Preparations are in full swing to make this year’s Igede-Agba festival one for the history books. The Igede people, residing in Obi LGA and Oju LGA of Benue State, North Central Nigeria, are gearing up for their grand “Igede Agba” new yam festival scheduled for September 5, 2023.
The centrepiece of this cultural celebration is the colourfully adorned statue of the late Dr Abraham Ajene Okpabi, also known as Agaba-Idu Och’ Idoma the Second, dressed in traditional Igede-Idoma attire. This statue proudly stands at the heart of Obarike-Ito, the local government headquarters.
The Igede community extends a warm invitation to all well-meaning Nigerians to join them in their joyous festivities on September 5, 2023.
Unfortunately, some misconceptions surround the Igede Agba festival, with some associating it with idol worship or superstition. However, it’s essential to dispel these misunderstandings. This celebration holds significant cultural and historical value for the Igede people, reflecting their deep-rooted traditions.
The inaugural Igede Agba festival took place on September 3, 1957, coinciding with the first Ihigile market day, which falls between the 1st and 5th of September every year. Originally known as ‘Igede Day,’ this festival was initiated by the defunct Igede Youth Association (IYA), under the leadership of prominent figures like Ambassador Ogah Okwoche, Pa. Eje Iyanya, Chief Ikande Idikwu, HRH A.A. Okpabi, and others.
The Igede Youths Association (IYA) foresaw the need for this celebration to express gratitude for a successful harvest and the beginning of the planting season, aligning with the Igede people’s agricultural way of life. The prosperity of an Igede individual is often measured by the size of their yam farm, earning them the title ‘Ogreji,’ a highly esteemed farmer in the community.
The Igede people, deeply committed to purity and orderliness, have long-standing traditions that revolve around the worship of various gods. This includes a prohibition on consuming the chief crop, yam, until the designated ‘Igede Day.’ Residents diligently adhere to these customs, clearing and cleaning their surroundings in preparation for the festivities.
On the day of celebration, the head of the household (aidepwa) provides yams, live goats, and fowls to the woman of the house (inepwa), who then distributes them among the extended family. This marks the start of cooking and merriment, with men sipping on palm wine (imwu) and millet wine (oburukutu) while women gather in the kitchen.
The Igede maidens play a crucial role in preparing the chief crop, yam, and the meal is served in a specific order. Elders and male children dine together, while female children join their mothers. Afterwards, elders share stories, folktales, and histories. In the evening, the village square comes alive with masquerades (ikwumwu) and talented drummers showcasing their skills, with the community celebrating their achievements.
Igede Agba, as ancient as the Igede people themselves, is a time for thanking God, celebrating hard work, and upholding the dignity of labour. It emphasises moral values like honesty, goodness, social justice, and respect for cultural heritage. The festival serves as a mentoring period for the younger generation, offering advice and guidance.
In essence, Igede Agba is far from a fetish New Yam festival, as some have misconstrued it. It features activities such as yam pounding, cultural music, dancing, family visits, and various cultural displays. It is a day of thanksgiving and a celebration of all things Igede, spanning the globe.