By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie & Steve Oko
IN Igbo land, various communities usher in the farming season with one form of celebration/festival or the other as a way of thanking God for the previous season and praying for a better farming year.
In Anambra State, where many communities are agrarian with no fewer than 70 per cent of their population engaging in one form of farming activity or the other, some of them have their unique ways of ushering in a new farming season.
In the riverine communities regarded as the food basket of the state, they celebrate the beginning and the end of the season. These communities located in Ogbaru, Anambra West, Anambra East and Ayamelum local government areas, begin the farming season around November, usually after the annual flooding had receded.
Upland farming communities are found in Orumba North and Orumba South; Oyi, Awka North and Ihiala local government areas and the farming season in some of the communities does not begin until the rains begin, usually towards the end of March and beginning of April.
In Orumba South Council, some communities celebrate what they call Erichaa aba olu, which literally translates to the last celebration/festival before new farming season commences. Some neighbouring Abia communities also celebrate it.
In fact, the first rain is usually celebrated in these farming communities. Mr. Ossai Igwegbe, a farmer at Agwe Osomala in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, said although there is no formal celebration or festival before the commencement of farming season, the joy of tilling the ground and planting yams and other crops knows no bound.
“After harvesting crops around July/August, everybody goes on some kind of vacation until November when another farming season begins. There is no ceremony before we begin the season, but there is that feeling that brings joy to every farmer.
“Watching the crops sprout and tending them bring enormous happiness in the community such that after returning from the farm, people gather with bottles of dry gin and play some music to express their happiness. There is the belief that while the farmers are making merry, the planted crops are also happy inside the ground.
“This kind of celebration can continue until the period of harvest when various communities celebrate their annual new yam festival. The way we do it at Osomala is also the way it is done in most riverine communities,” Igwegbe explained.
The paramount ruler of Isuochi ancient kingdom, Eze Godson Ezekwesiri, said that the Isuochi people mark the beginning of every new farming season with special prayer and merriment.
According to the monarch, the ceremony generally known as Erie abaaolu, however, has different names in various communities in the kingdom. According to him, each traditional ruler will invite members of his cabinet to his palace where serious prayers are made for divine protection of his subjects in the new farming season. The ceremony is usually held between the month of January and February every year before the onset of the new farming year.
Ezekwesiri also explained that the ceremony is followed up with heavy merriment after the prayers at the traditional ruler’s palace.
“In-laws are usually invited to the merriment and feast that follow the prayers and on the next day, people go to their farms for the new farming season.”
The royal father said that during the ceremony, prayers are offered for a bountiful harvest for the new farming year.
But the South-East Coordinator of Cassava Farmers Association, and Traditional Ruler of Oriendu Autonomous community in Umuahia North Local Government Area, Eze Philip Ajomuiwe, said there is no special ceremony that heralds new farming season in his community.
The number one cassava farmer in the South-East explained that what usually obtains was that he would gather his subjects to educate them on the new variety of cassava and the new techniques from research institutions. He said after the sensitization, farmers embark on farming activities without any fanfare.
The case is however different in Obibi Uratta community in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State, where Onwa Oru Uratta, must be celebrated before the commencement of new farming season. According to the former President-General of the community, Sir Ephraim Ahumibe, Onwa Oru Uratta, is an annual activity that ushers the people into the new farming season which usually takes place in February.
He said that Onwa Oru Uratta celebration takes place at Obi Uratta and neighbouring communities of Owerri, Egbu and Awaka are involved in the event. Regarded as a period of peace amongst brothers and sisters, it is expected that nobody quarrels, fights or makes any trouble that would require the invitation of the police.
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“We celebrate the Onwa Oru Uratta before the farming season and within this period, there will be no quarrel, fighting or people inviting the police to settle quarrels. People are expected to be peaceful. Anyone who goes against any of these rules within this period will be visited by the elders and punishment usually is meted out on such person, in form of fines like a he-goat or even the gods may come for the person for desecrating the land and a lot of things are involved.
“Like I said, the Onwa Oru Uratta is what we celebrate before we begin the farming season and without doing it, there is nothing like farming season. You see our brothers and sisters from Owerri, Egbu and Awaka come together in February for this ceremony. On the day of the Onwa Oru Uratta, the whole of Uratta community will converge on Obi Uratta, including the first daughters. It is an age-long practice, a kind of prayer for a successful farming season,” Ahumibe explained.
Ifitedunu community in particular and Dunukofia Council Area in general of Anambra State, usher in new farming season with Ede Opoto and Akpu Okochi festivals respectively. Ede Opoto is celebrated in March.
According to a highly respected community leader in Ifitedunu, Chief Ozoh Anaekwe, the people of Ifitedunu and Dunukofia in general do not play with these celebrations.
Anaekwe said that after the celebrations, everybody knows that they are going to labour, adding that the happiness of the celebrations lead the people to labour, because farming involves labour and sweat; you go to the forest and farm.
“It is a celebration that everyone in the community uses to prepare for farming season and its importance is that after the celebrations, you prepare your mind to go to the farm to work because farming involves hard work.
“You have to eat well during the month of the celebration; you will be happy, you exchange gifts, because you know you are going to enter into labour. It is celebrated by everybody in Ifitedunu community and Dunukofia as a whole.
“The youths go from one village to another with their masquerades; the elders celebrate their own by exchanging gifts with people and fellow elders. The women visit their friends and colleagues, then those who give people gifts can get the rewards. The person you give a gift today during the celebration may give you some parcel of land to farm on once the farming activities commence. That is one of the preparations for farming season. I can do good to you today, tomorrow you may choose to reward me with some parcels of land for farming.
“For every leader of the family like the Diokpa, the first born of the family, one of the first things he does during this season of Ede Opoto celebration is to bring out kola nuts and call his younger ones or family members and offer prayers and thank God for good life and ask God to bless them with good harvest in the new farming season.
They also pray for God’s protection while waiting for the time of harvest, months after farming. They also pray for the neighbours and invited friends.
“There is another one called Akpu Okochi or dry season cassava, it is one of the two festivals we celebrate before the farming season. One is Ede Opoto and the second is Akpu Okochi.”
On why there is no celebration for yam, Chief Anaekwe said: “Yam is the head of all the crops in Igbo land and synonymous with farming in Igbo land; you do not call its name anyhow because it is revered in Igbo land. Like God is revered, you don’t call
His name anyhow. As we accord so much respect to God, we also accord a lot of respect to yam in Igbo land. We are not comparing our respect for God to be equal to the one we give yam, but just to illustrate how we respect yam in Igbo land;’it is the king of all crops.”
For the people of Anam in Anambra West Local Government Area, they have Otee Anam celebration/festival. A youth leader in Anam, Odikpo Madubueze said: “In my community, we have the most respectful celebration called Otee Anam during which we thank God for a bumper harvest in the year and pray for the new farming season.
“This is however, celebrated every Sunday that falls into Eke Market day in August. Every Anam person prepares Nsala soup with either fresh or dry fish and pounded yam to eat and give to invited friends.
“Anam daughters who are married in and outside the community also pay homage to their fathers with gift items including four kola nuts, clothes, wine, fish and whatever gifts they can afford.”
Amufie autonomous community, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State ushers in a new farming season by appeasing the land before the first rain of the year. A community leader, Chief Benedict Adonu said that the community prepares for farming season with the oldest man consulting a soothsayer to know what would be used for sacrifice to the deity before the farming season. He explained that during the sacrifice, the community would gather to pray for a better farming year, fruitful harvest and blessings in the land, saying that the significance of the sacrifice is for good outing in the new season. He, however, said that Christianity has changed everything and such sacrifice before the farming season has stopped.
“There has been a deity being consulted and a sacrifice performed to appease the ancestors before rainy season to make the land fertile.
It is an annual sacrifice which is decided by the oldest man in our community on what to use to appease the land and who will perform the sacrifice on behalf of the community. The sacrifice normally takes place in the month of February when the world is expecting the first rain.
“At the end of it, there will be fruitful harvest. We witness a change in crops any year such sacrifice takes place. But Christianity had taken over the land and such sacrifice has stopped”, he said.
A yam farmer in Ntighauzo community in Obingwa council area of Abia State, Chief Luke Onyenma, said no community festival or celebration takes place before new farming season, but individual farmers pray for
better farming year. He disclosed that such prayers to seek blessings for the farming season usually take place when farmers are about to plant new crops for the season.
According to him, farmers believe in the efficacy of prayers that God will bless their crops and efforts for a bountiful harvest.
“In my community, you clear the bush, pray to God to bless your crops. We don’t hold a festival to celebrate a new farming season; rather individual farmers pray to God to seek His blessings for a better farming year. Such prayers usually take place when farmers are about to clear bushes and plant crops for a new farming season.
“At the farming season when we harvest our crops, some of us who farm yams usually celebrate our harvest, thanking God for granting us a good harvest”, explained.