New Yam festival (Bipam bifefe) is a common celebration among the Agba people – comprising of Bette, Bekwarra, Bendi, Alege and Igede and others due to political affiliations.
‘New Yam festival’ is an anglicized nomenclature of what was originally known as “Bewhutang”. This old name has generated a lot of arguments among Christian believers who see the entire celebration as satanic.
According Ukandi Ikpe Alagba (interview) “Bewhutang” celebration was to bless the god that gives children. To the people, this god needed to be celebrated with the most honoured crop – yam.
But Ukandi Simeon Adah [now late} describes “Bewhutang” as a celebration of the “dead yams” [bewhu, itang – earth] which like a phoenix; resurrected after complete burial. Igoli (2008) claimed that Igede people refer to their New Yam as Igede Agba.
Notheless, new yam festival was never without myths. Igoli argued that “harvesting of new yam before it is declared free for harvest is tabooed” in Igede land. The “Bewhutang” shrines were roughly built and carelessly roofed mud huts were smooth rounded stones were planted on mud alters referred to as “Bewhutang” decorated with palms and chicken feathers where offerings were made to the gods and other deities especially, that of the ‘twins’ and “katukpa”
“ADA” (Eldest man in the family) was usually the Chief celebrant; he sprinkled fowl blood on the altar and speaks some words of thanksgiving for a bumper harvest and call for blessings in the next season.
In the case of “unim begbeh”, he placed two big lumps of pounded yam dipped in egusi soup on each of the stones. He poured some palm wine in a calabash, drinks a little and sprayed the rest directly on the altar. At the end of the whole exercise, the fowl was cooked and shared among every member of the family.
Bewhutang feast was a remarkable day and up till date, remains one of the greatest traditional festivities in the history of traditional African societies. In the past, families were happier during Bewhutang festivity, as they gather in groups to eat and drink.
While the elders tell stories, riddles, jokes, proverbs and wise sayings, the women chant solo songs and play with the children at “ushukwo” – playground. In Igede land, “…it’s a time of peace, reconciliation and sharing. No one eats alone on Igede Agba day. You must have a friend to visit or one to visit you.”
Another highly esteemed element of bewhutang (which is still in practice till date) is the melon cake (bikem); cooked with dried brownish “kudiung” leaves prepared with melon extract which serves as the recipe for eating bikem.
Today, “bewhutang”, “bipam bifefe” or “New Yam” (as preferable called) celebration has become a tourism potential for most Nigerian traditional communities, especially in Southern Nigeria Local Government Area of Obudu and most parts of Cross River State.
It is celebrated on every first Saturday of September as opposed to “katube” days in the past. Other Agba people also celebrate it within this period. Igoli (2008) claimed further that “It is celebrated annually on the first Ihigile market day in the month of September, hence the date oscillates between the 1st and 5th of September.”
Initially, Bewhutang or New Yam festival was celebrated only at Katube and later “Azul” market days.
However, with the advent of Christianity, Bewhutang shrines have vanished from most homes. It is important to mention that the celebration of Bewhutang or New yam festival in Obudu has never been connected with human sacrifice from the ancient through the medieval to the contemporary. It is an absolutely peaceful event where (today) people travel from far and near to share in the glorious festival.
Presently, New Yam is celebrated in churches where thanks giving prayers are offered to God – with the belief that God (rather than gods) is the giver of life, children and bumper harvest.
The initial act of crowning stones with lumps of pounded yam, kolanuts, and palm wine has died naturally. Politics has tapped from this traditional myth as guest from among the political class sponsor and take advantage of the celebration to party, tour and explore traditional cuisines.
In conclusion, Igoli advised that “the community should use this period to honour… all sons, daughters and non-indigenes alike who have excelled in their own areas of endeavour.
To achieve this, public lectures, seminars and symposiums can be organized to mark the occasion. He further stressed that “the local government and the community should actually support agriculture through the provision of fertilizers; agrochemicals and other farming incentives…without farming there wouldn’t be Igede Agba” (Bette Agba, Bendi Agba, Alege Agba, Bekwarra Agba).
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