The Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja recently celebrated the New Yam festival in grand style at the foyer of the hotel’s Bukka Restaurant which wore a new look in commemoration of the day. In Igboland, the New Yam Festival is one of the most important celebrations of the year. Before new yam is consumed, it is customary that the festival must first hold.
It is in this spirit that the Hilton Hotel celebrated with the Igbo community in Abuja, well-wishers and guests at the hotel as they enjoyed a variety of yam dishes served with various sauces. Roasted plantain was also available on the side.
For some of the guests who were waiting to go home at Christmas to have a taste of traditionally homemade cuisine with the right balance, the evening cut short their wait as they had unrestricted food portions of yam, ugba, ayanra and plantain among others. This was amidst traditional dance performance supported by drums, eke and oja among others. The nostalgia which these provoked was even more pronounced as gaily-dressed waiters in traditional Igbo costumes served them.
Former Minister of Aviation, Chidoka Osita, who performed the official cutting of the yam explained the significance of yams in Igboland.
“It is the most important crop in igboland because it is the one crop that requires a man to be strong, diligent and hardworking to produce. It is yam that is the seedling with which you have capital. Every rich Igbo man is recognised by the quantity of yam in his barn.
“It is the only crop that we eat and do not exhaust because we must keep it for the planting of the next season. When a man has come of age, the father or uncles give him a gift of yam seedlings so that he can start his own life. If you handle yam in a hurry, it will tax your patience,” Osita explained.
He continued, “In the 1700s when slave trade was on, Igbo slaves were in demand in the state of Virginia, US where they plant tobacco because tobacco requires you to have extensive patience and capacity. The Igbos had this ability because of yam farming. Yam is the only produce we have that if you steal from the ground is an abomination. It is the only crop that titled men will not eat until the community has given sacrifice to the gods to thank them for the season.
“There are so many ceremonies associated with the yam but the most important is that it was a measure of a man’s wealth, of how the gods view him and how he views them. Yam is a significant part of the Ibo economy, politics, hard work and expansion because yams made us go beyond the frontiers of our land in search of fertile land,” he said.
On account of the hotel organising the event, he said: “We cut this yam as a sign of Hilton’s economic sustainability and durability despite the season of famine that has come upon Nigeria. Like it did for Okonkwo in ‘Things Fall Apart’, cutting this yam will open up the business of the Hilton Hotel and all those who work in it.”
Public Relations Manager of the hotel, Mr. Shola Adeyemo, said the primary reason for the celebration was to marry Nigeria cuisine with its culture.
“If you look at great civilisations of the world, whether French, Roman, Chinese or Indian, you would see that their culture and food are closely interwoven. And so we believe that the culture of Nigeria and the cuisine has to be celebrated. Yam is one crop that is so important within the cultural and culinary culture of Nigeria and this is why we felt that it is time to celebrate that cultural cuisine which is yam, in Nigeria. As a proudly Nigerian organisation, we have a responsibility to promote Nigerian culture and that is why we felt the need to celebrate the new Yam Festival.
“The festival coincides with the celebration in most of the Ibo regions that is why we brought some life size tubers of yam from there to celebrate with.”