Tag: traditional

Iri-Ji Festival

This event is important event in the calendar of Igbo people all over the world.

yam5Iri ji in English means yam. The Iri-Ji (new yam) Festival is a time of thanksgiving to the gods for making the farm yields possible and praying for good yields for the next planting season.yam0Iri Ji History:

The most important farm crop in Igboland over the years is the yam. In precolonial times the Uhianjoku was regarded as the goddess of farm productivity exemplified in the yam and cocoyam as the major farm crops. Uhianjoku was worshiped as a deity (a Goddess) and homage was paid to this deity by the elders in appreciation of the role ascribed to her by our ancestors in sustaining farm productivity.

Uhianjoku has presently been modernized as Ahiajoku an acronym for bounty intellectual harvest of the Igbos East of the Niger. Ahiajoku is now celebrated by all Igbos to honour the crop yam which is the mainstay of arable farming activity in Igboland as well as the King of farm crops.

“Iri Ji” is mainly an activity to celebrate the new yam. This has become an important social event in recent times as it is being celebrated like the Kolanut. There is need therefore for an excursion into the ontogeny of the yam crop.yam2Yam is a very important food crop in Igboland. Evidence of this is in the cultural significance attached to New Yam festival “Iri ji” in Igbo land. Emphasis is placed on farming and the cultivation of sufficient food to last until the next food harvest. Special emphasis is especially placed on yam cultivation.

The traditional Igbo man takes pride in showing off his yam barn neatly stacked with yam tubers from top to bottom. It signifies wealth and success. In the days of old, a common question asked by a bride’s father when a young man signifies his intention to marry his daughter is “how big is your yam barn”? A big yam barn means the man is hard-working and can take care of his daughter.

The Iriji festival is celebrated at different times within the various Igbo communities, varying from August until October every year.

The solemn role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man or Eze: traditional ruler – different Igbo communities have different names for their traditional rulers – of the community. It is believed within the traditional communities that their position bestows on them the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land. Many traditionalists and title-holders in Igbo land will not taste the new yam until the day that is traditionally set aside for that purpose. At the Iriji festival, only dishes of yam are served. The oldest man or the traditional ruler is normally the first person to eat the new yam and thereafter every other person can eat.

yam8The Iri ji festival is associated by feasting, dancing and merry making. There is also a spectacular display of Masquerades of all shapes and Sizes. They appear in all corners with the highest Intensity of dance and display in the market square to the excitement of the Crowd.


In primordial times, masquerades were believed to be spiritual elements that specially reincarnate into human forms for the purpose of celebrating the new yam festival. It signifies the approval of the gods in the celebration. Thus communities venerate and indeed fear these spirits for their own safety. Uninitiated members of the community are expected to run away from the masquerades on sight or risk being cursed by them with devastating consequences.

Stories are rife within Igbo communities of persons who were cursed by masquerades and suffered terrible diseases.yam4The new yam festival is an event that should be seen by every Igbo son and daughter. It is an epitome of the beauty of Igbo culture. The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers.

A great Site to behold!

Iri Ji Festival Traditions

Yams are the first crop to be harvested in Igboland, 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.yam6The next day, only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce.yam7Though 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.

Iwa-ji Ceremony

Usually at the beginning of the festival, the yams are offered to gods and ancestors first before distributing them to the villagers. The ritual is performed either by the oldest man in the community or by the king or eminent title holder.

This man also offers the yams to God, Deities and Ancestors by showing gratitude to God for his protection and kindness in leading them from lean periods to the time of bountiful harvest without deaths resulting from hunger.

After the prayer of thanksgiving to god, they eat the first yam because it is believed that their position bestows the privilege of being intermediaries between their communities and the gods of the land.

The rituals are meant to express the gratitude of the community to the gods for making the harvest possible, and they are widely followed despite more modern changes due to the influence of Christianity in the area. This therefore explains the three aspect of Igbo worldview, that they are Pragmatic, Religious and Appreciative.


Umuada represent one of the veritable tools in the government of traditional Igbo setting. Before the advent of the warrant chiefs, county council or Igwe as the head of a community, Umuada and Nze na Ozo society were the only government of the time. Therefore, Umuada (daughters of the land) has been as old as Ndi Igbo and has been in the vanguard in socio cultural and socio-political development in the community.

African culture is mostly male-dominated, as is the culture of many nativenations worldwide. However, the paternalistic propensity of African culture, especially the Igbo culture, does not indicate subjugation of women. On the contrary, women in traditional Igbo societies are a force in political, legal, and social issues.

Long before the colonists arrived in Africa, and even during and after colonialism, women have been a powerful part of the Igbo society. Women have many forums designed to present and protect their interests. The most important of these female forums is Ụmụada.


Umuada is a compound, collective noun formed from “ụmụ” and “ada.Ada means “daughter”; ụmụ is a generic plural prefix that conveys the sense of many.  Most naturally, every Igbo woman is “ada” (a daughter) of a certain community and is recognized as such for all the days of her life. Although it is used often in referring to the first daughter of a family (“adaobi”), ada generally means a female child. Viewed with a modern lens, ada is the origin of the politically correct term “Ms”—a non-distinguishing title for women and probably the English equivalent of “Ada.” Thus, “Umuada” connotes many daughters in a social group.


Umuada means native daughters, the daughters of a common male ancestor or “daughters of the soil.” Also called Umuokpu (in parts of Anambra State) or Ndimgboto (in parts of Imo State), Umuada is a collective of all daughters of a particular clan, village, town, or state… whether old, young, single, married, separated, or divorced. It is the inalienable right of every daughter of a particular place, without exception whatsoever, to belong to Otu Umuada, the society of native daughters. As a collective, Otu Umuada is a powerful sociopolitical setup in Igbo culture, a functional forum for females.


The membership of this forum is the absolute right of all women born of the same male lineage. Even if and when a woman marries outside the village or town setting, she remains ada of her father’s community. In other words, membership of the group is conferred patrilineally; that is, from the father’s side of the family. So, strictly speaking, any woman who does not belong to the group is either an outsider or she has been ostracized by her community for some abominable acts.


The Igbo have about seven indigenous approaches to conflict resolution:

  1.  Through the immediate family head;
  2.  Ụmụnna, (the agnate);
  3. Ụmụada;
  4. Otu ọgbọ (age-grade/peer society);
  5.  Dibịa (diviner),
  6. Village/town tribunal; and
  7.  Masquerade cult.

In certain cases when the approximate male counterpart called “Ụmụnna” (“sons of the soil”) fail to agree on an issue, Umuada will step in and resolve the matter.  In complex conflicts of conjugal character, the intervention of Ụmụada is always a given. In such matters, the men (Umunna) take a backseat and abide by the rulings of Umuada. Umuada also plays important roles in many matters of birth, puberty, marriage, and death—the four major cycles of life.

Umuada are strict but fair in their interventions and enforcements. For example, if a brother maltreats his wife and no one would stop him, Umuada will step in and straighten him out. On the other hand, if a woman married into the clan becomes unruly, Umuada will intervene and resolve the matter, even if it entails forcing the bad wife back to her own clan to cool off, make amends, and possible return to turn a new leaf. In extreme cases, they can ostracize and even place a curse on an intractable member of the clan.

Umuada are, as a group, decent and dynamic in their decisions and actions. They are great arbiters probably because they are not a part of the problem, and they do not have to stay back in the community to face anyone on a regular basis.


The male members of the clan respectfully repay the role of Umuada as judges and enforcers. Whenever one of their daughters is maltreated in her matrimonial home, they go to war, literarily. So, while their brethren would prefer that they marry locals, they do not frown when umuada marry outsiders because the men too marry outsiders. Hence, when ada marries locally, she is called “Adaejemba”—a daughter who did not marry out. When she marries out, they hail her “Adaejiejemba” (the daughter with whom you go places), probably because they act as spies, expand the community network, and help to broaden the worldview of the community .

The Umuada Igbo in Igbo cultural group is one of the most organized, peaceful and endowed women groups in Nigeria. As individuals and as a group, their contributions as farmers, civil workers and managers of human welfare are central to the ability of households, communities and nation to tackle the challenges of poverty and conflicts. It is to be noted, however, that the Umuada Igbo like other women groups from other nations suffer from decreased access to resources and paternalistic domination. However, their traditional and modern contributions make them to be no “pushovers” in the political, economic, religious and social life of the nation. Their roles in these areas are acknowledged. Their developmental efforts are remarkable in the families, communities and the Church. In families and communities, their reconciliatory roles are unsurpassed in support of their husbands, and the empowerment of rural women since they appreciate that empowerment is essential for a new world order and essential to find solutions to many conflicts. To achieve this, an environment for peace has to be created. As an organized group, they have established goals and strategies to pursue peace.

Igbo Chieftaincy Titles

Highly accomplished men and women are admitted into orders for people of title such as Ndi Ozo or Ndi Nze. These people receive insignia to show their stature. Membership is highly exclusive, and to qualify an individual need to be highly regarded and well-spoken of in the community.chiefFrom the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, slavery took a massive toll of many weaker communities in this part of the country. With the colonisation in the early part of the twentieth century, the British introduced a system based on ‘indirect rule’ in the north of Nigeria, leveraging the existing northern emir hierarchies. A few years later, the colonial rule decided to introduce this system in the south as well. They commissioned ‘warrant chiefs’ to rule the districts in Igboland, but due to the lack of social hierarchies, the mandate for their authority did not work out as well as it did in the north. After the independence, the role of these district officers was quickly transformed and adapted to Igboland’s ‘traditional’ title society, which used to be based on traditional worship titles.


Nowadays, each community consisting of a number of villages, wards and/or clans, can nominate their traditional ruler, also called Igwe or Eze.

The Igwe has this role for life and can give titles to his community people, mostly out of recognition for their achievement and character. The title system varies from community to community, but except from different names, the hierarchy itself is in most cases the same.

In most communities, the title system starts with the Nze title, given to persons in recognition of their community contribution. When the Nze titleholder reaches the elder age and remains in the village, he becomes part of the Igwe’s cabinet. Upon becoming a senior elder, the Igwe may honour him with the Özö or Ichie title, standing directly below the Igwe.

These titles and many other chieftaincy titles, each signifying certain achievements come along with privileges and symbols of authority. One could be allowed to wear a red or black cap, to hold a walking stick, an elephant tusk, a horsetail or a fan of ram or cow skin, all dependent on the local customs and the rank of title.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChieftaincy titleholders are privileged to do the “chief handshake”. This handshake starts with touching each other’s hand with the upper-side three times before shaking. If one of the persons does not recognise the other as a chief, even though he might pretend to be one, the touching stops after two times before the shaking.

War heroes are a separate category of titleholders, they can wear parrot’s plumes in their hats and are the only ones allowed to dance the war dance.
chiefAmong his cabinet members, the Igwe appoints his Prime Minister and secretary and together with his full cabinet, the Igwe-in-council serves the community in matters of peace, development and values. For instance, he is called upon in cases of resolving internal conflicts. If so, each party needs to bring four kola nuts, a gallon of palm wine and 1,000 Naira to the ruler. The case is put forward, and the ruler will make the final judgement. The money, palm wine and kola nuts are returned to the winner, the latter two being given in most cases to the Igwe as a token of gratitude. The loosing party is expected to pay on top of their deposit the penalty or fine as stipulated by the Igwe. If the parties do not agree with the settlement, the case can be brought to court and fought out in a more formal way.
chief 2The Igwe-in council also works together with government, but they do only have an advisory role in this context. Villages and communities have many other groups and opinions represented, to mention the most important ones:

  • Town Union, responsible for development and organising social events of the community. The members of the Town Union are elected by members of the community;
  • Councillors, representing the community in political matters in the local government council;
  • Youth Organisations, responsible for youth activities;
  • Vigilante groups, maintaining security, law and order in the village and community;
  • Women Organisations, representing the women and
  • Church Organisations, mostly representing Roman Catholic and Protestant believes.

chief 1In some communities, the groups listed above may not have any representation. Then, there are many other persons who can play an important role in the community, for instance the school’s headmasters, principals etc.