week or more. These festivities normally include a variety of entertainments and ceremony, including the performance of rites by the Igwe (King), or the eldest man, and cultural dances by Igbo men, women, and their children. The festival features Igbo cultural activities in the form of contemporary shows, masquerade dances, and fashion parades.