Yam and the Igbos
By Kene Agwu
Yam occupies a special place in the heart of the Igbo man the stocky, brown tuber being the staple food of theirs and other West African peoples for thousands of years.
Its abundance was often important for survival in lean years and so its arrival is an occasion of great joy - it is for the new harvest and the end of the rainy season that the Igbo celebrate Iwaji every August.
Iwaji 2005 in Birmingham
Prayers of thanksgiving
The Iwaji or New Yam festival each year provides a colourful exhibition of the importance of the vegetable in Igbo culture, with prayers offered up and thanks given to the gods and spirits of traditional folklore.
In Birmingham, the Iwaji festival has become an important way for the local Igbo community to reaffirm its identity and showcase its culture to outsiders. In addition to the customary eating of yam and other Igbo meals, the youth of the community and the women each prepare and perform a new dance based on that of the village gatherings back in Igboland.
Iwaji 2005 in Birmingham
Passing on the Igbo culture to the next generation
The build up to the festivities and the event itself are therefore a great way to strengthen ties among Igbos in the West Midlands, and pass Igbo cultural heritage on to younger generations. It is also important that non-Igbos be invited to share in the merry-making, to reflect the fact that the new harvest is a time of plenty and generosity.
Yam is very versatile
The yam is famous among native West African agrarian societies for its resilience (as it can survive for up to six months without refrigeration), but also for its versatility.
Yam is very versitile
In its simplest edible form, it can just be peeled and boiled; it is more common however to pulp it into a doughy consistency to produce pounded yam which is eaten with traditional African egusi soup, which is usually the main meal eaten at the New Yam celebration.
Yam is also often made into a potage with tomatoes and herbs, or can be fried into 'chips' to be eaten with an egg stew. It can even roasted with peppered palm oil or made into a snack as yam balls...
Igbo yam recipes
Here are a couple of traditional yam recipes to try yourself:
Ingredients - 170 mls of corn oil
Method - Pour corn oil into a pot at Gas Mark 6
Peel, dice and wash half a tuber of yam, and boil it in salted water until soft
Peel and wash half a tuber. Cut it into slices and deep fry until golden in colour
A traditional Igbo yam dish
Egg and corn beef stew to be eaten with boiled or fried Yam
Ingredients - 1 tin of corned beef
Mr Osita Chukkwulobelu, Nkechi and Nididiamaka
Celebrating our culture
In Birmingham the Iwaji festival is organised by the Igbo Community Association in the Midlands (ICAM).
During a delicious buffet lunch of an array of traditional yam dishes at the home of ICAM Chairman, Mr Osita Chukwulobelu - members of the association talked about the significance of the Iwaji festival and Igbo cultural traditions.
last updated: 01/08/2008 at 11:35