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by jaya
Rated: E · Prose · Contest Entry · #2266110
Yam, cassava, palm oil, drums, dancing and flutes

Prompt 7- from Round one February 2015

Aryan, the young reporter from the Deccan Chronicle was given the coveted responsibility to cover the most talked about festive event held annually by the Ibos of Eastern Nigeria, the New Yam festival.

With the help of a local guide and translator Obi, he reached his destination, an Ibo village in the forest, a day prior to the occasion. The nine villages of Saguaro collectively celebrated the New Yam feast. As advised, Aryan met with the village elders to get permission to attend and shoot the festival and later a grand feast. After much debate and discussion and a lot of convincing on Aryan’s part, they agreed for his presence during the big event.

Yam is the king of crops among the native crops. It is the staple food of the people. A whole household works in the fields for months to finally harvest it. Men and women work in the Yam fields from day break to sunset. Sometimes, due to drought and other unexpected natural disasters, the crops fail and it is not rare that desperate farmers hang themselves unable to support their families.

This year, however, things are better, said Obi. Aryan could see several villagers gathering in the “Ilo” or the village open ground with the festival goods they carried to celebrate the yam harvest. A man who has the maximum crop of Yam is considered richer and more powerful than others in his clan. There seems to be quite a number of them this year.

Harvesting a good crop provides the clansmen with a vital reason to pay respects to “Ani" or "Ala,” the Earth Goddess. The clan believed that no harvest is successful without her blessings.

There is another interesting side to the festival, observed Aryan.

He noted that the festival brings men and gods together. Yes indeed. It is truly flabbergasting to witness the assembly of hundreds of gods in the form of statues made of wood, about to depart after having served their purpose.

Aryan was amazed to find people on his right and a god on the left.

“It is the rarest kind of adaptability I ever experienced,” he jotted in his journal talking about the replacement of an old god ready for emulsion in the Niger River.

The Ibo chief God is Chukwu, who mostly broods over creation. His position is steady and continuous at the zenith of the Ibo pantheon. During the festival of yams Chukwu is given his due honor too.

Every family brings cooked food to the village field, where different preparations with Yam, soups with pumpkin leaves and a variety of cassava preparations are brought. A mound of foofoo made with cassava roots and palm oil is placed in the center of the large ground. A number of metal containers with of fresh palm wine are lined up for the drinking pleasure of the assembled people.

Aryan could spot large amounts of cooked poultry and meat on neatly spread palm leaves. Families and friends and guests from the other villages too assembled there.

Then started the music. The drums echoed in the forest and far beyond. The rhythmic beating produced heart throbbing sound. Gome, gome, gome went the beat. The biggest of the drums is the ekolo made from the trunk of the tall iroko tree sat on the top of a raised platform. A man has to climb up the small ladder to reach for the drum. He should be a man of extraordinary strength and agility to go up and beat the giant drum with a fetching rhythm. On a lower platform sat the drummers with smaller drums like ugene, ikwe and udu. A flute started weaving a melodic tune that enlivened the whole atmosphere with joy and briskness.

There are songs celebrating the masked gods and the youth, who represented power and aggressiveness danced in accordance with the emotion in the song. Yet, they feared the masked spirit excellently exhibiting the melodramatic expressions and movements in a group dance.

The high priest Obika conducted the ceremony with what sounded like esoteric chanting to Aryan’s untrained ears. There were offerings of a variety of foods to the gods arranged in order of importance and prosperity. There are gods are assigned to elements, wealth and riches too.

The feast began at midday. People are free to pick and enjoy dishes of their liking and preference. This large community feast completely floored Aryan. Obi brought him a variety of foods on a clean palm leaf. He named and explained each item for Aryan’s benefit. He advised him to take a cassava ball, dip it in the soup and eat. Aryan followed the advice l and did not regret it. The ball of cassava melted in his mouth. Foofoo is served with palm oil.

The mounds of food are so tall that people on one side could not see those on the other side. It is only by late evening that the food levels came down and people are able to greet friends or relatives, they couldn’t meet during the day.

Before leaving at dusk, Aryan met the chief of a village to thank him for their hospitality. The chief heard Obi’s translation. A big grin graced his face and he hugged Aryan. He presented an ivory bracelet to him as a parting gift.

Aryan left the village tucked away in the dense forest on lower Niger, with his heart full of exuberance and his mind energized by the good-fellowship he had just witnessed.

Word Count: 852
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