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Iriji (Irindi) - New Year/ Harvest Festival
The New Year/ Harvest Festival is an ancient annual cultural festival held at the end of the rainy season in August. It is celebrated throughout West Africa (particularly in Nigeria and Ghana) and other sub-Saharan African countries, and also as far away as New Guinea in Asia. The New Year Harvest Festival symbolizes the conclusion of annual yam harvest and the beginning of the New Year. It is the most important cultural celebration in most African communities, uniting people as essentially agrarian and dependent on the yam and other crops for sustenance.
The yam is usually the first crop to be harvested, and is the most important crop in sub-Saharan Africa. The New Year/ Harvest Festival is therefore a celebration of the importance of the yam and other crops in the social-cultural life of African people both on the continent and outside of it.
The first month of the year in African Igbo Calendar is Fijiòku, which falls more often than not, on the 27nd of August in the Christian or western calendar. It is wound around the Fijióku Deity at which the New Year Harvest Festival, called Irindi or Iriji, which ushers in the New Year in the calendar, is celebrated. The first day is Eke, which is the ‘big Eke’ day. On this day, the New Year and Harvest festival is celebrated.
Festivals in the Year
In Nkporo, Nigeria, there are three primary festivals in a year, Irindi (New Year/Harvest Festival), Iteisiji and Itembe with attendant ceremonies. Most other festivities are connected with a Divine Grace of Chineke or in remembrance of specific glorious events in the early history of our people, or in celebration of family reunion. The first season of the year, the rainy season, which begins within the month of Anyanwu, is called Itum or Udunmiri, in the Igbo language culture.
Activities toward the New Year Harvest Festival
Activities towards the celebration of the New Year Harvest festival begin with Onwa Eja (month for offerings), a sacred period within the month of Agwunsi for making offerings to Chineke and the needy.
The ceremony of Iwusi Oji, i.e. putting down the kola nut, which more often than not falls on the 6th day of Agwunsi, marks the beginning of Onwa Eja. Eight days after this, Ogbo ceremony takes place. People return to their respective villages for this ceremony as a second step in the move toward the Harvest festival. Four days after this, there is the matriculation or initiation ceremony for entrants into the school of traditional medicine. Four days after this, there is the ceremony of doctors, Igwa Agwu, devoted to the Agwunsi Grace of Chineke. Eight days later is the New Year, ushered in with the New Year Harvest festival.
Two days before the New Year, an activity called 'Afo ibuo agbala', which means the 'Afo day for cleaning of the village square' in preparation for the festival, is done. The next day, a Nkwonta day, the people harvest the new yams and other crops to be eaten the following day, Eke mbu, i.e., the first Eke, which begins the New Year.
New Year’s Eve
The day of harvesting of the new yams and other crops marks the end of the old year. This day is called 'Nkwonta Afua'. On this day, a liberty is permitted whereby it is not an offense if you harvest a bunch of your neighbor’s plantain, yam or any foodstuff and take it home without permission. You will not be accused of stealing, provided you are going to eat it and not to sell it. This liberty is allowed within the rites of what is called 'Ichu Afua', which means ‘chasing away the old year’. Also, another activity called 'Iwe La', a purgation ceremony performed by the women folk to expel all quarrels and acrimony of the past year or purging the system of all problems of the old year, is done. A flowing stream or river is the medium for this purge.
Irindi, (Iriji) The First New Year Harvest Festival
Every New Year on Eke mbu, the first day of the New Year in the month of Fijioku, members of the community gather at the common Obi Obasi (Temple, Mosque, and Church) for libation and thanksgiving. To this worship and fellowship ceremony, parents of all children born within the past year bring their children for blessing and registration as one Age Group. The parent of a male child comes with a rooster, and for a female child, a hen. All pool this contribution with the harvested new yams and prepare a feast, for the children and the hungry. Masquerading, feasting and merrymaking follow this until the wee hours of the day.
Iteisiji, the second festival
Four days after the New Year and Harvest festival, a new moon called 'Onwa Isiji' is sighted, and induction into the “Egbela” school system begins. This is the traditional school into which inducted students are taught the metaphysics of life until they have mastered what is being taught. There is no set timetable for completion of the course of study. They graduate only when they have mastered a course of study or craft. After the induction ceremony, which lasts for about two months, a masquerade celebration, 'Iteisiji', is held.
Itembe, the third festival
At the end of Itum or Udunmiri, the season of rain, a new season, Okochi the dry season, which falls within the month of Ekwuruochie, begins, introduced with a festival celebration called 'Itembe'. This celebration is marked with a democratic liberty called 'Awa Oma', in which any evil committed by any member of the community, no matter his or her status in the society will be song publicly. The object of the Awa Oma festival is to identify and purge the community of all evils and misdeeds of the past year.
This festival is recorded also about the Mali Empire during the reign of Mansa Musa.
In this light, let those that have ears, hear; and those that have sight, to see that the Divine Graces of Chineke are in our metaphysical systems that gave excuses for the festivals that made traditional life full of joy and worth living for our people; that set the eye of the Supreme Divinity always on our people, to control our behavior and regulate our lives; that stood out and rewarded virtues; suppressed and punished vices, instilling in us a spiritual and harmonious civilization. It gave foundation to our traditional calendar, just as the calendar of others is founded on the birth, life and death of deified racial heroes or their “pagan” festivals.
“Education is a course of induction and cultural promotion; an instigation by which one is forged to fit squarely into the society he or she belong, as a responsible citizen”. ----Ogbaja, Ahanyi Kama Onu Kama Onyioha
“African unity will come to be when each community, clan or ethnic group gives up a part of its culture for the good of the whole. That is what unity is, what real Pan-Africa is” ----Itchie W.E.B Du Boise
Ofo….Ofo; Yagazie; Ise….Ise….Ise.
Ofo di leghe agoro ya.