New Yam Festival: A Celebration of Life and Culture

Explore the rich cultural celebration of a new food season in Ogidi Ijumu town in Kogi state, Nigeria.

By The Centenary Project

Women dressed in Adire attire and raising a piece of Adire fabric (2019)The Centenary Project

The New Yam Festival, a celebration of the farming season

The New Yam Festival, in the Ogidi community, is an important way of marking the beginning and end of the farming season. It is a celebration of life, accomplishments in the community, culture and well-being.

Aerial view of Ogidi town (2019)The Centenary Project

The "little" big town of Ogidi

Ogidi is a town currently located in the Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State. It is renowned for its agricultural produce and arts. One of its popular produce, yam, is hugely celebrated yearly at the harvest of new yams from the farms, in an elaborate ceremony popularly known as the New Yam Festival. The New Yam Festival is celebrated as the town's day - Ogidi Day. The celebration attracts tourists from the country and offers a platform for the women to show their art to visitors.

Display of newly harvested yam (2019)The Centenary Project

Yam is food and food is yam

Yam is significant to the planting and harvesting season of Ogidi community as it is regarded as a miraculous plant that signifies fertility. Once new yams are harvested from the farms in good quantity and conditions, it is believed that the year will be illustrious and that the ground will be fertile for other crops.

The traditional ruler at the podium of the Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

The opening ceremony 

The traditional ruler of the land, the Ologidi of Ogidi, opens the ceremony with prayers of thanksgiving for the favour of nature and the importance of yam to the community and its farmers. Royal fathers and dignitaries of other communities, especially those ones that share boundaries and affiliations with Ogidi, pay respect to the Oba (Ologidi) of Ogidi land during the festival, and thrones, kings and dignitaries honour the festival to show solidarity and support of the people.

Community farmers present symbols of their produce to the traditional ruler (2019)The Centenary Project

"Ise logun Ise"

"Work is the cure for poverty" is the slogan of community farmers who work hard to make agricultural produce available throughout the nation. Farmers are recognized and encouraged to keep up the good work.

Traditional ruler awards chieftancy title (2019)The Centenary Project

"Soludero of Ogidi land"

Investors, good deeds and accomplishments within the community are recognized during the festival. Chieftaincy titles are given to appreciate significant community contributors for creating industries and employment opportunities for locals. One of such titles is the "soludero" - setting the community at ease.

Young woman carrying basket of fruits (2019)The Centenary Project

Fruitful Festival

Young women in the community assemble different homegrown fruits in a basket as a part of the festival. A young woman who is dressed in white with her hair styled in the tradition of Ogidi women carry this basket of fruit round the community early in the morning seeking for a fruitful year, bountiful harvest and fertility. She is accompanied with singing by other young women dressed in similar attires.

Nike Davies-Okundaye with foreign guest (2019)The Centenary Project

Meet Nike Davies-Okundaye

One of the major influencers of the festival is Mrs Nike Davies-Okundaye, the Agbasaga of Ogidi land. As one of the chiefs in royal council, she has an important role. All the chiefs and illustrious sons and daughters of Ogidi land find their way home to celebrate and support the people on this day. One of the ways through which Nike has shown her support is her investment in textile and art for the women in the community.

Amala and "gbegiri" (bean soup) being served (2019)The Centenary Project

A community that shares food stays stronger together

Food is shared to all and sundry at Mama Nike's Ijumu Art Gallery. Children, adults and guests have bowls of amala served with "gbegiri" (bean soup) and "ewedu". Amala is made from yam flour.

Dancers dressed in Adire attires (2019)The Centenary Project

Dancers wearing Adire garments

Nike cultural group performs the traditional Yoruba "bata" dance, wearing batik and Adire textiles.

Ogidi new yam festival guests (2019)The Centenary Project

Benin women performing the Ugho dance (2019)The Centenary Project

Music and dancing

The joy of the New Yam Festival is celebrated with various cultural and community groups performing dances, songs, dramas and acrobatics. The New Yam Festival is a time of celebration and thanksgiving for most Nigerian communities, and the Ogidi Ijumu community is not an exception. The Benin women here are performing the Ugho dance.

Benin dancer with "eben" (2019)The Centenary Project

Benin dancer with "eben"

The Benin traditional sword and handpiece "eben" is an accessory used in performing the Esapaide dance.

Children dressed in traditional attires (2019)The Centenary Project

Children dance group

New Yam Festival is an opportunity for every age group of the society to perform what is unique to them. On the day of the festival, children are excited to perform to the Ologidi (king of Ogidi land) and the guests who attend the event.

Traditional female dancers (2019)The Centenary Project

Olaga

Traditional female drummers sing praises and "oriki" of local names to the King and people. They also sing to praise the people of the town. They are traditionally dressed in aso-oke, a piece of clothing tied around the waist with beads crisscrossed around the neck. Their hair is styled traditionally in "suku" with safety pins for decoration.

Woman dancing (2019)The Centenary Project

Oya

A lady is costumed as Oya, the wife of Sango, the god of lightning and thunder. She is dressed in Ogboni clothes.

Young men dancing with the drummer (2019)The Centenary Project

Beats and drums

Young lads perform to the lead drummer's talking drum.

Drummers dressed in Adire attire (2019)The Centenary Project

A display of traditional drums

Yoruba drums are legendary in telling tales and giving instructions. Dancers from various neighbouring communities perform with all kinds of traditional drums that are unique to their dance and culture in celebration of the festival. Examples of such drums are the Gudugudu drum and Iya Ilu drum used in bata dances.

Drummer wearing batik playing bata drum (2019)The Centenary Project

Bata Drum

Bata drum is a traditional drum that is beaten during bata dances. Its unique sound is produced by a thick leather, "bulala".

Female dancers from Ondo State (2019)The Centenary Project

Ondo dancers

Ondo dancers in celebration with Ogidi land perform their traditional dance with singing before the Ologidi and the people. Dancers are dressed in "kijipa", locally handspun and dyed in indigo.

Drummer with motif face painting (2019)The Centenary Project

A festival of art and culture

Ogidi community is synonymous with art. Hence, the New Yam Festival in Ogidi is celebrated in batik-fashioned attires inspired by Chief Nike Davies. Ankara, face-painted motifs and aso-oke are worn during the celebration.

Drummers playing before the crowd (2019)The Centenary Project

Praise singers singing with talking drums and sekere (2019)The Centenary Project

Praise singers

Traditional singers perform to talking drums and "sekere" (beaded gourds). They sing "oriki" (praises), folktales and traditional songs to dignitaries and the people.

Girls dressed in traditional attires (2019)The Centenary Project

Irukere and traditional beads

Horsetail (or "irukere", as the locals call it) is a traditional Yoruba hand-piece that signifies royalty, authority and fashion. Beads, locally known as "ileke", are part of Yoruba traditional fashion worn by different age groups. They signify various authority ranks and cultural status.

Masquerade performing somersaults at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Masquerade Amusement

Masquerades make appearances during festivals, ceremonies and rituals. They are considered deities and ancestral spirits in Yoruba culture. During celebrations and festivals, various masquerades come with groups of people. While these people play drums and sing for the masquerades, the masquerades, in turn, perform and amuse people. In a bountiful harvest, the appearance of the masquerade is a sign that the gods are happy with the people. Masquerade attires and performances vary from culture to culture.

Masquerade performing somersaults at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Igbabolelimin

Igbabolelimin means "masquerade from the spirit world".

Masquerade performing somersaults at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

In performance, Igbabolelimin does acrobatic moves to songs and drums played by its entourage.

Masquerade performing somersaults at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Gelede

Gelede is a human being wearing a mask -- an exaggerated head mask which either represents male or female. Features of gender are exaggerated, and the gelede performs in drama and dance, usually comical, to musical instruments.

Masquerade with human face mask (2019)The Centenary Project

Traditionally, the masks are carved from wood and made to represent a man or a woman with all her tribal marks and plaited hair.

Tall masquerade performing for the crowd (2019)The Centenary Project

Igunnuko

Igunnuko is a tall masquerade that can lengthen or shorten itself. During special festivals like the New Yam Festival, it makes an appearance to perform for the king and the people.

Masquerade performing at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Igunnuko masquerade on the roll

In excitement, Igunnuko rolls on itself to amuse spectators.

Masquerades with costume made of grass (2019)The Centenary Project

Agbo Olode

Agbo Olode is a masquerade that has special outings on celebratory days in Ogidi. It is important that Agbo Olode makes an appearance at Ogidi's New Yam Festival because Agbo Olode's appearance draws rain for a new planting season. Agbo Olode is a masquerade of fertility and bountiful harvest. It is believed that the heavy leaves on Agbo Olode are the people and the masquerade carry the people on itself to appease the gods.

Masquerade paying homage to a chief (2019)The Centenary Project

Agbo Olode's blessings

During the ceremony, Agbo Olode is sought after for prayers and blessings as it is believed that barren women will have children once Agbo Olode sits on their thighs and offers prayers. For others who want blessings of marriage, money and bountiful harvest, Agbo Olode will sit at their feet to offer prayers to the gods.

Masquerades at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Masquerades at Ogidi New Yam Festival (2019)The Centenary Project

Egungun Oniye

Egungun Oniye means "the masquerade of feathers". As the name connotes, it is dressed with feathers from various birds and accompanied with traditional drums and local horn which is a signature of the masquerade. Egungun Oniye from Ayetoro-Gbede of Ijumu appears in celebration of Ogidi's New Yam Festival.

Credits: Story

Curator: Omotunde Omojola
Research: Omotunde Omojola
Photography: Ibukun Akinjobi
Text: Omotunde Omojola
Editor: Munachim Amah

Thanks to Chief Nike and Reuben Okundaye
Special thanks to Oba Rabiu O. Sule, Ologidi of Ogidi land and the people of Ogidi Ijumu, Kogi state.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Come Chop Bellefull: A Taste of Nigeria
The iconic dishes, must-visit markets, and unforgettable flavors
View theme
Google apps