By James Lukpata
According to Cambridge Dictionary festival is an “organised set of special events, such as musical performances or plays, usually happening in one place, or a special day or period, usually in memory of a religious event, with its own social activities, food, or ceremonies”. Therefore, the Ukelle New Yam Festival is no different as it has a special day set aside to welcome and celebrate the king of all crops (Yam), the Ukelle New Yam Festival is an annual ceremony that is observed on the 16th of September every year.
As a dignified aspect of the UKelle Custom and Tradition, New Yam Celebration in Ukelle Land remains sacrosanct as the people including children revered it with high hopes, joy, enliven spirit and common show of love towards one another irrespective of status.
The New Yam Festival In Ukelle is usually heralded with the appearance of the Chief Priest and Children who assembled at the play ground (Ojilla) with the children sitting on the ground patiently waiting for the Chief Priest to offer prayers in thanksgiving to God the creator and the gods of the land as is the practise in African traditional religion and a sign of appreciation for fruitfulness and successful agricultural year.This event is accompanied by resounding echoes of the children voices shouting okookokoo okookokoo… as they are later served the New Yam in bits by the chief priest.The event is always colourful and heavy preparations that began with clearing of play grounds/ village squares, all foot paths and roads linking adjoining communities as women embarked on thorough sweeping of compounds and surroundings with intense buying of soup condiments such as dried okra,beneseed, ogbono,melon among others and domesticated animals like goats, chickens, pigs etc.
Like other festivals,Ukelle New Yam festival stand out for some of these but not limited to the following; Reconciliation among kinsmen and settlement of disputes, misunderstanding are easy during this period as everyone gets set to celebrate with a pure heart.The festival gives room for natural healings of accumulated anger and bitterness among community members as everyone is free to visit univitedly at will to dinne and drink right in the same bowl and cup thereby creating opportunity for reunion as well as strengthening the bond of intimacy among community members.
Mutual respect for one onother is enjoyed throughout the period for the celebration both young and old including children make it a point of duty to respect and pay homage to elders and custodians of the Tradition which can be in groups or individually.
During this period family reunion find common expression of love, humilty,forgiveness, generosity, opportunity to learn didatic lessons from folklore about founding fathers of the UKelle Nation,their exploits and heroic deeds.Son in-laws and daughter in-laws throw open invitations to their father and mother in-laws alike as well as dolling out New Yam Gifts like tubers of yam, live chicken, meat, palm wine and even cash.
Other areas of interest in the festival includes different look by women and children ranging from fashion and various hairdo.The women and children remain at the centre of the celebration as they put on fashionable look in line with the festival.
Children remain the most happiest as they engage in various activities such as dancing, story telling,preparation of plates made from calabash they fetched from their farms and house to house visit according to their peer groups where the youngest among any group is chosen to carry a transparent nylon bag containing all the meat they have been served from the first house they visited to the last where they officially gathered and share the meat they had collected so far.
Customarily, all adult males ,women, youths and children are expected to assemble at the village square of each community on the following day to sing and dance each household is to bring along a full chicken wing wich will be gathered together and shared for the final celebration as they drink alongside interactive sessions, cultural displays among other things.
At this particular period there is massive influx of people from various places to witness the celebration as well as reuniting with friends and family members.It foster unity among all classes of people in the society including visitors.
What is common at Ukelle New Yam Festival across the constituency is singular prayer…BILUK BEBWOP LATTO TTE which means the yams should reproduce in manifolds.