Baltimore, Maryland: 8/7/2016: Professor Edward Oparaoji declared that Yam (Ji), a plant species in the genus Dioscorea (family Dioscoreaceae) is the king of crops in Igboland. He said this during his presentation titled “Significance of Iri Ji in the life and culture of ndigbo” at the just concluded Igbo Language Preservation and Iri Ji (New Yam) Cultural Festival, held at the Coppin State University, Baltimore Maryland, convened by the Igbo Council of Traditional Title Holders (ICOTTH) USA and Africa Business World.
As a result, he said, the Iri Ji (new yam) celebration has virtually overshadowed the Ahiajoku festival which it was only a part of. In Igbo deity, Ahiajoku is the goddess that intercedes for and determines healthy and abundant farm yield- dominated by Yam and Cocoyam (Ede). But the celebration of Yam has taken prominence.
He further narrated that “the New Yams Festival embodies the Igbo people’s cultural beliefs about nature, religion, family and labor in an agrarian setting. It also recognizes the role Yam plays in our socio-economic-religious realms. Yam is easy to cultivate, harvest and store. As a source of food, it can be prepared and consumed in several ways- boiled, fried, grilled, dried and powdered”.
“In traditional medicine, as part of routine medicinal gravy, it is used to stimulate appetite and monitor patient recovery progress, judged by time to consume all 4 pieces of yam, used in these medicinal potions. Marriages, religious rites may not be accomplished without meeting the Yam requirement. The role of yam in the economy of Igboland, cannot not be overstated. It has been used as legal tender- as a credible instrument of trade by barter, and a yard stick for measuring wealth, hence the Ezeji club, which is the equivalent of the modern day millionaires club. To be conferred an Ezeji title one would show proof to the Ezeji club, in his yam barn, that they have harvested the requisite number of yams- at least 100 yam stacks (ekwe ji) comprises at least total of 3000 new yams of various species known to cultivate and thrive in the area and not bought from the market. One can also be an Ezeji by inheritance, usually he first surviving son of an Ezeji. There is no other symbol that runs through the life cycle of Ndigbo from birth to death, and captures the life and culture of the Igbo than Yam. This may be the reason why the Iri ji festival has not only endured but has also gone global and become a binding force that tethers the Igbo race all over the world to their heritage and culture.”