THE word “Igede” has several connotations. It refers to the native inhabitants of Oju and Obi local government areas in Benue South senatorial district of Benue State. It also indicates the native language spoken by these people. It further connotes the land mass inhabited by the Igedes. In addition, “Igede” also expresses a cultural trait and worldview.

Pounded yam, a permanent feature of Igede Agba.

According to Igede oral tradition, as documented by many writers, Agba is the name of their legendary progenitor.

Igede Agba refers to the annual cultural new yam festival celebrated by Igede people all over the world.

In her book, IGEDE Volume 1, Margaret Ogah named some of those Igede elites as Oga Okwoche, John Oga Idikwu, and Alexander Ikape, who founded the Igede Development Association (IDA), under the leadership of Eje Iyanya. Their first official meeting held on August 20, 1950 and was coincidentally attended by 20 Igede elites. In a continual search for a binding factor, IDA strategised and the result was the first central Igede Agba celebration on the first Ihigile Market of September 1957.

Origin
The origin of the celebration of new yam is still shrouded in mystery, especially what period in history the first celebration took place and why it was necessary to do it. However, it is generally agreed in Nigerian communities, where the new yam is celebrated, that it is an occasion to thank God and the traditional gods and ancestors for good harvest.

Barrister Benson Upah points out that yam, being the king of crops, has always been celebrated by the Igedes. Professor John Enyi adds that at the beginning, the new yam was celebrated in families at village levels. This village occasion eventually evolved into the present Pan-Igede festival when some Igede elites sought to bring themselves under one cultural umbrella to rub minds towards the development of their community.

In her book, IGEDE Volume 1, Margaret Ogah named some of those Igede elites as Oga Okwoche, John Oga Idikwu, and Alexander Ikape, who founded the Igede Development Association (IDA), under the leadership of Eje Iyanya.

Their first official meeting held on August 20, 1950 and was coincidentally attended by 20 Igede elites. In a continual search for a binding factor, IDA strategised and the result was the first central Igede Agba celebration on the first Ihigile Market of September 1957. Since then, there has been no stopping the Igede race, as the annual celebration of the new yam keeps evolving until many elements crept into the event, making it bigger than Christmas and Easter for the typical Igede person. It is such that all Igedes plan towards going to Igedeland to attend the early September festival. Those who cannot travel to their villages end up organising and celebrating Igede Agba in their respective diaspora points, in remembrance of home.

Process
The process of the celebration of new yam in Igedeland, now called Igede Agba, starts with the Akpang rituals which legitimise the harvest and consumption of new yam.

Akpang, a village secret cult with hereditary membership of male children only, has universal jurisdiction across Igede. Not much has been revealed about the rituals apart from the fact that it is done on different days preceding the new yam festival. Nobody digs up yam in Igedeland until it is performed. Infractions used to attract serious sanctions.

On the eve of Igede Agba, every family harvests enough yams to cater for all expected family members and visitors, and brings them home, ready for cooking and pounding.

“It’s also a time we take stock of our life as a community by reviewing the prevailing year towards making amends and effecting corrections where necessary. We also use the period to look at existential conflicts such as drug abuse and cultism in youths, boundary and chieftaincy disputes, as well as discuss developmental issues central to the progress of Igedeland.”

On Igede Agba day proper, the typical Igede community wakes up early. While general cleaning up is done by younger ones around the compound, the women get busy with cooking.

Livestock, especially goats are slaughtered. At the end of the cooking, when the yam has been pounded and the soup ready, a traditional prayer session (now mostly a Christian affair) is held, presided over by the eldest sane male in the compound where libations are poured to Agba, the ancestors and traditional gods, while praises are rendered to God for the harvest.

Pounded yam is then shared round, accompanied by big pieces of meat, and eaten. The rest of the day is usually taken up by visits to relatives and friends, group drinking of alcohol, especially palm-wine, and general socialisation. Children and young people dress gaily in newly bought clothes which they showcase on visits. It is very normal these days for these young lads to approach older people with the greeting of “happy Igede Agba” and be reciprocated with some money.

New elements have been introduced to the Igede Agba celebration to give it more expression and glamour. These include Lectures, Cross Country, Miss Igede Agba Beauty Pageant, and inter clan dancing/masquerades.

There is no doubt that Igede Agba has the highest significance level in Igedeland when compared to other cultural events. The fact that it is held on the first Ihigile of September still adds to its significance as Ihigile depicts everything positive and special, unlike Ihiokwu which has restrictions including forbidding regular burials on an Ihiokwu.

Significance
Barrister Benson Upah sees Igede Agba as a symbol of cultural revivalism and identity consciousness.

The Adirahu Ny’Igede 1, HRH Oga Ero CP (rtd) says the new yam festival celebrates God Almighty for availing the Igede nation bountiful food, especially yam. “It’s also a time we take stock of our life as a community by reviewing the prevailing year towards making amends and effecting corrections where necessary. We also use the period to look at existential conflicts such as drug abuse and cultism in youths, boundary and chieftaincy disputes, as well as discuss developmental issues central to the progress of Igedeland.”

For Prof John Enyi, the significance of Igede Agba is easily situated in the importance attached to it which makes all Igedes want to congregate at their traditional homeland. He recalls that it was such that in his days as Oju local government chairman, salaries of staff were always paid prior to the day, while that first Ihigile of September was declared work-free.

Enyi sees the Igede person using farming to celebrate the virtues of sincerity, integrity, hard work and discipline. He adds that the Akpang values of positive living are reinforced on each Igede Agba celebration.

Dr Odeh Ibn Iganga (the Amiji Ka 1 of Ibilla), points out that to the typical Igede person, Igede Agba is more significant than Christmas and Easter. He sees the annual celebration as the greatest element binding all Igede people and, as such, governments at all levels should accord it the necessary protocol of a public holiday.

Barrister Edo Adima of Anchim Clan is emphatic that nothing showcases Igede traditional values like the Igede Agba celebration. According to him all Igede children should be brought to Igedeland from the diaspora to experience first-hand the great values attached to farming, dancing, wrestling, folktale, etc.

There is no doubt that Igede Agba has the highest significance level in Igedeland when compared to other cultural events. The fact that it is held on the first Ihigile of September still adds to its significance as Ihigile depicts everything positive and special, unlike Ihiokwu which has restrictions including forbidding regular burials on an Ihiokwu.

Contributors to this Igede Agba write-up are unanimous about the less than noticeable role of women in Igede Agba celebrations. They only cook and serve food, take instructions from men, and are usually the objects of conflict resolutions. Any possibility of according women more prominent participation in future?

Yours sincerely is already salivating in expectations of Igede Agba 2021, especially the cooked goat meat soaked in very tasty beneseed/egusi soup. I can’t wait to get there and descend on the Ebenta palm wine.

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