Which of the two months of August and December is the most important in the south east region of Nigeria or Igbo-speaking parts of Nigeria? To the ‘outsider’ or non easterners, the answer is December for the simple reason that December 25 (Christmas Day) is a global Christian festival that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ and south easterners are predominantly Christians. Besides, December is the last month of the year when people generally take some days/weeks off their hustles throughout the year to relax/rest with family members in their communities while planning, wishing for a happy, prosperous New Year; especially as schools usually close for about a month’s holiday at this period.
In addition there are a number of get together organised in December, concerts, carnivals, parties, etc. Nonetheless, core Igbos who are rooted in its cultural and traditional norms would tell you that August with its related New Yam festival has always been the foremost, most important month in the land from time immemorial and would so remain. They point out that Christianity which came with the December Christmas festival is comparatively speaking, relatively new in Igboland, being just a little over 100 years old since its introduction in the East; whereas the festival connected with August had always been with them since the ‘time of Creation’.
With the coming of Christianity in Igboland came another important event in the month of August, christened ‘August meeting’ under the aegis of the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO). It is a meeting of catholic women of different parishes under various dioceses of the Church. Each parish/community chooses a particular date in August when it would have its own meeting. It is usually a two day affair, culminating in a thanksgiving mass on the third day. All are uniformly dressed during these days in their traditional white blouse (same style) and blue wrapper (distinguished by the Diocese’s name) as well as same earring and necklace.
Thus, every weekend, days in the month of August, one CWO August meeting or the other is being held. It is a beehive of activities. In recent times this August meetings have become more popular and robust with important personalities making it a point of duty to attend and address the women. Each of the meetings of course has a theme that differs from year to year and the theme is often one that resonates with the socio-economic realities of the time.
The first lady of each state (whether she is a Catholic or not) graces as many of these meetings as she possibly can, being the mother of the state. It gives the meetings added glamour. These meetings have become a kind of big reunion for the women and all members both at home and elsewhere are compulsorily mandated to attend; absentees are fined. The traditional ruler of each community is always in attendance with other guests that includes the parish priest. The royal father after his speech makes a donation.
The diocese also sends a donation of wrappers and cash to select widows of the parish while some individual women of the parish on their own buy some goods in bulk (whether rice, soaps, salt, etc) to be shared out to the women. Imo state government has taken these August meetings to a new level. It started with the Rochas Administration and has continued to-date.
There is a state-wide August meeting day during which CWO representatives from all local government areas of Imo state converge in a Owerri, the state capital for the event with Nigeria’s First Lady as the special guest of honour, This year it was Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the incumbent President of Nigeria. In a carnival-like atmosphere each of the local government’s women in their unique uniforms march round the stadium, giving a salute to numerous VIPs on the dais. Of course, this is accompanied by gospel music from popular artistes and culminating in speeches by select guests, among them, the state and Nigerian first ladies.
The other important event in the month of August, in the eastern region is the New Yam festival. It is a festival for all but home-coming is not compulsory for all as such. Nonetheless, every indigene living outside shores of Igboland is well aware that at least a member of the household has to go to the homeland to celebrate the festival. Meetings of all kinds are scheduled for this period as many people are expected home and so the various communities are always bustling with people at such times.
Like CWO meeting, there is no one exact date for this festival. Each community chooses its own date from the first weekend of August to the first week of September. The New Yam festival used to be considered as a ‘pagan’ festival. However, people now understand that it is no more than a festival of thanksgiving to the Creator for the harvests of the soil through whose power the Nature beings have afforded us good harvest.
The traditional ruler as the foremost citizen of the community gives the green light for the celebration after performing a little ceremony with traditional kola nuts and drinks and is the first officially to eat the new yam. This gives the permit so to speak, for others to do likewise. In contrast to rice, the traditional food for the festival is pounded yam with egusi or nsala soups and chicken to go with it . After the food feast by each household, they gather at the town’s square to be entertained with different cultural troupes and masquerades. The next day being a Sunday is reserved for thanksgiving in the church.
The blessings of the Lord that manifest in the outward activities of the Nature Beings working in the elements of water, earth, fire should not be taken for granted by us. Most of us eat without reflecting for a moment whence and how they came about; without reverence to Him whose power that streams throughout creation makes it possible; in short, without gratitude to Him for his love and hrace. Gratitude and thanksgiving is due only to the Almighty God alone.
Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519